The Philadelphia Eagles enter Sunday's matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers with a 3-2 record and sole possession of first place in the NFC East. The Eagles have struggled in several key aspects of the game, particularly their inability to hold onto the ball and injuries on the offensive line.
The team has excelled in the fourth quarter, though, as Michael Vick has led multiple fourth quarter comebacks already this season. The defense has made huge stops at the end of the game and the team has received much improved play from both the linebackers and the safeties.
The Eagles play in a tough conference with a division that features four teams that could all make a legitimate run at the playoffs. The following 10 questions tell whether the Eagles will still be standing come January.
Michael Vick is an immensely talented quarterback with the ability to bring a team down from any deficit at nearly any point in the game. He is a dual threat as both a runner and a passer, and he's the consummate veteran leader in the locker room.
But his downfall this year has been his inability to stop turning the ball over. If he can't put a stop to this, it will bury the Eagles. Vick threw six interceptions in his first two games. Although he's been interception-free in the last three contests, Vick hasn't been able to stop fumbling the football.
He leads the NFL in fumbles (8), the third time in his career he's led in that category. Vick's fumble against the Arizona Cardinals that was taken 93 yards for a touchdown right before halftime put the Eagles in a deficit they couldn't come close to overcoming. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Vick threw the ball very well, but he fumbled three more times in a two-point loss.
If Vick can protect the ball down the stretch—as well as stay healthy—the Eagles have a real shot at winning 11 or 12 games. If not, the team will stumble to another 8-8 season.
Andy Reid is the most pass-happy coach in the history of the National Football League and he's been widely criticized for his refusal to give All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy a big workload.
Against the Arizona Cardinals, McCoy carried just 13 times, although he did pick up a stellar 5.38 yards per rush. And against the Pittsburgh Steelers, McCoy ran the ball 16 times for 53 yards in a two-point loss.
It can be easily argued that McCoy should be getting the ball more, although it's interesting to note that McCoy has already carried the ball 20 times in a game on three separate occasions. He's sixth in the league in rushing attempts and he's on pace for his career high in carries. Still, it seems as if Reid waits until the fourth quarter to finally give McCoy the ball and a better balance would help the Eagles win more games.
The Philadelphia Eagles still haven't recovered from the loss of All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters to an Achilles injury back in March, and it appears as if they will spend all of 2012 trying to fill the void left by Peters.
The team signed Demetress Bell from Buffalo to take over for Peters, but Bell has been vastly disappointing. King Dunlap has been nothing special and the team may soon have to turn to fifth round pick Dennis Kelly to see if he can play.
Meanwhile, the Eagles also lost starting center Jason Kelce to a season-ending knee injury and backup center Dallas Reynolds has struggled as one would expect. What has been most disturbing is that right tackle Todd Herremans—who has long been one of the most consistent linemen in the league—has really struggled in pass protection, this immediately after signing a five-year contract extension.
Through four games, the Philadelphia Eagles had just seven sacks but they were pressuring the opposing quarterback enough that most fans were willing to overlook the low sack output.
And then the team turned in a dud performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers, failing to register a single sack while providing little to no pressure on the Steelers' paltry offensive line.
The Eagles have the talent with Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Fletcher Cox, Cullen Jenkins, Derek Landri and Brandon Graham. Whether it's the wide-nine defense or just a five-game fluke stretch, the team needs to get it together against Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions.
The Philadelphia Eagles spent a first round pick on wide receiver Jeremy Maclin in the 2009 NFL draft and he's been a fine complement to DeSean Jackson. The pair has given Michael Vick a very solid 1-2 punch of wide receivers and both can be very difficult to cover one on one.
The problem is that Maclin has quietly been a disappointment as of late. He still has never put together a 1,000-yard season. He gets a pass for the cancer scare last training camp that contributed to a subpar 2011 campaign, but he doesn't get a pass for the consecutive late fourth quarter blunders he committed, first when he dropped a key pass on fourth down and then when he fumbled the ball away.
Maclin has struggled with injuries this year and at times he has flat out disappeared. The Detroit Lions have a weak secondary and it would be a perfect time for Maclin to take advantage. If he can get his act together for the second half of the season, it will go a long way for the Eagles' offense.
It's an understatement to say the Philadelphia Eagles have never recovered from the loss of special teams coach John Harbaugh, who accepted a head coaching job with the Baltimore Ravens following the 2007 season.
The Rory Segrest experiment was a disaster, and while Bobby April has had his moments, he's starting to wear out his welcome. The Eagles have really struggled in the kick and punt coverage units, where they rank 28th and 25th in the league, respectively.
This absolutely can't continue. The Eagles also need to find a way to get production out of rookie returners Brandon Boykin and Damaris Johnson.
When the Philadelphia Eagles signed Nnamdi Asomugha in free agency before the 2011 season, they thought they were locking arguably the best cover corner in the game to a five-year, $60 million deal.
Since then, Asomugha hasn't been close to the player the Eagles thought he would be. He was used out of position for most of last season but he has no excuses this year. Teams simply aren't scared to throw his way, and as a result, he's getting torched for a 99 passer rating.
With Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the Eagles have all the potential in the world to be a shutdown unit. It's time to start playing like it.
The Philadelphia Eagles have three tough games in a row—against the tough Detroit Lions, despite their 1-3 record, the undefeated Atlanta Falcons and the tough New Orleans Saints, again despite their subpar record.
Down the stretch, though, the Eagles are more fortunate. The Eagles play the 2-3 Washington Redskins, the 1-4 Carolina Panthers, the 2-2 Dallas Cowboys, the 1-3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 3-2 Cincinnati Bengals and then the Redskins again.
That's six very winnable games in a row. If they want to win the division, they need to capitalize on that schedule.
The Philadelphia Eagles were smart to trade for DeMeco Ryans and draft Mychal Kendricks in the second round of this past year's draft because they face a slew of dual-threat quarterbacks in the coming weeks.
The Eagles face Robert Griffin III twice in a span of six games, as well as Josh Freeman and Cam Newton.
The Eagles have historically done well against running quarterbacks—they were always able to contain Michael Vick back when he was in Atlanta. They've never faced Newton or RGIII or Freeman. If they can do a good job of containing those quarterbacks, they should be winning those games.
Ultimately, the 2012 Philadelphia Eagles season could come down to what the team does against the New York Giants in the final game.
The Eagles missed the playoffs by just one game in 2007 and 2011, both times allowing the Giants to make the playoffs and then win the Super Bowl.
The Eagles held off the Giants the first time they played them, winning by one point. And if the Eagles win the final game, they will have swept the defending Super Bowl champions and they will likely be in the playoffs.