The Philadelphia Eagles have now played one game of their 2012 season, and there are a lot of mixed emotions coming from the fan base.
Personally, I choose to focus on the optimism. The run game was sensational, the defense was as good as I’ve ever seen, and the entire team came together to march 91 yards with the game on the line in the final minutes.
That being said, here are 10 things we learned about the Eagles after they played the Cleveland Browns. What I am going to do is focus on ten question marks we had coming into the season and acknowledge whether our worries were confirmed. This doesn’t mean that things won’t change over the next few weeks, obviously. I am simply going based off of the lone game already played this season. These are in no particular order.
(Scroll down here to check out some of my top 10 things we learned from the 2010 season if you’re interested.)
1) Michael Vick has not changed.
All of the talk this offseason was about Michael Vick limiting his mistakes in 2012. He promised President Obama that he would slide. He spent so much time studying film that head coach Andy Reid often had to kick him out of the film room.
And nothing really appears to have changed.
Vick threw four interceptions against the Browns, made five dangerous throws across his body to the center of the field, took an NFL-high 16 hits, and almost turned the ball over twice on the final drive. Sure, he got the job done, but if he plays like that against a legit NFL team, the Eagles have no chance to win.
2) LeSean McCoy will have no trouble running the football even with Jason Peters out.
No Jason Peters? No problem.
LeSean McCoy had no problems running the football, carrying 20 times for 110 yards, an average of 5.5 yards per carry. He did fumble on his first carry of the season but it was likely a fluke.
3) …If LeSean McCoy gets the football.
It appeared that Reid’s issues with the run-pass ratio almost cost the Eagles the game on Sunday. The Eagles had a ridiculous 95 offensive plays, and ran the ball on just 33 times. McCoy, one of the top backs in the league, received just 20 carries, even though the Browns never came close to stopping him.
4) Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans are everything we hoped they would be.
Mychal Kendricks was the talk of the preseason. DeMeco Ryans was already declared a bust because he played poorly in a couple of preseason games, likely because he is a veteran and needs to save his energy for the regular season.
Kendricks and Ryans combined to go 10 for 10 on tackles, including using their quickness to make a couple of open field tackles to save first downs. Watching linebackers who can tackle and make plays is not something Eagles fans have grown used to.
5) Forget about rotating the linebackers.
Before the season opener, Reid announced that the Eagles will rotate their six linebackers: Kendricks, Ryans, Akeem Jordan, Casey Matthews, Brian Rolle, and Jamar Chaney.
So much for that.
According to the play counts at Pro Football Focus, Ryans played 60 of the 62 defensive snaps. Kendricks played 55. Jordan, the weakside starter, played 20. Rolle played two. Chaney one. And Matthews zero.
I expect that to be the norm for the remainder of the season. Ryans and Kendricks are the two best linebackers. The other four are a dime a dozen.
6) Brandon Boykin is a playmaker.
No, I don’t mean on kick returns. Brandon Boykin didn’t do much in his first-ever game as a kick returner.
But he had a brilliant game as a slot cornerback, knocking down a pass across the middle (which he almost intercepted), and allowing just two completions on six attempts for 33 yards. He ranks as the top slot corner in the league through week 1, according to Pro Football Focus.
As of now, it looks like the Eagles made right decision in giving up on veteran Joselio Hanson.
7) Kurt Coleman could be the answer at safety.
I wrote about the importance of Nate Allen this season with no key backups at the safety position. But I didn’t expect Kurt Coleman to open the season with such a bang. He intercepted two passes, including the game-winner in the final minute, to clinch a much-needed victory against the Browns.
With second-year player Jaiquawn Jarrett now cut, the Eagles have no backup safeties with any NFL experience. David Sims has never played a down and special teams ace Colt Anderson is still rehabbing, but he doesn’t play defense even when he is healthy.
If Coleman can turn out to be the answer for the Eagles at safety, along with Allen, the Eagles’ defense will be much improved from 2011.
8) Alex Henery still can’t be trusted in the clutch.
Last season, the Eagles drafted record-setting kicker Alex Henery from Nebraska, which ended the tenure of five-time Pro Bowl kicker David Akers.
Henery had a very solid rookie season, connecting on 24 of 27 field goals, a franchise-record for an Eagles kicker and a single-season record for NFL rookies. But two of his misses were under 40 yards in the Eagles’ eventual 24-23 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
Fans spent all offseason wondering Henery would be able to turn the corner and make clutch kids in 2012. Well, he’s not off to a good start. He missed a 45-yard field goal in the fourth quarter of the game against the Browns. The Eagles won, luckily, but no thanks to Henery.
9) Chas Henry was the right decision.
On the other note, the majority of fans were pretty pessimistic about the punting situation after last year.
Rookie Chas Henry ranked 25th in the league in punting average and when veteran Mat McBriar was brought in as a free agent, it appeared that Henry’s days with Philadelphia were all but over. But he managed to win the job in the preseason, and the move has appeared to pay off so far. He averaged a franchise-record 55.0 yards per punt in the first game and was named the punter of the week.
10) Winning mentality.
The Eagles just did not win close games last season.
Last year, the Atlanta Falcons beat them 35-31, with the Eagles blowing a 10-point fourth quarter lead and failing on their final drive. The New York Giants beat them 29-16, with the Eagles blowing a fourth quarter lead. The San Francisco 49ers beat them 24-23, with the Eagles blowing a 23-3 lead and failing on their final drive. The Buffalo Bills beat them 31-24, with the Eagles failing on a late comeback attempt. The Chicago Bears beat them 30-24, with the Eagles blowing a fourth quarter lead and failing on a final offensive drive. The Arizona Cardinals beat them 21-17, with the Eagles blowing a fourth quarter lead and failing on a final offensive drive.
The only victory came when backup quarterback Vince Young led the Eagles on a long touchdown drive to break a 10-10 tie in the fourth quarter against the Giants. The defense stopped Eli Manning in the final minute.
But the Eagles were just 1-6 in close games last year. A single play in any of the six games could have stopped a loss and propelled the Eagles into the postseason.
Look at the difference between the 2010 and 2011 Eagles. It’s not a lot. The ’10 Eagles had a +62 point differential, and won a couple of close games, like San Francisco in week five, Indianapolis in week nine, and the Giants in week 15. The ’11 Eagles lost those games.
With the 2012 Eagles likely to be one of the more competitive teams in the league, it really gives them an edge to win their first close game of the season. They’ll win their fair share of blowouts. But you never know about the close games.
This article was written by Bryn Swartz, the top writer for the Philadelphia Eagles and a featured NFL columnist on Rant Sports. Bryn has written more than 1000 articles in less than two years as a member of Rant Sports. His blog, Eagles Central, was named the 2010 Ballhyped Sports Blog of the Year. You can follow Bryn on Twitter by clicking here and here. To read a portfolio of Bryn’s best work, click here.