After finishing the 2011 season on a four-game winning streak, the Philadelphia Eagles appeared to have reverted back to the team that blew eight of its first 12 games.
The only difference this time was that despite the sloppy, undisciplined play we had grown accustomed to seeing last year, they managed to orchestrate a fourth-quarter comeback and preserve the win.
Most Valuable Player
The biggest reason for the Eagles being able to leave Cleveland with their pride still intact and a 1-0 record is because of the defense—point blank, period. How else would they be able to out-gain their opponent 456 to 210, commit five of the nine total turnovers, and still just barely escape what would have been a catastrophic start to a promising season?
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie or Kurt Coleman could have easily taken MVP honors all to themselves, especially since they had two interceptions apiece, but today's victory was a collective effort, considering the lack of help they received from the offense.
They held the Browns to just 99 yards on the ground total and rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden to just 34 percent pass completion (12-35 for 111 yards). Even more impressive, Cleveland converted just 2-of-13 third downs and were kept out of the end zone all afternoon.
The defense was quick, alert, and suffocating, traits that were MIA for most of 2011. Blocks were shed quickly in order swarm to the ball and gang-tackle. The D-line was causing havoc in the backfield, thus welcoming the rookie QB to the league the best way they know how.
And at the center of it all was DeMeco Ryans, the newly acquired linebacker the Eagles so desperately needed. Unlike last season, there were no gaping holes in Philly's wide-9 scheme. Jason Babin and Co. rushed up field with full confidence that their backs were covered. Ryans led the way with five solo tackles and one for a loss.
Apparently, the latter stretch of last season was no fluke. From the look of things, second year defensive coordinator Juan Castillo has these guys ready to compete at a level necessary for a team with Super Bowl aspirations. If the atrocity that was Philadelphia's offense is any indication of what's to come in the weeks ahead, then the defense will need to replicate today's performance just to stay competitive.
However, it's unlikely that the offense will have another outing like this, but on the flip side, the defense will have stiffer competition.
Least Valuable Player
This should be a no-brainer. Whenever a quarterback throws four interceptions, he's certainly not going to get a trophy.
Maybe somebody forgot to tell Michael Vick just how important this season is. This is supposed to be his year, the year he proves once and for all he truly belongs among the league's elite—that he's capable of delivering a title to a city that's been craving one for decades. This is supposed to be the year that he justifies his second $100 million contract.
Unlike last season, he had a full offseason to prepare, study, and fine-tune his skills. But today suggested that he didn't do any of that. Instead he was hesitant and indecisive, often times holding on to the ball way too long, showing flashbacks of his days in Atlanta. There were passes that made you think to yourself, "What is this man looking at?"
For a team that depends so heavily on the health of their quarterback, Michael Vick's disregard for just that is alarming. Vick's second fumble came when he scrambled late in the fourth quarter for a first down, spun away from a would-be tackler and rather than getting down, went head on with two Cleveland defenders. It's these type of reckless plays that put his health and, ultimately, the Eagles' season in jeopardy.
Andy Reid must share part of the blame for Vick's abysmal play. There's no reason why 56 passing plays should be called when you boast one of the most gifted running backs in LeSean McCoy. Had there been more balance to the offense, Vick probably wouldn't have thrown as many interceptions and there would have been more of a rhythm.
On a more positive note, Vick did redeem himself somewhat, showing great composure by leading a late fourth-quarter drive to score the winning touchdown.
But regardless of the play-calling and late-game heroics, Vick's performance was disturbing, and as long as he keeps misreading defenses and making ill-advised throws, 2012 is going to look a lot like 2011.
This award goes to the Eagles first-round pick, Fletcher Cox. After a shaky preseason, the rookie came to life against the Browns, recording his first sack. He also added two tackles as well. The Brown's rushing attack was non-existent, thanks in large part to Cox.
The young defensive tackle helped plug holes and make life miserable for Trent Richardson. You could see why Philadelphia's front office was so excited about this young guy. He's the perfect fit for their wide-9 scheme and his presence makes the Eagles extremely formidable against the run.
Granted, the Eagles played the Browns—a team that shouldn't have posed the slightest threat—but nevertheless, they did all of the right things to lose. In this extremely competitive NFC East division, Philadelphia can't afford to lose games they're supposed to win.
From this point on, the schedule only gets tougher, and if they have a similar outing next week against Baltimore, it won't even be close.