Whether these twosomes come as explosive playmakers, or stabilizing role players, there are five duos that will determine the successes of the 2012 NFL season.
If Andy Reid hopes to make it to Super Bowl XLVII, he’ll need these 10 players to carry them.
Even with last season’s plethora of talent on the defensive side of the ball, the Philadelphia Eagles were unable to mask their deficiencies at the second level. Consequently, this left the secondary vulnerable against bigger running backs and tight ends, and also explains why the unit struggled with tackling as a whole.
Philadelphia linebackers have missed a staggering amount of tackles in the past three seasons, which is why newcomers DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks were brought in during the offseason.
Kendricks is a bit undersized, but is as athletic as they come. He has blazing speed, good coverage skills and should be utilized off the edge as a pass-rusher.
Ryans is coming off an unproductive year in Houston’s 3-4 defense, but has proven to be the prototypical downhill 4-3 middle linebacker. His ability to locate ball-carriers and bring them down will validate Jim Washburn’s aggressive Wide-9 scheme and save them from the headaches of 2011.
ESPN’s Dan Graziano has tagged Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis as his dynamic duo. However, the interior of the offensive line also includes right guard Danny Watkins. With these three holding up the middle of the protection, this leaves bookends Todd Herremans and Demetress Bell with the daunted task of keeping Michael Vick on his feet and elite pass-rushers off his back.
As the right tackle, Herremans has the responsibility of protecting Vick’s blind side—making sure he has ample time to go through his reads and hit playmakers like Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson.
Bell is the newcomer to a unit that is returning four starters. He signed as a free agent after All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters suffered from what is expected to be a season-ending injury. If he can’t anchor the left side and open running lanes for LeSean McCoy, the Eagles run game will falter.
One of the team’s expected strengths heading into 2011 turned out to be a terrible disappointment and proved that the tackling struggles extended beyond the Eagles’ linebackers and well into their secondary.
Recently departed Asante Samuel is always the primary suspect of poor tackling, but Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were guilty as well.
Samuel is now with the Atlanta Falcons, which allows DRC to play outside and away from the slot. His ability to play press man-to-man coverage will have a direct effect on whether or not Jim Washburn’s Wide-9 scheme remains successful.
If he and Asomugha can fix their coverage issues, it should limit the number of tackles they’ll be forced to make in 2012.
With a change in defensive philosophy and an addition of secondary coach Todd Bowles, look no further than the back end of the defense to determine how the Eagles matchup in today’s pass-happy NFL.
Trent Cole and Jason Babin
In only their first season together, Trent Cole and Jason Babin combined for 29 of the Eagles’ league-leading 50 sacks. Their tremendous pass-rushing abilities explain why Jim Washburn’s Wide-9 scheme has yielded so much success under its’ introductory season.
Both defensive ends are explosive individual pass-rushers, but when combined, have the speed and versatility that few duos have.
During their Week 15 matchup against the New York Jets, Cole and Babin were aligned in a “joker” formation. Although they started at the defensive tackle position while being two yards away from the line of scrimmage, Babin still managed to get around the edge for a sack. Their combination of athleticism and skill is something not commonly found in a set of 4-3 defensive ends.
If Philadelphia hopes to repeat their defensive successes into 2012, they’ll need these two pass-rushers to set the tone for the entire unit.
Michael Vick and Mike Kafka
It seems a bit unfair for me to pick this duo when you consider the fact that the Eagles have explosive playmakers at wide receiver, but in reality, it’s the quarterback who will deliver them the ball.
That’s why I’ve placed a premium on the position, backup and all.
Michael Vick will start the season at quarterback, but it’s no guarantee that he’ll be there to finish. Throughout his 11-year career, he has completed a 16-game schedule only once—making his backup all that more important to the team’s overall success.
It’s my belief that third-year pro Mike Kafka will beat out third-round rookie selection Nick Foles for the backup spot behind Vick, and it’s almost assured that the Northwestern product will be forced into a relief appearance, or asked to spot-start during the 2012 season.
If this were to occur, Philadelphia fans should remain faithful. During his impromptu appearance in their Week 2 matchup against the Atlanta Falcons, Kafka took his offense 72 yards down the field, while completing seven of nine passes on the final drive of the game. If it weren’t for a dropped pass by Maclin on fourth down, things might have ended differently. However, one thing that won’t change in 2012 is the importance of the backup quarterback.