A high case of déjà vu is going around in the streets of Philly right now. The Eagles, loaded with big-name talent just like a year ago, are failing miserably to live up to expectations once again. Currently standing at 3-5 on the season, they are not only fighting to stay alive in a highly competitive playoff race, but also to save their head coach’s, and possibly their quarterback’s, job.
Andy Reid, having been on the hot seat for quite some time now, will almost certainly be relieved of his duties should the Eagles continue their underwhelming play. As for Michael Vick, he is in the second year of a hefty five-year, $80 million contract, but he is expendable despite all that money; the Eagles can buy out his contract at the end of the season for just $3 million. Vick is playing to maintain his starting role on a week-to-week basis and could be replaced by promising rookie Nick Foles at any time.
But if the Eagles can pull off a significant winning streak, all will be forgotten. And with the schedule easing up for the remainder of the season (27-40 is the combined record of their remaining opponents), this is completely doable. But we all know—the Eagles especially—that actions speak louder than words. If the Eagles want to become the team people envisioned them to be, significant improvements need to be made in several areas.
Surprisingly, Michael Vick has been healthy enough to play in every game this season, but health hasn’t translated into success. Turnovers have been the main issue this season, as he has been intercepted nine times, and fumbled three balls that were recovered by the other team. His passer rating (77.7) and his completion percentage (58.3%) are his lowest as a starter since 2006, when he was with the Atlanta Falcons. Vick’s efficiency and decision-making need to be better if the Eagles wish to improve upon their abysmal 16.6 points per game, good for 29th in the NFL.
While Vick has played poorly, he does not deserve all of the blame. Generally, quarterback play goes hand-in-hand with the offensive line play. This year, the Eagles are clearly missing star tackle Jason Peters, who is out for the year with a ruptured Achilles tendon. The line has given up 27 sacks this season (fourth-most in the NFL), compared to 32 in all of 2011. The Eagles average 4.5 yards per rush attempt, down from 5.1 yards last season. More sacks, and less production running the ball is a great recipe for a lower point total. The team desperately needs players such as newly acquired Demetress Bell, and former first-round pick Danny Watkins to step up their level of play in order to see an increase in the point column.
The defense is where the Eagles really expected dominance. With superstar cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, as well as high-quality players Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, DeMeco Ryans and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie joining the team, it was not hard to imagine the Eagles becoming one of the best defenses in the NFL, if not the best. They were predicted to boast an elite secondary and pass rush; a nearly unstoppable combination. Well, we have come to see that is not the case.
The defensive line is filled with talent, led by edge rushers Trent Cole and Jason Babin. But this season they have been largely ineffective, having contributed a mere five sacks to the team’s 11 total; a dismal number. Pressuring the quarterback is the most important part of a strong defense, so naturally the Eagles’ pass-rushing woes have been the main reason for the poor play. With those two players coming off the edge, as well as Cullen Jenkins and first-round pick Fletcher Cox playing the tackle spots, they should be having no trouble achieving outside and inside pressure. Because of the defensive line’s plethora of talent, it allows several players to consistently have one-on-one opportunities, but so far they simply have not been taking advantage.
The Eagles’ season is not over by any means, but if they want to start becoming serious about making the playoffs, then the level of urgency needs to increase. No one player is going to make this happen; it has to be a collective effort on both sides of the ball. These talented and, for the most part, heavily paid players need to put their egos aside, or this could be a completely different team in 2013.
By SEAN AVELLINI ’16