That Andy Reid can come out smelling like a rose can’t he? First he exiled the franchise’s best ever quarterback for the heir apparent in Kevin Kolb. Kolb proved ineffective during the preseason and was replaced after injury by a rejuvenated Michael Vick who played some of the most electrifying football seen in years. Fast forward one year later and Vick wins the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year in a landslide and Kevin Kolb is being dangled as trade bait after the 2010 season. The Eagles fell to the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers in the playoffs yet seemed poised to terrorize the NFC East with maybe the division’s most explosive offense ever. With the Redskins and Cowboys foundering on rocky waters, all that remains is the enigmatic Giants to keep them from reclaiming their division crown. The question for the Giants is: ” Have they sought help for the nightmares from DeSean Jackson’s punt return that flipped their season on it’s ear?” So a little over a year removed from rumors that Reid may step down, followed by a press conference and possible wife induced decision to stay on, he comes into the 2011 season retooled and loaded for bear.
Quarterback: The “Michael Vick Experience” hit the City of Brotherly Love like a storm last year. It was the perfect elixir for an underachieving Kevin Kolb who was outplayed by both Vick and rookie Mike Kafka from Northwestern in the preseason. With the release of Donovan McNabb, the keys to the kingdom were turned over to Kolb. So once conventional wisdom had Kolb start the season, with new contract in tow, his play was marginal and then he went down with an injury. Enter Michael Vick, who went on to have the best season of his career. He ranked 4th with a passer rating (100.2), while throwing for 3,018 yards, and the best touchdown to interception ratio of his career 21 to 6.
His ability to supplement the running game with 676 yards and 9 touchdowns, made the Eagle offense the scourge of the league at the midseason point. His feet have improved as a quarterback, he’s constantly on balance and ready to throw. He showed a penchant to keep his head up and find receivers when he was evading the rush, and not always running it. Yet its this threat to do so that causes defenses to approach with a caution that is borderline fear. As showcased when he danced through the New York Giants while leading the miraculous 4th quarter comeback that doomed the Giants season in game 14. That 38-31 win kept Vick in the hunt for the NFL MVP Award, however it was his transcendent performance against Washington in a 58-29 blowout that started it. That night was one of the greatest offensive performances ever and was exactly what Vick followers expected him to mature into.
Kevin Kolb came back and played well once Vick came off the field due to injury, yet his fate was sealed. He threw for 1,197 yards, 7 TDs, and 7 ints. which was not the best but he did respond once his job was threatened. Andy Reid has a quarterback to trade and should get a number one and a second round for him. He figured it would be Vick until the season began and now they have a quarterback in Kolb who could start for at least 10 other teams. At quarterback the Eagles are Super Bowl quality at the moment…they have to keep Vick healthy. Could use a draft pick here to prepare for the imminent departure of Kolb who should be traded by the regular season.
Offensive Backfield: Now statistics show you the Eagles have a strong rushing attack. They ran 428 times for 2, 324 yards and 18 TDs which ranked 5th in the league for rushing totals. These numbers are skewed because of the Michael Vick factor. Although he didn’t run as frequent as in year’s past he accounted for half of the teams rushing touchdowns with 9 and his 6.8 yards per attempt on 100 carries swelled the Eagles stat as a team to 5.4 per rush. In fact Vick was second on the team in rushing for 38 first downs to McCoy’s 48. Yet they can run the ball effectively with LeSean McCoy who accounted for 1080 yds and 7 touchdowns. Without Vick to contain teams honestly, bootlegs away from the flow of the play, McCoy doesn’t gain that type of yardage. Its like the Brian Westbrook saga all over again. He can catch and run but can only do so in space without resorting to gimmicky plays like shovel passes, draws, and sprint draw plays out of 3 and 4 receiver sets. Yet he was the Eagle’s leading receiver with 78 receptions for another 592 yards. Many of which were plays where Vick began to scramble and found him on scat routes once the defense squared up to attack the QB.
This teams goal line offense is bootleg pass options with Vick. The Eagles would do themselves a service if they drafted another half back to provide some power between the tackles at times. It would prove fruitful in the long run for both the Eagles ability to convert on short yardage and goal line, but also minimize the wear and tear on McCoy over a long season. At running back average at best yet superior totals adding Vick’s ad-libs.
Receiver: These guys are growing by leaps and bounds and should be better with a full pre-season to get accustomed to Vick as the starter. This will be the Greatest Show on Turf East, with so many explosive weapons on the flank. DeSean Jackson, going into his 4th season, has emerged as one of the best deep threats in the league. Once out in the open forget catching this lightning bolt from behind. His 47 catches for 1,056 yards and 6 touchdowns were enough to make the Pro Bowl despite missing a game and a half due to a concussion. In fact he became the first player in NFL history to earn his way onto a Pro Bowl roster at two different positions in the same year. He made it as a receiver,and punt returner, while causing 80,000 in the New Meadowlands anguish with a punt return touchdown with no time on the clock. Over his 3 years in Philadelphia, Jackson has averaged over 47 yards on 26 career touchdowns including 14 from over 50 yards. If he gets on top of your safety forget it. The Redskins found this out on a Monday Night when he scored on a 91 TD on the Eagles first offensive play. Going to be a deep threat for many years to come.
On the other side is Jeremy Maclin, who provides a similar skill set yet has the bigger body (6’0 and 198 yards) to go over the middle for the intermediate catches. He had 70 receptions for 964 yards and led the Eagles with 10 TDs. Brent Celek is an emerging tight end who chimed in with 47 receptions. By the time we put in Jason Avant from Michigan and his 51 receptions, this gives the Eagles 5 receivers with 40 or more receptions. Who do you game plan for in stopping this passing game? We feel this is the year that teams over play Jackson’s deep ball and Maclin has his breakout season with a 1,200 yard season and his first Pro Bowl berth. Receiver is pro bowl caliber in Philadelphia and they should terrorize the NFC East this year as well. All are in their prime and getting better…just dangerous.
Offensive Line: Hmmm, kind of mixed reviews here and hard to gauge this line in terms of their affectiveness. Although this team is running a west coast offense where the staple is to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quickly, Eagle quarterbacks were hammered all year. You do remember they got Kevin Kolb knocked out of game 1 which got Vick on the field in the first place, right? Even with Vick’s elusiveness, only 3 teams gave up more sacks than the 49 this Eagle line gave up last year….yikes! Couple that with a twin ranking of 29th in Philly QBs being hit 95 times and you see why Vick missed time last year as well as Kevin Kolb. No wonder this team called a lot of half rolls off play action fakes. They needed to slow down the opposing defense.
The numbers are better for this unit in the running game but again this comes with an asterisk. The final stats show the Eagles ranked fifth with 2,324 yards rushing and 18 TDs which is ranked 4th. Terrific, until you dissect this a little further. Take away the 676 yards and 9TDs that came from Vick scrambles and the output plummets to 1,648 yards and only 9 TDs which would have ranked 20th and 24th respectively. The lone offensive lineman that performed with distinction in 2010 was LT Jason Peters who made the Pro Bowl. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Eagles put a few draft picks here to light fires under several of their lineman. Another season like this and they could get their quarterback hurt and derail their 2011 season. With that…this team is below average and needs to have better push on running plays. They play too upright and need to get their knuckles in the dirt and fire off the ball. This comes back to the coaches spending 80% of their practice time in passive pass blocking stances. It shows on 3rd and 2 when you can’t power off tackle with regularity and the Eagles just don’t pass the eyeball test when it comes to running the football traditionally.
Defensive Line: One of the most enigmatic groups among the elite teams in all of football. You here every NFL coach start off every press conference with stopping the run. This group can be pushed off the ball and ranked 15th against the run giving up 1,766 yards and over 4.2 yards per carry. Yet this front finished with 23 of the team’s overall 31 sacks which included 19 from the defensive end position. Trent Cole accounted for 81 tackles and 10 sacks from the weakside, but can be run on and is smallish at 6’3 , 270lbs by today’s NFL standards. Lets be honest, these DTs, Mike Patterson, Antonio Dixon, and Broderick Bunkley have to play more stout and quit getting shoved in the face of their linebackers. They need to come off those blocks better as well…
This team relies on the offense getting a lead and allowing this defensive line to tee off on the opposing quarterback. If they have to “sit in” and play honest against both the run and the pass this team can be overpowered. They rely on exotic blitzes to force turnovers and missed blocks to mask their line deficiencies. The Eagles should grab a DT or two in the draft and free agency since they are below average in holding their ground. Teams will run at them to keep them off the field.
Linebackers: The Eagles starters are Ernie Sims, Stewart Bradley, and Moise Fokou who are marginal at best. They accounted for 4 sacks and only 1 interception. Sims is an athletic defender who sometimes lacks instinct and gets gobbled up by blockers once he’s diagnosed the play. An original 1st round draft pick by the Detroit Lions finished with 68 tackles and 5 passes defensed. His play has slipped since his 1st two seasons with Detroit where he had 82 and 96 tackles. Stewart Bradley was second on the team with 88 tackles yet made too many 5 yards down field. The linebackers suffer from the D-Line not holding up. However this linebacking group is functional and not really instinctive. The Eagles would serve themselves well with a free agent pickup and or a few draft picks here. The fact that they were running blitzes similar to those of the late Jim Johnson, this crew should have made more splash plays.
Secondary: This is one of the better secondaries in football. These guys take chances yet have to stay solid with the defense sending blitzes in many situations. The signing of Asante Samuel at corner has paid off handsomely. The all time playoff interception TD return leader in NFL history has made several plays since his arrival from New England. In 2010, he went to his 4th straight Pro Bowl after leading the NFC with 7 interceptions with 8 passes defensed. Some have been critical of his not being a solid tackler in the running game and he only had 28 tackles….eh there could be something to that. Yet this guy is a ballhawk and leads the league in interceptions since 2006 with 36 interceptions, which is what the Eagles really signed him for.
The other star in this secondary is S Quentin Mikell from Boise St. Yes Melinda and Ray that same Boise St. One of the Eagles that should have made the Pro Bowl after the 2010 season. In fact he made the Pro Bowl in 2009, and last year still garnered 2nd team All Pro distinction with his play for a 3rd straight year. Last year he led the Eagles with 111 tackles, defensed 14 passes while intercepting 3 passes. This is the force member of the secondary on running plays along with the other cornerback in Dimitri Patterson who recorded 55 tackles and 4 interceptions. Yet this is a solid tackling group. Secondary is excellent however if we ran an opposing offense: run sweeps and bubble screens on Samuel and force him to tackle more. Try to get behind him with double moves afterward for he will gamble on intermediate (10-15 yard) routes where he jumps passes and gets most of his interceptions. The key is to get hits on his legs and make it easy to pass on him later.
Overall: In facing this team the first thing to remember is this team can definitely be run on and they will give up points. Astoundingly this Eagle team isn’t as strong as defenses in recent years during the Andy Reid era. Last year they gave up 377 points which ranked 21st in the league which was 3rd from the bottom of all playoff teams. Although the Colts were missing Bob Sanders and linebacker Gary Brackett, their best players, and the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks who shouldn’t have been there. This team almost wins inspite of their statistics whether we look at the offensive line, defensive line, linebackers or defense as a whole which ranked 12th in yardage given up. Stay to the ground as the Vikings did in defeating them in game 15; 24-14, feeding them Adrian Peterson for over 100 yards.
The key to playing them is to not become impatient and fast-break with them. Run on this defense and keep Vick and that offense sitting on their hands and take them out of rhythm. Even in the Giants game where they came from behind to win in the Meadowlands, they were cold for much of the game. The Giants became deer in the headlights once Vick got going. If the Eagles get into a rhythm on offense you could be dead in the water. Keep your rushing attempts high and force a low scoring game and avoid the “Michael Vick Experience”. How did he not get a single vote for league MVP? Sigh…another subject for another day. This team should repeat as NFC East division champion.
Next Up: Indiannapolis Colts