Even with a record of 2-4, the Philadelphia Eagles are only two games out of first place in the NFC East. There are still legitimate reasons for Eagles fans to be optimistic about the 2011 season.
As a matter of fact, I’ll start off by giving you five such reasons you shouldn’t pack away your Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson jerseys just yet.
Outside of the Green Bay Packers and to a lesser extent, the New Orleans Saints, who in the entire NFC looks like a sure thing? Those two teams will most likely win their division and San Francisco looks to be running away in the weak NFC West.
However, the NFC East is completely up for grabs at this point. The Eagles stand just as good of a chance as anyone else in the division. And with a win this week against the Dallas Cowboys, their chances would get even better.
So without further ado, here are best reasons to remain optimistic for the Eagles’ 2011 season…
1. The New York Giants have a rough schedule.
The current division-leading Giants have a rough road ahead of them after this week’s game against Miami. They should be 5-2 after a win this week against the “suck for Luck” Dolphins.
However, after that is when Giants fans should be as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Here’s what their remaining nine games look like:
@New York Jets
The only relatively weak opponent they have left is the Week 15 game against Washington. However, that is still a division game so it’s certainly not a “gimme game.”
I see at least five losses, probably six, out of those nine games. That means they’ll finish with a 9-7 record at best. The bonus is that, after starting out 5-2 but still missing the playoffs, it could very well result in head coach Tom Coughlin’s departure.
2. The Washington Redskins have been exposed.
The Redskins jumped out to an early division lead four weeks into the season with a 3-1 record. However, they’ve lost their last two games and have fallen to 3-3.
The Eagles exposed Redskins QB Rex Grossman and now they have John Beck running the show. He might be a slight improvement but it’s safe to say that Washington has problems at the game’s most important position.
Plus, they just suffered two pretty big injuries in losing RB Tim Hightower for the season and WR Santana Moss for at least a month. Even their defense, which has played pretty well this season so far, was just rolled by Carolina to the tune of 407 offensive yards and 33 points.
Washington is turning out to be what most people thought they were prior to the season, a below average team that should finish last in the division.
3. The 3-3 Dallas Cowboys are the main competition.
The Cowboys will be the Eagles’ main competition for the NFC East division title. The remainder of their schedule is a little more forgiving than what the Giants will face, but they still have five games left within the division.
That Includes two against the Eagles. This is where the Eagles can control their destiny a little bit. They have the opportunity to sweep Dallas to give them an edge if it comes down to any tie-breaking scenario.
And Dallas is not without flaws. Yes, they are ranked in the top 10 on both sides of the ball but they have weaknesses.
First and foremost, Tony Romo is a sketchy QB. He has shown a penchant to be a choker when the game is on the line. Sure, he does well overall and puts up good stats but he lacks the “it” factor.
Simply put, you just can’t trust that he’ll pull through in clutch situations. He’s a hit or miss QB and if you can rattle him with some pressure, Romo starts to fold like a cheap lawn chair.
Their defense is playing better under new coordinator Rob Ryan but they’re still just middle-of-the-road in defending the pass. The secondary is their main weakness and they’ve been living off of the success of their front seven.
The Eagles will expose that weakness on Sunday Night and show the world how to beat the Cowboys.
4. The Eagles’ offense is pretty darn good.
Currently, the Eagles have the No. 3 ranked offense in the NFL. The reason for that is largely due to the emergence of LeSean McCoy as one of the best all-around running backs in the league.
Heck, he is in the argument for being the best and is certainly in the top three.
Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg have also been calling a little more of a balanced attack as well. The Eagles have 180 rush attempts vs. 217 pass attempts through six games.
Percentage-wise, that equates roughly to a 55-45 passing/rushing split. Even though Michael Vick accounts for a chunk of that, the Eagles have still been calling more run plays this year than in years past.
Having a balanced attack is helping this offense immensely. Once teams start having to game plan to stop McCoy, the Eagles will just counter with DeSean Jackson.
We certainly can’t forget the Eagles’ big-play capabilities, namely the Michael Vick to DeSean Jackson connection. They can still score from anywhere on the field.
Jeremy Maclin is also emerging as an excellent receiver who not only consistently delivers, but also has the speed and ability to be a big-play guy himself.
Moving the football has not been a problem for the Eagles this year. They’re also scoring an average of 24 points per game.
The problem is that they’ve been their own worst enemy. Turnovers, mainly. Once they get that corrected, this team will start averaging 30 points per game.
5. The Eagles’ defense is starting to gel.
Overall, the Eagles defense is ranked No. 13 in the NFL. They’ve had some problems through the first four and a half games, but ever since the second half against Buffalo in Week 5 the defense has been playing better.
Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo has made some subtle adjustments that have improved the play of the unit. The wide-nine technique has been used less, which accounted for better run defense against the Redskins in Week 6.
They also started allowing Nnamdi Asomugha to play more press coverage instead of all zone. And while the defense barely blitzed at all earlier in the season, they’re finally starting to do it a little more often.
Nate Allen appears as if he’s finally recovered from his knee injury last season and has played two consecutive strong games. And Kurt Coleman getting benched may have been spark he needed to get things going.
Coleman was the star of the game against the Redskins in Week 6 when he recorded three INTs. So between he and Allen, the safety play is getting noticeably better.
These changes, combined with the talent they have on this side of the ball, should allow them to start coming together and functioning more as a complete unit.
They have been playing better as of late and will continue to improve as the season goes.