Why the Philadelphia Eagles Should Be Considered Super Bowl Contenders in 2012
You might have seen it, you might have not, but today B/R's own Ryan Alfieri published a new article titled "2012 NFL Power Rankings Now That Free Agency is Over".
When I got closer to the end and saw that he had Philadelphia ranked No. 2 in front of San Francisco, Green Bay, Pittsburgh and New York I was overjoyed. Finally, someone who respects what this team has been able to accomplish in the offseason.
My happiness was short lived, unfortunately. Looking below at the comments, I saw that three out of five of them were about how "dumb" Ryan was for putting the Eagles that high.
Really, was that necessary?
For all the doubters out there, I truly do believe that the Eagles are Super Bowl bound.
The common argument against it is, "Oh, Andy Reid is still your coach" or "Come on, you went 8-8 last year" or "Michael Vick will miss four to five games". All three just show ignorance and a lack of thorough research.
The Philadelphia Eagles of 2012 are a much better squad than the Eagles of 2011, and here are seven reasons why they are indeed ready to win the franchise's first Super Bowl.
1. The Holes Have Been Plugged
Last year, the Eagles had two personnel problems: stopping the run game (mostly linebacking problems) and playing good zone coverage. Both are now gone.
At linebacker, the Eagles moved early and often, trading for linebacker DeMeco Ryans and then drafting highly-touted prospect Mychal Kendricks. These two moves—which fixed the middle and strong-side positions—also allowed Brian Rolle and Jamar Chaney to move to the more suitable position of weakside linebacker.
This linebacking corps will be tenacious in the run game.
They have an all-around stud in Ryans, an athletic, get-up-the field kind of guy in Kendricks, and a guy with lateral movement and agility in Chaney. Then, of course, there is Rolle, the hard-hitting "pinball."
Philadelphia has always been known for its gang tackling, and last year we just didn't see enough because players were either out of position or communication was bad. Now, there is a veteran signal caller in Ryans and players who are more accustomed to their positions, which spells doom for the rest of the NFL's rushing attacks.
On the coverage front, Andy Reid made an extremely smart move by shipping out corner Asante Samuel even if he only got a seventh-round pick in return. With him in the fray, they had to play a zone coverage system which doesn't fit either Nnamdi Asomugha or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
With Samuel in Atlanta, out goes the zone and in comes the press-man.
DRC has reportedly looked fantastic in offseason drills and workouts while Asomugha seems to be in a better state as well.
In short, people have no business comparing last year's 8-8 team to this year's squad.
2. Philly Can Rush the Passer
One common theme among the past seven or so Super Bowl champions is that they could rush the passer.
The two Super Bowl-winning Giants squads have featured guys like Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul.
The 2010 Saints had a bad defense overall, but one thing defensive coordinator Gregg Williams knew how to do was wreak havoc on passing plays with exotic blitzes and well-versed stunt moves.
The 2011 Packers and 2009 Steelers had extremely effective linebacker blitzes featuring such names as Clay Matthews, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. The 2007 Colts had Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney.
It's a theme, and there's no denying it.
Given all that, it's a good thing Philadelphia has some of the most fearsome pass rushers in the league. Veterans Jason Babin and Trent Cole combined for 29 sacks in 2011 as the Eagles tied for first in the league in that department. They were the best.
Now add to the fray an improved Brandon Graham and rookie Vinny Curry, and you have one of the deepest and most talented defensive end rotations ever assembled here in Philadelphia.
Rushing the passer? Not a problem.
3. The Secondary Is as Good as Any
In other news, the NFL is now a passing league. So what's as important as a good pass rush? An excellent secondary.
It's okay folks, we have that covered too.
Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, at their best, are arguably the best cornerback duo next to Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. And given the reports out of OTAs, it seems that DRC and Nnamdi are at their best.
Now that defensive coordinator Juan Castillo has made the switch to a press-man coverage scheme, the style of defense that Philadelphia plays will suit the strengths of both of its outside corners.
Nnamdi has been known to harass his receivers at the line of scrimmage while DRC prefers to trail them and use his athleticism to jump routes or deflect passes when such actions are necessary.
In addition to having two excellent outside corners, the Eagles feature two excellent slot corners as well. Brandon Boykin and Joselio Hanson have been battling it out to see who will win the No. 3 job, but both will likely make the roster and be used in four wide receiver sets.
Even having more than two good wide receivers doesn't help you against the deepest and most talented secondary in the league.
4. The Balance in the Wide Receiving Corps
Having a couple talented wide receivers helps, but having a wide receiving corps that has both talent and a wide range of styles is even better.
The Eagles have four different styles of play in their first four wide receiver options, covering all aspects of a receiver that a team might need.
First you have the speedy vertical threat in DeSean Jackson. He can burn you with his game-changing speed or simply force you to play Cover 2, opening up the middle of the field for his teammates.
Then you have the prototypical No. 2 in Maclin. He commands attention because of his athleticism and good hands, and he can both run a deep route and come over the middle for an important catch.
Next, of course, is the No. 3 guy or the "slot" receiver. Jason Avant is a veteran wide receiver whose hands have been compared to super glue. Not only does he catch everything that comes his way, but he isn't afraid to go over the middle and catch a crucial third down every once in a while.
Finally there's rookie receiver Marvin McNutt. McNutt is the red zone threat this team has been looking for since T.O. left. He has good hands, a nice frame and good enough ball skills so that he is a viable threat anywhere inside the 20.
It's tough to cover D-Jax and Maclin by themselves, but when you look at the entire corps as a whole—and I haven't even mentioned Brent Celek—you see an unstoppable force that will make even defensive coordinators shudder.
5. Michael Vick Can Protect Himself and the Ball
People always say, "The Eagles won't win unless Michael Vick can stay healthy and limit his turnovers. Neither is going to happen, which means the Eagles won't win."
To those people, I say, "We'll see."
Michael Vick seems much more confident this summer than he did by the end of last season, which means he's gotten over the shock of struggling for the first time since coming to the City of Brotherly Love.
With this newfound "swagger," Vick seems to be taking extra time during every practice he has to work on his footwork, how to avoid pressure and how to throw the ball where the defender can't get it.
According to this report by Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com, Vick has been working closely with defensive line coach Jim Washburn and the entire defensive line. He's being pursued daily by one of the most ferocious lines in all football which is only helping him improve at a faster rate.
Vick has been forced to scramble, avoid the grasp of his teammates and throw the ball downfield in places where the defensive backs can't get them. He's limiting interceptions and big hits while keeping the ability to make plays with his legs.
That is a dangerous formula for opposing, and one that can propel Philadelphia as far as they want it to.
6. Competition Breeds Excellence
One of the biggest problems the Eagles had last season was a lack of depth behind the starters. Stars—including Hanson, Asante, Vick and Avant—grew complacent. That's all changed.
Not only have the Eagles drafted at positions where they are already talented to increase competition, but they've been willing to let backups get reps with the first team so that no starter is given an unfair advantage.
From what we've seen so far in OTAs, the old adage "Competition breeds excellence" holds true in football as well.
Youngsters Marvin McNutt, Brandon Boykin, Vinny Curry, Mychal Kendricks, Bryce Brown and Fletcher Cox are making their veteran counterparts nervous.
The depth on this team is simply incredible: each position has three or four starting-caliber players on it, including defensive end, defensive tackle, cornerback, wide receiver, offensive tackle and outside linebacker.
Through their competition, Boykin and Hanson look much better than they did at the start of OTAs. Brian Rolle and Jamar Chaney, competing for the weak-side spot, are improving as well. Brown, Chris Polk and Dion Lewis all have shown increased speed and tenacity as they fight for the backup job at running back.
Depth and competition are things any Super Bowl-winning team needs, and thus far it seems that the Philadelphia Eagles have plenty of them.
7. A Whole New Attitude
Even after hearing all six of those football-related points, one might still say the following: "But hey, it's still the Eagles and it's still a losing attitude. There's a reason you guys have made it to five NFC Championship Games in 10 years and still haven't won a Super Bowl."
Bye-bye Joe Banner, hello new way of thinking.
Even though Andy Reid has gained more power over the last few months and that might seem like a bad thing, one only has to look at the free agency period and draft to realize that maybe it's better than we thought.
Reid finally changed his stance on linebackers, has been willing to compromise with assistant coaches like Howard Mudd and Jim Washburn and finally drafted for value instead of only drafting for need.
Joe Banner was always Mr. Iron Fist, ostracizing superstars left and right, but now it seems that the Eagles have turned a corner when it comes to re-signing their own players.
For the first time in a while they showed a commitment to their veterans, re-signing or extending Trent Cole, Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans while giving long-term deals to superstars DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy.
The Eagles have a whole new attitude, and it's all about winning. Winning the Super Bowl, that is.
Read more of my work here.