The Philadelphia Eagles are once again falling short of expectations in 2012, and if they have any hope of salvaging the season, changes need to be made.
A team with as much talent in as many places on the field as the Eagles have should not be off to a mediocre 3-3 start. Head coach Andy Reid has already kick-started some changes, firing his defensive coordinator, Juan Castillo.
However, more than just that is necessary for solving the Eagles' struggles thus far. Heading into their bye week, here are five issues that the Eagles must address if they hope to stay in the running of a competitive NFC playoff picture.
For the Eagles to improve on defense, they will need to cut down on penalties.
Among some other miscues, the constant drawing of penalties is hurting the Eagles in a big way. Most notably, this is the case on defense, where the Eagles have the fourth-highest NFL total, with 46 penalties for 418 yards.
Within those totals, the Eagles have given up 15 first downs as a result of penalty. Constant first downs courtesy of the yellow flags would help to explain some of their production issues on defense, as they come despite allowing the fourth-lowest third-down conversion percentage in the NFL, at 29.1 percent.
While the play-calling and defensive game-planning could very well improve under a new defensive coordinator, continuing to give the offense free yards and keeping the defense on the field won't help matters.
If this Eagles defense is going to get where everyone has envisioned them and where their talent level can take them, it starts with discipline.
Since his breakout season in 2012, LeSean McCoy has been one of the league's most dominant running backs.
In the Eagles' backfield is one of the NFL's elite running backs in LeSean McCoy.
McCoy currently averages 18.5 attempts per game. Considering the deficiencies of the passing game, getting the ball to him more couldn't hurt.
After 17 rushing TDs in 2011, McCoy has just one through six games in 2012, and the Eagles have just two as a team overall. The necessity to recapture a more productive running game—especially in the red zone—is clear. Doing so not only helps to protect the football and win the battle of time possession, but it would also help to put Michael Vick in favorable play-action passing situations.
If the Eagles are going to make a playoff push, getting the ball to their best playmaker in scoring situations, LeSean McCoy, will undoubtedly be a key factor.
The Eagles will expect more out of their talented pass rushers coming out of the bye week.
Although they've improved in some areas on defense, still not being where they needed to be resulted in the firing of DC Juan Castillo.
The Eagles' pass rush, one of their strongest areas last year, has been one of the weakest so far in 2012.
With the rest of the Eagles defense grading out rather high in many categories, it is the pass rush that stands out as relatively nonexistent. Totaling just seven sacks so far is the third-lowest total across the NFL and the lowest in their conference.
With the talent and depth the Eagles have on that defensive line, and especially at end with Jason Babin and Trent Cole to name a few, this lack of output was relatively unexpected.
Expect new DC Todd Bowles to make a point of getting to the quarterback in any way possible moving forward. Doing so would be even more of a help to a secondary that is holding opposing quarterbacks to a very impressive 69.4 QB rating.
Not many NFL QBs have taken as many sacks as Michael Vick so far in 2012.
Whether it is Michael Vick at quarterback or not, the Eagles cannot surrender as many sacks as they have.
Giving up 17 sacks so far is the sixth-most among NFL teams and has played a huge part in the turnover struggles.
Some responsibility does fall on Vick for taking the sacks, but there is no doubt that the offensive line must play better as well. Losing LT Jason Peters to a ruptured Achilles' in the offseason did not help matters, but the Eagles have to find a way to protect better in his absence.
Be it through personnel changes, max-protection play calls or really anything else, expect changes to be made. If not, the turnover problems will continue, and the Eagles will find themselves missing the playoffs for a second straight year.
Key turnovers have left points on the field for the Eagles all season long.
Through six games, despite eight takeaways of their own, the Eagles have an NFC-worst turnover differential of minus-nine. This includes eight INTs and nine lost fumbles.
They have not necessarily struggled to move the ball in terms of yardage, but this tendency to turn the ball over has resulted in many drives being ended in opponents' territory. The Eagles' again NFC-worst 17.2 points per game reflects as much.
Solving this problem starts with QB Michael Vick, who has accounted for 13 of the Eagles' 17 turnovers thus far. Whether it is tinkering the offense to limit turnovers or seeing what a quarterback change would do for the team, the Eagles must do something to address this issue.