The Eagles had probably the biggest roster in team history last year. There was a massive offensive line. The defensive line had its share of big bodies. There were big receivers. LeGarrette Blount gave the Eagles a 250-pound sledgehammer at running back. Heck, even the two quarterbacks were around 240 pounds. That was a big team.
The 2018 Eagles might be even bigger. They added Haloti Ngata, a 330-pound defensive tackle. Blount is gone but replaced by Matt Jones who is about 240 pounds. Rookie tight end Dallas Goedert is 6-6 and 260 pounds. There is a pair of massive rookie offensive linemen. Rookie Josh Sweat is 6-5 and has long arms. That gives him the most length of any pass rusher on the team.
This is a big bunch.
That size is not an accident. Doug Pederson, Howie Roseman, and Joe Douglas love big bodies. They want big, physical players who can go manhandle the guy across from them.
When people think about the magical 2017 season, they will focus on the Philly Special, RPOs, and all the wild celebrations the Eagles had. That was a fun team to watch. None of that happens if the Eagles don't control the line of scrimmage.
People can talk about Pederson's brilliant play-calling. They can talk about going for it on fourth down. They can talk about the use of analytics. All of these were factors in the Eagles' success.
You still have to start with the fact the team was dominant up front. The new-school Eagles used an old-school principle: focus on the offensive and defensive lines.
The Eagles had the No. 1 run defense in the league. Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan controlled the line of scrimmage, and that forced teams to give up on the run. When they tried to throw, Jim Schwartz could use nickel and dime packages, which allowed him to be more creative and aggressive.
The Eagles' offense finished third in the league in rushing. There was no workhorse back, but rather a collection of talented runners who had the luxury of playing behind an enormous, talented offensive line. Lane Johnson was the best right tackle in football. Jason Kelce was the best center.
The offensive line was special because not only could they beat you with size, but they could also move well. Elephants on parade, as the saying goes. You might see Stefen Wisniewski out by the sideline blowing up a defender. Brandon Brooks goes up to the second level to seal a linebacker and give someone a huge running lane.
A casual fan might look at the Eagles' pass rush and wonder how good it was. The defense finished the year with just 38 sacks. That's not a bad number, but a strong pass rush should be closer to 50 sacks. This is where numbers can lie.
Opposing teams were so scared of the Eagles' pass rush that they changed the offense. Teams got the ball out quicker against the Eagles than any other defense in the league. Quarterbacks were scared to hold the ball, knowing that Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox were coming after them.
The Eagles' pass protection was outstanding when the line was healthy. You saw that in the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl. Nick Foles generally had a clean pocket, and he just picked apart those defenses. It took Halapoulivaati Vaitai a few games to settle in at left tackle, but he came up big in the postseason.
The Eagles had the best combination of offensive and defensive line play in the league last year. That's a huge part of why they won the Super Bowl.
2018 Eagles Autism Challenge
The inaugural Eagles Autism Challenge, a one-day bike ride and family-friendly 5K run/walk, kicked off this weekend! It began with a party at Lincoln Financial Field on Friday night ahead of the main event on Saturday. Take a look at photos from the very first Eagles Autism Challenge.
For this team to win another one, the big guys up front will need to have another strong season. It certainly helps that Jason Peters is back at left tackle. Vaitai played well, but Peters is on a whole other level.
The addition of Ngata will help mitigate the absence of Tim Jernigan. The addition of Michael Bennett will also be critical. He can play inside snaps and should likely see a lot of time there.
If the Eagles can once again shut down the run game and force teams to pass, Schwartz can get creative. He could have Chris Long, Cox, Bennett, and Graham on the field as his best pass rush group. That doesn't include Derek Barnett. That would be one heck of a foursome for offensive linemen to have to stop. Who do you double team? Who does the quarterback worry about the most?
While the focus is using size to win up front, the Eagles can also use their size in other places. Alshon Jeffery proved to be a terrific big receiver. He's open even when he's not open. Mack Hollins is another big receiver. He showed flashes as a rookie and should be improved this year.
I can't wait to see what the Eagles do with Zach Ertz and Goedert. That's a pair of big, athletic tight ends. The Eagles will have a matchup advantage there. Linebackers won't be athletic enough to stick with them and safeties won't be big enough to handle them.
The front office and coaching staff have put together one heck of a team. This roster is big, athletic, talented, and physical. Repeating as Super Bowl champs will be incredibly difficult, but there is no doubt in my mind that the Eagles will have an outstanding season.
I'm sure there are fans in Dallas and New York and Minnesota and New England who would like to think last year was an anomaly. The Eagles captured lightning in a bottle and won it all.
The Eagles were the best team in football all year long. They dominated during the season and earned the top seed. The Eagles crushed the Vikings in the NFC title game. It took an amazing effort from Tom Brady and the Patriots to keep the Super Bowl as close as it was.
This team is poised for big things again this season. One of the key reasons is that, well, this is such a big team. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away a coach once said, “Big people beat up little people.”
He was right.
The 2017 Eagles used their size to win it all. We'll have to wait and see what's in store for this team.