Choosing the most memorable highlights of this past season for the Philadelphia Eagles is a little bit like picking Andy Reid’s favorite vegetables—when it comes down to it, there really aren’t very many at all.
After being seen by many as the preseason favorite to win it all, the Eagles staggered to a 4-8 start, overshadowed by Vince Young’s preseason Dream Team comments, an injury-plagued season from new $100 million quarterback Michael Vick and a slew of fourth-quarter collapses.
The Eagles did finish with four straight wins to avoid a losing season; at 8-8, there weren’t many highlights but there were enough to accumulate a brief list here. Hopefully these will refresh your memory if it’s difficult to remember anything but that dreaded New York Giants Super Bowl victory, but it should also provide anticipation that the ’12 Eagles will return again as NFC East contenders.
This came in the Philadelphia Eagles’ Week 9 game against the Chicago Bears, and highlighted an impressive rookie season for the undersized Brian Rolle. A sixth-round pick, Rolle started 13 games as an outside linebacker for an Eagles team that received substantially less than subpar results from the whole of their corps.
Rolle’s play in this game came in the second quarter and knotted the contest at 10 points apiece (although the Eagles would go on to lose by a 30-24 score). Rolle reached in and took ball away from Bears superstar Matt Forte, recovered it and raced 22 yards for a touchdown right before halftime.
The DeSean Jackson of 2011 wasn’t the same player that electrified the NFL in 2009 and 2010. He posted his worst receiving numbers since his rookie season, finishing with just 58 receptions for 961 yards and four touchdowns in 15 games, while also dealing with contract squabbles that seemed to affect his play on the field.
Jackson finally broke out with his longest play of the year against the Washington Redskins in Week 17, catching a 62-yard touchdown that proved to be his longest play since the legendary 65-yard walk-off punt return against the New York Giants in 2010.
This touchdown was refreshing simply in the sense that it showed Jackson is still a playmaker, and that the Philadelphia Eagles may find it in their best interest to re-sign him (which ultimately proved to be the case).
The Philadelphia Eagles entered their Week 1 matchup with the St. Louis Rams expecting to play like the Dream Team Vince Young had proclaimed them to be in the preseason.
LeSean McCoy’s 49-yard touchdown run was the final score of the first game, wrapping up a 31-13 win for the Eagles. McCoy finished the contest with 122 rushing yards and a touchdown on 15 carries, also totaling a receiving touchdown.
At this point, the Eagles were 1-0 and looking very much like they would be strong contenders in the NFC.
This play came in the midst of a furious Philadelphia Eagles’ attempt at a 21-point comeback against the Buffalo Bills. Vick dropped back to pass, found no one open and scrambled up the middle of the field and then down the right sideline for a 53-yard pickup.
Helped by a key downfield block from LeSean McCoy, Vick etched his name into the record books, breaking Randall Cunningham’s quarterback mark for most career rushing yards. There was almost no time to recognize the moment, as the Eagles scored on a 10-yard touchdown from McCoy one play later. But it was a fine accomplishment for one of the most electrifying players to ever wear an NFL uniform.
The Philadelphia Eagles were thoroughly outplayed by the New England Patriots in the Week 12 contest, losing by a 38-20 score.
Pressed into play when Michael Vick was injured, Vince Young performed well though, passing for 400 yards on the dot with an extra 40 yards on the ground. He found four different targets for at least 70 yards each, turning in one of the most efficient passing performances of his career.
Young all but collapsed the following week in the Thursday Night Football game against the Seattle Seahawks, but his game against the Patriots was well enough that he left most Eagles fans with a good vibe afterwards.
I’m serious when I say this: Casey Matthews being benched was one of the highlights of the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles season. He was downright miserable when he did have to play, getting burned by Brandon Jacobs on a deep ball and looking lost in pass coverage and run defense.
Matthews shouldn’t have been starting from the first game, especially as a rookie fourth-round draft pick coming off a lockout-shortened offseason. His being subsequently benched for Jamar Chaney was a relief. Even though Chaney didn’t duplicate the success he found late in 2010, he was substantially better than the overmatched Matthews.
After a slow start to his NFL career that included a pair of missed field goals in the 24-23 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, Alex Henery finished the season strong.
He didn’t miss a kick for the remainder of the year, converting his final 13 field goals. He didn’t have any high-pressure kicks, but Henery still showed steady improvement after a rough beginning to his tenure in Philly.
In scooping up a fumble and racing 47 yards for a touchdown, Juqua Parker became just the second defensive lineman in NFL history to record three return scores of at least 40 yards. He had previously returned a fumble in Week 1 against the St. Louis Rams for a 56-yard score and taken an interception against the Rams 55 yards for a touchdown back in 2008.
The score in this game also put the Eagles up by a 7-0 (which would eventually become 28-0) score against a New York Jets team fighting for a playoff spot.
Jason Peters was rewarded for his outstanding season with a Pro Bowl selection, but I still don’t think people realize just how good the Philadelphia Eagles left tackle was.
He was the rock on an offensive line that included two rookies and a new waiver wire pickup (Evan Mathis). Peters started 14 games, missing two due to injury and still rated nearly twice as good as the next-best tackle in the league, per Pro Football Focus. Peters finished with a plus-27.6 rating, towering over David Stewart of the Tennessee Titans (plus-14.7) and Bryan Bulaga of the Green Bay Packers (plus-14.6).
Peters is phenomenal in getting down the field and blocking for LeSean McCoy, and helped the All-Pro runner average 7.6 yards per carry on runs behind Peters. Peters gave up just three sacks and one quarterback hit in pass protection, and a case really could have been made for Peters as the MVP of the team this past season.
The Philadelphia Eagles signed career NFL journeyman guard Evan Mathis to a one-year deal in training camp, then were rewarded with a fantastic season that led to a five-year contract extension for Mathis.
Mathis started all 16 games at left guard, grading as the best offensive lineman in football, according to Pro Football Focus—even better than teammate Jason Peters. Mathis didn’t allow a sack in nearly 1,000 snaps and was extremely influential in paving the way for LeSean McCoy.
The best part about Mathis’s new contract is that Eagles fans can now look forward to seeing the entire offensive line intact for a minimum of three more seasons.
I know what you’re thinking—this turned out to be more of a curse in 2011 than a blessing, especially considering how poorly Nnamdi Asomugha was utilized and how poorly he covered.
But look at it this way. Asomguha has four years remaining on his deal, and he’s likely going to be used the way he prefers—man-to-man coverage—especially with the Philadelphia Eagles looking to trade Asante Samuel. That means Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will be the team’s two starting corners, and that’s an extremely solid group.
Asomugha had his rough moments in 2011 for sure. Just think of him being out-jumped by Victor Cruz in Week 3 and Brandon Marshall in Week 14. But he’s also a lockdown corner if there ever was one, and he should rebound strong for the Eagles in 2012.
Again, this highlight proved to be hollow, especially when Eli Manning took the Big Blue to their second Super Bowl championship in five seasons.
But there were several positives about these games: I would rather have the New York Giants in the playoffs than the Dallas Cowboys, no questions asked, simply because of my sheer hatred for the men from Texas.
Watching Eli Manning outplay Tony Romo—not once, but twice, and the second time in a do-or-die stage—was sweet to watch.
Until the playoffs rolled around.
The Green Bay Packers never should have let Cullen Jenkins leave in the offseason, because he’s a top defensive tackle that gives a consistent effort week in and week out. The Philadelphia Eagles jumped on Jenkins to start next to Mike Patterson, and locked him up for a five-year deal
Jenkins is one of the elite pass-rushing tackles in the game, and he registered six sacks and 26 quarterback pressures in 2011. There was some talk in the offseason about the Eagles cutting Jenkins because of a sizeable bonus he was due to receive, but his contract has since been reworked, and the Eagles will have the services of Jenkins for four more years.
I didn’t know much about Howard Mudd before the Philadelphia Eagles signed him, but his resume speaks for itself: He was Peyton Manning’s offensive line coach in Indianapolis, and helped the Colts have one of the league’s top units on a regular basis.
To this day, I don’t agree with Mudd’s decision to start rookie sixth-round draft pick over the veteran Jamaal Jackson at center, but Mudd’s scheme calls for undersized, quick offensive linemen, and Kelce fit the mold better than the bulky and injury-prone Jackson. Both Kelce and first-round pick Danny Watkins experienced growing pains in their rookie campaigns, but each showed promise and should be a key piece of the future.
Evan Mathis was a completely unexpected surprise, as Mudd coaxed an All-Pro caliber season out of the career journeyman. Mathis has since been inked to a five-year deal with the team. Jason Peters turned in his finest season as a pro, and Todd Herremans flourished in the move to right tackle. The line is so good for the Eagles in fact that the team won’t really need to address it too much in the upcoming NFL draft.
Safety has been an issue for the Philadelphia Eagles since the team let go of Brian Dawkins (after 2008) and Quintin Mikell (after 2010), but Kurt Coleman showed against the Washington Redskins he may be able to step up and be an impact player on the defense.
Coleman picked off Rex Grossman not one, not two, but three times in the Eagles’ 20-13 win that propelled them back into the NFC East race. Coleman—eventually named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his outstanding effort—caused the Redskins to bench Grossman and go with John Beck midway through the game.
The Philadelphia Eagles have never had a shutout in the Andy Reid Era, but they came oh so close in this sweet sweet win over the Dallas Cowboys. The Eagles built a 20-0 lead, giving up just a lone touchdown with 12 seconds remaining in the game.
Even with the score, though, the Eagles made a statement by knocking off the Cowboys for the second time in as many meetings. Michael Vick played a near flawless game at quarterback, and DeSean Jackson picked up 90 yards through the air and 27 on the ground against a Cowboys team fighting for a playoff spot.
This was a pretty impressive performance by a backup quarterback against the eventual Super Bowl champions. Vince Young marched the Philadelphia Eagles 80 yards in 18 plays, taking nearly nine minutes off the game clock. Young capped it off with an eight-yard strike to backup receiver Riley Cooper for what proved to be the game-winning score.
After this game, the Eagles were 4-6 and feeling pretty good about themselves in terms of getting back into the NFC East race. It was also nice to see VY back up his mouth with his play on the field—especially with the way he played in his third and final start of the season.
In training camp, it appeared the Philadelphia Eagles might need to go the entire 2011 season without wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and defensive tackle Mike Patterson.
Maclin had been battling a mysterious illness that caused him to lose 15 pounds; it later turned out to be a lymphoma scare that threatened his future in the NFL. Maclin rebounded to play 13 of 16 games—missing three games with an injury unrelated to his training camp scare—and catch 63 passes for 859 yards and five touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Mike Patterson, the team’s first-round pick back in the 2005 NFL draft, suffered a brain seizure in training camp that required hospitalization. Patterson was officially diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation, but rebounded to start all 16 regular season games and turn in his usual solid performance as a starting defensive tackle.
Three players on the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles were blessed with a Pro Bowl invitation—running back LeSean McCoy, defensive end Jason Babin and offensive tackle Jason Peters. McCoy’s selection was his first, Babin made his second in a row and Peters made his fifth straight appearance.
All three players were starters for the squad, and deservedly so. McCoy was arguably the NFL’s elite runner in 2011, finishing with 20 total touchdowns. Peters was never better as an offensive tackle, excelling in both the pass blocking and run blocking game. Babin picked up 18 sacks in the Eagles’ new wide-nine scheme, a formation that maximized Babin’s strengths as a pass-rushing specialist.
Jason Babin’s first tenure in Philadelphia was a disappointing 2009 season, spent primarily as a backup. At that point in his career, Babin was a six-year player still trying to shed the bust label after the Houston Texans took him in the first round (27th overall) of the 2004 NFL draft.
Babin excelled in Tennessee in 2010, picking up 12.5 sacks under line coach Jim Washburn’s defense, and earning his first Pro Bowl selection. The Eagles signed the free agent Babin to a five-year deal, bringing over Washburn to coach the line as well.
Babin and Trent Cole combined to form arguably the most explosive pass-rushing duo in the league. Cole is a complete player that dominates in both the pass-rushing and run-stopping aspects of the game; Babin is more one-dimensional, but still, 18 sacks is 18 sacks, and any fan will take that regardless of how many penalties he commits or how many times he just misses the ball carrier on a handoff.
You could easily make a case that this was a curse: The Philadelphia Eagles retained head coach Andy Reid as a result of the wins and lost several slots in the upcoming NFL draft.
But I believe Reid was coming back either way, and there were some fun moments down the stretch, like beating up on the New York Jets, keeping the Dallas Cowboys out of the playoffs, and simply seeing wins from an Eagles team that had so much potential all year but couldn’t find a way to come away victorious.
The 2012 Eagles don’t have a lot of glaring holes. At all. The offensive line is set for the next three years, and it’s an underrated unit. DeSean Jackson is back. DeMeco Ryans is now the stud linebacker the team so desperately needed. Nate Allen is fully healthy following his patellar tendon injury. And the Eagles have a mid-first round pick in a relatively deep draft.
This was a complete effort by the Philadelphia Eagles against a football team that was still fighting for a playoff spot. The Eagles jumped to a 28-0 lead and coasted to a 45-19 win over a head coach that everyone loves to beat.
LeSean McCoy ran for three touchdowns, Michael Vick turned in a solid game, Juqua Parker added a defensive score and the Eagles racked up 420 yards to just 241 for the Jets. It was strange watching the Eagles pound on the Jets because as fans we knew we would then need the Jets to rebound the following week and beat the New York Giants.
And that didn’t happen. But this game was fun while it lasted.
I never get tired of watching the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Dallas Cowboys. Ever. Few things in life bring me more joy.
In this game, the Eagles entered the contest 2-4, coming off a solid win over the Washington Redskins, and still very much alive in the playoff picture. The Eagles then turned in a performance that you would expect from a unit dubbed The Dream Team—the Eagles rolled to a 34-0 start against a high-powered Cowboys team, accumulating 495 total yards of offense on the day.
Michael Vick played a phenomenal game under center, LeSean McCoy ran 30 times for 185 yards and two scores—accumulating 200 yards from scrimmage in all—and the defense sacked Tony Romo four times. Everything went the Eagles’ way that game—even the two times the Eagles fumbled the football, they recovered both.
I never really had anything against Kevin Kolb—except he just wasn’t a good quarterback. And he still isn’t. But Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt felt Kolb was worth a second-round pick plus former Pro Bowl corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and then Whisenhunt inked Kolb to a five-year, $63 million contract.
I still don’t think people give Andy Reid enough credit for completing this trade. The fact that Reid spent a second-round pick on Kolb backfired, as Kolb never really amounted to much in an offense designed for quarterbacks to excel. But the fact that Reid was STILL able to send Kolb somewhere else for a high draft pick and a (hopefully) solid enough corner is a terrific deal.
DRC is on contract for just one more year, and he will need to perform significantly better in 2012 than he did in 2011. But if the Eagles trade Asante Samuel—very plausible considering the team has been trying to do so all offseason—DRC will start on the outside, rather than the slot, and that’s a spot in which he feels much more comfortable.
LeSean McCoy was an absolute stud for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011, and he etched his name into the franchise record books with a brilliant three-touchdown effort against the New York Jets in Week 15.
McCoy broke Steve Van Buren’s nearly-70 year old record for touchdowns in a season, and he ended the season with two more scores than any other player (Rob Gronkowski), five more than any other running back (Ray Rice), and an incredible seven more than the next-best NFC running back (Adrian Peterson).
McCoy earned a slew of awards as recognition for his fabulous year—starting running back for the NFC in the Pro Bowl, First-Team AP All-Pro and FedEx Ground Player of the Year. He’s a dynamic runner out of the backfield, an effective receiver, and he rarely fumbles.
The Eagles knew they had a stud in McCoy after his strong ’10 season, but he really set the bar high in 2011. McCoy is still just 23 years old, he’s never had more than 273 carries in a year, he plays in an offensive designed for him to excel, he has a top-notch offensive line and he’s going to be the face of the franchise for many more years.