The Philadelphia Eagles have had a roller coaster of a ride through the first seven games of the 2011 season. The Eagles have excessively turned the ball over and looked stale at times in the red zone. Both Juan Castillo and Andy Reid have faced scrutiny, and some fans have even called for their jobs.
After the first five games, the Eagles were 1-4 and were just about dead but after two big bounce-back wins they are right in the thick of things in the NFC East. They have two straight games at home in the next two weeks against the Chicago Bears and the Arizona Cardinals. The Eagles will be favored to win both games and could be back on top in the NFC East before they play their 10th game.
Just about every Eagles player has had an up-and-down season. Michael Vick was a turnover machine during a four-game losing streak, and Nnamdi Asomugha struggled while Juan Castillo was moving him all over the defense.
The Eagles added a lot of premiere talent in a shortened offseason and chemistry between the coaches and players wasn't there in the first five weeks. The coaches and players are coming together, and all the preseason hype is starting to be shown.
You can look at Michael Vick in two different ways and have a completely different view on his season thus far. He has 11 turnovers through seven games. You can also look at Vick's numbers outside of the turnovers and make the case that he has had an MVP-caliber season.
Vick's turnovers haven't always been his fault. He has thrown eight picks, and the majority of them have come after tipped passes at the line or dropped passes by his receivers. He does have three lost fumbles as well. Vick has had just two games where he didn't throw a single interception. In those two games, the Eagles outscored their opponents, the Rams and Redskins, 65-20.
Turnovers will be a part of Michael Vick's game because he is a playmaker. He wants to make a play every time he drops back. Sometimes he makes the impossible throw no one else makes, other times, he forces the ball into double coverage and throws an unnecessary pick.
Despite the turnovers, Vick has actually had a monster season. Through seven games, he has thrown for over 1,800 yards, ran for 400 yards and has 11 touchdowns. That would put him on pace for over 4,000 passing yards, 900 rushing yards and around 25 touchdowns. 5,000 total yards and 25 total touchdowns? That's pretty impressive for a Heisman Trophy candidate in a non-BCS conference.
It's laughable to say that Vick has had a bad year, but you can't ignore the turnovers. If he plays more mistake-free football in the second half of the season, his numbers will be even greater, and this offense will continue to have nights like they did against the Cowboys.
LeSean McCoy has made some great strides in each of his first three seasons. In just his third season, he is making a serious case as the best running back in football. He is one of the best receivers coming out of the backfield, and he is excellent in pass protection as well. When you look at him as just a runner, he is actually putting up better numbers than Adrian Peterson and any other back in the league.
Peterson has 44 more rushing yards than McCoy, but Peterson has played in one more game and has 32 more carries. McCoy has 754 rushing yards on 135 carries for an average of 107.7 per game and 5.6 yards per carry. No player has a higher per carry average with at least 60 carries, and no one has more yard per game. Only Fred Jackson has more carries of over 20 yards or more than McCoy, and McCoy is one of the few starting running backs to not have a fumble yet this season.
Other than maybe Aaron Rogers, McCoy has been the most consistent player in the NFL. As the offensive line continues to gel, McCoy should continue to put up big numbers.
DeSean Jackson doesn't always put up big numbers, but his impact may be the most underrated on the Eagles. Through the first seven games, Jackson has 27 receptions for 487 receiving yards and two touchdowns. His stats are up to par with what he puts up in his previous three seasons.
There is more to DeSean Jackson than just his numbers. Defenses have to game plan against his big-play ability, and safeties are constantly playing 15 to 20 yards back. This opens the field up for the middle of the field. It also keeps safeties out of the box against the run. Both areas were a huge factor against Dallas in Week 8.
Eagles starting tight end Brent Celek and slot receiver Jason Avant combined for 12 catches for 168 yards and one touchdown against Dallas. LeSean McCoy ran for 185 yards as well. All three players put up big numbers with help from the DeSean Jackson effect.
Defenses have to either keep their safeties back from fear of DeSean Jackson beating his man deep or take a chance and try to contain the slot receivers and LeSean McCoy.
Jeremy Maclin may not have the freak-like speed of a DeSean Jackson, but he has very quietly becoming one of the most consistent receivers in the NFL. Maclin has 40 receptions for 543 yards and four touchdowns.
Maclin has the speed to beat people deep and make plays on wide receiver screens. What makes him such an all-around great receiver is his improved hands and route-running ability. He is the speedy possession receiver that comes around once every once in a while.
Maclin's biggest knock on his 2011 season as his unclutch plays on the Eagles final drives in two losses. Against the Falcons in Week 2, Maclin dropped a very catchable pass on a fourth-down play on their final drive. In Week 4 against the 49ers, Maclin fumbled the ball while he was fighting for extra yardage deep inside the 49ers territory. Both losses were games the Eagles could have easily won.
Hopefully, Jeremy Maclin has learned from his two critcal errors, and he can continue to put up big numbers going forward.
As far as slot receivers go, Jason Avant is one of the best. His hands and route-running skills are second to none, and he will surprise defenders with his speed after the catch.
Through Week 8, Avant has 31 catches for 412 yards. Avant has been one of the most reliable players on the Eagles for the past six seasons. He makes clutch catches going down the middle and is a standout on special teams.
He made the key block that sprung DeSean Jackson on his "miracle" punt return against the Giants last season. Avant suffered a concussion on his block against the Giants. That's the type of player Avant has been in Philly. He leaves it all on the field.
Michael Vick is finally starting to trust in his tight end, Brent Celek. After a year and a half together, Celek is starting to become a major impact within the Eagles offense. Celek got off to a slow start this season with just nine catches for 73 yards and zero touchdowns. In the last two games, Celek has 11 catches for 136 yards and two touchdowns.
After a monster season in 2009, where Celek had 76 catches for 971 yards, he disappointed with just 42 catches for 511 yards. Vick is finally starting to trust in Celek the way Donovan McNabb did in 2009.
Jason Peters will never sell as many jerseys as a LeSean McCoy or a Michael Vick, but he is definitely the most talented player on the Eagles roster. The Eagles left tackle does everything exceptionally well. He dominated in pass protection, he moves his opponent backwards in the running game and is an absolute nightmare in the screen game.
There isn't much room for criticism in Peters' game. The only real knock on him is that he hasn't played a full season since 2006. He hasn't missed more than three games in a season since 2006, but he always seems to manage to suffer a minor injury or two.
Other than his minor injuries, Peters is the perfect offensive tackle. There is no part of his game that he doesn't excel at.
In one of the best free-agent pickups of 2011, the Eagles signed Evan Mathis on July 31st. The move has made everyone involved look like a genius as Mathis has been one of the top interior linemen in the NFL this season.
The play of Mathis during training camp allowed the Eagles to move former left guard Todd Herremans to right tackle. Mathis has thrived at left guard where he has been dominant in run blocking and been just as solid in pass protection.
Mathis has helped solidify the line with veterans like Herremans and Peters and helped bring along the rookies, Jason Kelce and Danny Watkins as well. For all the hype that the Eagles got for signing Nnamdi Asomugha and Jason Babin, Evan Mathis might be the best pickup Howie Roseman and Andy Reid made this offseason.
Just seven months ago, before the 2011 NFL draft, Jason Kelce was graded as a late-round draft pick at best. Many scouts thought he might even do undrafted. The Eagles front office and offensive line coach Howard Mudd were very high on him, and they drafted him in the sixth round.
Kelce won the starting center job in training camp of veteran Jamaal Jackson and has worked hard to become one of the better centers in the NFL in just his first season. At around 280 pounds, Kelce is one of the smallest starting offensive linemen in the league, but his athleticism makes him a perfect fit for Howard Mudd's blocking scheme.
The one knock on Kelce's game is he doesn't possess the strength needed to push back 300-pound defensive tackles. The Eagles have struggled to move forward on quarterback sneaks when running behind Kelce. Andy Reid has taken notice, and during their last sneak attempt against Washington, Vick ran behind Mathis and converted a key third down.
Other than his lack of strength as compared to other starting centers, Kelce is a perfect fit for the Eagles, and he has yet to scratch the surface on how good of a center he can become.
After a rough start in training camp and four games on the inactive list to start the season, some Eagles fans were starting to believe that Danny Watkins may be a bust. Watkins was the Eagles first-round draft pick in last April's draft. He was expected to replace Max Jean-Gilles at right guard, but after a shortened offseason, Watkins wasn't ready to start right away.
Watkins has started the last three games and has shown his first-round ability in all three games. He is an strong but athletic guard who plays with a real mean streak. He has the ability to move defensive tackles backwards while also being able to move upfield and knock linebackers on their back.
After just three starts, Watkins is already starting to show Eagles fans what Andy Reid saw in him out of college.
The move back from guard to tackle for Todd Herremans has been much smoother than most experts believed it would be. After Ryan Harris injured his back during training camp and Winston Justice was still rehabbing from offseason knee surgery, the Eagles were in need of a right tackle. Andy Reid decided to move Herremans to right tackle and insert Evan Mathis into the starting lineup.
Todd Herremans has thrived at right tackle.
He is been excellent in pass protection against both defensive ends and outside linebackers. He has also shown great ability in run blocking on outside runs and has flattened several defenders in the screen game.
When Trent Cole has been on the field, he has thrived in Jim Washburn's Wide 9 defensive line scheme. Through five games, he has four sacks and 13 solo tackles. Cole missed two games with a calf strain.
Cole is an outstanding pass-rusher who has become excellent against the run as well. Cole is on pace for about 12 sacks which is right on terget with what he has accomplished the past four seasons where he averaged 11 sacks a year.
If Cole can stay healthy, he should continue to thrive under Washburn and eventually have his first multi-sack game of 2011.
For a guy who suffered a career-threatening seizure during training camp last summer, Mike Patterson has had a pretty amazing season. He was able to not only continue his career but maintain his starting tackle spot. Patterson has 10 solo tackles and one sack this season.
With Antonio Dixon lost for the season, Patterson is key to the Eagles improving run defense. His ability to take on two blockers and get penetration on side runs will be key for the Eagles to be able to continue to get better against the run after a horrid five-game stretch against the run.
With the season ending injury to defensive tackle Antonio Dixon, Cullen Jenkins has become on of the most important offseason additions for the Eagles. Jenkins is now starting next to Mike Patterson at defensive tackle.
Jenkins has 12 solo tackles, five sacks and one fumble recovery. He has proven to be an outstanding pass rusher at the defensive tackle position. Jenkins is on pace for about 11 sack which is incredible for a defensive tackle.
No player has thrived under one coach more than Jason Babin has under Jim Washburn. In his six previous seasons in the NFL, Babin recorded just 17.5 sacks. In his last 23 games under Washburn, he has recorded 22 sacks.
Babin has nine sacks through the first seven games and has been an absolute force in the pass rush. Babin also has 18 solo tackles and one forced fumble.
After Moise Fokou and Casey Matthews both failed at the weakside linebacker spot, Brian Rolle has solidified the position. His speed and toughness have helped gain some stability at the position. Rolle is third on the Eagles with 24 total tackles.
Rolle is one of two of the Eagles sixth-round draft picks last April who is now starting (Jason Kelce). Not bad for a linebacker who was pegged too short to be a starter.
As much as players like Cullen Jenkins and Jason Babin have thrived, Jamar Chaney has struggled mightily. Chaney has been overmatched physically against the run and has struggled in pass coverage against tight ends. He has also missed several tackles.
In the last two games, defensive coordinator Juan Castillo has strayed away from the Wide 9 technique which has helped Chaney in run support. He had six solo tackles against Dallas for his best effort of the season. If Chaney can improve in run support, the Eagles defense can become as great as they were once anticipated.
Moise Fokou has not had the same impact against the run that he has had in his last 15 starts over his first two seasons. Fokou has 11 solo tackles and has also struggled in run support in the Wide 9 technique.
Fokou has moved from the weakside linebacker to the strongside linebacker while Juan Castillo was trying to find a starting spot for former starter Casey Matthews.
After the first four weeks of the season where Juan Castillo moved Nnamdi Asomugha all over the field, it appears he has finally figured out how to properly utilize him.
In Week 5 against the Buffalo Bills, Asomugha was used almost exclusively in press man coverage and was thrown at a grand total of zero times. Castillo has continued to use him primarily in press coverage, and the Eagles pass defense has been dominant.
Through the first three quarters against the Cowboys in Week 8, Miles Austin and Dez Bryant combined for just one catch for 13 yards. Nnamdi is shutting down half of the secondary and forcing quarterbacks to either throw at Asante Samuel or slot receivers.
Nate Allen got off to a slow start in the 2011 season as he was still recovering from offseason knee surgery. Allen didn't make his first start until Week 4. In his four starts, Allen has 17 solo tackles and one interception.
Allen has been solid in run support and in pass coverage and has not missed a beat from his solid rookie campaign last season.
Coleman has had an up-and-down season to say the least. He started out as the starting free safety where he struggled until he was replaced by Nate Allen in Week 4. In Week 6 against the Redskins, Coleman became a starter again, this time in his natural strong safety spot.
Coleman came back with a bang against the Redskins where he picked off Rex Grossman three times. He appears to be at his right position, and despite giving up a 70-yard touchdown pass to Laurent Robinson against Dallas, he should be hear to stay.
In the past two seasons with the Eagles, Asante Samuel has picked off 16 passes. This season, Samuel has just one interception. Quarterbacks are not only staying away from Nnamdi Asomugha but Samuel as well.
Samuel along with Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie have been shutting down wide receivers as of late. The Eagles cornerbacks held Miles Austin and Dez Bryant to just six receptions for 55 yards and zero touchdowns.
Juan Castillo seems to have figured out how to utilize his cornerbacks, and it's paying off in a big way. Their next test will be a little easier as the trio will go up against the likes of Roy Williams and Devin Hester Monday night against the Bears.