Philadelphia Eagles: How Dream Team Can Avoid Another Nightmare in 2012
To say that the 2011 season was a disappointment for the Philadelphia Eagles would be a massive understatement.
The offense was being operated by an injury-prone turnover machine in Michael Vick. The defense was inconsistent with a terrible weakness at linebacker and a coordinator who looked like a deer in the headlights at some points. And to top it all off, the return game suffered greatly with the passiveness of catalyst DeSean Jackson.
However, there is reason to believe that the Eagles can reverse their misfortunes of last year and put together a “Dream Team”-esque season in 2012.
With that, here are some ways the Birds can avoid a disastrous season like they had in 2011.
The Rookies Make an Immediate Impact
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Even though Andy Reid and Co. are known throughout Philly for frustrating fans with head-scratching draft day moves, the Eagles’ think tanks surprisingly made smart and efficient decisions this time around.
While the wide-nine defense created chances for Trent Cole and Cullen Jenkins to make an impact in the backfield, the Eagles’ D-line spent a decent amount of time watching opposing tailbacks run by them and into the second level.
Considering they lacked a run-stuffing defensive tackle, the Birds used their first round pick on Fletcher Cox. The former Mississippi run-stopper will provide an athletic and fresh face who can clog holes in the front seven.
Even with this improvement, the linebacker corp had to be bolstered through the draft, which is what the Eagles did by selecting Mychal Kendricks with the No. 46 overall pick.
Kendricks, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2011, has drawn comparisons to the New York Giants’ Mathias Kiwanuka, as he boasts versatility and the swift ability to react to and stop the run.
Fourth-round pick Brandon Boykin out of Georgia should also provide insurance at the cornerback position and make an immediate dent in the return game.
If these players and others are able to step onto the field and make their presence felt, the Eagles will already be better off than they were last season.
Desean Jackson Competes with Heart
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In terms of a natural talent and ability standpoint, playmaker DeSean Jackson is one of the most feared offensive weapons in the NFL.
The 25-year-old speedster put up respectable numbers in 2011, producing a team-high 961 receiving yards on 58 receptions (15 of which were for 20+ yards).
With that being said, Jackson, who had been severely underpaid at $600,000 per year, did not show any grit or desire as the season wound down, as he was ensuring that he stayed healthy for contract negotiations.
However, the Eagles took care of their game-changer by dishing out a five year contract worth up to $51 million.
With Jackson happy and not worried about contract security, he'll be able to return to his full-head-of-steam approach and give the Eagles that touchdown threat that they missed so dearly last season.
Michael Vick Plays a Lot Better
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After spending time in prison and going through a year of limited action and tutelage by Andy Reid, elusive quarterback Michael Vick replaced Kevin Kolb in the 2010 season and lit up the scoreboard.
Vick put up monster statistics two years ago as he even garnered some MVP consideration.
However, the Virginia Tech product fell back down to Earth last season, as he committed a plethora of turnovers and didn't put up the results he had hoped for.
In the Eagles' abysmal 2011 campaign, Vick threw for 3,303 yards and 18 touchdowns but tossed 14 picks, fumbled the ball three times, and saw his passer rating fall more than 15 points.
Despite this melancholy outlook, Philly fans have reason to believe that their signal caller will have a drastically improved season—maybe one that puts him on MVP watch.
One main reason is the fact that this is Michael Vick's first full offseason in Philly as the starter. This will give him a better opportunity to spend time with Andy Reid on the field to work out any kinks in the offense and steadily improve as a quarterback—something he's shown he's capable of doing.
He will also need to learn how to avoid big hits and get out of bounds when that option is available to him. Too many times Eagles fans held their breath last season when their quarterback went barreling forward for extra yardage, only to get his clock cleaned by a bruising linebacker.
With several months to get comfortable with his teammates in a full offseason, Vick will help the Birds win more ball games by playing at a Pro-Bowl level next season.
Linebacker Position Becomes a Strength
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As mentioned before, the addition of rookie Mychal Kendricks will reinforce the linebacking corp as he'll be able to use his quickness and instincts to make plays on the ball carrier.
However, the Cal product wasn't the only linebacker the Eagles front office brought in to help the sorry unit, as they signed former Houston Texan Pro-Bowler DeMeco Ryans.
Ryans was acquired via trade in March when the Eagles sent the Texans a 2012 fourth round pick, and the two teams agreed to swap their third round selections.
Considered a steal by many, Ryan comes in as an elite linebacker who can right the ship in the Eagles' second level of defense.
Known as a leader on and off the field, Ryans played in all 16 regular season games last year after missing 10 contests in 2010 after rupturing his Achilles tendon.
After compiling 64 tackles, 44 solo tackles, and four pass deflections in 2011, the Alabama product looks to bring the same level of production to the table in 2012 and help out a recently hapless Eagle linebacking corp.
Juan Castillo Shows Improvement
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Let's be honest here: the Eagles' D looked flat out atrocious for most of the season last year, especially in the fourth quarter (you know, when it's most important).
So what's another way the defense can improve for 2012 that isn't changing the linebacker or defensive line play? How about getting your defensive coordinator comfortable with the system he put in place.
After coaching the offensive line since 1998, last season was Juan Castillo's first year as defensive coordinator, and surprisingly it wasn't his last.
Statistically speaking, the Eagles' defense, especially the secondary, wasn't too bad, but they played poorly at the worst possible times, as they squandered five fourth-quarter leads.
While you can certainly put blame on the players, some of the criticism had to be deflected toward Castillo and the way he mismanaged his veteran group of players.
So why was this guy not fired?
To be frank, I wouldn't have minded at all if he was shown the door in the offseason. However, I do think that he will improve in 2012 and he'll need to if the Eagles' D wants to stay afloat.
I don't believe that Castillo is going to experiment with his veterans as much this year but instead acclimate players like Ryan, Cox, and Kendricks to the base defense and work from there.
With a year under his belt and a better familiarity with his group of players, Castillo will need to make serious strides to help the Eagles avoid a disaster like last season.