Minicamps and Organized Training Activities (OTAs) are over, and the Philadelphia Eagles are looking forward to training camp this July.
It's another year and another promising team for head coach Andy Reid, but will the Super Bowl-less streak continue or will this year be the one?
The disaster that was the 8-8 'Dream Team' wasn't the product of a single individual, but the collection of failures by a number of high-paid stars. From quarterback Michael Vick to wide receiver DeSean Jackson to cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, 2011 was more like a nightmare for Eagles fans.
Now, after a wonderful offseason and nice draft, this team seems to be different than the ones of years past. They have an aura around them that says, "We're here to win a Super Bowl and nothing else."
Reid needs some of his big names to step up, and here are ten key players and what they need to accomplish in 2012 for their team to be successful.
Check out more of my work here.
Allen leapfrogs Brian Rolle on his way to a long interception return.
Goal: Record 5-plus Interceptions
Nate Allen was one of the better second-round selections of the 2010 NFL Draft, but so far, a nagging knee injury has kept him from breaking out and becoming a rock at the free safety position.
He's missed four games total in two seasons, three in 2010 and one last season, but in 28 games, he's recorded 107 tackles, two sacks, five interceptions and fifteen passes defended.
Allen has shown flashes of brilliance in rush defense, but his true strengths lie—and rightly so, seeing as he is a free safety—in over-the-top pass coverage. His five interceptions could be so many more if it weren't for batted balls and drops; the corners, DRC and Nnamdi Asomugha, are bound to mistakes once in a while, and it needs to be Allen who is there to save the day.
Five interceptions would make the defense's job a whole lot easier.
Goal: Make All Field Goals Within 50 Yards
This may seem like too lofty of a goal to many of you, but just listen to this: Henery was 23/25 last season in such field goals, and the two he missed were easy kicks within 39 yards.
If Henery can be the David Akers of his prime—a kicker who was perfect on kicks he was supposed to make—the Eagles will avoid disasters like last year's San Francisco game and have the brightest young kicker in the NFL.
Goal: Have Opposing Completion Percentage Under 50
Last year Nnamdi Asomugha was picked apart by several quarterbacks—Eli Manning among them—as he grasped to learn a strange, new zone coverage scheme. Now that Asante Samuel is gone and the scheme has changed to fit his strengths, there is no excuse in 2011 for him not to perform as expected.
ProFootballFocus did research on cornerback statistics, and they found that the top ten cornerbacks, statistically, allowed opponents to throw for 49.4% or less.
If Nnamdi plans on returning to the shutdown form that he displayed in Oakland, this is the statistic where he'll need to dominate. When QBs throw in his direction, they should know that there is a 50/50 chance their pass gets knocked down.
Goal: Allow No More Than Five Sacks
In his last full season, 2010, Demetress Bell gave up 5.25 sacks as a member of the Buffalo Bills.
Bell has never been known as a good pass blocker—his run blocking, comparatively, is considered one of the best—but he'll have to clamp down if the Eagles want to keep Michael Vick on the field.
Last season, the Eagles tied for ninth in the NFL when it came to sacks allowed with 32. The most a lineman gave up in the way of sacks last year was 4.25 by Todd Herremans; Peters only gave up 2.5.
Bell doesn't have to be perfect, but if he allows more than five sacks then he won't be an adequate replacement at left tackle.
Goal: Get 15-plus Sacks
Fans can cry about how Jason Babin doesn't do enough in the run, but in the end, he was brought here to be a prototypical wide-nine defensive end. Specifically, one who can rush the passer with the best of them.
Babin played that role last season, getting an incredible 18 sacks. He took a lot of unfair blame because of a weak linebacking corps that couldn't stop the run, but now that DeMeco Ryans is the middle linebacker, Babin should have an easier time sacking the quarterback.
The only way to really justify his style of play is getting results, which is why Jason is going to have to be one of the league's top sack machines in 2012 once again.
Goal: Average 5 Yards Per Carry
For all the things LeSean McCoy is amazing at—big plays, jukes, scoring touchdowns and being fast—the one thing he struggled with in 2011 was yards after contact. McCoy averaged less than he did in 2010 and that affected his overall average accordingly: It dropped from 5.2 to 4.8.
McCoy will be getting less touches in 2012 to save his body from big hits, and rightly so. The Eagles can't afford to have their start tailback start to wear down from over use. Now that McCoy will be getting less attempts, he'll need to compensate by averaging more yards per carry. He'll be more fresh then he was in 2011, which means that he should be fighting more for extra yardage and being more efficient overall.
Goal: Average 39 Net Yards per Punt
Chas Henry was one of the worst punters in the NFL in 2011, averaging 37.5 net yards per punt even with a decent coverage team—he ranked 26th among all eligible punters.
He often missed locations or simply didn't punt the ball deep enough, which gave opposing teams good field position and put the Eagles defense in a bad position.
Andy Reid doesn't need Henry to be brilliant in his second year. He just needs him to be average, which is what averaging 39 net yards per punt is in the league.
Goal: Have Drop Percentage Lower Than Ten
According to ProFootballFocus, DeSean Jackson was the biggest culprit in the league when it came to dropping balls in 2011.
D-Jax dropped nearly 20 percent of the balls that came his way; if he had caught half of those 12 he dropped, he probably would have gotten 100 more yards and likely another touchdown—a couple of those drops were in end zone.
Look at the difference:
- Raw 2011 Stats: 58 Receptions, 961 Yards, 4 Touchdowns
- Adjusted 2011 Stats (based off of 16.6 YPC): 64 Receptions, 1061 Yards, 5 Touchdowns
It seems like it makes a difference to me.
DeSean Jackson can be the league's scariest deep threat until he's blue in the face, but he needs to stop being so one-dimensional if he wants to live up to his potential and become possibly the greatest Eagles receiver of all time.
Goal: Record Over 120 Tackles/Lead Team in Tackling
This may be a topic that has been over-analyzed, but I continue to belabor it because it was so important to the defense in 2011. The run defense from the linebacker position was just not good enough, which is why the trade for DeMeco Ryans was so good.
Ryans, one of the best tacklers in the NFC, needs to come in and make an immediate impact. He averaged 130 tackles per year during his first four seasons before injuries and a scheme change brought those numbers down in 2010 and 2011.
He doesn't need to lead the league in tackles, but he needs to rack up a lot of them—especially on runs between the tackles—and be the defensive presence that the Eagles need at middle linebacker.
Vick needs to limit turnovers.
Goal: Have TD-INT Ratio of 2:1 or Better
Michael Vick needs to do two things in 2012 to succeed: protect himself and protect the ball.
Last year, Vick threw 18 touchdowns to 14 interceptions, and the Eagles went 8-8 and missed the playoffs. In 2010, he threw 21 touchdowns to six interceptions and the Eagles went 10-6 and won the division.
Vick showed two years ago that he is capable of throwing the ball in traffic and making good decisions; if the Eagles want to win games in 2012 against some of the league's best defenses—Pittsburgh and Baltimore among them—then they'll need to maximize the number of possessions they get.
That all starts with the quarterback and whether he can throw the ball around the field without turning it over.