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5 Improvements the Philadelphia Eagles Must Make During the Bye Week

Bob CunninghamSenior Analyst IOctober 17, 2012

5 Improvements the Philadelphia Eagles Must Make During the Bye Week

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    Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid is known for his ability to self-evaluate and make the adjustments necessary to be successful coming out of a bye week.

    His 13-0 record after a bye would seem to back that up rather well.

    Reid has a reputation as a guy who isn't afraid to make the big changes and really shake things up when he feels it necessary to do so, and 2012 has certainly been no exception with the firing of defensive coordinator Juan Castillo.

    However, just firing Castillo is not going to be enough to get this year's squad on the right track. There are far bigger issues than just the defense, and truth be told, Castillo was likely the last of the three coordinators who deserved to lose his job.

    Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie put Reid on notice for the first time during his tenure as head coach this past offseason, and Reid knows the changes—which he's hoping will ultimately be viewed as improvements—he makes during the bye week could directly impact whether or not he's still in Philly this time next year.

Special Teams Must Improve Dramatically

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    If Juan Castillo can get the axe, it's hard to justify how special teams coordinator Bobby April still has a job.

    The special teams has been just shy of putrid in every conceivable fashion. The coverage and return teams on both punts and kicks have been awful and played an integral role in all three losses, so far, this season.

    Before Colt Anderson returned to the kick-coverage squad, opposing returners always looked like they were one guy away from going the distance. The gunners on the punt team look completely disinterested in shaking their blockers and getting down the field.

    One also has to figure April was the guy who wanted to keep Chas Henry over Mat McBriar, which set the team back a few weeks.

    On punt returns, the blockers, and especially the guys blocking the opposing gunners, give absolutely no effort and Damaris Johnson has gotten almost no chance to even return a punt and show off his ability as a return man because there is almost always a guy in his face when he's catching the ball.

    Kick returns are just as bad, and the lack of blocking appears to have already made Brandon Boykin a bit nervous.

    April's squad must contribute in some meaningful way moving forward if the Eagles hope to turn around a season that could quickly get away from them.

The Defensive Line Must Get Pressure and Sacks

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    Entering the 2012 season, the Eagles were picked by many to have the very best defensive line in the entire league.

    And why not? Jason Babin was coming off an 18-sack season, Trent Cole once again broke double digits, Cullen Jenkins was a force in his first season with the team, Philip Hunt looked incredible in the preseason and Fletcher Cox was added via the teams' first-round pick.

    On paper, there was no reason to believe the output from 2011 would be even higher in 2012 as the defense moved into its second year under Jim Washburn's Wide 9 scheme and with Juan Castillo getting some much-needed experience under his belt.

    Obviously, Castillo is gone, and some believe that's due in part to the lack of sacks from the defense.

    Through six games, the Eagles have recorded an embarrassing seven sacks, including an active three-week span in which the defense didn't record a single sack.

    Sacks might be just slightly overrated as far as their direct affect on games, but the front four isn't even getting consistent pressure. Getting to the quarterback and then bringing him down might not be everything a defense needs to do to be successful, but it's certainly part of it, and so far, this defense has failed miserably in that aspect.

Michael Vick, and Everyone Else, Must Protect the Football

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    There's a belief in football circles that the two biggest barometers of an offense are success on third down and the amount of turnovers per game.

    The Eagles are converting 41.4 percent of their third-down attempts, which is good for 10th in the league, so obviously, that aspect isn't bad.

    The turnovers, however, have been a different story.

    Through six games, the Eagles have turned the ball over an incredible 17 times—eight interceptions and nine lost fumbles. Of those 17 turnovers, Michael Vick is responsible for 14, having thrown every interceptions and losing six fumbles.

    LeSean McCoy has fumbled twice, and Damaris Johnson fumbled once on a punt return.

    Vick and the Eagles were able to overcome those turnovers with miraculous comebacks the first two weeks, but since then, the close games have not gone in their favor, with the exception of a win over the New York Giants, but that game was the only time the Eagles have not turned the ball over this year.

    Thanks to those turnovers, the Eagles have lost two games to walk-off field goals.

    There is a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball, and the potential to break out is there every week, but turnovers will continue to keep the offense down all season long if they persist.

Play-Calling Must Be More Balanced

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    In addition to throwing the run-pass ratio out of whack on a regular occasion, the individual play calls by offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg are often questionable, to put it kindly.

    For instance, he loves to run play-action before establishing the run. The point of play-action is to first establish the run to the point that as soon as the quarterback turns his back and acts like he's going to hand off, the linebackers are taking a step forward.

    If the run is going really well, even one of the safeties will take a run-step toward the line of scrimmage. When that starts happening, the quarterback pulls the ball right out of the running back's gut, flips his hips and finds whomever happens to be open, thanks to the defender's ill-advised run-step.

    But when Mornhinweg is calling play-action before making the defense respect the run game, all that's happening is Vick now has less time to read and react because he just spent the better part of his drop-back with his back to the defense.

    This results in Vick holding the ball, taking big hits, taking sacks or hurrying his passes and having them intercepted.

    Vick isn't the only quarterback who would struggle with play-calling like this. There isn't a quarterback in the league who could successfully run play-action without first establishing some sort of ground game. It's doing nothing but putting him, and the offense, in harm's way.

    Add that to the confounding idea of going with an empty set on 3rd-and-short, sticking with long-developing plays that do not work and refusing to run screens when the defense is blitzing all game long and one could be left scratching his head until his hair falls out and the scalp bleeds.

The Offensive Line Must Run and Pass Block Better

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    I say this with very little hesitation and doubt the statement will draw much ire: The Philadelphia Eagles offensive line is the very worst in all of football.

    Detractors will say that distinction belongs to the Arizona Cardinals and point to the incredible amount of times Kevin Kolb has been sacked, but I would counter by saying that if Kolb were still in Philly and playing behind this line, those sacks would be much higher.

    The reason why the line doesn't give up more sacks is because of Vick's mobility. Were he any less mobile, the sack numbers would be astronomical and most certainly lead the league.

    In addition to constantly getting the quarterback killed, this line is unable to open running lanes for LeSean McCoy. It's truly incredible to watch one of the best running backs in the league look close to useless for half his carries because he just has nowhere to go.

    A lot of what McCoy has been able to accomplish on the ground can be attributed to his cut-back style of running. Were he a straight-ahead type of guy, the numbers would be very, very ugly.

    The biggest problem with the line was the botched evaluation of talent. We're now seeing, without much doubt, that Evan Mathis only looked competent because he was playing next to Jason Peters. Without Peters, he's an average guard at best and certainly not worth the $5 million he's making this season.

    Speaking of Peters, the evaluation of his replacements was also off. Demetress Bell was brought in to be the guy to replace Peters and was even given a long-term deal just in case Peters was unable to ever fully recover. But, it hasn't taken long to see the team definitely does not want Bell starting for the next five seasons.

    The depth behind Jason Kelce also must be questioned. Dallas Reynolds has played fairly well when we consider the circumstances, but there should have been someone with experience ahead of him to step in for Kelce.

    Watkins, even standing as the best lineman of the group, is young (in terms of football years) and still going through some growing pains. With any talent around him, those would likely be inconsequential most of the team. But when the guys to either side of him are also making mistakes, his growing pains stand out and look like incompetence, when that's not true or fair.

    Todd Herremans was supposed to be the answer at right tackle for years to come. The team even restructured his deal to pay him like a tackle, and he's now making $7 million per season over the next three years.

    After watching him play this season, he's not worth $7 million total for the rest of his playing days.

    Herremans was much better as a guard, but again, a lot of that was likely due to who was playing next to him.

    That all being said, five average linemen can come together to make an above-average offensive line if they trust one another and develop some chemistry and continuity, so there's still some hope left for this unit.

    It's time for Howard Mudd to earn his check and finally show us why we were all excited to have him aboard in the first place.

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