The Philadelphia Eagles escaped their home opener against the Baltimore Ravens with a 24-23 victory, making them the second team in NFL history to win its first two games of the season by exactly one point.
Here is the second edition of the ten things we learned about the Eagles. Click here to read last week’s article. Again, these are in no particular order.
1. Demetress Bell may be the answer at left tackle.
Heading into the season, almost all fans knew that King Dunlap wasn’t the answer at left tackle. Sure, he played decent against the Cleveland Browns in week one but he struggled early this week and left the game in the third quarter with a hamstring strain. He was replaced by veteran Demetress Bell, who had beat out rookie Dennis Kelly for the right to dress as the backup tackle. Bell played about half the game in Dunlap’s place and allowed no sacks and just one hurry. Andy Reid says that Bell will start this week because Dunlap is still injured, but I expect Bell to become the permanent starter.
2. Backup running back could be an issue.
Not many people are talking about this, but I’m slightly concerned about the backup running back position for the Eagles. Reid all but admitted that Dion Lewis is the fourth back, with rookies Bryce Brown and Chris Polk ahead of him on the depth chart. But Brown fumbled in Ravens’ territory this past week. I’m actually surprised he was given another carry that game, especially with the Eagles attempting to come back from behind. Polk and Lewis haven’t played an offensive snap yet this season, but if I was Reid, I would deactivate Brown for the game against the Arizona Cardinals and see what Polk and Lewis can do in limited action. The backup running back spot for the Eagles is completely up in the air, and a lost fumble by Brown should be enough to drop him to fourth on the depth chart.
3. DeSean Jackson is fully motivated.
After sulking his way through the entire 2011 season, DeSean Jackson needed a fast start in 2012 to keep the Philly crowd on his side. He came through, grabbing seven balls for 114 yards, including a 49-yard catch on a deep pass that ranks as the offensive play of the game. Jackson caught the ball, knowing that he would be drilled by safety Ed Reed. That’s exactly what happened, but Jackson bounced right back up, uninjured.
4. Brent Celek is Michael Vick’s favorite offensive weapon.
At the end of the 2011 season, Brent Celek began putting up receiving numbers that he hadn’t done since the 2009 season, when he caught 76 balls for 971 yards. Celek has continued that hot streak into the 2012 season. On Sunday, he caught eight balls for a career-high 157 yards, and turned in two of the most impressive plays of the day: a 23-yard catch over the middle in which he bounced back up after taking a vicious hit from safety Bernard Pollard, and a 24-yard catch and run in which he hurled Reed.
5. Brandon Graham is working his way up the depth chart.
Brandon Graham spent the offseason talking about how he was disappointed in his performance through his first two seasons. He spent training camp and the preseason dominating offensive lines. Yet the Eagles have such powerful defensive ends that Graham is buried on the depth chart. He played in just four plays against the Browns and nine against the Ravens. He’s making the most of his opportunity though. He had four hurries of Joe Flacco on Sunday and also recorded a tackle against the run. I’d expect to see him on the field for 20 to 25 plays next week.
6. Phillip Hunt is not.
I grew obsessed with Phillip Hunt during training camp and the preseason, even saying that he will be the defensive breakout player of the year for the Eagles. Adam Caplan went one step further, and said that Hunt will be the breakout player of the year in all of football. Through two games, Hunt has shown no signs that he will turn into a star. He has seen the field for 30 plays and has just one hurry, as well as a penalty. He better pick up his game or the Eagles could choose to let rookie second round pick Vinny Curry see the field soon.
7. Special teams coverage need work.
Wide receiver Deonte Thompson returned three kicks for 100 yards, including a 49-yard return, while Jacoby Jones returned three punts for 34 yards. The previous week, Joshua Cribbs returned three kicks for 91 yards and six punts for 78 yards. Combined, that’s six kick returns for 191 yards (31.8 yards per return) and nine punts for 112 yards (12.4 yards per return). That’s going to need to improve this week, especially against Patrick Peterson.
8. The Eagles are one of the tougher teams in the league.
I’ve never seen an Eagles team get accused of being dirty before, as Ray Rice said following the game. To be honest, it makes me proud. Toughness was lacking on the 2011 Eagles. I haven’t seen an Eagles defense play this tough or tackle this well since the days of Jeremiah Trotter and Brian Dawkins. This team is legit. From Kurt Coleman, DeSean Jackson, and Brent Celek bouncing back up after taking three of the hardest hits of the year to linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks tackling at an unworldly rate, the Eagles are legitimately one of the tougher teams in the league.
9. Michael Vick is clutch.
For the majority of his career, Michael Vick has been a little on the un-clutch side. He’s had his fair share of clutch moments, such as the overtime touchdown run against the Minnesota Vikings as a rookie in 2002, and, of course, the comeback in the Miracle at the New Meadowlands against the New York Giants in 2010. But for the most part, he hasn’t been reliable with the game on the line.
That may all be changing. Vick guided the Eagles 91 yards over 16 plays in the final few minutes against the Browns, and he guided the Eagles 80 yards over 10 plays in the final few minutes against the Ravens. Both times Vick needed a touchdown to win the game, and both times he came through. The drives weren’t perfect. Vick fumbled and almost threw an interception against the Browns, and he almost lost a fumble in the red zone against the Ravens. But then again, don’t underestimate how many fourth quarter comebacks are complete with their share of luck.
10. The Eagles’ defense is one of the best in the league.
The jury is still out on the Eagles. I’ve seen articles calling them the worst 2-0 team in NFL history and I’ve seen them ranked as the fifth best team in the power rankings. One thing is for sure though. The defense is one of the best in the game. They’ve forced six turnovers in two games. They’ve allowed no second-half touchdowns. They’re holding opponents to a 22% conversion rate on third downs. The tackling is among the best in the league. And the defense made a huge stand on the final drive of each game to preserve a victory.