Philadelphia Eagles: 5 Players with the Ability to Make or Break the 2012 Season
The 2011 Philadelphia Eagles finished the season 8-8 and in second place in the NFC East, largely because of injuries, inconsistency, and fourth quarter collapses that ultimately cost the team a trip to the playoffs. The Eagles return much of the same roster—and coaching staff—which could be a good thing or could be a bad thing.
Whatever the case, the Eagles have plenty of talent and they know what they are going to get from most of the players on their roster. Trent Cole has been nothing but a top-five defensive end in the league every season, and for that reason, he will not make the list.
Mike Patterson is as consistent as a rock, and he is likely going to give the Eagles pretty much the same performance this year that he gave them last year. Those players will not be the difference between the Eagles finishing 12-4 or 9-7 and looking in.
For those with a great variance though, their performance this season could make or break the Eagles.
5. Nnamdi Asmougha
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When the Philadelphia Eagles signed free agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha to a five-year, $60 million contract last offseason, expectations were high that Asomugha would make the Eagles into one of the NFL’s stingiest defense.
That did not happen, partly because of Asomugha was used out of position by inexperienced defensive coordinator Juan Castillo for much of the season and partly because Asomugha was beaten badly on several plays—notably touchdown passes to Victor Cruz and Brandon Marshall.
Asomugha should rebound in 2012. He is going to have a full offseason with the team, and the fact that the Eagles have a dynamic pass-rushing unit up front—plus two new linebackers in Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans—should really help.
I doubt Castillo will try to use Asomugha in zone coverage again this season, not after seeing it fail so many times last year. Asomugha is at his best when he is allowed to simply lock onto the opponent’s best receiver and blanket him, and if he can play like he did in Oakland, the Eagles will be a serious contender in the NFC.
4. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
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The Philadelphia Eagles sent quarterback Kevin Kolb to Arizona last year for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second round pick. DRC was even worse than Nnamdi Asomugha in his debut season with the team, struggling in his new role as the slot cornerback while also dealing with a high ankle sprain that caused him to miss several contests late in the year.
DRC is a former Pro Bowl corner who has the size, aggressiveness, and physicality, as well as the ball-hawking skills to be a playmaker for the Eagles. Now that Asante Samuel is in Atlanta, DRC’s role will increase, as he will play the outside position that Samuel manned last year. Many Eagles fans are under the assumption that DRC will immediately solidify the position; while I certainly hope that is true, I cannot help but be worried.
DRC’s numbers in 2010—62.5 completion percentage, 9.2 yards per attempt, 810 passing yards, four touchdowns, 92.5 passer rating—were atrocious, as Pro Football Focus rated him as the single worst cornerback in the game. DRC was poor against the run, ineffective in blitzing the opposing quarterback, and especially costly when it came to committing penalties, as he made eight for the season.
DRC was surrounded by less-than-spectacular teammates in Arizona, and he will be much better off in Philadelphia with arguably the top defensive line in the game, a top-five corner in Asomugha playing opposite him, and two new prized linebackers in DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks.
With DRC on the outside, the Eagles can utilize new draft pick Brandon Boykin in the slot, which will give the team a top-notch passing defense. If DRC struggles though, Boykin may have to move to the outside, and I do not think he is ready for that at the NFL level.
3. Demetress Bell
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I cannot overestimate how big of a loss it was for the Philadelphia Eagles when All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters tore his Achilles tendon in the offseason. Fortunately, Michael Vick is a left-handed quarterback, so it’s not as if Peters was his blindside blocker, but Peters was by far the best offensive tackle in the NFL in 2011.
He rated as a +27.9, according to Pro Football Focus, nearly twice as good as any other tackle in the game. Peters allowed just three sacks and 17 quarterback pressures, an astounding number considering how much Vick moves around in the pocket. Peters is unmatched as a run blocker, and he is at his best getting down the field to block for LeSean McCoy on screen passes. Peters is a former collegiate tight end with superb athleticism, and he will greatly be missed.
Demetress Bell is a good replacement at left tackle, although he is certainly no Peters. Bell has played three NFL seasons, and he’s missed substantial time in two of them. When he has been healthy, Bell has rated as one of the better tackles in the game. Even last year, he graded tied for 17th among tackles out of 76 qualifiers. Bell allowed just one sack and seven quarterback pressures in seven games, and remarkably, he did not commit a single penalty.
Bell is also a solid enough run blocker. This basically hinges on whether he can stay healthy for the duration of the season. If he gets hurt, King Dunlap will have to step into the starting role, and Dunlap does not play as well as a 6’9” man should. If Bell stays healthy though, he will probably still be released following the season, but at least the Eagles will have found a solid left tackle for a year while Peters rehabs.
2. DeSean Jackson
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Few players in the league have the ability of DeSean Jackson to completely take over a game. Jackson is as fast a player as there is in the National Football League, and when he is on the field, he forces the opposing safeties to play at least 15-20 yards deep. That in turn opens up underneath routes for Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek, and LeSean McCoy.
Jackson cannot block particularly well and he really only has one trick—the deep ball. But that deep ball is worth $51 million, at least according to the Philadelphia Eagles, and if the Eagles had not signed Jackson, there would have been plenty of teams waiting to pay him.
Jackson’s numbers in 2011 did not reflect his abilities, as he played with a chip on his shoulder after not getting an extension; Jackson finished with just 58 receptions for 961 yards and four touchdowns. He did not break a rushing touchdown for the first time in his career, and he was extremely adequate in punt returns, averaging just 6.7 yards per return.
Jackson also dropped nine passes, which ranks him near the top of wide receivers, as does the number of interceptions thrown (7) on passes intended for him. Jackson hauled in 61.1 percent of passes thrown to him, a number similar to receivers like Naaman Roosevelt, Early Doucet, Jabar Gaffney, and Jarett Dillard.
Jackson needs to improve that number in 2012. He is likely never going to be a consistent four or five catch per game receiver. He is hit or miss, and when he misses, you will not even know he is on the field. But more consistency from Jackson would be nice, more explosiveness on punt returns, and fewer dropped passes. If Jackson clicks like he did in 2010 or 2011, watch out.
1. Michael Vick
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Michael Vick has the physical ability to be a top-five quarterback in the NFL, but he is probably one of the 10-15 best. Vick has speed never before seen at his position, as well as a cannon of a throwing arm, and superb leadership ability. He struggles to stay healthy though, as he has played just one 16-game season in his entire career. He often makes poor reads, he can be scarily inaccurate, and sometimes he looks too much like the quarterback in Atlanta who looked to run first and pass second.
Vick is going to be 32 years old by the time the season starts, and for a running quarterback, that means he probably does not have too many years left. Vick has five years remaining on the six-year, $100 million contract extension he signed after his superb 2010 season, but the Philadelphia Eagles very likely will not keep him for the duration of that deal.
Vick threw for a career-high 3,303 passing yards last season, adding 18 touchdowns through the air, plus 589 yards and a touchdown on the ground, averaging 7.8 yards every time he took off to run. Vick also threw 14 interceptions—a career-high—and he fumbled 10 times. Vick failed to lead a single game-winning drive or fourth-quarter comeback—the first season of his career he has failed to do so—and was especially mediocre when the Eagles needed a late rally to tie or win the game.
If Vick plays like he did down the stretch in 2010 when he was unstoppable and an MVP candidate, the Eagles could score 450-plus points and challenge the Green Bay Packers for NFC supremacy.
That means minimizing his turnovers, protecting the football, hitting the open receiver, staying healthy, and leading the Eagles on some fourth-quarter comebacks. If Vick continues to fumble the ball at an excessive rate and misses too many contests due to injury, the Eagles could be on the outside looking in, especially since they do not really have a backup ready to step up should Vick get hurt.