Eagles vs Browns: 10 Things We Learned from Philadelphia's 17-16 Win
It wasn't pretty and there is plenty of criticism to go around, but the Eagles found a way to nab a close win over the Cleveland Browns. Despite being heavy favorites, the Eagles only won by a single point, overcoming self-inflicted wounds en route to a 17-16 victory.
I'm sure most Eagles fans were hoping for a blowout win, but a win is a win in the NFL. The Eagles are now 1-0 to start the season and found a way to win a close game, which is something that Eagles fans have seen very little of in the last season.
There were plenty of problems evident in the team's performance today, but also plenty of reason for optimism. Here are 10 things we learned from Philadelphia's nail-biting 17-16 win over Cleveland.
1. Michael Vick Remains a Question Mark
Not all of today's struggles were Vick's fault. But many of them were.
While Vick played behind a shaky offensive line, there is no excuse for throwing four interceptions in a single game. Especially the way Vick was throwing them, consistently into double coverage and seeming to ignore zone coverages left and right. One could argue Vick was lucky he didn't register six interceptions, as he stared down receivers all game long.
After that fourth interception, many Eagles fans were likely calling for him to be benched in favor of Nick Foles. But then, Vick was able to lead a drive into field goal range—a kick which Alex Henery missed. And on his second chance, with the game on the line, Vick led them down the field for a game winning touchdown.
Just when it seemed like Vick was clearly not the answer, he demonstrated impressive passing on the game's final drive. Vick certainly deserves more chances to prove he should be the franchise quarterback of this team. It is possible he was shaking off rust, as he missed the majority of the preseason.
However, he needs to be on a tight leash. If he plays like he did today against Baltimore, the interceptions will continue to pile up.
2. Juan Castillo Has Greatly Improved as a Play-Caller
Last season, defensive coordinator Juan Castillo was blamed for many of the struggles of the Eagles defense and he seemed like a deer in the headlights, being burned again and again by opponents. But today he was phenomenal.
His play-calling kept Brandon Weeden confused and lost and it resulted in him throwing four interceptions. Weeden was also consistently pressured, which helped to force him into mistakes.
Furthermore, the Eagles completely shut down Trent Richardson.
Castillo was often criticized for seeming unqualified for the job but he seems to have adjusted admirably in 2012. His defense is ferocious and suffocating. It will be exciting to see in the coming weeks how his defense responds to more potent offenses.
3. Linebackers Are Now a Team Strength
The Eagles linebackers were incredible today. DeMeco Ryans was everywhere and made lots of key plays, demonstrating impressive awareness and great tackling. He seems to have completely recovered from his knee injury from a year ago.
Mychal Kendricks also continued to show the speed, tackling, and instincts that made him worthy to select in the second round.
Good linebackers are often the foundation of a strong defense. With such an impressive linebackers corps, this defense should excel in 2012.
4. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie Is Still a Star
Rodgers-Cromartie struggled mightily last season at nickel corner. But a year later, returned to his natural outside corner position, he appears to be the star of the Eagles secondary.
Not only did he snatch two interceptions, but he demonstrated improved tackling and batted down many passes as well. He was a force to be reckoned with and was difficult to throw to.
Rodgers-Cromartie seems to have his confidence back and is proving all of his doubters wrong. He is an excellent young player and was certainly worth the trade.
5. The Offensive Line Is Still a Huge Liability
The Eagles may have to consider starting Demetress Bell or possibly acquiring a veteran through free agency or a trade, as King Dunlap does not appear to be the answer at the left tackle position. He was bullied all game long and required additional blocking to be moved to his side of the line.
He was not the only problem, however. The entire offensive line was penalized all game long, with Evan Mathis, Danny Watkins, and Jason Kelce all being responsible. The poor play of the O-Line made it very difficult for Vick to find a rhythm.
The O-Line must improve if the Eagles hope to make the postseason and a deep playoff run.
6. The Eagles Still Need to Run the Ball More
The Eagles gave LeSean McCoy 20 carries against Cleveland. While that may seem high for Andy Reid's philosophy, they also called 56 pass attempts for Vick.
Vick was clearly struggling the entire game and was frustrated by the defensive pressure and well-designed coverages. McCoy, on the other hand, was tearing up the Browns defense, ending the game with 110 yards rushing and averaging 5.5 yards per carry.
When your quarterback is struggling and your running back is thriving, it seems illogical to continue to call passing plays. A strong running play could have taken pressure off of Vick, possibly opening up the possibility of play-action passing.
The Eagles need to find a better run-pass ratio, especially when they have arguably one of the finest running backs in the NFL.
7. The Special Teams Still Has Work to Do
The worst failure of the special teams was Alex Henery missing a must-make field goal in the fourth quarter.
But other than that, the special teams looked solid in many areas. They were able to contain return-specialist Joshua Cribbs and demonstrated excellent tackling.
There is room for improvement in the kick return game, as Damaris Johnson and Brandon Boykin rarely had any return space. But unless Henery makes a habit out of missing clutch field goals, the special teams unit should not be a liability this season.
8. The Defensive Line Is Still One of the Best in the League
While the defensive line did not accumulate the lofty sack numbers of the previous season, it still played extremely well today. Jason Babin was in Brandon Weeden's face all day and consistently pressured him.
The D-Line also did not just generate pressure, but it demonstrated great instincts and awareness.
It may not rack up 19 sacks per player, but it will continue to be a team strength and a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks.
9. DeSean Jackson Looks More Focused
DeSean Jackson did not catch a touchdown, but he still hauled in four catches for 77 yards. One of them was an impressive leaping catch. In another instance, he demonstrated great hustle by batting a sure interception away from Joe Haden, which kept the Eagles' game winning drive alive.
While Jackson's numbers may have seemed modest, he was matched up against Joe Haden, one of the league's finest cornerbacks. He did not show any sign of letting up and continued to battle all game long.
Statistics show that Jackson's performance is correlative to Eagles victories. These signs of improved focus are good signs for Philadelphia.
10. Nnamdi Asomugha Looks More Comfortable in the System
Nnamdi Asomugha had possibly the worst season of his career last season. But this season, he already looks much improved. He looks more confident and more comfortable in the the system, possibly due to the addition of a new secondary coach, Todd Bowles.
Asomugha was not burned consistently as he was in 2011 and he made many impressive plays. One was a key tackle on a Browns trick play that likely prevented a touchdown.
It seems that a year later, the most prized free agent of the 2011 free agency is finally living up to his potential.
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