“I’m not aftraid of death.  I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”  – Woody Allen

 

My daughters are five and two and a half so their lives, pretty much, consist of the beach, games, crafts, movies and ice cream. They operate under what I like to call delusions of grandeur. Every morning, without fail, my 5 year old asks, “what are we doing today,” the moment her eyes open. Life is good. Life is fun. It should be. They’re children. Children wake up happy, they sing that damn song “Happy” all day, spend their day happy and, most nights, go to bed happy. The only stress they have is, ‘should I get water ice or ice cream after dinner at Marita’s on Landis Avenue in Sea Isle City?’

Eagles fans are living like happy little children these days. The Chippah owns the town, there’s a possible budding superstar in Nick Foles at quarterback to compliment the already all-world superstar running back Lesean McCoy. They won 10 games and the NFC East after a brutal three years forcing Andy Reid’s departure. Fans are waking up thinking the offense is great, the defense is getting better and, at least according to Pat Kirwan with thanks to my buddy Glen Macnow for turning me on to the article, have a head coach who happens to be the FIFTH most influential individual and the MOST influential head coach in the entire league. Chests are pumped out in Philadelphia and that’s a great thing. There’s not much else to be excited about for the next few years in the world of a Philly sports fan. Good for you. I’m not one to downplay optimism.

That said, I’m about to break your heart. Things are not so rosy in Iggleland. They’re a bit of a paper tiger and I’ve got six reasons why. So, wipe that stinkin’ smile off your face and get ready for a dose of reality.

It ain’t easy taking your medicine but here goes as we kick off the 2014 year with YOUR NFL Notes & Musings…

 

Reason #1

Every single wide receiver that will likely see action has a major question mark over his head. Riley Cooper showed he can play in this league but he mostly earns his keep because of his red zone threat size and who knows how he’ll do without Desean Jackson (more on him later) drawing an extra defender? Yes, Jackson is shaded by a safety on every single play he’s on the field.

Jeremy Maclin is back but back from a torn ACL and in most cases, Adrian Peterson excluded, the strong bounce back year is the second year after return.

Jordan Matthews is a huge, fast kid but he is a rookie and, in my opinion, being placed out of position in the slot. With his size and sideline awareness, he should lineup at the line of scrimmage and not in the slot, which is where Maclin belongs. But what do I know?

Josh Huff is an undersized rookie who is an Oregon guy so Chippah knows him but was likely selected in the event that Maclin didn’t recover. (Maclin was still not at 100% at the time of this year’s draft. In fact, he still may not be at 100%.)

Then there’s Jeff Maehl, Damaris Johnson, Arrelious Benn, Ifeanyi Momah, Quron Pratt (isn’t anyone named Mike Ryan or John Smith anymore?), Will Murphy and B.J. Cunningham that don’t really belong on an NFL roster. Brad Smith could be useful if this were 2009.

The one guy I’m excited about is Darren Sproles. He has been, arguably, the most fun player to watch in the league over the last decade, yet even he has question marks. He’s 31 years old and in running back or dog years, that’s at least 121. He’s lost about 2 steps in speed (which is still solid) and he will no longer be playing every week on the New Orleans Superdome’s track meet turf. He’d still have my attention on every play if I were a defensive coordinator, though.

This questionable position could make life difficult for Nick Foles in his first full year as the starter. We could be looking at a lot of check downs or maybe Zach Ertz can be converted in to a wideout.

 

Reason #2

The schedule is brutal, Juice. Brutal. I know a lot of teams you think will be good aren’t every year and vice versa but they have to play the NFC West. The four best defenses in football. Now throw in road games against the Colts and Packers. Sheesh. Hope this defense is better at basic tackling than they were last year. It’s a first place schedule. Not a last place one like last season.

 

Reason #3

Last season, the defense gave up the 15th most yards in NFL history. The most improvement during the off-season was addition by subtraction. Patrick Chung is gone, enter Malcolm Jenkins. A minor upgrade, but an upgrade, nonetheless. As far as the draft goes, not a single day one starter was selected. The Eagles are banking on the current defensive roster improving without upgrading personnel. That can be dangerous. The back of my mind worries about Chip, Chip, Chip Kelly’s reputation as a coach that rarely pays attention to the defensive side of the ball. The player to keep an eye on is Safety Earl Wolfe. I liked what I saw from Wolfe last year and if he can step up and win the starting Strong Safety position, I’ll feel more comfortable.

 

Reason #4

2013 saw the Eagles get a lot of breaks. They didn’t have to face Aaron Rodgers at Green Bay. They didn’t have to face Adrian Peterson in Minnesota, yet still lost badly. The Detroit Lions, a dome team, had to play here in Philly in a torrential blizzard and in the most important and last game of the year for the division, Dallas trotted out Kyle Orton at quarterback in place of the injured Tony Romo. Those types of breaks don’t all happen in one season. Ever. Don’t count on such luck in 2014.

 

Reason #5

The offensive line is concerning. I like the team’s mentality to lock up the starting five long term. That said, Evan Mathis is the oldest starting guard in the NFL and I would’ve liked to see the team look to upgrade at center. Jason Kelce simply gets pushed around by the bigger and better defensive lines. Now, enter the Lane Johnson ordeal. There is no excuse for taking anything on the banned list, even if it is prescribed by a doctor. Look it up! The list is readily available to all players, there is a 24 hour hotline and, by the way, the team doctor should be aware of every player prescription. Allen Babre will fill in, a guy the Eagles like but the offensive line is already starting off on the wrong foot, especially after a season in which all five starters started every game.

 

Reason #6

I’m a card carrying member of the Nick Foles Fan Club. I’ve touted him since his rookie year but 27 TDs and 2 INTs is an insanely high bar to set for yourself. The good news is he’ll have an entire off-season as the starter. That’s extremely helpful. The bad news is, well, see reasons 1 and 5. Nick has his work cut out for him in 2014.

 

Now, that’s a lot of negativity. Let’s end on a positive note. The special teams will be improved thanks to the addition of fellow maniacs, Chris Maragos and Bryan Braman. The team has seemed to have found it’s starting quarterback for many years, Lesean McCoy is the league’s top runner and Coach Kelly’s system enters it’s second year. The organization is building themselves a family, consisting of mostly really good guys. There’s a lot of promise on this team and the rest of the division is fantastically terrible.

 

 

A few other notes from this off-season…

 

The Dallas Cowboys’ defense was putrid in 2013 and they did ZERO in the off-season to improve. In fact, they lost all world defensive end DeMarcus Ware to free agency. The Cowboys will need to score 35 a game to win. By the way, so might the Eagles.

 

I will never waver from the opinion that Chip Kelly and the Eagles’ organization acted cowardly in not explaining, in depth, to the media and fans directly why they cut Desean Jackson.  By now, we’ve heard all the rumors and stories but to simply cut a superstar and the team’s second best weapon 18 months after giving him a 5 year, 48.5 million dollar deal was weak.

 

Collectively, the Eagles may have the least amount of arm strength at the quarterback position of any team at the pro level.  Mark Sanchez’ arm is jello.

 

I can only imagine how irate Buddy Ryan would be to watch a current NFL practice. Because of the new CBA, the amount of work players put in during a normal practice is a fraction of what it was ten years ago. Take the Eagles for example…Kelly doesn’t permit tackling to the ground in practice. I kind of get why…cuts down on injuries. But watching a practice is watching jogging and cutting. Not even the players holding pads during individual drills, hit the attacking player. They just tap him. The Eagles’ defense started very slow last year. The lack of hitting and tackling during training camp was a likely contributor.

 

And finally, a few thoughts on the mere 2 (yes, 2) game suspension bestowed upon Ray Rice for knocking his then fiancé, now wife, out cold, dragging her lifeless body upstairs and dropping it like a dead fish in the hallway outside of an elevator in one of the most crowded, popular, public buildings on the east coast. Firstly, the man is scum. Any man, regardless of whether or not she hit him first, that hits a female, especially one he professes to be in love with, is not worthy of the privilege of freedom, let alone the privilege of being able to play in the NFL. Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for three times that (later dropped to 4 games after appeal) for rape charges that were thrown out of court.

I’ve been told there’s unreleased video of Rice being hit several times by his, now, wife before he has enough and cold-cocks her in to oblivion. I couldn’t care less. An NFL running back tough guy can’t take a few shots from a scolded female? Ray Rice is a coward. To quote the great Dom Irrera, he’s “lower than paramecium nipples.” Rice warrants a full season suspension and I’ll go so far to say that the Baltimore Ravens organization is weak for not cutting him. No pun intended, but the black eyes are piling up for the National Football League.

 

Catch me and Brian Startare on Wildfire Radio (wildfireradio.com) live every Tuesday from 5:30pm to 7:30pm or download the podcasts anytime.

 

I’m also on with Big Daddy Graham in studio on Sportsradio 94.1 FM WIP in Philadelphia every Friday morning from 2am to 5:30am (if you’re awake).

 

And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter: @darrendegaetano

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Darren DeGaetano
A lifelong buddy of Voodoo Brown's, Darren was born in Philadelphia and resides with his family in South Jersey. His resume includes ten years producing sports radio in Philadelphia and five years as a writer, director and producer for NFL Films. His weekly NFL NOTES & MUSINGS column provides his thoughts, anecdotes and eye opening statistics that happened over the previous weekend. Additionally, every Friday, Darren offers his "What 2 Watch 4" column to set you up for the coming weekend football action. Darren's best known annual piece features his Darrentees, a collection of NFL bold and not so bold predictions for the season at hand. Finally, Darren is a full time NFL Insider for Philadelphia's Sportsradio 94.1 WIP and co-hosts the Thursday night / Friday morning overnight show with Big Daddy Graham and can be heard on the official Philadelphia Eagles post-game show. He also likes red wine. Lots and lots of red wine.

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