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5 Philadelphia Eagles Who Must Improve to Keep Slim Playoff Hopes Alive

Brandon BurnettContributor IIINovember 6, 2012

5 Philadelphia Eagles Who Must Improve to Keep Slim Playoff Hopes Alive

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    With a 3-5 record after Week 9 of the 2012 NFL season, the Philadelphia Eagles find themselves in a very familiar and unwelcoming position. 

    It was exactly one year ago that Andy Reid's squad struggled its way to a 3-5 start, only to finish the second half of the season 5-3 and miss the playoffs by a slim margin. While the Eagles will surely have to win more than five games to prevent another near miss, all hope is not yet lost. 

    But it's the players, not the coaching staff, who need to right the ship—and quick. 

    Sure, Reid and his crew have been far from perfect. But to say they deserve the brunt of the blame couldn't be further from the truth. And while Michael Vick deserves his share of criticism, he's far from the only one causing Philly's playoff hopes to fade into the night.

    Let's look at five players who absolutely must improve their play for the Eagles to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. 

Mychal Kendricks, OLB

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    As is usually the case for any struggling defense, missed tackles have been a major problem for the Eagles. 

    Rookie linebacker Mychal Kendricks has been the team's biggest offender in that regard. And he hasn't been much better in any other aspect of play, either. 

    According to Pro Football Focus, Kendricks leads the team with 11 missed tackles. He's made only 34 stops, with just one of them for a loss. This year's second-round pick was coveted for his closing speed and ability to make plays in the backfield. So far, he hasn't shown much of either.

    Kendricks has committed five penalties in his last four games alone, and opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of 102.5 in the 40 times they've targeted the youngster this season. 

    The year did start out well for Kendricks, who had notable performances in big wins over the Ravens and Giants. But he missed a whopping six tackles in a Week 5 loss to Pittsburgh and it's been straight downhill ever since. 

Demetress Bell, OT

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    In their 28-13 win over the Eagles Monday night, New Orleans exposed Philly's biggest weakness for all the country to see. 

    That weakness? The offensive line. 

    Injuries up front have been overwhelming, of course. All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters was lost before the season even began. Starting center Jason Kelce went down for the year in Week 2. 

    Right tackle Todd Herremans (who had actually been having a strong season) suffered what Andy Reid described as a tendon injury against the Saints (per Eagles Insider Geoff Mosher of and could be out for an extended period of time as well. 

    It's hard to place too much blame on such an injury-ravaged unit. But tackle Demetress Bell would make life easier for Vick and the entire offense with an improvement in play. 

    Bell started four games at left tackle this season, but was benched following yet another horrid performance in Week 6. He filled in for the injured Herremans at right tackle Monday night, allowing a sack and committing two penalties (his sixth and seventh of the season) in less than a full game's work. 

    Without Herremans, Bell will likely have to remain at right tackle. For as grim of an outlook as that may be, the overall play up front would improve significantly with a little help from the fifth-year pro.

Kurt Coleman, FS

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    Kurt Coleman's season got off to a fast start with two interceptions against the Browns in Week 1, but he's been extremely inconsistent ever since. 

    Philly has allowed at least 138 rushing yards to each of its last three opponents, the Lions, Falcons and Saints. None of those teams employ a run-heavy offensive attack, but they've been able to find an abundance of success on the ground against the Eagles. 

    Coleman, who is second to Kendricks in missed tackles with 10, has made a habit of getting schooled in run defense. The defensive line isn't doing him any favors by consistently getting blown off the ball, but the third-year free safety remains a serious liability in stopping the run.

    With no suitable replacement, Coleman has to get it turned around in a hurry. He can start by focusing on the fundamentals of the game, like many other underperforming players on this talent-laden roster. 

Jeremy Maclin, WR

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    DeSean Jackson is on pace for career highs in catches and receiving yards, but where's Jeremy Maclin?

    Again, the struggles up front have caused a substantial amount of chaos for the entire offense. But Philly's No. 2 wideout has been merely a spectator in recent weeks. Outside of a 70-yard TD catch against a dreadful Lions' secondary in Week 6, Maclin has averaged only 8.9 yards per catch during the Eagles' four-game losing streak. 

    For a guy who averaged 13.6 YPC or better in his first three seasons, that's simply unacceptable. 

    According to PFF, Maclin has dropped more passes (3) in his seven games played than tackles broken or avoided (2). Conversely, Jackson has made six guys miss and not dropped a single pass. 

    I'm not saying Maclin has to be as good as Jackson, but he's got to at least perform like the No. 2 receiver that he's supposed to be. So far, he hasn't done that. 

Nnamdi Asomugha, CB

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    It may be time to understand the Eagles are never going to get their money's worth with Nnamdi Asomugha. 

    Not only is the four-time All-Pro selection struggling in pass coverage, he's just playing bad football altogether. Opposing QB's have a combined passer rating of 112.4 when targeting Asomugha, according to PFF. Nine of the last 10 attempts sent his way have been completions, good for 184 yards and two TDs. 

    The Eagles' $60 million man has just one interception in 2012. His five penalties and five missed tackles are each equal to the amount of passes he's broken up. 

    Of course, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie hasn't been great, either. But the bulk of his struggles come in run defense and, like Asomugha, drawing flags. 

    There have been complaints that former defensive coordinator Juan Castillo's use of Asomugha has contributed to his struggles. But the two games following Castillo's release have arguably been his worst performances of the season. 

    It's time for the 10-year vet to get it together, or his time in Philadelphia may come to an end sooner than expected. 

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