5 Burning Questions Facing the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2012 NFL Season
After failing to match their considerable talent level with positive results in 2011, the Philadelphia Eagles are under enormous pressure to succeed this time around.
Their hopes for success hinge largely on the ability to protect the football and keep quarterback Michael Vick upright. While the defense is not as bad as many suggested last season, the unit still faces questions, particularly concerning its ability to stop the run.
Here are the five biggest questions facing the Eagles as they near the start of the 2012 season.
Can They Effectively Replace LT Jason Peters?
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Losing left tackle Jason Peters to a season-ending Achilles injury was a huge blow to an already suspect offensive line. Adequately replacing the two-time Pro Bowler will be one of the bigger challenges facing the Eagles this season.
Bell would have been the favourite, given that he started 16 games at the same position for the Buffalo Bills in 2010. However, Bell has had his own injury concerns, missing nine games last season and has so far struggled to make the grade in Philadelphia.
The Eagles need some strength and quality at that left tackle position to keep knocking open running lanes for LeSean McCoy and to prevent free blitzers from getting to Vick. There may be issues elsewhere along the line, but this position will determine the overall success or failure of the group.
Will New Arrivals Improve the Run Defense?
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The Eagles ranked 16th overall in rushing defense in 2011 and were often soft against the run at crucial moments during games. The team's Wide 9 defensive line alignment can leave the middle exposed, which puts the onus on new arrival DeMeco Ryans to shore up the heart of Philly's defense.
The Eagles traded with the Houston Texans to land Ryans and are counting on him to be the stout and savvy plugger they need to make their bold schemes work. Ryans has the frame and downhill instincts to be a nice fit in coordinator Juan Castillo's system, but he will also need more disciplined play from the interior of the defensive line to help make his job easier.
That puts the spotlight on this year's first-round draft choice Fletcher Cox. The cat-quick, three-technique is an ideal fit for the way line coach Jim Washburn loves to attack a blocking scheme.
However, disrupting rushing plays in the backfield and re-directing runners toward Ryans will be just as important as pressuring the quarterback for the 298-pound rookie. The Eagles have the potential to be a dominant defense, but they must do a better job of taking away the run and forcing opponents to try to survive arguably the league's best pass rush.
Will DeSean Jackson Rebound After Signing New Contract?
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After having created so much negativity regarding a new deal, DeSean Jackson finally got his wish when the Eagles agreed terms on a new contract that will pay him around $51 million over five years.
Will that be enough for Jackson to rebound from a sub-par 2011 campaign? The player himself recently conceded that he wasn't fully committed last season, according to a report from CBSSports.com.
It's difficult to know what to make of that admission. It could simply imply that Jackson is ready to once again scare the living daylights out of defenses and special teams units like only he can.
On the other hand, it could also be interpreted as reason for concern this season. If Jackson wasn't content to try his hardest before he landed his big contract, why should even more money induce greater effort?
The Eagles need Jackson back to this best this season. He is a prolific deep threat who opens up the underneath routes and the running game. His return skills change the kicking game tactics of every opponent on Philadelphia's schedule.
Breaking the 1,000 receiving yards mark for the third time in his career should be the minimum requirement for Jackson during this campaign.
Can the Offense Cut Down on Costly Turnovers?
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Arguably the Eagles' biggest issue last season was their inability to protect the ball. The offense was one of the most generous in the league when it came to surrendering possession and giving favourable field position to the opposition.
The Eagles posted a minus-14 turnover ratio, tossing 25 interceptions and losing 13 fumbles. Those numbers go some way to explaining how a team boasting skill players like Jackson, Vick, Brent Celek, LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin manages to miss the playoffs.
Taking better care of the ball has to be a priority for the Eagles' offense this season. They have the weapons to pile up points on any defense, provided they don't succumb to another slew of self-inflicted wounds.
Can Michael Vick stay healthy?
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The most pressing issue of last season remains the biggest concern heading into this one. Keeping Michael Vick healthy could be an insurmountable challenge for the Eagles, given their problems along the offensive line and the number of hits he takes on the run.
The problem was once again brought into sharp focus by Vick's failure to even get through the preseason without injury. He took a heavy shot against the New England Patriots, which NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal reports could leave him sidelined until the start of the real action.
That's not the most encouraging way to prepare for the new campaign for a player who spent most of 2011 battered and bruised. Vick's fleet-footed scrambling makes him an obvious target in the open field, but how do the Eagles limit that danger without taking away a crucial facet of his game?
Another problem is that defenses are now increasingly willing to blitz Vick on his left side. Getting pressure right in his face has led to some big hits, particularly to the chest.
Leaning more on the run could be key, but is unlikely to happen with a play-caller as pass-happy as Andy Reid directing the offense. That means superior pass-protection and more prudent decision-making from Vick will be vital to the Eagles' chances of success.
If the Eagles can't do a better job of maintaining a strong pocket for Vick and encouraging him to get rid of the ball quicker, he is unlikely to survive the season. That could leave the Eagles facing another year without the playoffs.