As far as the Philadelphia Eagles are concerned, 2011 is a distant memory. Right now, their sights are squarely focused on the 2012 season and how they can get back into the playoffs.
Fortunately for the Eagles, there are a few steps they can take that will put them in the right direction. Now, obviously, a few—if not all—of these are easier said than done, but the Eagles have the right coaching staff and players in place to find success.
So, Andy Reid, now would be a good time to put down the ham sandwich and pick up a pen and piece of paper.
NFL teams may not play as many games as other major league sports, but no other sport wears a player down as fast as football. Over the course of 16 games, players are bound to get tired and beat up, making them less effective during the crucial final games.
Which is why it is important to have a deep roster with players capable of stepping up and giving the starters a few snaps off. The Philadelphia Eagles have a fairly deep roster, which should make this step an easy one to accomplish.
Nowhere else is this more true than along the defensive line. The Eagles have perhaps the deepest and most talented defensive line in all of football. Starters Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson are a fearsome quartet as it is, but the players backing them up make this line deadly.
Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Phillip Hunt and Fletcher Cox (who may even start), all have the talent needed to step in for a few plays and give the starters a break while still maintaining a high level of play. This means that there is never a point during the game where the opposing quarterback is not having the pocket collapse on him.
A big reason why the Eagles’ defense underwhelmed for much of last season was because it did not have sufficient time to study the schemes and get acclimated to defensive coordinator Juan Castillo’s particular brand of defense.
For an accurate representation of this, look no further than starting cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. There is no denying that he was a great shutdown cornerback during his time in Oakland, but after coming to Philadelphia and having to learn a new defense, it was clear throughout the season that he was struggling with the switch.
With a full season under his belt and an offseason to master all the nuances of Castillo’s defense, Asomugha should play with more confidence and production.
The same can be said of the rest of the defense, in particular the linebackers and secondary. The entire unit showed promise late last season, which will hopefully carry over to 2012.
Last season, the Eagles had to deal with the “Dream Team” label and DeSean Jackson’s contract situation. It would be ignorant to believe that both of those things did not affect the rest of the team.
This season, the team must take the appropriate measures to avoid such distractions. If they can do that, then they will be able to focus entirely on what is happening on the gridiron, which should equate to better overall team play week in and week out.
Some people tend to believe that chemistry does not play an important role in how a team plays. They are wrong.
Chemistry is about more than getting along with the other players in the locker room. It is about trusting the players next to you on the field to do their job.
Last season, there were a lot of new faces in starting positions, particularly on the defense. This season, most of the starters from last year are returning, which means all the trust and chemistry acquired in 2011 should carry over and be built upon in 2012.
The problem that the defense had last season wasn’t about talent; it was about getting comfortable with the scheme and with the other players on the field. A full offseason should help with that, and when this team is playing as a cohesive unit, it can be one of the best in the league.
The title of this slide could very well be translated to “Have Michael Vick Work on Limiting Mistakes.”
Vick made costly mistakes at critical points of the game last season, and his mistakes took away a lot of team momentum. If he had made fewer errors, it is entirely possible that the Eagles would have been the ones to make a Super Bowl run instead of the New York Giants.
However, the game of football is very much a team sport, and Vick is not the only one who can be blamed. The defense, while strong up front, did not make many plays in the secondary.
This season, not only does Vick need to make better decisions running and throwing the football, but the defense must also create more turnovers of its own.
Running back LeSean McCoy and his high touchdown numbers helped hide the problem last season, but the offense still had trouble when it came to converting in the red zone.
Whether it is a change in the plays called down there or a change in the personnel on the field, something needs to be done to help the offense score more touchdowns when it is inside the 20-yard line.
Fans have been clamoring for a big-bodied wide receiver who can give Vick a big target in the end zone, and while Riley Cooper has the frame, he has not been the answer. Perhaps rookie Marvin McNutt, who is also a big receiver, can help in that regard. He has been drawing positive reviews in OTAs so far.
The team has no problem working its way down the field in between the 20s; now it must figure out how to be more effective in the red zone.
Much like the team’s red-zone deficiencies, poor tackling has been a recurring theme for the past few seasons in Philadelphia.
Opposing teams continue to gash the Eagles up the middle, and missed tackles in the secondary have resulted in costly big plays.
Fortunately, the Eagles actively sought to rectify the problem this offseason. Along the defensive line, the team drafted Fletcher Cox, who has a huge frame and is capable of plugging inside running lanes. That is crucial, especially given how far apart the defensive ends play on the outside.
The team also brought in DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks at linebacker. Both are solid tacklers and are instant upgrades over last year’s starters.
Where the team fell short, however, is in the secondary. While notoriously poor tackler Asante Samuel is now gone, his replacement is not much better at tackling. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a good cover corner but tends to shy away from tackles at times. At safety, Nate Allen is now fully healthy and should improve from last year, but Kurt Coleman must work on better tackling, and Jaiquawn Jarrett does not seem ready yet to take over as a starter.
Still, there is reason to be optimistic that the defense can improve its tackling in 2012.