5 Reasons Why the Philadelphia Eagles Are on the Right Track for a Playoff Push

Randy JobstSenior Analyst INovember 22, 2011

5 Reasons Why the Philadelphia Eagles Are on the Right Track for a Playoff Push

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    The Philadelphia Eagles appeared to be dead after a 24-31 loss to Buffalo left the Eagles just 1-4. Then the Eagles rallied back with two big wins against division opponents, the Redskins and the Cowboys. The Eagles followed that by losing to the Bears and the Cardinals at home to leave them at 3-6 and done.

    Or so we thought.

    The Eagles showed some serious signs of life with a defensively dominant and clutch fourth quarter performance to upset the New York Giants on the road, 17-10. Now the Eagles are at 4-6 with one final chance to get back in the playoff race.

    Currently, the Eagles own the tiebreaker advantage over both the Cowboys and the Giants. The Giants still have to play the Cowboys twice, the Packers and the Saints. The Eagles still have another matchup with the Cowboys to gain ground on them.

    There were plenty of good signs from the Eagles on Sunday night. The defense played extraordinary well. The offense was clutch on an 18-play drive that last nearly nine minutes, and they finished off an opponent in the fourth quarter.

    It was the type of game that the Eagles have been consistently finding ways to lose. Sunday night they found a way to get it done and gave Eagles fans some hope for the 2011 season.

1. DeSean Jackson Is Back

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    Outside of a ridiculously dumb penalty by DeSean Jackson that negated a 50-yard reception, Jackson played a great game against the Giants Sunday night. Jackson finished with six catches for 88 yards and a 51-yard punt return that set up the Eagles' first touchdown of the night.

    Last week Jackson was deactivated for missing a team meeting the Saturday before the Eagles hosted the Arizona Cardinals. Jackson then voiced his frustration with his ongoing contract dispute. It appeared that he was not giving his all and was very unhappy to be an Eagle.

    None of that showed against the Giants, as he bounced back in a big way. A motivated Jackson is a dangerous Jackson. With just six games left, it's his last chance to prove to not only the Eagles but the entire NFL if he is worthy of the type of big contract he is demanding.

    Jackson should have a monster finish to the season, regardless of which receiver lines up opposite of him and who is playing quarterback.

2. The Offensive Line Is Becoming Great

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    One thing that really stood out Sunday night was the play of the offensive line in pass protection. The Giants struggled to get consistent pressure against Vince Young. The Giants came in with 30 sacks but managed to get to Young just one time.

    Eagles offensive tackles Jason Peters and Todd Herremans dominated the Giants' defensive ends all night. Osi Umenyiora failed to make an impact and Justin Tucker was held to just one solo tackle.

    Both defensive lines played well against the run, but it was the Eagles' defensive front that was able to get consistent pressure on Eli Manning, while Young had plenty of time to get comfortable in the offense. The protection allowed Young to complete 15 of his 18 passes in the second half.

    It's clear the that this unit is really starting to click at the right time. They will be very key for the Eagles' late playoff push.

3. Eagles Linebackers Starting to Settle in

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    It was clear in training camp at Lehigh, the Eagles biggest weakness was going to be at linebacker.

    Jamar Chaney, just a year removed from being the Eagles' seventh-round draft pick, was being moved from middle linebacker to strongside. Casey Matthews, a rookie fourth-round draft pick was going to start at middle linebacker, and last year's start at strongside, Moise Fokou, would play on the weakside.

    Now entering Week 12 the Eagles have already moved Jamar Chaney back to middle linebacker, rookie Brian Rolle is on the weakside and Akeem Jordan has replaced Moise Fokou on the strongside.

    The Eagles' run defense was ineffective through the first eight games but has greatly improved in the last two. Against the Arizona Cardinals and the New York Giants the Eagles held both teams to a combined 117 rushing yards on 46 carries.

    Keep Brian Rolle on the weakside and inserting Akeem Jordan into the starting lineup against the Giants has made a huge difference. Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo has also strayed away from the Wide 9 technique more and more.

    The run difference has greatly improved and the linebackers are doing a much better job covering backs and tight ends. If this unit keeps on getting better and better, the defense will be able to play at a high level like they did Sunday night against the Giants.

4. They Figured out How to Close out a Fourth Quarter

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    Coming into last week's matchup with the Giants, the Eagles had blown five leads in the fourth quarter and the Giants have comeback in the fourth quarter four times this season. After the Eagles gave up an early fourth quarter touchdown it appeared to be deja vu all over again.

    Then the Eagles, led by Vince Young, drove down the field on a masterful 18 play, 80-yard drive that took up nearly nine minutes of the fourth quarter and was capped off by a Riley Cooper touchdown reception.

    But just when the Eagles finally have learned how to finish strong in the fourth quarter, the defense collapsed. On a critical third down play, the Eagles defense failed to cover Victor Cruz as he hauled in a 47-yard reception. The Giants were now at the Eagles 21-yard line on their way to force overtime in another historic Eagles fourth quarter collapse.

    However, fate was finally on the Eagles side, as on the very next play Jason Babin hit Eli Manning from behind, forcing the fumble, and defensive tackle Derek Landri recovered it to seal an Eagles victory.

    The Eagles made all the clutch plays in the fourth quarter after the Giants tied it up after a Cruz touchdown with a little over 11 minutes to play. The fact that they were able to make clutch play after clutch play without a single dumb penalty or turnover in the fourth quarter is a great sign.

    Maybe Andy Reid's team has finally figured out how to win the close games. If so, this team will be very difficult to beat. They have yet to be blown out this season.

5. The Defense Is Finally Clicking

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    Juan Castillo is still very much on the hot seat as the Eagles' defensive coordinator. His defense has looked confused on the field, and he has poorly utilized Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Jamar Chaney. The defense has struggled greatly in the fourth quarter, and the run defense has been horrendous at times.

    But now it appears that Castillo has his unit on the right track. The run defense has held their past two opponents to under 100 yards on the ground including holding the Giants to just 29 rushing yards.

    The loss of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has actually improved the Eagles' pass defense. Joselio Hanson is a superb slot corner and was a definite improvement over Rodgers-Cromarite in the slot. Kurt Coleman has settled in at strong safety opposite Nate Allen, and the secondary is really starting to gel.

    Castillo seems to have found the right combination of linebackers as well with Rolle, Chaney and Jordan, who started together for the first time this season, holding the Giants to just 29 rushing yards.

    The defensive line has been great all season long, and with the rest of the defense picking up the slack, the front four has become dominant.

    If Castillo continues to improve as a defensive coordinator, while not trying to make the defense too complex as he did earlier in the season, the Eagles have a chance to beat anyone on their schedule.

    What a difference a week makes. After a horrid performance against the lowly Cardinals, the Vick-less Eagles come up big against one of the best teams in the NFC in a game that they had to have.