Watching the Vikings beat down Tony Romo and the Cowboys was very satisfying. I wish we had gotten the job done ourselves, but at least old friend Brad Childress was there to save the day. Anyone who watched that game had to come away really impressed with Minnesota's defensive line. I'm sure more than a few Eagles fans looked at the television and said "I want that!"
That game showed just how valuable a good defensive line is. Certainly we've had our share of great defensive lines. Gang Green in the early 1990s was something really special. We've also been victim to great lines in Dallas, New York and even Washington to a lesser extent. Don't overlook how good Dave Butz and Dexter Manley were back in the early 1980s. Anyone who watched the Giants upset the Patriots in the Super Bowl was able to see a great offense derailed by a dominant pass rush.
I've already gotten a few questions about what the Eagles can do to build up the line and get where the Vikings are. I want to make a couple of points in regard to that. First, Minnesota is much better at home than on the road. More than half of the Vikings sacks came at home this year. The last time an opponent scored more than 10 points in Minnesota was back on October 18th when Baltimore put up 31. The Vikings defense has been sensational at home since that game, allowing a total of 49 points in six games. Road games are a different story. Minnesota allowed 92 points in the last three away games, all losses. The great defense we saw on Sunday didn't show up in Chicago, Carolina, or Arizona.
The next point is that the group we already have had some dominant games of our own against Romo and the Cowboys. In three late season meetings from 2006-08, we held Dallas to seven points or less. Romo's lowest passer rating of 2006 came against us. Same for 2007. His second lowest rating of 2008 came in the season finale in Philadelphia. In the 2007 game his rating was 22.2, the lowest of his entire career.
Certainly our defense this year struggled against Dallas. I absolutely agree that we need to upgrade our defensive line, but overreacting to our losses or Minnesota's win would not be wise. The Eagles have a pretty talented roster in place for 2010. We need to get better, but don't ignore the strong foundation that is already in place. Wholesale changes aren't necessary. I do think that we need to make at least one big impact move. Left defensive end, cornerback and free safety are my key positions of concern. The team has spent picks at each of those positions in recent drafts, but young players didn't develop as expected. Now these spots need to be addressed more aggressively.
Juqua Parker just had a career high in sacks with eight. Because of that it may sound funny to call left end a spot where we need an upgrade. The problem there is that we need someone who can consistently play at a high level. Trent Cole is a terrific pass rusher on the right side. He needs someone across from him to pressure the quarterback on a regular basis.
Parker has good stretches within games. Sometimes he'll have a flat out great game. Unfortunately, those occasions are here and there. We need consistency. Parker is ideally suited to being a backup. He's proven to be an effective starter, but that isn't good enough for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
I hope the Eagles think of left end as the key spot to upgrade this off-season. That one player can affect run and pass defense. The biggest target the team could go after is Julius Peppers. There are a couple of problems. Peppers hasn't started on the left side in a couple of years. He has the size to play there, but Peppers prefers to be on the right side, more of a finesse position. Would he be willing to move back to the left side? You don't aggressively pursue a free agent unless he fits your team and is happy with how you plan to use him. Jevon Kearse wasn't thrilled with our scheme. Albert Haynesworth was critical of the Redskins style of defense. You need players to be on board with what you're going to do with them.
The other problem with Peppers would be whether he could handle the pressure of playing for the Eagles. If the team went and gave him a huge deal there would be tremendous expectations from the fans and the media. There was a six-game stretch this year when Peppers only had 1.5 sacks. He can get away with that in Carolina. The media down there isn't nearly as adversarial as it is in Philly. The fans aren't as aggressive or vocal. I just wonder how Peppers would respond to some of the things that would be said or written about him during a cold streak. He has a different kind of personality. Peppers can be somewhat of a shy, quiet guy.
Peppers is the marquee front seven player available right now. I'm sure the Eagles will have long talks about whether they should go after him and how much they would be willing to pay him. It would be great to add an impact player like him if things could work out. I'm not going to go into every player the Eagles could target. I'm still making my list and trying to research players. I will put together some free agency rankings.
The biggest problem in that regard is the unresolved labor situation. If no new deal is struck, players will need six seasons of experience to become an unrestricted free agent. Now, those players just need four seasons. This scenario will affect more than 200 NFL players. Guys like Chris Gocong and Sean Jones wouldn't be able to hit the free market for a couple of more years. It would be up to the Eagles to decide whether to keep them.
This may sound good in regard to keeping some of our own guys, but it will really change the players available to us from other teams. Defensive end Ray Edwards had a great game for the Vikings in Sunday's win. With no new deal, he is only a restricted free agent. Safeties like Nick Collins and Antoine Bethea would not hit the open market. We need to hope that the Players Association and owners can work something out in the next month or so. If not, free agency might not be a huge help for us.
I mentioned free safety and cornerback as other key needs. I'm not sure if the Eagles will target these areas with pro personnel moves or in the draft. With no new deal there simply won't be good free agency targets. The Eagles could talk to other teams about a trade, but not many teams have a talented safety that they are willing to deal. One player that I do like is Vincent Fuller of the Titans. He isn't a starter for them, but plays a lot and is a productive, quality player. He had three interceptions and a sack this year, his best NFL season. He's played both cornerback and safety for the Titans. I think he could be a free safety for us. I just don't know that Tennessee has any interest in trading him. After all, it takes two to tango. You can find targets all over the league, but you need a trading partner.
We could use a high pick on a free safety. That hasn't happened in a long time because with Brian Dawkins' presence here there was no need to take someone early. We reportedly showed some interest in Brandon Meriweather a couple of years ago, but the Patriots took him in the first round prior to our spot. Rookie safeties can start right away in some cases. Macho Harris this year won the job somewhat by default. Michael Lewis started some as a rookie and played pretty well. You'd rather not go into the draft looking for a starter, but sometimes that happens.
Cornerback is a very interesting spot. We need at least one quality corner for depth. You can argue that we should add someone to come in and challenge for a starting job. Sheldon Brown played really well at times this year. Injuries seemed to get the better of him down the stretch and he wasn't the same player. The Eagles have a lot of options here. They could decide to stick with Brown as the starter and target a corner with an early pick in the draft. They could look into trading for a player. Nate Clements was one of the best corners in the league a couple of years back, but has struggled some recently in San Francisco. He is 30 years old, but has good size and would add a physical presence that we lack now. The Eagles could target free agents like Dunta Robinson or Richard Marshall, should they hit the market.
I've gotten quite a few questions about linebacker. The Eagles are set with Stewart Bradley in the middle and Will Witherspoon on the outside. We do need to add a quality backup in the middle to help with depth. The SAM linebacker spot is somewhat open. Both Moise Fokou and Gocong started there this year. Neither guy played so well that he absolutely deserves the job. In the past, we didn't make bold moves at linebacker. Sean McDermott may want that to change. If so, he could have us target free agents like Karlos Dansby or Derrick Johnson. Both guys are playmakers with some size. Both are in the prime of their careers. I doubt the Eagles go in that direction, but they have surprised me with some recent moves.
The Eagles need to make at least one impact move this off-season. Taking a team from good to great requires some risk. We did that in 2004 with the additions of Kearse and Terrell Owens. Both moves had their ups and downs, but we did go to the Super Bowl that year. The good news this time around is that we're pretty set on offense. If we can just make one big move on defense (and have it work out) this team could be right in the thick of the Super Bowl hunt next season.