Philadelphia Eagles: 5 Players Who Must Step Up to Turn Season Around
It's official: It is time to panic in Philadelphia.
The "Dream Team" has become the "Living Nightmare."
The Eagles' latest collapse dropped the team to 1-3 on the season and into last place in the cutthroat NFC East, with upcoming games against upstart Buffalo (3-1) and division-leader Washington (3-1) before the Bye week. With that schedule and the Eagles' recent play, it's not out of the question that the Eagles could be 1-5 at the end of October.
But all is not lost. There is a small but distinct window of opportunity remaining for the Eagles to right the ship and make good on their preseason hype.
Here are five key Eagles who need to step up for the Eagles to turn their season around.
No. 5: Alex Henery
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Contrary to popular belief, Alex Henery is not the reason the Eagles lost their Week 4 contest against the 49ers. His two second-half misses from 34 and 39 yards didn't help, to be sure. But to say that Henery is the sole reason the team lost would be grossly unfair to the rookie placekicker.
That being said, Henery needs to figure out what is wrong and fix it. The Eagles offense needs to have confidence in their kicker's ability to get them three points any time they can move the ball inside opponent's 30-yard line.
I understand that rookie kickers are going to struggle a bit as they acclimate themselves to the high-pressure world of NFL kicking, which is why I'm writing off his Week 4 performance as his initiation into life as a kicker for a Super Bowl contender.
From now on, Henery needs to be automatic.
No. 4: Brent Celek
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While there is more than enough blame for the Eagles' red-zone troubles to go around, quite a bit deserves to be placed on the shoulders of the Philadelphia tight ends, specifically Brent Celek.
I understand that Celek has had to stay in and block quite a bit due to the offensive line's struggles. However, in the red zone, Celek needs to assert himself. He's a big target (6'5", 250 lbs) with a pair of sure hands and very good speed and quickness for his size.
In the red zone, he should be one of Vick's favorite targets. The Eagles should be using Celek in much the same way as the Falcons used Alge Crumpler during Vick's time in Atlanta—he should run quick, explosive routes (hitch routes, slants, curls, etc.) outside of the 5-yard line and body-position routes inside of it.
Celek's tremendous size and speed should allow him to beat opposing linebackers to a spot and use his body to shield the ball from defenders. Swing passes, quick outs and drag routes are all excellent options, and all still allow Celek to provide a chip block if necessary.
No. 3: Nate Allen
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A season ago, Nate Allen's play was quickly making Eagles fans forget Brian Dawkins. The young safety was seemingly everywhere on the field, delivering strong hits, providing strong coverage, forcing turnovers and displaying solid blitzing instincts.
What a difference a year (and a season-ending injury) makes.
This season, Allen still looks a step or two slow. But more than that, he hasn't been reading the play as well as he did last season. Beyond that, Allen has been running himself out of position on far too many plays and not providing proper support in pass coverage.
For the Eagles defense to play up to its potential, Nate Allen's play needs to return to its 2010 levels, not continue to decline. Part of the blame here must go to Juan Castillo for not using Allen as well as Sean McDermott did, but coaches can only do so much.
At the end of the day, it's the players that need to make the plays. Nate Allen needs to do exactly that.
No. 2: Jamar Chaney
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Perhaps the most glaring weakness on the Eagles defense has been the play of the linebackers. Rookie Casey Matthews lost his starting MIKE spot after Week 2 and was benched after Week 3. Jamar Chaney has been forced to play all three LB spots at various points during the first four weeks of the 2011 season.
As a result of this linebacking chaos, the Eagles run defense has gone from "bad" to "absolutely dreadful." This week, the team surrendered 121 yards to a hobbled Frank Gore. The previous week, it was Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs running riot. During the Week 2 collapse at the hands of the Falcons, it was Michael Turner torching the defense for 120-plus yards.
The bottom line is this: Jamar Chaney needs to step up and be a rock in the middle for this defense. He needs to be a leader on and off the field. He needs to work harder than everyone else to be the best MLB he can possibly be and he needs to expect the same of everyone else.
Chaney has the talent and the instincts to be an elite linebacker in the NFL. But until he proves he is willing to put in the work necessary to harness that potential, he will be little more than an average MIKE on a dreadful defense.
No. 1: Jason Kelce
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Let me begin by saying that I do not believe that the blame for all of the Eagles' offensive line struggles falls on the shoulders of a rookie center who was thrown into the fire. That being said, Jason Kelce needs to get it together.
During the Eagles' collapse to the 49ers, I watched Kelce miss eight line calls. The results on those plays: two sacks, three Mike Vick scrambles, two incompletions and one touchdown. In other words: Jason Kelce's inability to properly slide protections and assign blockers resulted in Mike Vick taking eight unnecessary hits. That's not acceptable.
The offense starts with the guys in the trenches. Jason Peters and Todd Herremans did their jobs. Kelce, on the other hand, was dominated inside. He was physically and mentally taken to task by a mediocre 49ers defense and Mike Vick paid for it.
That simply can not happen if the Eagles hope to right the ship and turn around their dismal season. Jason Kelce needs to get it together, physically and mentally—and fast.