Last season we ran an offseason feature titled Know Thy Enemy. It was used to analyze upcoming 49ers opponents in a general sense before things have really come into focus. If you do a search for Know Thy Enemy, you'll notice they showed up in June, July and August, meaning before, during and after training camp. As we get closer to each matchup during the regular season there will certainly be plenty of discussion. For now though I just wanted to help us all get a better idea of who the 49ers will be contending with in 2008. Half the equation for the 49ers success will be determined on the other side of the field and this will get us in the swing of things.
Today we'll be looking at the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles are represented by JasonB over at Bleeding Green Nation.
The Eagles finished 2007 with 3 straight wins, but it was not quite enough as they finished 8-8 and 1 game back of the final playoff spot. Donovan McNabb had a pretty solid season, but once again lacked that big play receiver the team has missed since TO forced his way out of town. Kevin Curtis was very solid (better than anything the 49ers had), but there just is this sense of a lack of a big play threat. Brian Westbrook remained the biggest offensive weapon on the Eagles, finishing with over 2,100 total yards. Statistically the Eagles finished 8th in team offense and 13th in team defense and yet they couldn't hang with the contenders. The backbreaker came when they lose three straight to New England, Seattle and the New York Giants.
The Eagles made some serious moves this offseason that should vault them into contention. In free agency they backed up the Brink's truck to land Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel. Lito Sheppard seems to be holding out due to anger over his existing deal, so if he does end up getting shipped out of town, Samuel would certainly be an upgrade. Aside from Samuel, the Eagles have solidified some depth needs in adding Chris Clemons, Rocky Boiman and Joselio Hanson.
As for the draft, Mel Kiper gave the Eagles a C+, but all things considered, I think they deserve better than that. They dealt their #1 to Carolina for a 2nd and 4th rounder as well as a 2009 #1. They snagged a solid defensive tackle in Trevor Laws and then saw a playmaker in Desean Jackson fall right into their laps in the second round. Jackson has plenty of question marks in terms of durability and attitude, but his upside is tremendous. Furthermore, as a rookie, while he may struggle at wide receiver, he will get a good shot at contributing in the return game, a speciality of his at Cal. Throw in a trade for RB Lorenzo Booker and they've added some serious talent.
The Eagles did not suffer any major losses. They cut Jevon Kearse and Takeo Spikes, both of whom are on the down sides of their careers. They franchised LJ Smith to avoid losing him. If a deal doesn't get done soon Lito Sheppard could be on his way out of town, but Eagles fans don't seem too concerned about that.
2008 Questions & Answers
Donovan McNabb is healthy so it comes down to how much he has left in the tank. He is 31 and a 10-year veteran of the league. While his rushing numbers are not like they were in his prime, he is a still a threat to scramble. If he can stay healthy, this team could be very dangerous.
What kind of impact will Desean Jackson have on this team? If he continues the special teams success he had at Cal, he could very well win rookie of the year on that alone. However, beyond the return game, I'm very curious to see how Andy Reid uses Jackson in the offense. Considering much of the rest of the offense returns intact, Jackson could be the X-factor on offense.
Will the secondary come together and what will happen with Lito Sheppard? While there seems to be some disgruntled fans when it comes to Sheppard, if they can get him into camp with Samuel and the rest of that secondary, they could field a pretty damn good secondary that would scare even the best of quarterbacks.
vs. San Francisco
The 49ers could come into this game anywhere from 2-3 to 0-5 (could be a tough early going). The Eagles have added some talent to a team that finished solidly last year, which would not bode well normally. However, considering the defenses on the table, I could see this turning into a low-scoring defensive battle. The secondaries are well-matched and I think that could be the difference in this battle. I don't think the 49ers pull out victory on this day, but I do think they put up a respectable performance before succumbing 24-16. Feel free to throw out any predictions on this matchup. I'm sure I'll change my mind many times in the coming months.