Recently, Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeff Lurie stated he needs to see “substantial improvement” this year in order to consider a contract extension for Andy Reid at season’s
Well, since substantial improvement is the goal, here are the biggest keys as to how they can accomplish just that and at least make the playoffs in the process:
Get off to a fast start
Under Andy Reid, the Philadelphia Eagles have made the playoffs nine out of his 13 seasons. The four seasons when the team didn’t make the tournament, one common correlation was that they got off to a slow start.
The years Reid didn’t make the playoffs were 1999, 2005, 2007 and 2011. Here is how they started each of those seasons: 0-4, 3-1, 1-3, and 1-3, respectively.
The only anomaly was 2005, when they started 3-1. However, that was before the part of the season when the T.O. train derailed and caused the Eagles to crash and burn in November and December.
Historically, Reid’s teams have done well in the second-half of the season. By far, Reid’s best month is December, where he has a 39-15 career record. His record for the other months are as follows: September 23-20, October 29-21, November 33-21-1, and January 12-12.
As you can see, his winning percentage is much lower in September and October than it is in November and December.
On opening day, Reid’s record is not that great either. He’s just 6-7 in his 13 regular season opening games. Furthermore, he’s only ever started the season with two consecutive wins just once, in 2004 on their way to the Super Bowl.
To illustrate how important getting off to a fast start might be, the cumulative record of the first four games for each of the past 10 Super Bowl champions is 31-9. The worst any team started was 2-2, and that only happened twice (Giants in ’07 and Patriots in ’03).
The Eagles have a tough schedule in 2012, so getting off to a fast start will be imperative.
Major improvement in the turnover ratio
Last year, the Eagles were tied for second-worst in the turnover ratio at -14. That put them in the company of teams like Washington, Arizona, Tampa Bay and Indianapolis. Needless to say, none of them made the playoffs.
In contrast, teams like New England, Houston, Green Bay and San Francisco were all leaders in this category. All four teams made the playoffs.
This key also will obviously include the fact that Michael Vick and Co. need to stop turning the ball over in the red zone. The Eagles led the league last year with 9 turnovers inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
It’s amazing that the Eagles were as competitive as they were last year with these horrendous turnover statistics. If they can fix this one thing alone, it will exponentially increase their chances for a successful season in 2012.
Catch the damn ball!
The new cliche being talked about these days is how the NFL has become a passing league. And with all the rule changes that have aided the passing game, that statement is true.
So, if this is a passing league — and we all know how Reid loves to throw the football — what is the most obvious thing that needs to happen (besides protecting the QB)? The receivers need to catch the ball, duh!
Heading into December of last season, the Eagles were tied for the league lead in dropped passes with 23. Unfortunately, I can’t find any end-of-year stats to go by, but I’m sure they were among the league’s worst in this category.
As a matter of fact, Pro Football Focus put up a post earlier this offseason where they showed that DeSean Jackson is ranked as the 4th-worst wide receiver in “drop rate” over the past three seasons.
Jackson wasn’t the only one dropping passes, though, as Jeremy Maclin had his fair share as well. And the normally sure-handed Avant even had issues here and there catching the ball.
Other teams leading the league in dropped passes were Cleveland, Tampa Bay, St. Louis and somewhat surprisingly, the Giants. However, New York is the only anomaly there since they actually won the Super Bowl, but remember their regular season record was just 9-7.
Dropped passes equate to missed opportunities. Every receiver drops a pass here and there but if the entire team is dropping them consistently, that’s a big problem.
Tackle somebody, wold ya?!
Per Football Outsiders, the Eagles were the 2nd-worst team in the league in missed tackles last year. That put them in the company of teams like Tampa Bay, Carolina, Miami and St. Louis.
The combined record of those 4 teams was 18-46.
Conversely, the 2 teams with the fewest missed tackles were San Francisco and the New York Giants. Well, they were the 2 squads who played in the NFC Championship game so there appears to be at least a little correlation there, huh?
Juan Castillo and the back-7 on defense
With a year of experience under his belt now, Castillo needs to take the next step as a defensive coordinator. The defensive line is set for another monster year but the linebackers and defensive backs still need to prove themselves.
Castillo can help that by improving his game plans, personnel groupings and how he calls a live game.
Last year, there were too many communication break-downs between the linebackers, corners and safeties. They were out of position far too often and allowed far too many big plays.
Much of that could have been attributed to new coaches, scheme changes and personnel changes. Castillo needs to take control and coach a game with authority.
If the players appear confused again and/or out of position often, that’s a direct reflection on Castillo. And by the way, it was the back-7 that led the way for the Eagles to have the 2nd-most missed tackles in 2011.
This one goes without saying, but I couldn’t have a list of “keys” without mentioning the obvious one.
The Eagles will go as far as Vick can take them. He needs to get back to his 2010 form and remain healthy. If he has another season like he did in 2011, or worse, the Eagles will fail to make the playoffs and we’ll be in for a new head coach and starting QB in 2013.
Of course, if Vick goes down and Nick Foles lights it up, that would be an interesting story line. However, the odds are certainly not in favor of that happening.
There are several other things we could talk about as being “key” for the Eagles in 2012, but I see these as the most important.
Agree? Disagree? Let me hear it!