Philadelphia Eagles 2012: 7 Keys to Staying Relevant in NFC East

Kyle Newport@@KyleNewportFeatured ColumnistJuly 11, 2012

Philadelphia Eagles 2012: 7 Keys to Staying Relevant in NFC East

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    After a disappointing season in 2011, the Philadelphia Eagles will need to make adjustments in order to contend in the NFC East and possibly the Super Bowl.

    In a season in which they anticipated playing for the Super Bowl, the Eagles got off to a 1-4 start and never recovered.

    An 8-8 record would be adequate for some teams, but it was a letdown for this team.

    They managed to get back into contention at the end of last season but came up short. With the defending Super Bowl champions in their division, the Eagles will find it no easy task to finish in first place. 

    Last season was filled with turmoil, so they need to avoid controversy this season. 

    To contend this season, Philadelphia will need to get another huge season out of LeSean McCoy and get other players to play to their capabilities.

Michael Vick

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    Nobody should be shocked by this.

    Michael Vick can change a game at any moment, so Philadelphia needs him to return to his 2010 form. He consistently put up big numbers two seasons ago, but he struggled to maintain the high level of play last year.

    His passing yards went up last season, but he did not put up big numbers regularly until the end of the season. 

    In six of the 13 games he played in, Vick failed to complete more than 60 percent of his passes. Ironically, the team only won three games in which he completed more than 60 percent.

    In 2010, he had only three games in which he did not eclipse the 60 percent mark.

    After finishing 2010 with only six interceptions, Vick threw 14 picks last season and lost two fumbles. Limiting turnovers will be important if the Eagles hope to contend this season.

    While his passing yards increased last season, his rushing yards dropped. He did not run as much as he had in previous years, but his 7.8 yards per carry was the second highest in his career (for a "full" season).

    Vick's biggest issue in his career has been injuries; he has played 16 games in a season only once in his career. His style of play puts him at risk, though it also allows him to make explosive plays.

    It is no secret that the Eagles season will go as Vick goes. When healthy, he can carry the team, making Philadelphia very difficult for anyone to beat.

Bounce-Back Season for DeSean Jackson

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    DeSean Jackson's dynamic play during his first few NFL seasons certainly spoiled us.

    But last year was definitely a down year for him.

    While Jackson's holdout last season drew a lot of coverage from ESPN and other media outlets, it seemed to be used as an excuse for his disappointing season. Per, a new five-year contract this offseason has changed his attitude and has him dreaming of bringing a championship to Philadelphia.

    He has surpassed 900 receiving yards in each of his first four seasons in the league, but he failed to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the third consecutive season last year.

    Last season was also the first time in his career in which he did not return a punt for a touchdown. After making one of the most unforgettable plays in recent memory in 2010, his punt returning in 2011 was not what we were used to seeing.

    Jackson is a victim of his own success.

    He is such a special, dynamic playmaker—one who has provided highlights on a weekly basis—that we sometimes expect too much from him. Now that he does not have a contract issue, he should be focused and ready to make plays.

    With bounce-back seasons from Vick and Jackson, Philadelphia's offense will return to being one of the best in the NFL. 

Offensive Line

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    Last season, Philadelphia's offensive line featured two inexperienced players in the middle.

    Center Jason Kelce and right guard Danny Watkins will both be entering their second season in the league. The Eagles need them to play at a high level in 2012.'s Gregg Rosenthal reported this offseason that tackle Jason Peters suffered an Achilles injury for the second time in his career, forcing the Eagles to look for a replacement for their All-Pro tackle.

    While it waits for Peters to recover, the team signed Demetress Bell to a five-year deal, according to's Jeff McLane

    Bell, Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans are all experienced, and the Eagles offense will rely heavily on this trio to lead the line.

    In passing situations, the OL needs to be able to give Vick enough time when he drops back. Although Vick has incredible speed and can escape pressure, the franchise quarterback still depends on solid offensive-line play to help him avoid injuries.

    The running game was important to Philadelphia's success in 2011, so LeSean McCoy will need a healthy offensive line to continue to be one of the best running backs in the NFL.

    It will be tough to replace Peters, but the Eagles still have one of the best offensive lines in the league.

Improved Linebackers

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    As's Mike Florio reports, the Eagles got a steal when they traded a fourth-round pick (and swapped third-round picks) to Houston for middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans. 

    In 2011, the team was unable to find a fit at middle linebacker, and he will become a stabilizing force for the defense.

    The other spots are undecided, so training camp will allow the battles to unfold.

    Brian Rolle had a good rookie season, and I would not be surprised to see him come out of camp with a spot in the starting lineup. Now that he has played a full season and experienced a full offseason, he should be able to adjust and fit in with the rest of the defense. 

    Mychal Kendricks, the 2011 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, will have the inside track to win the final linebacker spot. The second-round pick is a very good tackler and can make a difference on defense.

    Despite the youth at the position, the Eagles should have a much-improved linebacking corps in 2012.

Better Play out of Safties

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    With a pair of 24-year-old safeties, the Eagles will need to be patient with their defense.

    Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman will team up and try to solidify this area of the defense. Both players struggled last season, so it will be important for them to get off to a good start.

    At cornerback, Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will take pressure off the safeties.  

    The young safeties combined for five interceptions last season, but Coleman had three in Week 6 against Washington.

    In eight of the team's first 12 games, the defense allowed 21 points or more. It finally started playing better and did not allow more than 19 points in any of the final four games.

    The linebacker position may be the most improved area on the team, so the safety spot now appears to be the biggest question mark on this defense.

Confident Coaching Staff

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    Last season, Philadelphia's coaching staff was questioned throughout the year.'s Michael David Smith reported last fall that defensive coordinator Juan Castillo accepted blame for the disappointing defense and was in jeopardy of losing his job.

    The team upgraded its defense, so Castillo will have more talent to work with in 2012. 

    Head coach Andy Reid also had pressure on him, but his past success earned him another season in Philadelphia.

    He has been one of the best coaches in the league, and he knows how to handle the pressure in Philadelphia.

    The coaches need to be aggressive and not worry about losing their jobs. After last season, the critics will be speak up early and often if the team struggles coming out of the gate.

    With stars on both sides of the ball, the coaching staff can unleash their players. Aggressive play will lead to a successful season in Philadelphia.

Beat Division Rivals

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    After watching the New York Giants win the Super Bowl last season, the Eagles should have plenty of motivation in 2012.

    The NFC East has been considered the toughest division in football for years, and it should continue to be a competitive division.

    After losing at home to the Giants in Week 3, the Eagles won five straight division games to finish 5-1 inside the division.

    Since 2009, the Eagles have gone 13-6 (including a playoff loss to Dallas) against their division rivals.

    Four of those losses were against the Cowboys, including three during the 2009 season. The Eagles swept the season series last year, holding the Cowboys to seven points in each meeting.

    Washington has given Philadelphia some trouble in recent years. The Eagles have won five out of six games against the Redskins since 2009, as they have been able to triumph in close contests.

    The Giants seem to match up well with the Eagles. The teams split last season's series and should be battling for the division title this year. 

    The NFC East is matched up with the NFC South and AFC North this season. Those divisions combined to put five teams into the postseason last year.

    For that reason, it will be very important for the Eagles to take care of business inside their own division.