After Week 13, the Philadelphia Eagles appeared to be on the verge of being blown up this offseason. Michael Vick couldn't read the defense or protect the football, DeSean Jackson was rumored to be quitting on the team and no one on defense could tackle anyone.
The Eagles were 4-8 and nobody's job was safe outside of Jason Peters and LeSean McCoy. Philly fans were chanting "Fire Andy" at every home game, as it appeared that it was just a matter time before Andy Reid and the entire coaching staff would get the axe.
How quickly things can change in the NFL.
Heading into Week 17, the Eagles are riding a three-game winning streak. The defense has been outstanding, as has been the coverage at all positions, and the tackling has been superb. The offense has been on fire as well, putting up 91 points in the last three weeks.
Now the Eagles will head into the offseason with a different outlook. Coaches and players alike have potentially saved their jobs. If only the Eagles had figured everything out a week or two sooner, we would be talking about the Eagles being the dark horse in the NFC instead of discussing their outlook into the 2012 offseason.
Juan Castillo seemed to be on his way out after some major struggles in his first year as defensive coordinator. The former offensive line coach didn't appear to have the trust of his players. Players looked lost in zone coverage, and there were even a couple of instances where players didn't know who they were supposed to cover.
The last three weeks have been a complete 180 for Castillo and his defense. The defensive line has been as dominant as any front four in the league, the linebackers have looked solid in both coverage and run support and the secondary is now starting to live up to the hype—even without Asante Samuel last week against the Dallas Cowboys.
The last four weeks of the season were pivotal for Castillo with former Eagles assistant Steve Spagnulo projected to be unemployed at the end of the season. It appeared to be a lock that Spagnulo would be the next Eagles defensive coordinator, but with the job Castillo has done in the last three weeks, it appears he has not only saved his job, but Andy Reid's as well.
DeSean Jackson has been the subject of several rumors this season in Philadelphia. Some people believe he wants too much money, some people believe he isn't willing to go down the middle and some people even have speculated that Jackson quit on the Eagles at some point this season.
There may be a little truth to all of the rumors, but Jackson is proving to everyone that he is still committed to the team and can still play at a Pro Bowl level. He has racked up 11 receptions for 177 yards and one touchdown in the last three weeks.
Jackson has made plays down the field and over the middle. He hasn't shied away from contact and isn't dropping passes right and left anymore. Whatever Andy Reid has said to Jackson has worked. He is still making a major impact on the field, whether he is forcing safeties to play back or just beating them down the field on the deep ball.
DeSean may not get the superstar type of deal he allegedly wants, but he should get a very fair offer this offseason.
After coming off an MVP-caliber season in 2010, Michael Vick had a rough start to the 2011 season. He was knocked out of two games in the first three weeks and missed three more games after suffering a rib injury against the Arizona Cardinals.
Vick threw 11 interceptions and lost three fumbles through his first nine starts of the season but has just two turnovers in the last three games. He has also thrown for 775 yards and racked up five total touchdowns including his first rushing touchdown of the season. Most importantly, though, the Eagles are 3-0 in Vick's last three starts.
Vick hasn't put up MVP-caliber numbers the last three weeks, but his ability to manage the game and protect the football has been near flawless. The Eagles have enough playmakers on both sides of the football to win games without Vick trying to do too much. The last three weeks have showed Eagles fans that Vick is capable of being more of a game manager than just a playmaker.
The linebacker position has been a major issue all season with the Eagles. Juan Castillo has shuffled the linebackers around all season. Five different players have started, with Brian Rolle and Moise Fokou, Akeem Jordan and Jamar Chaney getting starts on the outside with Casey Matthews and Jamar Chaney.
Now the Eagles appear to be set at linebacker with Rolle and Jordan on the outside and Chaney in the middle in base formations, while Matthews and Keenan Clayton are playing in the nickel formations. This new rotation of linebackers appears to be exactly what the Eagles needed. Matthews has excelled in the nickel defense. He is thriving in a defense that allows him to roam around rather than take on offensive linemen and tight ends.
Jamar Chaney has also played better against the run now that he is out of nickel formations. He is missing far less tackles and taking better angles on ball carriers. The Eagles linebacking core has shown a great deal of promise in the last three weeks. Just a month ago it appeared to be a lock that Andy Reid would be taking a linebacker in the first round in next April's draft.
Now it is a bit unclear.
The Eagles could still take a middle linebacker in the first round, but with the play of both Matthews and Chaney, it wouldn't surprise me if they looked elsewhere with the first pick.
We knew coming into the season that the Eagles offensive line would be a work in progress. The Eagles have started two rookies in Jason Kelce at center and Danny Watkins at right guard. They also brought in Evan Mathis from Cincinnati at left guard to replace Todd Herremans, who was moved to right tackle.
Howard Mudd was hired after Juan Castillo was promoted from offensive line to defensive coordinator. Mudd wanted a leaner and more athletic line, and the results have been mostly positive this season. The Eagles have been one of the best screening and draw teams in the NFL, and Michael Vick has been sacked just 21 times in 12 sacks.
The offensive line has become the strength of the offense. They are giving Vick ample time in the pocket and have blocked in front of LeSean McCoy during his record setting 20 touchdown season. Not bad for a line that was put together just days before the season started.
Another year of Howard Mudd working with the same five starting linemen has to give Eagles fans a lot to look forward to. Jason Peters has played like an All Pro. Kelce and Watkins have showed great potential in their rookie seasons, and both Mathis and Herremans are having their best seasons.
The strength of the team hasn't even reached their peak yet. A full offseason to build even more chemistry together should help this unit become the best in the league in 2012.