Philadelphia Eagles Year in Review: Handing out the Best and Worst Awards
When a team with Super Bowl expectations finishes 8-8, it’s easy to give the negative awards to any player that didn’t have a positive impact on the team; in fact, it was tough not to make the entire list all negative. But there were players, a few games, and a select group of moments that deserve recognition for the 2011 season.
Best Offensive Player: LeSean McCoy
You could definitely make a case to give this award to several of the offensive linemen—Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, or even Todd Herremans—but I went with LeSean McCoy, the explosive running back who looks like a clone of Brian Westbrook.
McCoy sat out the Week 17 finale with an ankle injury, but still ran for 1,309 yards and 17 touchdowns on 4.8 yards per carry, and his 20 total touchdowns set an all-time Philadelphia Eagles franchise record. McCoy’s significance to the Eagles was overwhelming: The Eagles were 5-1 when he ran for 100 yards and 3-7 when he didn’t.
McCoy is 23 years old still, and due to become a free agent after the 2012 season. History hasn’t been kind to recent long-term deals to running backs (see Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, or Jamaal Charles), but if McCoy can stay healthy next year, the Eagles would be foolish not to lock him up.
Best Defensive Player: Trent Cole
Jason Babin got much of the glory this year with his 18-sack campaign—an incredible total for a player who was seen as a bust for his first seven seasons in the league. But Trent Cole was the best defensive player on the Philadelphia Eagles, an honor he’s held for several years now.
Cole registered 11 sacks, often proving to be simply too much for opposing left tackles to handle. Cole all but assaulted Atlanta Falcons left tackle Sam Baker back in Week 2 and was equally as effective against Doug Free of the Dallas Cowboys and Nate Garner of the Miami Dolphins.
Perhaps Cole’s best attribute is that he’s not a one-dimensional pass-rusher. He plays the run equally, and there are few—if any—defensive ends in the NFL who play both as well as Cole.
Best Offensive/Special Teams Rookie: Alex Henery
There really were only a handful of rookies who saw time on the offensive or special teams side of the ball for the Philadelphia Eagles. Jason Kelce started every game at center, although he was a far cry from Jamaal Jackson, and Danny Watkins started the final 12 games at right guard.
Alex Henery gets the vote, and it’s not just by default, considering Henery turned around a shaky start to have a strong year. He made his final 16 field goals of the year and set a new franchise record for field goal percentage in one season, surpassing David Akers’ mark in 2002. Henery also set a new league record for field goal percentage by a rookie.
Best Defensive Rookie: Brian Rolle
There aren’t a whole lot of candidates for this title, especially given that Casey Matthews was awful in his three starts early in the season.
Brian Rolle was the lone bright spot on a poor linebacking group. He’s undersized but plays tough and with intensity. He has struggled in pass coverage but plays particularly well vs. the run. If all of the Philadelphia Eagles linebackers had played like Rolle, the wide nine defense would have worked much better.
Worst Offensive Player: Danny Watkins
There really aren’t a whole lot of players you could make a case for, but I went with Danny Watkins because I expected a lot more from a first-round draft pick.
Watkins was penciled in to be the starter at right guard, but performed so badly in training camp that journeyman lineman Kyle DeVan won the starting job. DeVan played poorly enough to be released after just four weeks, giving Watkins the job almost by default.
Watkins struggled all season. He gets a pass to a certain extent because he’s a rookie, but Watkins was below par for what the Eagles thought they were getting.
Worst Defensive Player: Brandon Graham
I didn’t go with Nnamdi Asomugha or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie simply because they were used so poorly all season that I don’t think it’s fair to judge them nearly as strictly.
Meanwhile, Brandon Graham did absolutely nothing to silence the critics who blasted the Philadelphia Eagles for not drafting Jason Pierre-Paul in the 2009 NFL draft. Graham took longer than anticipated to rebound from last season’s torn ACL, but he registered just four tackles on the year.
Graham was only able to see action in three contests, playing a grand total of 56 snaps in his sophomore season in the NFL. He was active for Week 17 against the Washington Redskins and didn’t play a snap. He enters 2012 with more to prove than possibly any other player on the Eagles.
Best Free Agent Acquisition: Cullen Jenkins
You could easily make a case for Jason Babin here too, but I went with Cullen Jenkins because he is a much more complete player. Babin benefited immensely from defensive line coach Jim Washburn’s wide nine scheme, while Jenkins would likely be a star anywhere.
Jenkins played at a Pro Bowl level all season, teaming with Trent Cole, Babin, and Mike Patterson to give the Philadelphia Eagles a strong defensive line. Jenkins was one of the top pass-rushing interior linemen in the league and was well worth the first season of his five-year, $25 million deal.
Worst Free Agent Acquisition: Vince Young
Vince Young had a year to forget, giving him this coveted spot over players such as Nnamdi Asomugha, Steve Smith, or Ronnie Brown.
Young spent most of the preseason injured and then played awful in three starts with the Philadelphia Eagles, throwing eight interceptions, including four in a miserable loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Besides forfeiting any chance he had of starting somewhere in 2012, Young uttered the dumbest line in Philly sports since “For who? For what?” by dubbing the Eagles the “Dream Team.”
Best Coach: Howard Mudd
It took some time for Howard Mudd’s offensive line to start clicking, but when it did, the Philadelphia Eagles boasted one of the league’s top lines.
Besides opening up holes for Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy, the line also gave protection to quarterback Michael Vick.
Jason Peters was his typical All-Pro self and Todd Herremans demonstrated his versatility like never before, but the real surprise was Evan Mathis, a journeyman guard who turned into a stud under Mudd’s tutelage.
Worst Coach: Andy Reid
Let me be clear on this: Juan Castillo probably did a worse job in his respective role, but I put full blame for that awful decision on Andy Reid, the man who appointed Castillo to be the team’s defensive coordinator.
The Philadelphia Eagles interviewed many different candidates for the DC position but Reid chose to go with longtime offensive line coach Castillo, a man who hadn’t coached defense since 1986. It backfired exactly as everyone knew it would, with the Eagles blowing five fourth-quarter leads.
Reid also made a handful of questionable in-game decisions, as has been his trademark in Philly. His move to sign Vince Young as backup quarterback backfired, and he went out and spent $60 million on an All-Pro corner, only to use him incorrectly all season.
Philly fans have to take comfort in seeing their team win four straight games to close out the season, but also solace knowing there is no way Reid will get fired now.
Best Game: Dallas Cowboys (Week 8)
Following this win, the 3-4 Philadelphia Eagles were riding a two-game winning streak and well on their way to a playoff spot, or so I thought.
The 34-7 win over the Dallas Cowboys was a statement win, as the Eagles dominated on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. If only the Eagles could have continued playing like this, their season would live another week.
Worst Game: Seattle Seahawks (Week 13)
This game absolutely sums up the season: The Philadelphia Eagles were still alive in the playoff race but rolled over and played dead against a 4-8 Seattle Seahawks team that didn’t deserve to be on the same field.
Marshawn Lynch ran for a 15-yard touchdown that should be shown in highlight reels for the next 10 years, and Tarvaris Jackson of all people shredded the Eagles’ secondary in an embarrassing 31-14 score.
Best Play: Vince Young Touchdown Pass to Riley Cooper
This was Vince Young’s first start as a Philadelphia Eagle, and he got the ball with 11:36 left in the fourth quarter, and the 3-6 Eagles locked in a 10-10 tie with the 6-3 New York Giants.
Young coolly marched the Eagles 80 yards in 18 plays, taking up 8:51 before capping it off with a five-yard touchdown score to Riley Cooper. The Eagles held on for the win, temporarily keeping the Eagles alive in the playoff race.
Worst Play: Marshawn Lynch’s 15 Yard TD Run
This play was a thousand times worse than the touchdown pass to Riley Cooper was good, simply because no play epitomizes the Philadelphia Eagles more than this 15-yard touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch.
Remember Lynch’s memorable run against the New Orleans Saints in last year’s playoffs? This was the same play, but just the 15-yard version. I’ll never forget when I first watched this play I looked away because I thought the Eagles had wrapped Lynch up—I looked away—and next thing I knew, Lynch was fighting his way into the end zone for a touchdown.
Honorable mention goes to a handful of other plays: Ronnie Brown's backwards pass at the goal line, Victor Cruz's jump touchdown that catapulted his career, Jeremy Maclin's drop or fumble, DeSean Jackson's alarm clock, Casey Matthews getting burned by Brandon Jacobs on a touchdown pass, Larry Fitzgerald's diving pass to the one yard line or his tipped touchdown catch, or either or Curtis Marsh's two punt returns.