Philadelphia Eagles: The 10 Biggest Early-Season Storylines
We may only be two games in, but this has been one exciting and story-rich season for the Philadelphia Eagles. We have seen numerous turnovers, offensive line injuries, and most importantly, comeback victories.
Clearly, the biggest difference between this team and last year’s team is the fourth quarter. The Eagles blew game after game because of their poor play in the fourth quarter last season. This season, they have two clutch touchdown drives when they needed it most.
The Eagles are 2-0 and just have that feel of a team that can make a long playoff run this winter. It’s still way too early to start talking Super Bowl, but the last time the Eagles started 2-0, they did make it to the Super Bowl (2004 season). Bottom line, there is a lot of optimism in Philly right now.
Here are the 10 biggest storylines in this very young 2012 season.
1. Turnovers, Turnovers and More Turnovers
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I don’t know what is more noteworthy for the Eagles, the fact that they have committed nine turnovers or the fact that they are 2-0 after turning the ball over nine times.
Teams aren’t supposed to win back-to-back games when they turn the ball over at least four times in each game. Three people stick out in my mind as the players who have gotten though this turnover streak: Michael Vick, Juan Castillo and DeMeco Ryans.
Vick hasn’t been rattled by any of his six interceptions. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t care, it means he has great composure. That is a huge skill to have for a quarterback.
You're going to have your good games, bad games and your really unlucky games. Vick has the type of mentality to win during any of those games. Week 1 was the bad game, and last week was the unlucky game (dropped handoff, tipped pass intercepted, two starters on line get hurt). I can’t wait to see what he can do when he actually has a good game.
Castillo was a joke to some all last season. That shouldn’t be the case anymore. Sure he has all the talent in the world, but he is making adjustments at the right time and has his defense playing at a high level right now. His unit has given up 39 points, which is even more impressive with all the turnovers from the offense.
Ryans is washed up right? He can’t return to form after his Achilles injury? Oops! I guess the experts aren’t always right. Ryans is a stud and should be a Pro Bowl linebacker for the NFC this season.
Actually, he might not be eligible if you get my drift. Ryans has been physical but smart. He is always in the right position, and no one is escaping any of his tackle attempts. He has also been solid in pass coverage. That was my one concern with Ryans coming in. Now, the only thing that can slow him down is injuries.
Nine turnovers is bad, but a 2-0 record with the nine turnovers is scary. Just think what this team will do when they start taking better care of the football. The Eagles would have blown out their first two opponents if it wasn’t for all the turnovers.
2. Michael Vick Might Actually Be Elite
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Michael Vick is off to a great start and a bad start all at the same. If you told me before the season started that Vick would have six turnovers (seven if you count Bryce Brown’s dropped handoff) after the first two weeks, I would expect Andy Reid’s seat to be pretty hot. Luckily for the Eagles, Vick has throws for just under 700 yards through the first two weeks.
Vick has made a handful of mistakes, but for the most part, he has been elite. For as many bad throws as he has made, he makes about three or four great ones to make up for it. He still has a case of the turnover bug, but he has truly been MVP-like outside of his six interceptions.
If Vick can will the Eagles to back-to-back victories while he is racking up turnovers, imagine what he will do once he shakes off the rust and starts better managing all four quarters. The Eagles offense would be unstoppable.
3. DeSean Jackson Is Back and Better Than Ever
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DeSean Jackson is back to his old self. Actually, he looks even better. He is still the deep threat that forces safeties to play 15 yards back, but this year, he is making far more catches over the middle and in traffic.
Jackson already has 11 catches for 191 yards this season. While Jeremy Maclin has struggled to stay on the field, Jackson has been making plays all over the field. He has had to step up with Maclin being sidelined with his hip injury, and he hasn’t disappointed.
2012 is a huge year for Jackson. He was obviously upset last year during his contract dispute. Well, he got his new deal, and now, he has to prove he is worth a multimillionaire deal. So far, he is off to a great start.
4. Offensive Line Shakeups
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The Eagles' offensive line is being forced to go through another makeover this season. Left tackle Jason Peters on injured reserve with an Achilles injury, and now, starting center Jason Kelce has been lost for the season with his knee injury, according to The Associated Press (h/t Yahoo Sports). King Dunlap’s status is also up in the air with his hamstring injury.
It’s a good thing the Eagles have Howard Mudd as their offensive line coach. He has worked miracles before, and this season will be no different. He has to try and turn backups Demetress Bell and Dallas Reynolds into quality starters in a very short period of time.
Bell was inactive in Week 1 but did enough to impress the coaches to be on the active roster in Week 2. Now, Bell is expected to start at left tackle in Week 3. He filled in for Dunlap in the second half and did a pretty good job.
It was hard to get a good feel for him on tape as the Ravens mainly used a three-man pass rush late in the fourth quarter. I expect the Eagles to use their outstanding blocking tight end, Clay Harbor, in pass protection on that left side quite frequently until Bell really starts to settle in.
Reynolds is a different type of center than Kelce is. Both played well last Sunday, but both offer something completely different for the Eagles line. Kelce is a much quicker and athletic linemen. He is best when he gets upfield and uses his lateral quickness. Reynolds is not the athlete Kelce is, but he is a much stronger player.
Reynolds has about 25 pounds on Kelce, meaning the Eagles can run more effectively behind Reynolds. It’s difficult for Kelce to get much of a push when the defensive tackles he's blocking outweigh him by 20-40 pounds. Reynolds is about the same size, if not bigger.
It will be interesting to see how having a much stronger center benefits the offensive line. We know the Eagles will miss having a great athlete like Kelce at center, but maybe, having a 320-plus-pounder hiking the ball to Vick will have its advantages.
5. Eagles Have a Nice One-Two Punch at Tight End
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The Eagles don’t have the explosive athletes at tight end like San Francisco, and of course, New England. What they do have is two pretty well-rounded players at tight end who are incredibly dependable. New England can have the freak athletes at tight ends. I’ll take the do-it-all guys at tight end any day of the week.
Brent Celek currently leads the Eagles in receiving yards with 221 and receptions with 12. He is being used primarily as a receiver over the middle and less in pass protection.
A big reason for that is the other Eagles tight end Clay Harbor. Harbor is as good as it gets in terms of blocking tight ends. He has enough strength at 250 pounds but also has the lateral quickness to handle even the most athletic edge rushers.
Celek and Harbor are both outstanding blockers who offer plenty in the passing game. Neither player is the athlete whom a Antonio Gates or Rob Gronkowski is, but they are both solid possession receivers who sustain their blocks on a consistent basis.
6. Jeremy Maclin's Health Concerns
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The next season Jeremy Maclin stays healthy, I fully expect him to put up Pro Bowl numbers. Last season, shoulder and hamstring injuries derailed the second half of his 2011 campaign.
He was on pace for over 1,200 yards after the first eight games but was held under 20 yards in five of his last eight games (three of which he didn’t play in). He finished with just 859 yards last season.
This season, Maclin has 119 yards and two touchdowns. A hip-pointer injury has slowed him down in both games this season. You really feel for a high-character player like Maclin who can’t seem to catch a break. It’s always one nagging injury after another.
When the Eagles have Jackson and Maclin healthy, they have one of the best wide receiver duos in the NFL. Containing the Eagles offense with a healthy Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy and Brent Celek is impossible. This was a group that put up 20 points against the San Francisco 49ers in the first half last year.
7. What Is Wrong with the Eagles' Pass Rush?
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At first glance at the Eagles stat sheet, you might think there is something wrong with their pass rush. After all they did to rack up 50 sacks last season, but they have only managed a measly four this season. That puts them on pace for just 32 for the whole season.
So what the heck is wrong with Jim Washburn’s unit?
Nothing. Sacks never tell the whole story with the pass rush. Quarterbacks' pressures and hits do.
I would compare sacks to home runs in baseball. Sure, you want to hit home runs just like a defensive lineman wants to get a lot of sacks. Sacks and home runs sell. They get players paid, but they never tell the whole story. Would you rather have a .220 hitter who hits 45 home runs or a .300 hitter who hits 20 home runs?
The Eagles' pass rush hasn’t been getting as many sacks as we might have thought, but the pressure is clearly been there. Brandon Weeden had a quarterback rating just over five against this defense in Week 1, while Joe Flacco couldn’t do anything in the second half against this pass rush.
Eventually, the pass rush will start racking up more sacks. They are just too talented not to.
8. The Eagles Have Linebackers!
The Eagles haven’t had two solid linebackers on defense since the early 2000s when they had Carlos Emmons and Jeremiah Trotter in the early 2000s.
Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans might be an even better duo than they were. Ryans has been stuffing the run and becoming the leader this defense so desperately needed, while Kendricks has been flying all over the field.
It’s been great to see Ryans play at such a high level so early this season. There was some doubt by a few “experts” about Ryans' ability after his Achilles injury in 2010. He may not be the exact player he was back in 2009, but he is pretty darn close.
Kendricks has been outstanding, so far. He rarely misses tackles and looks faster than just about everyone he has been chasing. He is truly a special athlete at outside linebacker. He can cover and chase down just about anyone on the other side of the ball.
Both of these linebackers are going to see the field on about 99 percent of the snaps. They are complete players who can do anything you would ask from a 4-3 linebacker.
The Eagles have been a top-five defense through the first two weeks. The biggest difference between this defense from last year has been the play of the new linebackers. This is now a championship-caliber defense with no obvious weaknesses.
9. Good Luck Passing on These Guys
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The plan Andy Reid had for this defense didn’t take shape right away, but it certainly has this season. The cornerback trio of Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie wasn’t a good fit last season, but the addition of rookie slot corner Brandon Boykin with the subtraction of Samuel has really done the trick for this defense.
This terrific trio gave up just 85 yards to the Cleveland Browns wide receivers in Week 1 and just 85 yards to the Baltimore Ravens. Holding your opponents wide receivers under 100 yards is pretty impressive. You want your quarterback to throw for at least 250 passing yards in a given game.
When your corners can hold the wide receivers to 85 yards, it forces the tight ends and running backs to really step up. It takes away the big plays and takes a big part of the opposition’s offense away. Not too many offenses can have much success when you take away their wide receivers, all of their wide receivers.
10. The Eagles Are 2-0
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The Eagles are 2-0 for the first time since 2004. Remember that season? The Eagles ended up winning 13 of their first 14 games before locking up home-field advantage on their way to the Super Bowl. I don’t know if this is a Super Bowl team just yet, but it’s promising to see this team starting off so well, despite some early adversity.
The Eagles have already overcome two season-ending injuries to starting offensive linemen and nine turnovers through the first two games. They may be undefeated, but this team is far from peaking. There is so much room for improvement.
The offensive line will start to settle in, the turnovers will eventually go down and this young core of players can only get better. We haven’t yet begun to see this team reach their ceiling. This is why a 2-0 start is so promising. Had they lost to the Ravens last Sunday, they would still be in good shape. The fact that they are 2-0 and rising is great to see.