NFC East Power Rankings: Why Eagles’ Defense Will Help Team Reach Top

Editor’s note: Yo. We’re back with the second-part of our two-piece breakdown of the top team in our preseason NFC East power rankings–the Philadelphia Eagles.

Earlier, we took a detailed look at why the Eagles’ offensive talent and intangibles should vault the unit into the Green Bay/New Orleans stratosphere. Now, let’s take a look at the defensive side of the ball, a unit that must build on the momentum of a late season turnaround from a year ago.

The Eagles possess one of the top defensive lines in football. If you want to make a case for the Giants, that’s fine. But Jim Washburn’s group is the perfect composition of talented veteran experience and youth. The tandem of Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson provide a solid interior anchor for the dynamic pass rushing duo of Trent Cole and Jason Babin. But we already knew that. While the starting group is among the game’s best, it’s the Eagles’ depth that distinguishes them from their opponents.

Check out this depth chart headed into training camp:

LDE: Jason Babin, Brandon Graham, Phillip Hunt
LDT: Cullen Jenkins, Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton
RDT: Mike Patterson, Antonio Dixon, Derek Landri
RDE: Trent Cole, Vinny Curry, Darryl Tapp

There’s not one player in that group who is dead weight. Certainly, one of the main storylines heading into camp will be Brandon Graham. Can the 2010 first-round draft pick finally stay healthy and contribute? If he can, then this line will take its game to the next level.

It’s tough to depend on rookies, but both 2012 first-round pick Fletcher Cox and second-round selection Vinny Curry figure to make an impact as the season progresses. It’s likely that Hunt, who has shown flashes of potential, Graham, or Tapp will not make this roster. At tackle, Dixon and Thornton will probably square off for that final spot. Good competition is a good problem for defensive coordinator Juan Castillo to have.

But the position the Eagles figure to see the most improvement is at linebacker. The trade for former Pro Bowl middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans and the addition of second-round pick Mychal Kendricks should provide the Eagles a good blend of experience and athleticism. But most important, it finally gives the defense playmakers at the position.

The secondary remains talented, even with the departure of former All-Pro corner Asante Samuel. Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will start on opposite ends atthe position while fourth-round draft pick Brandon Boykin and incumbent Joselio Hanson will battle for the slot corner job. Again, throw in former third-round selection Curtis Marsh and it appears there will be some fierce competition at corner.

Safety does remain a concern, but the Eagles have enough speed and playmakers in the front seven and corner positions to compensate for the potential troubles of Kurt Coleman, Jaiquawn Jarrett, or Nate Allen struggle.

But while the talent is all there, perhaps the biggest question is whether or not Castillo can put it all together in year two. The Eagles are doubling down on Castillo after he crapped out in year one. We know he works hard, but it remains to be seen if that hard work will translate into a better executed game plan in year two.

Again, the Giants won the Super Bowl, so they should be considered the lead dog. But this isn’t a reflective exercise. When I compare the depth of the Eagles and Giants, I just come away believing that Philadelphia has a better football team heading into camp.

That, however, doesn’t account for another possible virtuoso playoff run by Eli Manning. But it’s hard to do it back-to-back years in a league with increasing parody, as recent history has proven.

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