Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Day Later: Are The Eagles Better Than We Thought?

Yes, Yes They Did
Coming into 2013, the Eagles were widely presumed to be an entertaining rebuilding team in a division where, well, anyone could win except them. Dallas had the best skill players, Washington the best QB and, if healthy, defense, and the Giants had the best coach and multiple rings. The Eagles were going to be a hard out, but they were also going to struggle a ton on defense, and even if Chip Kelly's schemes were successful, they just didn't have enough talent to compete after multiple disaster drafts from the end of the Reid Era.

Then, last night happened, and for a half, the team was the most fun to watch since the improbable 2008 NFC Championship run. (And yes, that includes the Michael Vick Reborn year, because that team lost to Freaking Joe Webb at home to set up the Green Bay playoff loss.)

So, where we all wrong, and has the next playoff team arrived early? Let's break it down.

Seven reasons for:

> The offense isn't a fluke, and really, they could have easily blown this game out. Washington's first touchdown was a gift that was nearly overturned, another came via a WR fumble, and a fourth was garbage time giftery.

> OLB Trent Cole did not look like a 30-year-old guy on his second position, and about to leave the league. What I thought might be one of the worst positions in the starting 22 was a strength.

> ILB Mychal Kendrcks played his best game as a professional, and looked like the guy I thought he might be as a rookie in preseason last year -- their first truly good LB since, um, maybe Seth Joyner. Last night, he was disruptive and stood out, and now seeks to be back on track.

> CB Cary Williams made plays all night, and held WR Pierre Garcon in check while also making a highlight reel pick. I'm still not convinced he's a true CB1; there's lots of data in his past days as a Ravens corner that makes things questionable. But again, what looked like a sieve might not be.

> There's a very real chance they start the year 3-0, with the Chargers and Chiefs coming to town, and the rest of the division might be a tire fire. Washington gets Green Bay on a short week, Dallas barely got past the Giants despite a half dozen turnovers, and the Giants seem prepared to play RB Hot Potato. Honestly, Week One could not have gone any better for them.

> It is a last-place schedule, with cherries like the Cardinals and Lions at home after the break, and a pretty toothless Minnesota team on the road afterwards. They also aren't likely to have much in the way of schedule shenanigans, since they only had the two scheduled prime time games (last night in DC, and the TNF game against Kansas City in 8 days).  They could, of course, get flexed into a SNF game, especially since Week 17 is in Dallas, but for the most part, they are going to be on schedule, while the rest of the division won't be.

> This offensive line had moments of dominance last night against a reasonable defense, and they can get a lot better. Jason Peters was shaking off some rust. Lane Johnson made his first NFL start. Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans were both coming off injury. Evan Mathis has to be off-kilter with the rest from lack of familiarity. They can, and just might, get a lot better.

Seven reasons against:

> The secondary depth is as bad as advertised. With Williams out for a brief injury, rookie CB Jordan Poyer came on, and combined inadequate size, speed and technique to make Leonard Hankerson look like a star. When Poyer wasn't waving at air, S Patrick Chung was losing containment on the last Washington touchdown, a deep ball to Hankerson that made me wonder if Kurt Coleman had moved on to coaching. If the pass rush doesn't get to the QB quickly, this is still Feast City for the QB.

> Vick isn't likely to stay healthy, and if/when he goes down, this offense is going to be a lot easier to scheme against. He gives them a threat with his legs, and 56 yards and a touchdown is nothing to sneeze at from a QB. He sustains a couple of drives a game with escape ability, and against an offense that's all kinds of back-breaking, that can't be overestimated. He's a veteran who has won on he road, and the team just plays better when he's in there; this was even true of last year's disaster team. And he's 33, still can't slide, and even seems to want to get in the downfield blocking mix. If he plays 12 games this year, they'll be lucky.

> The TEs are drop-prone. Zach Ertz ended a drive last night, and his track record as a collegian says it won't be the last name. Brent Celek is also not terribly sure-handed, and the thing about a tempo offense is that a mistake or two gets your defense back on the field with terrible speed. I don't know if these guys can play to the level that's needed, and last night's game, despite some good moments from Celek (and one howlingly awful one, with the holding / unsportsmanline double dip), did not end those doubts.

> They aren't going to face a rustbucket QB every week. Had Robert Griffin III gotten even one preseason game in, you'd have to think that his first three quarters might not have looked so sad, and this might have been a very different game.

> The skill players are still very turnover-prone. RB Bryce Brown is a time bomb, and 31 carries a week for LeSean McCoy isn't sustainable. WR Jason Avant has had some true howling mistakes over the years. Vick is, historically, just a turnover machine. McCoy and DeSean Jackson are both shifty small speed guys who never stop trying to take it to the house; those guys tend to put it on the ground. And we've covered the tight ends. The Eagles' best hope is that they are going to run so many plays, and exhaust the defense so badly, that their fumble recovery rate stays ahead of the curve.

> The depth, well, everywhere. If (when?) a starting OL goes down, things get bad quickly. They are already playing WRs 3 and 4 in Avant and Riley Cooper, who look more like blockers than pass catchers so far. If Kelly can win games in the NFL with one above-average wideout, that's surprising. We've already talked about the secondary, of course. And all of this seems to matter more in a tempo team than an ordinary club.

> Regression to the mean. Kelly over Mike Shanahan might have been worth two touchdowns in last night's game, and no matter how smart and innovative Chip is, that's not going to hold up over the course of the year. Doing cardio training to get in shape to stop the Blur won't help, but film will, and when you make as big of a splash as the Eagles did, you get on everyone's radar with a quickness.

Personally, I'm ready to ratchet them up a couple of wins, if only for the fact that I didn't see them winning the Washington game. I also think playing at this pace just makes you less likely to blow a flat game to a bad opponent, since every game seems like pinball for the skill players. But I just can't see Vick staying healthy, or Foles being able to win in his stead. But things are looking a hell of a lot more entertaining than 6-10 and just looking for progress...


Tracer Bullet said...

Hey! What about Trot? I mean, the first time. Before his knees completely gave out. Or Witherspoon . . . for one game. And Spikes wasn't terrible.

Man, they sure had a lot of shit LBs in the 2000s, didn't they?

DMtShooter said...

It was the personnel group that the Reid Era never figured out. Until they couldn't figure out any of them. (With the possible exception of RBs.)

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