The Best and Worst of the Philadelphia Eagles' Preseason
The more things change, the more they remain the same.
That could be the mantra of the Philadelphia Eagles' 2013 preseason. Although much is new when it comes to the player and coaching personnel, there are certainly reminders that have carried over from seasons past, some good, some...well, not so much.
As we head into the final game that doesn't count, played mostly by guys who probably won't matter, the following are a few of the biggest positives and negatives heading into the fall.
Some indicate a distinct change in the past culture of the team and some...well, not so much.
Positive No. 1: The Running Game
Going by the disproportionate amount of passing plays called over the years, a casual observer might not have realized how effective the Eagles' running backs have traditionally been. But, from Duce Staley to Brian Westbrook to LeSean McCoy, there always seems to be a formidable threat in their backfield.
Upon McCoy's injury last season, the Birds also found a diamond in the rough in Bryce Brown, who, after being a non-factor in the first 10 weeks of the season, burst onto the scene in a big way in Weeks 11 and 12, compiling an insane 347 yards on 43 carries and four touchdowns to boot.
However, he also lost three fumbles (and more on that soon).
With a healthy Shady poised for a career year, an improving Chris Polk to add depth behind McCoy and Brown, a coach who actually gives a damn about running it and, hell, add a motivated Mike Vick to the mix, and you just may be looking at one of the most dangerous ground attacks in the NFL.
Negative No. 1: The Turnover Margin
This would be another that falls into the "more that stays the same" category, but far less encouraging than the running game.
Last year was the perfect storm of suck when it came to the turnover margin for the Birds (in fact, it was just that: for the birds). Finishing a dismal minus-24 in the giveaway/takeaway ratio—a result of a defense that couldn't force the ball over if its life depended upon it plus an offense that did it at will—was a key contributor to a season that came within six cumulative points from being 0-16.
Sadly, the Eagles have picked up where they left off, with just one takeaway and seven giveaways through three preseason games, including one each by the enigmatic Brown and Damaris Johnson, who both continue to carry the ball like Miley Cyrus carries her sexual frustration: for all the world to see.
Positive No. 2: Special Teams
Last year, the Eagles averaged nearly four fewer yards per kickoff return and more than three fewer yards per punt return than their opponents.
This preseason? Plus-eight and plus-seven, respectively.
Last year, opponents missed just two field goals the entire season, both more than 50 yards.
This summer? Already booted three.
Simply enough, revamped coverage units along with returning talents such as the improving Damaris Johnson, Brandon Boykin and Alex Henery plus the addition of former Pro Bowl punter Donnie Jones plus, hey, check out who else we'll see out there again, figures to make for some fun watching.
Negative No. 2: The Secondary
The more things change...
For the cornerbacks: Gone are Nnamdi Asomugha, one of the worst free-agent signings in recent memory, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who also disappointed during his Eagles' tenure.
Enter Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams, whose presence doesn't seem to invoke much fear into the opposing receivers thus far.
The more they stay the same...
For the safeties: Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman and David Sims have remained on the roster pretty much by default. Meanwhile, once-promising but oft-injured Kenny Phillips—quite possibly more talented than the aforementioned three combined—couldn't make the cut.
In other words? It may be a long season for the secondary. And you may want to consider starting whichever quarterback faces them each week.
Positive No. 3: Chip Kelly
It's been quite refreshing to see a coach who has transparent press conferences while keeping his play-calling close to the vest, as opposed to nearly a decade-and-a-half of vice versa.
Whether it's teaching a 10-year veteran and former All-Pro how to properly hold a football or meticulously choosing his music playlists during practices, Chip Kelly has already endeared himself to the Philly fanbase and given them hope where there once was none.
Regardless of the team's final record this year (and frankly, they could be the most hard to predict in the NFL), it'll be fascinating to watch this new era unfold.
Negative No. 3: Toughness
The Eagles didn't intimidate anyone with their style of play last season. And they sure don't seem to be imposing their will on opponents so far this preseason, either.
Arguably the league's worst tackling team in 2012, there have still been far too many "olay" plays taking place on the defensive side. Plus, a disturbing aversion to the blitz—something that has trended pretty much since the passing of former defensive coordinator Jim Johnson—continues.
On offense, though, the line looks vastly improved with Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans returning to health plus the addition of stud first-rounder Lane Johnson, the verdict is still out on how effectively they can move the chains in short-yardage situations—the truest sign of toughness.
Although he's done far more talking than playmaking since his arrival, Cary Williams is spot on when saying no one fears the Eagles' D. And no one will fear a team in general coming off of a severely underachieving 4-12 campaign.
At least not until they give them something to be afraid of.