5 Important Keys to the Philadelphia Eagles Finishing Without a Losing Record

Randy JobstSenior Analyst IDecember 13, 2011

5 Important Keys to the Philadelphia Eagles Finishing Without a Losing Record

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    Once again the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles have given their fans a slight glimmer of hope following a huge 26-10 road win over the once red-hot Miami Dolphins. The Eagles defense was stout and the offense was efficient enough for the win.

    Now the Eagles have three big games remaining on their schedule: the New York Jets this week, the Dallas Cowboys next week and the season finale against the Washington Redskins. The Eagles may still be two games out of the NFC East, but with the potential of winning the tiebreaker over both the New York Giants and the Cowboys, three more Eagles victories may actual put this roller coaster ride of a football team into the playoffs with a first-round home game to boot.

    The Giants and the Cowboys could knock the Eagles out with just two wins by either team in the final three games of the regular season, but after watching both teams the last couple weeks, a collapse of epic proportions seems imminent for both squads.

    Can the Eagles sneak into the playoffs? It's possible but there is no margin for error. Five simple keys will propel the Eagles to finish the season at .500 and maybe even crash the postseason..

1. Michael Vick Has To Play Smart Football

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    Michael Vick had himself an MVP-caliber season last year. In just 11 starts, Vick had over 3,600 total yards and 30 touchdowns compare to just six interceptions. This season has been a completely different story. Vick has 15 total turnovers and 12 touchdowns in 10 starts.

    The good news for Vick is it doesn't appear he has to play at an MVP level in order for the Eagles to win ballgames this season. The defense is improving and the offensive line is starting to play at an incredibly high level. His running back, LeSean McCoy, has played at an MVP level and has carried much of the offensive load this season.

    Vick doesn't have to be great, but he does have to start playing smart. If he can limit his turnovers and maybe even slide once in a while, he will be the efficient quarterback the Eagles have desperately craved this season. An incomplete pass out of bounds is a great play for Vick right now, much more preferable than the pass across the field into the hands of a wide open defender.

    If Vick plays smart down the stretch, the Eagles can get to the 8-8.

2. Run the Ball!

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    Sunday's victory over the Dolphins for the Eagles was a perfect lesson on how important it is to run the football. The Eagles managed just 51 yards on the ground, but they won the turnover battle and the time of possession which is huge when you are the visiting team.

    LeSean McCoy had just 38 yards on 27 carries, but he did manage to get into the end zone twice. The Eagles never got much going against a very good rush defense, but they refused to become one dimensional and it led to a more efficient day on offense.

    The Eagles scored 17 points on three trips inside the 25-yard line, including two touchdowns in goal-to-goal situations. The balanced attack on offense kept the Eagles from beating themselves as they have so many times this season. Let's hope Andy Reid took some lessons from this game and continues to pound the football regardless of the outcome or score.

3. Defensive Line: Keep It Up

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    The Eagles' defensive line is a special unit. It's not just about stars like Trent Cole or Jason Babin. They go eight deep every single game without any drop-off whatsoever. The No. 4 defensive tackle, Derek Landri, stuffed the run all day long against the Dolphins, picking up two tackles for loss. Meanwhile, Phillip Hunt made his first career sack a memorable one as he recorded a safety. Hunt is the Eagles' fourth best defensive end.

    Last week Juqua Parker and Brandon Graham were healthy scratches on the inactive roster. The eight-man rotation had nine sacks, one forced fumble and recovery and a safety to cap off a historic day. This group is the key to this defense and they can't let up heading into the final three games. When they falter, so does the defense. Another big week against the New York Jets would do wonders for the Eagles' chances at getting back to .500.

4. Receivers Have To Be Clutch

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    The Eagles receivers have had a very disappointing season. From Jeremy Maclin's game-losing dropped pass against the Falcons and lost fumble against the 49ers, to DeSean Jackson forgetting how to set his alarm clock to Riley Cooper's costly drop against the Seahawks leading to an interception, the receiving core has been anything but clutch this season.

    But, all will be forgotten if the Eagles can find a way to make 8-8 a reality. Whether or not Maclin can still play at a high level this season while dealing with his hamstring remains to be seen, but the Eagles still have plenty of weapons outside of Maclin.

    Jackson needs to start making more plays all over the field. Nobody is going to offer $10 million a year to a receiver who can only make plays when he is wide open. You want your big contract? Now it's time to prove yourself DeSean.

    Riley Cooper has been a nice replacement for Maclin, but two of Vince Young's interceptions were completely and 100 percent Cooper's fault. He has to learn to go after the football and not drop easy passes. He doesn't have the speed like Jackson does to make up for it.

    Mr Reliable Jason Avant has to make more plays in the slot. He has great hands and route running ability, and he will be depended on to make clutch plays on third down.

    This group of receivers is crucial to the Eagles' success on offense heading into the final three games.

5. Nickel Linebackers and Safeties Have To Be at Least Decent

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    The Eagles cornerbacks have taken a lot of heat for their struggles on the defensive side of the ball, but it's not warranted. Nnamdi Asomugha gave up a touchdown to Brandon Marshall last Sunday on a pass that even Aaron Rogers couldn't have thrown any better. Outside of that 16-yard touchdown, the Dolphins wide receivers had just 47 yards. Clearly the cornerbacks aren't the problem.

    The Eagles continued their shuffling of the linebackers and put Casey Matthews and Keenan Clayton in on nickel packages. Neither played great but they didn't give up a big play or miss a tackle in the open field. There might be hope for Matthews after all.

    Eagles safeties Kurt Coleman and Nate Allen also played exceptionally well. Coleman had five solo tackles and an interception returned to the one-yard line, while Nate Allen was flawless in pass coverage. He looks like the Nate Allen of 2010, which is exactly what the Eagles have been missing on defense this season.

    These four players don't really have to be great down the stretch, but missed tackles and giving up big plays will be the death of the 2011 season. Just prevent the big plays and the cornerbacks and defensive line will take care of the rest.

    As strange as it sounds, the Eagles have a pretty decent shot at sneaking into the playoffs by winning the NFC East this season. The Cowboys play at Tampa Bay on a short week this Saturday and follow that up with another Saturday game against the Eagles in Dallas. They finish out the season on the road against the New York Giants.

    The Giants will play an improving Redskins team at home this week followed by a road game (sort of) against the Jets before hosting the Cowboys in Week 17.

    The NFC East is still wide open and it's conceivable to think that the craziest scenario will come true in what has been a wacky season in one of the most respected divisions in football.