BALDY: EAGLES FANS HAVE EVERY RIGHT AND REASON TO DREAM
The noted poet, author and writer, Langston Hughes once wrote,
“Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly”
Think about all of the parallels one could pull from that short four-lined poem that applies to our Philadelphia Eagles.
Dreams are all that an Eagles fan has to believe in. ‘Hold fast to dreams’ Langston Hughes scribed. Eagles fans have had many broken dreams and seasons where their wings were clipped far too early in the season since their last championship in 1960.
I would like to dedicate this column to creating a dream for an Eagles fan that is not far-fetched, based in reality, and can be a catalyst for Eagle in success in 2017.
In semi-recent history the league has proven that on average there are five new playoff teams each successive year.
Look at the four finalists from the 2015 season; Carolina and Arizona and Denver and New England.
We all know that only one of those teams repeated as a playoff team in 2016.
Of course the Patriots rarely disappoint and are one of the rare teams that seem to qualify each and every year.
The salient point is that there is real turnover each year and just because you weren’t a playoff team this year or even the year before doesn’t dismiss your opportunity this coming season.
Let’s look at the NFC Champion, the Atlanta Falcons. After a very good run with Head Coach Mike Smith from 2008-2014, the Falcons made a switch and hired the defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks, Dan Quinn.
After charging out of the gates in his inaugural season of 2015 at 5-0 they limped to a satisfactory season of 8-8.
They added some key components in free agency, namely center Alex Mack, and WR’s Muhammad Sanu and Taylor Gabriel.
They drafted well finding four starters on defense led by all-world safety, Keanu Neal and linebacker Dion Jones.
That wasn’t what you would call a major overhaul. They did have a great deal of good health which most winning teams usually have. In fact, their starting offensive line started in tact 19 straight games in a row. That stat alone in this modern NFL borders on good luck.
So if the Falcons can make a dramatic turnaround then why can’t the Eagles do something similar? Let’s examine the Eagles strengths after the 2016 season and what might need to happen for them to get into the playoffs which for me would be a great step in building and sustaining hope.
Carson Wentz is a huge building block.
For the first time in almost a decade the Eagles aren’t searching for a quarterback. He started 16 games and was able to attempt 607 passes. That’s 607 more passes than when they drafted him No. 2 overall last year.
An NFL player makes their greatest jump between year 1 and year 2. He has seen the NFC East 2 times around and exited those competitions with a 2-4 record and no game determined a score greater than 7 points. He knows the speed, the adjustments, and much of the personnel in this increasingly difficult and competitive division. If the dream is to qualify for the playoffs then they will have to do better than 2-4. They may need to reverse it to a 4-2 record.
Defensively they played really, really hard outside of one poor effort on the road at Cincinnati. Not without coincidence, that is also the only time all season where they surrendered 30 or more points. So while the front four of Jim Schwartz wasn’t quite the sack masters and disrupters we thought they would be, they were still able to consistently keep the score down.
While they did have a consistent penchant for giving up far too many explosive plays, they tackled pretty well and they received some of the best safety play, led by Malcom Jenkins since the glory days of Brian Dawkins.
Both offense and defense need a major haul of talent. The dream of the playoffs becomes more vivid for me knowing that as I write this column on a chilly night in mid-February, both Joe Douglas and Andy
Weidl are busy scouring the country for fresh young talent.
Added to the organization this past Spring by GM, Howie Roseman, this is the first year they are going to have real input. They cut their teeth in the Raven Organization lead by Hall of Fame player and executive Ozzie Newsome. He coached his scouts hard and the results are 2 Super Bowls since 2000. I trust the eye of Joe and Andy to find a stud wide receiver, a top flight pass rusher, and a lock down cornerback.
They have always been able to find running backs without spending a first round pick. These two talent scouts will give every Eagle fan a reason to dream bigger as this roster begins to be shaped into a playoff-caliber roster.
The past two seasons under Chip Kelly, the Eagles were an NFL worst in turning the ball over a total of 66 times. In Doug Pedersen’s first campaign the Birds cut that filthy statistic down to a modest 20 in 2016.
14 of those turnovers were Carson Went’ interceptions. Every rookie quarterback, except perhaps a kid named Dak, suffers in this category.
The Birds will try hard, without sacrificing aggressiveness, to cut that negative stat down to 16, or one per game over the course of the season.
I find the results of this dream to be soothing. A Franchise QB in his second season with a solid O-Line anchored by Peters and Johnson.
Fresh new shiny weapons added to his arsenal should only help the Birds score more points. The defense is growing under the smart, intelligent leadership of a most capable Jim Schwartz.
Add the fact that three of the Birds wins in 2016 were against playoff teams lead by Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and the NY Giants.
They were competitive in 2016 and have pieces to build in 2106. Five new playoff teams on average break through each successive season. No team in the NFC East has repeated as division champion since the Birds did it in the 2000’s.
The Birds have a foundation, a budding star QB, proven talent evaluators, and a division that always is in flux. Allow yourself to dream Eagles Fans. It’s a football free zone for the next month until the combine and free agency heats up.
With the hearts and chocolates and roses still under the glow of Valentine’s Day, fill your football-starved hearts with heads with Eagles Dreams of playoffs in 2017. If you are having a little trouble just watch what the Dirty birds of the Falcons accomplished this past season. *
Brian Baldinger photo by Andy Lewis/contrastphotography.com