6 Things That Must Happen for the Philadelphia Eagles to Win the NFC East
Despite a disappointing 8-8 season in 2011, the Philadelphia Eagles enter 2012 with expectations to once again compete strongly for the NFC East. The team enjoyed an extremely successful offseason, acquiring key players via the NFL draft, trades and free agency.
Then again, the Eagles thought they had the ultimate offseason last year, and it backfired on them immensely. The Eagles lost four of their first five games, dropping themselves into such a deficit in the division that four straight wins to close the season couldn’t save them.
Winning the division in 2012 won’t be easy, not with the New York Giants coming off a Super Bowl championship, the Dallas Cowboys as strong as ever and the Washington Redskins having added top quarterback Robert Griffin III, but it is definitely possible.
6. DeSean Jackson Needs to Play Like DeSean Jackson
In 2009 and 2010, DeSean Jackson was one of the NFL’s most electrifying wide receivers in the game, scoring 10 touchdowns of over 60 yards via three different ways—reception, rush and punt return. He topped 1,000 yards each season and made consecutive Pro Bowls, once as the first player in league history to make it at two different positions in the same season.
Jackson dropped off last year, dealing with off-the-field issues as well as less-than-spectacular play on the field. He was bothered with the contract talks all season and let that affect his performance, registering just 58 catches for 961 yards and four touchdowns, his worst totals since his rookie campaign.
Jackson has the potential to be one of the best in the game. It’s nearly impossible to game plan him because he has something that can’t be taught—speed. Jackson can beat nearly anyone in the game in a footrace, and he’s made the fly pattern his $51 million trick. Jackson has the potential to catch 12-15 touchdowns, and if he does, watch out for those Philadelphia Eagles.
5. The Defensive Line Needs to Be One of the NFL’s Best
The Philadelphia Eagles have a defensive line that has the potential to be one of the greatest units in league history. There’s Trent Cole and Jason Babin on the end, two players that could easily combine for 25-30 sacks in 2012.
Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson and Fletcher Cox make up probably the best trio of interior defensive linemen in the business. Jenkins and Cox are phenomenal pass-rushers, and Patterson is a terrific run-stopper and underrated pass-rusher himself. Factor in the depth all across the board—Derek Landri, Antonio Dixon, Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham—and the Eagles could rack up 60-plus sacks.
The New York Giants won two Super Bowls recently utilizing a defensive line that simply pressured the opposing quarterback and made plays happen; the Eagles have a similarly talented unit that could do the same.
4. The Backup Quarterback Needs to Play Well
Maybe this one won’t even apply, but considering Michael Vick has played 16 games just once in his entire career, it’s a safe bet the Philadelphia Eagles will have to go to their backup for at least one contest.
Vick is 32 years old and plays an extremely risky style of football with the amount of times at which he runs, and he missed three games last season with numerous injuries that included broken ribs, a hand contusion, a dislocated finger and a concussion.
Either Nick Foles or Mike Kafka will have to step up if/when Vick gets hurt. Foles is possibly the quarterback of the future, but Kafka is entering his third season with the team and knows the system much better. Foles is much more physically talented, but he probably isn’t ready to take over if needed for a short stretch. Then again, Kafka put up terrible numbers last year when he did play, throwing for no touchdowns, two interceptions and a 47.7 passer rating in 16 pass attempts.
I think Kafka will be the guy the Eagles go to when Vick gets hurt, and he can’t turn in the kind of dud performance Vince Young did, or the Eagles are in big trouble.
3. Protect Michael Vick
If Jason Peters hadn’t torn his Achilles tendon, I think the Philadelphia Eagles may be the odds-on favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. As it stands, the team still is immensely talented with a very solid offensive line.
Evan Mathis was re-signed to a five-year deal, and while he probably won’t duplicate the All-Pro caliber season he had in 2011, Mathis is a very talented offensive lineman. Jason Kelce and Danny Watkins both started regularly as rookies and should be ready to break out in 2012, and Todd Herremans is a Pro Bowl player even though he’s never actually been to the event.
The key to the season isn’t necessarily Demetress Bell, although Bell does need to stay healthy and play well as the left tackle. The real key to the season is the group gelling together in year two of the Howard Mudd system, and this could easily make or break the Eagles.
2. The Cornerbacks Need to Play Like Pro Bowlers
When the Philadelphia Eagles signed Nnamdi Asomugha to a five-year, $60 million deal in free agency, expectations were high that the team would get a typical shutdown performance from Asomugha. But after making three straight Pro Bowls in Oakland, Asomugha was extremely subpar in his first year in Philly.
He was utilized incorrectly by inexperienced defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, who tried to use Asomugha in more of a hybrid safety type of role. Even with that though, Asomugha made some glaring mistakes as a cover corner, allowing four touchdown passes after allowing a grand total of one from 2008 through 2010.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie often underachieved, even as he was used in the nickel role. DRC missed a handful of games to a high ankle sprain and was ineffective when he did play, which was disappointing considering he was a Pro Bowler as recently as 2009.
If Asomugha and DRC can be elite corners in 2012, the Eagles will be downright scary. If not, the Eagles might not be so good.
1. The Turnovers Need to Stay at a Minimum
One of the main differences between the 2010 Philadelphia Eagles that won the division and the 2011 squad that finished 8-8 was turnovers.
The Eagles turned the ball over just 25 times in ’10, but upgraded that total to 38 in ’11, the second-highest total of any NFC team. The Eagles went from a turnover differential of plus-nine in 2010 (third-best in the NFC) to minus-14 in 2011 (tied for second-last in the NFC).
That stands out more than anything else, especially since the Eagles had a better offense (6,230 yards to 6,386) and more sacks (39 in ’10 to 50 in ’11). If Vick can protect the football in terms of both not fumbling the football or throwing interceptions, the Eagles can be an elite team. If Vick struggles in that aspect, the Eagles will disappoint again.