In the excitement of this offseason it’s easy to forget how much hopes were raised in 2011 and how bad things were. Amidst all the positivity and anticipation there should still be a sense of caution.
The Super Bowl is not an easy feat to achieve and that is exactly what it will take to satisfy Eagles fans this year. Anything short will be viewed as failure by the masses whether it’s rational or not.
The Eagles have been on a joy ride since the 2012 NFL season began and hopefully it carries over onto the field.
They have assembled on of the deepest and most talented rosters in football. It’s supplemented by one of the most competent and stable coaching staffs. They even have a general manager that will waste no time meaningfully filling holes when they arise.
No matter how many positives you find with the Philadelphia Eagles as a team and an organization there are still many hurdles to clear on the way to a Lombardi Trophy. Here are the five most significant roadblocks to the ultimate success.
5. A Brutal Schedule
Oh, the schedule. Sure, it is way too early to decide just how difficult the schedule really is. I definitely understand that and it’s one of the reasons it’s the lowest ranked of the five.
Regardless of how early it is, it isn’t too early to realize that the Eagles got screwed this year. They play four teams coming off a bye week this season. Those teams are the Steelers, Lions, Falcons and Redskins.
The Eagles play Atlanta after their own bye so it’s an even playing field but isn’t the bye week supposed to be an advantage? It is and the Eagles won’t enjoy that advantage in 2012.
They also play the Giants and Cowboys coming off of Thursday night games, sacrificing three and four days of rest and preparation to each respectively.
Don’t forget that they play the Cowboys on short rest again after playing in New Orleans on a Monday night.
Aside from those disadvantages the Eagles also must play a laundry list of the game’s top quarterbacks. The list includes Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Robert Griffin III twice each along with Joe Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Stafford, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Andy Dalton.
The other reason this ranked last is because you have to beat good teams in the NFL and take care of your own business. If anyone claims the schedule is the reason they fell short, it will be viewed as nothing more than an excuse.
4. Jason Peters’ Injury
It will always be tough when you lose a player who is the best in the game at his position. That is exactly what Jason Peters is: The best left tackle in football.
In all honesty the news of Peters’ downfall has really been the only dark cloud of this lovely offseason.
The team did its best to patch the hole by signing Demetress Bell who was the best available option. The Eagles acted quickly and decisively without being reckless spenders. That being said, he is no Jason Peters.
This injury could haunt and plague the offense all season but it sits at No. 4 because the Eagles have had an entire offseason to prepare for it along with an impressive and improving cast coming back.
Todd Herramans is a leader and a really good right tackle. Jason Kelce is entering his second season as the starting center and has already showed flashes of brilliance. Danny Watkins is coming along nicely after a slow start and Evan Mathis turned himself into one of the hottest free agents after last season.
On top of the talent there is also the experience in Howard Mudd’s system to help Bell along. On top of the system, Bell has Howard Mudd coaching him which should coax more out of any offensive lineman.
The absence of Peters will hurt but the Eagles should have enough time and resources to minimize the damage.
3. The Defensive Backfield
One of the biggest names in the whole “Dream Team” fiasco was Nnamdi Asomugha. Although he isn’t the one who made the proclamation, his signing caused the biggest stir.
Needless to say, he didn’t live up to expectations in 2011. He was beaten downfield more often than ever in his career. He gave up touchdowns and missed tackles with regularity.
Then there was the other former Pro Bowl corner, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. He was beaten more often and missed more tackles than Asomugha.
The common line among Eagles fans is that Nnamdi and DRC were played out of position and there is truth to that. Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie are tall, long corners that excel on the outside in man coverage.
When they were able to do that they looked significantly better.
That brings us to the safety spot where the battles will likely be between Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, Jaiquawn Jarrett and O.J. Atogwe.
The first three are all young and the fourth at least has a lot of experience. However, none of them can be considered a difference-maker at this point in their respective careers.
If the two stud corners don’t live up to expectations in 2012 and if the safety play doesn’t improve it could be another long season in Philadelphia.
2. Juan Castillo’s Improvement
The biggest debacle which really kick started the circus of 2012 was the promotion of Juan Castillo to defensive coordinator. It’s not that the guy didn’t deserve a promotion, just not from offensive line coach to the head of the defense.
I love Juan Castillo. I respect the guys drive and passion and I don’t think there is a position coach or coordinator that outworks the guy. Unfortunately hard work isn’t enough when you get one of the big jobs.
All that matters is performance. Performance was sorely lacking in the Eagles’ 2011 defense.
Some fans pointed to the fact that the Eagles were No. 8 in the NFL in total defense in defense of Castillo. Some didn’t care. In all honesty, those total yardage rankings are overrated.
The Eagles ended the season on a four-game winning streak that saw them give up 11.5 points per game. They also allowed just 265.0 yards per game which would have ranked them first in the league.
They allowed just 161.5 passing yards, a 55.2 percent completion rate and gave up five touchdowns against four interceptions. They allowed 103.5 rushing yards and no touchdowns.
They held their opponents in that stretch to just 29.5 percent on third down conversions and 30.8 percent in the red zone. Those were all drastic improvements.
Unfortunately those gaudy numbers came against awful teams in the Dolphins, Jets, Cowboys and Redskins. They also came against an awful mix of quarterbacks including Matt Moore, J.P. Losman, Mark Sanchez, Stephen McGee and Rex Grossman.
Those final four games didn’t prove that anything was figured out. Juan Castillo has to have it figured out in 2012.
1. Michael Vick’s Health
I know, I know, this point has been talked to death since last season finished. I’m talking about it here because it is the most important storyline of 2012.
There is no single more important player to this team’s success than Michael Vick. His importance showed last year, despite a mediocre season.
In games that Vick started and finished in 2011 the Eagles went 7-4 while averaging 27.1 points per game. They scored no less than 17 points in any of those games.
In games he was either knocked out of or missed completely the team went 1-4 with an average of 19.6 points per game. That’s a stark difference but even more so when you look a little closer.
Vick missed three games completely with the team going 1-2 and averaging a measly 17.0 points per game, scoring no more than 20 in any game.
He missed the fourth quarter of two other games, both of which they led when he departed and both of which they lost. They didn’t score a single point after he left either game.
Vick played 50 quarters and if you average their scoring by quarter is averages out to 27.6 points per game. In the 14 quarters he missed they averaged just 14.6 points.
When it comes to the Eagles and Michael Vick, they win when he plays and they lose when he doesn’t. That’s not to say his health guarantees a championship but his lack of it would keep it from happening.