When a game is decided in the waning moments of the fourth quarter, whom do you want on the field?
In the case of the Philadelphia Eagles, this is tricky.
Since the Eagles are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, would you prefer to see the Michael Vick-led offense make an attempt at coming from behind? Or do you place your trust in the defense to preserve a late lead?
In an upcoming season that promises to come along its fair share of close calls, here are the players that we trust the most.
Although the Philadelphia Eagles are loaded with playmakers at the wide receiver position, you won’t find any of them on this list of clutch players. Instead, it’s the often-unheralded tight end Brent Celek, who tied for the team-high in touchdowns and led the Eagles in yards after the catch.
Celek began the 2011 season slowly and failed to top 50 receiving yards in six straight weeks because of a sports hernia and torn labrum in his left hip. However, he closed out the year with 696 yards and four touchdowns.
During the Eagles’ four-game win streak, the sixth-year pro accounted for 393 yards and three scores—proving how his level of play rose as the season progressed.
With the NFC East promising to be competitive once again, Philadelphia fans should be glad to see this trend repeat itself for another season.
Philadelphia enters the 2012 season with the deepest defensive line in the NFL mainly because of their ability to find multiple bodies that can reach the quarterback. Last season the defense collected 50 sacks, which tied them for top honors.
Jason Babin led the Eagles defense with 18 sacks and three forced fumbles—making him one of the league’s most feared pass-rushers.
Pro Football Focus has Babin ranked as the third most productive pass-rusher over the past three seasons—noting that he generates pressure on 15% of all pass-rushing downs.
Also, according to ESPN’s Peter Keating, Babin was the most valuable sack artist in 2011 and saved the team from a projected 26.9 points. His ability to record sacks on third-down and while defending the end zone halted opposing drives and saved the team from giving up six.
So while defensive line coach Jim Washburn employs a rotational system, you can fully expect Babin to stay on the field if the game is hanging in the balance.
It’s not uncommon for games to come down to the final throw in today’s pass-happy NFL. Aside from Darrelle Revis, there isn’t a more reliable man-to-man cornerback than Nnamdi Asomugha.
This is important because a defender’s reputation plays an invaluable role when it comes to challenging the quarterback. During his first eight seasons with the Oakland Raiders, Asomugha was rarely targeted due to his ability and status as a shutdown corner.
Although his only season in Philadelphia failed to mirror the kind of production he had in Oakland, the 10th-year veteran is still thought of as an elite defender.
Simply put: if a game were to come down to one final pass, no matter how the play is drawn up, chances that the ball finds its’ way towards No.24 remain slim to none.
It’s not as if Michael Vick has proven to be extra special in close-game situations, but he makes this list based on necessity.
The Philadelphia Eagles field one of the most dynamic offenses that the league has to offer. They can attack you physically on the ground and vertically through the air, so in a way, fans are forced to trust the one person who impacts every play and is responsible for delivering these weapons the football.
After taking over for an injured Kevin Kolb in Week 1 of the 2010 season, Vick almost seemed incapable of making mistakes. However, after a poor repeat performance in 2011—one that saw the Eagles blow five fourth-quarter leads, Vick will be trusted with the responsibility of getting the team back into the playoffs.
The emergence of LeSean McCoy as a top running back turned out to be the saving grace to Philadelphia’s wasted season. Not only did the 23-year-old set career highs in carries, rushing yards and touchdowns, but also thrived in close game situations.
During the six games that were decided by seven points or less, McCoy rushed for 584 yards, six touchdowns and 4.9 yards per carry. He also contributed 27 receptions for 155 yards and one score—proving that his play remained consistently top-notch, no matter the outcome of the game.
For the past two seasons “Shady” has routinely found himself in the role of a closer, meaning that whenever the Eagles need to pick up first downs by running the ball in order to milk the clock, McCoy has done just that.
Even though Andy Reid has promised to limit the number of touches that his young star receives, you can expect him to against his word if the Eagles need to run the ball to preserve victories.