In just 34 days, the Eagles will play their first meaningful game of the 2011 season. After the draft and recent free agent bonanza, the team the Eagles will field this year is beginning to come into focus.
There are still some uncertainties regarding depth and what the final roster will look like, but we have a pretty good idea who the major role players and starters will be.
The Eagles appear to be “locked and loaded” with a talent-rich team and excellent coaches to put it all together. But if you were to step back for a moment and think about which players are the most important to the Eagles’ success this season, who would be your top choices?
The obvious choice is Michael Vick. The quarterback is always the most important position on any team. We’ll start with him and then I’ll give you five other players that are critical to this season’s championship run.
Michael Vick is entering training camp and the 2011 season as the unquestioned leader of the offense. He played so well in relief of Kevin Kolb last year that there was no way Andy Reid could keep him out of the line up.
In the seven games in which he started and finished during the middle of the season, he averaged 288.4 yards passing per game and had an average QB rating of 107.4. Those are excellent stats.
However, in his last four starts (including the playoff game) he averaged 266.7 yards passing per game and had an average QB rating of 85.4. The average yards passing drop off isn’t as concerning as the QB rating.
QB ratings take several things into consideration but most notably are completion percentage and INTs. In the seven games I calculated, Vick only threw two INTs. In the last four, he threw five INTs.
There were some folks who, by the end of last season, wondered if defenses began to “figure him out” and learned how to effectively defend against Vick. There is certainly some logic to that as you can see by his numbers decreasing toward the end.
Ultimately, Vick needs to step up his game when it comes to crunch time in the playoffs. He has to prove that he can win when it matters the most. His career playoff record is 2-3, at the end of this season let’s hope that record is 5-3.
This team will go as far as Vick can lead them. He is the most important piece to the puzzle by far. But who else will need to turn in an outstanding performance this season?
The right answer would be “everyone”! But here are my top five important players that aren’t named Michael Vick.
5. RB LeSean McCoy: He proved last season he can handle the load. He racked up 1,672 total yards of offense and scored nine TDs.
He needs to at least match those numbers in 2011 so that defenses have to account for him at all times. In order for an offense to function at its best, they need to make defenses respect the running game.
Of course, Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg need to call actual running plays with consistency but McCoy needs to excel when his number is called.
The other, and perhaps equally important, responsibility that McCoy has is being able to effectively provide blitz pick up. In the Eagles offense, his blocking is as important as running and catching.
4. DeSean Jackson: He isn’t exactly a reception machine (47 catches last season) but his 22.5 yards per reception tell you all you need to know.
What Jackson is, is a big play machine. Out of his 47 receptions last year, 21 were for over 20 yards. That means that nearly half of the time he makes a catch it’s a big play. That’s outstanding!
His big play ability is what opens things up for the rest of the offense. He attracts a lot of attention when going deep and therefore leaves underneath routes open for the taking.
If Brent Celek doesn’t have to stay in to block as much as last season, look for him to have a big year courtesy of Jackson. Jackson’s skills have a ripple effect on every other receiver’s production.
With him in the fold, the likes of Maclin, Avant, Cooper, and Celek all benefit statistically. Jackson is an integral piece of the offense and he needs to have another stellar season in order to maximize the team’s chances for a championship.
3. K Alex Henery: A kicker? Say what? Yes, a kicker. I bring him up because he is replacing David Akers, a player that Philly fans had the luxury of having for 11 seasons.
Place kickers live their football lives on an island. They don’t come in for very many plays during the course of a game but each and every time they do, they can have a dramatic effect on the outcome.
They can win or lose a game with a single kick. They can impact momentum and field position on routine kickoffs. Every time a kicker misses a “makeable” field goal, how disappointed do you find yourself?
And if they end up losing a close game, you always go back and think “man, if he made that field goal we wouldn’t have lost”. Well, these are all reasons why having a reliable kicker is very important to a team’s success.
Plus, it is deflating to the entire team when a kicker doesn’t capitalize on a hard earned offensive drive into scoring position.
Henery is a rookie. But he’s not just any rookie in that he was the #1 rated college kicker. So far he’s been having a good camp but he needs to be able to perform well in games.
How he performs in the face of pressure in the NFL will have a direct impact on the Eagles win/loss record.
2. RT Ryan Harris: Right now, he is the starting right tackle in camp and has been drawing praise from the coaches. With Winston Justice still on the PUP list, Harris very well could end up being the starter come opening day.
The right tackle position was a huge weakness last season. Actually the entire right side of the line was weak. But tackle is the position that it most crucial for the offense because that person is responsible to protect Vick’s blind side.
Vick needs to feel comfortable in the pocket and trust that he is getting the protection he needs. If he doesn’t get that, it will affect his play and he’ll be more apt to take off running thus increasing the potential for injury.
Protecting the QB is extremely important. Nothing will derail an offense like allowing sacks. Ryan Harris was a promising up-and-coming player before a couple injuries set him back.
All signs were pointing towards him re-signing with Denver but then he suddenly switched gears and signed here in Philly on a one year deal. I believe he is a man on a mission to prove that he is a legitimate NFL tackle and he came to Philadelphia to get a chance to prove it.
But whether it is he, Winston Justice, King Dunlap, or Austin Howard, much improvement from the right tackle position is needed to keep the Vick train rolling.
1. CB Nnamdi Asomugha: Right cornerback was absolutely the biggest weakness on the entire team last season. Asomugha is the second best corner in the NFL. This is a perfect match for Philly.
The Eagles need Nnamdi to show everyone why he was the most coveted free agent on the market. They need him to continue his pro bowl level of play and shut down the right side of the field.
If he can do this, it will improve the rest of the defense. Asante Samuel should benefit in getting more passes thrown his way and have that many more opportunities for INTs.
The extra coverage time will allow for the defensive linemen to penetrate and get pressure on the QB. “Coverage sacks” is what we will see this year.
His veteran presence will also help in the development of our young safeties and take some of the pressure off of them.
Right now it appears that the plan is that when the Eagles go to their nickel defense, Nnamdi will go inside and cover the slot receiver and/or the tight end. His presence there should greatly help the weakness the Eagles have perpetually had in covering tight ends.
In essence, Asomugha is arguably the single most important piece for the Eagles’ new-look defense. How he plays will impact the entire unit.