The 15 Biggest Strengths of the 2012 Philadelphia Eagles
Through six games, the Philadelphia Eagles' fan base really couldn't be more pessimistic. Trust me. I would know. I've been an Eagles fan for 22 years, 11 months, and 9 days, and this is about as bad as I've ever seen it, other than the 2005 Eagles team where literally everything went wrong. But those Eagles finishes 6-10 and most fans figured they'd be back next year. And they were, although it wasn't they way you'd expect it, as veteran Jeff Garcia led the Eagles to five straight victories in late November and December to capture the NFC East division title.
These Eagles are different. They're 3-3 and if things don't turn around, there will be no next year, at least for head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Michael Vick, arguably the top faces of the franchise. Reid needs the Eagles to reach the playoffs and make a deep run, and Vick? Well, he doesn't have any specific guidelines to keep his job heading into next season but I can tell you that the way he is playing now is not going to get the job done.
That being said, it's not like the Eagles have nothing good going for them this season, contrary to the negative, negative, and negative stuff you've been reading about the team since their embarrassing blown fourth quarter lead against the Detroit Lions in week six. So the following slides will highlight the 15 best things about the 2012 Philadelphia Eagles, in reverse order from 15 to 1.
15. Brent Celek
Through six games, Celek has established himself as the most reliable target on the Philadelphia Eagles, as he did as the end of last season. He has 25 catches for 357 yards and one touchdown this season, putting him on pace for almost 1000 yards, which would be his career-high. He needs to cut down on his drops, with five already. But he's really helped an offense that is missing DeSean Jackson's big plays and Jeremy Maclin's consistency and explosiveness.
14. Few dropped passes
If you don't notice your team dropping passes, that's a good thing, and I really haven't noticed many drops so far this season. In particular, DeSean Jackson, who dropped four touchdowns last season, has zero drops on 45 throws to him so far this year. Jeremy Maclin has just one drop and Jason Avant has zero. The weakness is Brent Celek, with five, but none have been awful, and it's more important that receivers are catching their passes.
13. Evan Mathis
Count me among the many who did not expect another big season from left guard Evan Mathis. I credited the majority of his success in 2011 to the huge year by left tackle Jason Peters, who was arguably the game's best offensive linemen. But Mathis ranks as the fourth best guard in the NFL this year, according to Pro Football Focus. He hasn't had a negative game in 21 starts in Philly, and he hasn't allowed a sack since before 2008, the existence of Pro Football Focus. That's pretty special. Mathis hasn't been receiving his dues since the offensive line has been struggling this year, but he's one of the more valuable parts to this team.
12. Happy and rich DeSean Jackson
Don't underestimate how important a happy DeSean Jackson is in 2012. After all, he likely cost the team at least a game or two last year when he couldn't come to grips with his contract situation. His big plays have evaporated this year, but he's still having one of his better seasons, with 29 catches, 465 yards, a touchdown, and no drops in six games this year.
11. Michael Vick's new padding
Last year, Michael Vick missed a three games with rib injuries. In 2010, he missed three games with rib injuries. So this year, he had special padding, created by Unequal Technologies, placed under his uniform to protect his chest. The owner of Unequal Technologies guaranteed that Vick would stay healthy and uninjured this season, and so far, he's been right. Vick has taken around 15 hits per game, but he hasn't missed a play through six games, and he really hasn't had to play through any injuries. Before the season, Vick's health was discussed as the key to the season. It's definitely ironic that he hasn't missed a game yet this season, but he could end up getting benched due to poor play. So for a third straight season in the Vick era (and eighth straight season overall), we could see the backup quarterback.
10. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
The 26-year old cornerback has turned into one of the best cornerbacks in the league, wiping away some poor memories from his awful 2011 season in which he was stuck as the Eagles' nickel cornerback. He's playing for a new contract and I'd be surprised if he didn't receive it before the end of the season. Through six games, he's allowed the following passing statistics: 15-33, 211 yards, 3 INT, 28.7 passer rating. Rodgers-Cromartie also has racked up 16 tackles in 18 attempts, after collecting just 24 in 31 attempts last year.
9. Lack of minor injuries
I wrote about this earlier in the season. I'm amazed the way the Eagles have managed to avoid almost all minor injuries this season. Of course I can't get over the loss of left tackle Jason Peters and center Jason Kelce for the season, and it's still a long shot for defensive tackle Mike Patterston to play in 2012. But how many starters have missed games with injuries this season? Virtually none. Jeremy Maclin missed the game against the Arizona Cardinals, and a couple of key special teams starters, such as Colt Anderson, Akeem Jordan, and Riley Cooper, have missed time. Oh, and safety Nate Allen left the game against the Lions with an injury. But no key starters have missed two or three games. It's unbelievable. Let's hope it lasts.
8. Won most important game of the season
The Eagles won their divisional showdown against the New York Giants in week four, and that's going to be huge for them later in the season. It was easily the biggest game the Eagles have played. Throw in the Giants' one and a half game lead in the NFC East and the Eagles would have a very uphill battle to overcoming that deficit if they had lost to the Giants on Sunday Night Football. As it is, they have the edge in a tiebreaker, and a lot of signs are pointing towards the final game of the season having playoff implications for either the Eagles or the Giants.
7. DeMeco Ryans
Ryans has been the defensive MVP for the Eagles this season. In fact, he has been the most valuable player of the entire team. He's drawn comparisons to Jeremiah Trotter for his ability to rack up tackles and take down ballcarriers. He's collected 37 tackles, with just a single miss, a pretty unprecedented figure when you compare Ryans to past linebackers like Brian Rolle, Casey Matthews, and Moise Fokou.
6. Michael Vick's clutch ability
Michael Vick's been a rich man's version of Tim Tebow this season. He struggles for the first 55 minutes of the game and then he leads the team on a game-winning/go-ahead touchdown in the final minutes. He's done the late scoring act in five of his six games: a game-winning touchdown pass with just over a minute remaining to beat the Cleveland Browns, a game-winning touchdown run with just under two minutes remaining to beat the Baltimore Ravens, a game-winning field goal drive with just under two minutes left to beat the New York Giants, a go-ahead touchdown pass with under seven minutes remaining against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and a 70-yard should-have-been game-clinching touchdown pass with five minutes left against the Detroit Lions. He's got to work on his performance in the first three quarters, but with the game on the line, I completely trust Mike Vick.
5. Defense in the clutch
Just like the Eagles' offense, their defense has been pretty clutch with the game on the line. They've slipped a little, but they're still pretty good, all in all. Against Cleveland in week one, safety Kurt Coleman intercepted Brandon Weeden on the first play in the final minute when a field goal would have won the game for the Browns. Against Baltimore in week two, they forced a turnover on downs by Joe Flacco in the final minute when a field goal would have won the game for the Ravens. Against the Giants in week four, they stopped Eli Manning and company from driving deep into Eagles' territory in the final minutes, despite a 37-yard kick return from rookie David Wilson. They allowed a walkoff field goal against the Steelers, and they allowed 10 points in the final four minutes, plus a field goal in overtime, in last week's loss to Detroit. But in all fairness, Ben Roethlisberger is one of the best fourth quarter comebacks in the game, and a field goal isn't a defensive collapse. And while the defense did blow the game against Detroit, the offense didn't help at all, and it's also unfortunate that no one will remember the Eagles' defense stopping the Lions on a couple of goal-line plays at the end of regulation. In all, that's three huge victories by the defense, an acceptable loss, and an unacceptable collapse. That's pretty good.
4. New defensive coordinator
Now, nothing has happened yet with new defensive coordnator Todd Bowles. But he's a million times better than Juan Castillo. He understands how to make appropriate adjustments, he's going to play the better players instead of just rotating the whole group, and he has 21 years of experience as a defensive player and coach, as compared to Castillo, who had none. I have very high expectations for Bowles and the Eagles' defense over the final 10 games. His first game, against the undefeated Atlanta Falcons, is his biggest test of the season.
3. Rookie draft class
The 2012 draft class has a chance to go down as one of the best in the Andy Reid era, thanks to early contributions from defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, linebacker Mychal Kendricks, and nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin. Quarterback Nick Foles has been the talk of the team for some time now, and running back Bryce Brown has a ton of potential. I can't ever recall seeing this much contribution from a rookie draft class and it couldn't have come from a better group or at a more important time.
2. Do-or-die season for Andy Reid, Michael Vick
This might be a pretty weak number two, but the 2012 Eagles have definitely had more failures than success this year. However, the fact that Reid and Vick are both playing for their jobs should be huge for the remainder of the season. It's impossible to know how much it has affected anything so far this season, but as the season continues, and things get more desperate, I expect Reid and Vick to step up their game and contend for a playoff spot. They usually do.
1. Very easy closing schedule
Don't ignore the closing schedule for the Eagles. It's very favorable. From weeks two to eight, the Eagles faced the defending AFC North champion Baltimore Ravens, the red-hot Arizona Cardinals on the road, the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, the desperate Pittsburgh Steelers on the road fresh off a bye, the desperate Detroit Lions fresh off a bye, the undefeated Atlanta Falcons fresh off a bye and the desperate and likely red-hot New Orleans Saints on the road on Monday Night Football. That's six out of seven games against playoff teams from last season, and the other one against a team that started 4-0 this year. That's three straight games against teams coming off a bye, which I truly don't even think should be legal. The Eagles are 2-3 during those games, and I expect them to split the next two, putting them at 4-4 after eight games.
But check out how they end the season. They play Dallas, at Washington, Carolina on Monday Night Football, at Dallas, at Tampa Bay, Cincinnati on Thursday Night Football, Washington, and at the Giants. The only difficult game is the season finale. The Eagles swept Dallas last year by a combined 54-14 score, and I think they're better than them this year too, especially with Sean Lee out for the season. They can beat Washington as long as they stop RGIII. Tampa Bay is not very good. Road teams never win on Thursday Night Football, so the Cincinnati game should be easy. You're looking at a six-game stretch from weeks 11 to 16 where the Eagles will be favored in every game. Throw in the fact that Reid's Eagles usually do well late in the season, and the playoffs are a very definite possibility.