Philly can survive exodus

For the casual onlooker when a team makes big changes that normally means there’s trouble brewing.

That logic is especially prevalent when a team makes a lot of moves after a successful season.

Thus there seems to be some cause for concern with the Philadelphia Eagles going into the 2009 season.

This off-season the squad has made many changes to the defensive side of the ball. Up to now the most notable changes were the loss of defensive stalwarts Brian Dawkins and Tra Thomas.

However the latest happening seems to have trumped that. Long-time defensive coordinator Jim Johnson is no longer with the team as he has taken time out to battle cancer. In his place is an unknown in Sean McDermott.

Johnson has been with the team 10 seasons. During his tenure the team has consistently been among the top 10 ten teams in the league in nearly every statistical category from yards allowed to sacks.

In his time the Eagles have had seven winning seasons and even made it to the Super Bowl just four short years ago.

First of all there is no doubt about it that Johnson’s loss will be huge. The man was revered not only for his ability to contain an offense but pressure some of the league’s best quarterbacks with a relentless pass rush.

His knowledge of defense and his ability to maximize his players is something that can’t be taught but only learned through hours and hours of experience and time with NFL players.

On the other hand McDermott gives the Eagles someone with some familiarity with the team’s schemes and some level of success. McDermott took over most of the defensive play-calling duties mid-way through last season.

The result was a good one for Eagles fans who saw their team overcome a surprising tie on their record to finish at 9-6-1 and make the playoffs.

In fact the latter half of the season was a good time to be a Philly fan. The team beat division rival Dallas to get into the playoffs and upset NFC division winner the New York Giants to earn an astonishing spot in the NFC title game.

That second-half turnaround and ability to win under pressure is why the Eagles should still be a force to reckon with this coming season. Like their quarterback Donovan McNabb the club doesn’t know when to quit and can pull off a phenomenal game out of nowhere.

The team may not have any major signings thus far but there’s still an impressive core of guys returning for next season.

On the offensive side of the ball McNabb is coming off a decent season. He threw 23 touchdown passes (14 of which came in the team’s last eight games) and had 3,916 passing yards.

Though he threw 11 interceptions and his quarterback rating was just 86.4 McNabb consistently found way to get points on the board and that shouldn’t change in 2009.

One of McNabb’s chief targets figures to be rookie sensation DeSean Jackson. The California wide-out busted out for 62 receptions, 912 receiving yards and two touchdowns last year.

Jackson had his moments where his inexperience showed but there’s no arguing his production. At this point there’s seems to be no indication of a sophomore slump.

Defensively the man to watch for is Asante Samuel. The former New England cornerback lead the way for Philly last season with 36 tackles and four interceptions.

Samuel is arguably the squad’s best defensive player and has the grit and experience to rally the defense around him. Teams have to account for him in the passing game, which leaves the door open for the other defensive backs to step up.

Another big performer back in the fold is defensive end Darren Howard. At 6’3 and 260lbs, Howard anchored much of the pass rush. Howard ended the year with 26 tackles, 10 sacks, a forced fumble and an interception.

A big part of Howard’s success was the health of his fellow linemen. Howard should be a force again if his team-mates don’t get hurt and leave opposing sides to double-team him.

With all that being said, Philly has a good chance to make the playoffs once again. The Eagles should again be right on the heels of Eli Manning and the Giants, who still have the coaching and talent to win 10 games or more.

Granted it’s hard to see the G-Men doing much in the playoffs at present without a second explosive running back like Derrick Ward or a sure-handed star receiver in Plaxico Burress.

Ultimately big pieces of Philly’s defense may be gone but there are enough key people left for the Eagles to soar in 2009.

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