Eagles vs. Cowboys: 5 Things We Learned After a 20-7 Philadelphia Win
The Philadelphia Eagles came into Christmas Eve as one of the hottest teams in the NFL with a decent shot at the NFC East division title. Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets did his best to eliminate the Eagles from playoff contention, but the Eagles remained one of the hottest teams regardless.
The Eagles' recent hot play obviously came a little too late, but it gives fans a lot to look forward to. The Eagles can't make the playoffs this season, and that makes a lot of playoff contenders in the NFC very happy. A red-hot Eagles team as the fourth seed would be a very scary playoff matchup.
The offense is clicking on all cylinders, and the defense has been lights out the past three weeks. Hey, there's always next season.
1. Juan Castillo Has Saved His Job
Juan Castillo and his defense has been on as much of a roller-coaster ride as any defense in the history of football. Sometimes this season they have been bad, sometimes good, but sometimes they have just been plain stupid.
Right now Castillo has his defense playing at the level everyone expected. In the last three weeks, Castillo's defense has held the Dolphins, Jets and Cowboys to a combined 36 points during a three-game winning streak, the longest of the season.
The defense has also racked up 15 sacks, and the play of the linebackers—the weak link of the defense—has improved greatly. Everyone is tackling well and sticking with their assignments. Castillo seems to be really settling in as a coordinator.
We all deemed Castillo a failed defensive coordinator and said he had no shot to be back next season. After the last three weeks, it's hard to imagine that Andy Reid would fire his top assistant and longtime friend, and maybe that's not such a bad thing.
2. Linebackers Showed Some Great Promise
The linebacking corps of the Philadelphia Eagles has been beyond atrocious this season. Casey Matthews didn't work out right away as an every-down middle linebacker, and Jamar Chaney has been missing multiple tackles in the open field each and every week. The last three weeks have been a major turnaround for this unit.
Matthews and Keenan Clayton were named the starting nickel linebackers heading into the Eagles' Week 14 matchup against the Dolphins, while Chaney, Brian Rolle and Akeem Jordan stayed the base formation linebackers. All five players have responded greatly.
Matthews was the linebacker that stood out the most against the Cowboys. He finished with four solo tackles and six overall to go along with his solid play in coverage. Along with Clayton, Matthews held the Cowboys tight ends, Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett, to just 52 receiving yards and zero touchdowns.
All five linebackers have been solid in the open field in the past three weeks, and all but Jordan are not even in their prime yet. This unit has a chance to be special next season with a full offseason on the horizon.
3. DeSean Is Still Crucial to the Eagles Offense
DeSean Jackson is starting to make a case again for a long-term deal with the Eagles. Jackson was heavily involved in the Eagles offense early, hauling in five passes for 90 yards and carrying the ball twice for 27 yards.
Jackson was fearless going down the middle and was blocking downfield as well. Blocking has been one of the more underrated areas in his game, and it has been missing at times this season. Now Jackson is blocking well all over the field and catching passes over the middle as well.
The recent surge of effort and commitment from Jackson had been lacking earlier in the season. If the Eagles can convince Jackson to take a little bit less money than he is allegedly demanding right now, I would expect the front office to work out a deal this summer.
He will have to wait until LeSean McCoy gets his contract extension, but with Asante Samuel likely to be traded this offseason, there's no reason why the Eagles can't keep both.
4. Michael Vick Is Becoming a Complete Quarterback Again
Michael Vick has had quite the resurgence since coming back from his rib injury in Week 14, and Saturday against the Dallas Cowboys was no exception. The last three weeks Vick has managed games and limited his turnovers. Imagine where the Eagles would be with a few less turnovers from Vick and the rest of the offense.
Vick completed 18 out of 32 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns. He would have gotten three had Jason Avant not fumbled the ball in the end zone and out of bounds for a drive-ending touchback. Most importantly, Vick had zero turnovers for just the second time all season.
Unlike the beginning of the season, Vick has been deadly accurate and is making smart decisions. He is dissecting coverages and becoming a complete quarterback.
5. The Offensive Line Is the Strength of the Offense
The Eagles offensive line came into the season as a work in progress but will end the 2011 season as the strength of the offense.
Jason Peters was the lone Eagle linemen to retain his position from last year. Todd Herremans was moved from left guard to right tackle, Evan Mathis was brought over from Cincinnati and Jason Kelce and Danny Watkins were first-year starters as rookies.
The line has improved greatly under legendary offensive line coach Howard Mudd each and every week. The line is far more athletic than it has ever been under Andy Reid, and it has shown, as LeSean McCoy has become an elite back running well behind a physical but athletic line.
This unit should become truly elite in 2012 with a full season under their belts under Mudd and a full offseason to become even more cohesive as a unit.
2011 will go down as a failure for the Eagles. Reid will be the first to admit anytime you don't reach the playoffs the season is a failure, but 2011 may go down as a necessary evil in order for the Eagles to achieve their goals in 2012.