Time is a funny thing. If you talked to any Eagles fan between the time the lockout ended and the season began, there was no more optimistic fan group. The team was “all in” and the season was Super Bowl or bust.
If you talked to those same fans between September and February you would have gotten the exact opposite reaction. It was time for Andy Reid to go. Michael Vick needed to follow him out. Juan Castillo had to go. The Eagles stink and can’t overcome the Giants.
Fast forward to now and the tables have turned almost another 180 degrees.
The Eagles took care of their own players, signing numerous extensions and keeping team morale high. They moved quickly to replace injured All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters and executed a highly praised draft. They even made a trade for a former Pro Bowl middle linebacker.
The only real speed bump has been the trade of Asante Samuel for a 7th round pick, but most fans have let that one go already.
As bad as 2011 seemed, the team was 8-8 and finished just one game out of the playoffs. They were just a handful of plays away from being a 10-6 or maybe even 11-5 team.
Andy Reid’s time may be up and he may not be the coach to get the team to the promised land, but this offseason looks really good and he has earned at least one more chance to prove that he’s gotten it right.
The Eagles rarely have losing seasons and never fail in back to back years. Here are the reasons why 2011 was nothing but a fluke.
5: Vince Young Was the Backup Quarterback
From the time he came in and, as a backup quarterback no less, called the Eagles a “Dream Team” Vince Young rubbed people the wrong way.
He was a player who hadn’t really lived up to his considerably level of ability as a professional and a player that no one wanted.
The Eagles brought him in to back up Michael Vick and he turned out to be atrocious in that role.
In 114 pass attempts he threw an interception 7.89 percent of the time. His interception percentage was actually higher than his yards per attempt, which was 7.60.
The 2011 season was shaped, in large part, by the three starts made by Young in November and December. They were 1-2 in his starts and he couldn’t even keep the team competitive in the two losses.
Whether this year’s backup is Trent Edwards, Mike Kafka or Nick Foles, the results have to be better than what Young provided. He was so bad that he almost provides addition by subtraction.
4: DeSean Jackson Was Concerned for His Future
Many writers and fans bashed DeSean Jackson in 2011. I didn’t then and I won’t now.
He had a down season and it definitely affected the team’s play, but for a guy that watched everyone under the sun, including Steve Smith and Vince Young, get paid by the Eagles, he had reason to be bitter.
He had provided big, winning plays for three years already. He was told not to hold out and to come to camp and his deal would get done. Then nothing happened.
As a 5’9″ and 170-pound guy with a concussion history, why would he be happy with no security? He could have handled things better but I don’t fault him for his actions.
DeSean Jackson was ineffective for long stretches and got himself suspended for what turned out to be a disastrous game against Arizona. That won’t happen next year.
Jackson got his contract and he learned his lesson. He is an Eagle, likely for life and he wants to win. He is a fun guy, his coaches and teammates love him and it’s time for the fans to follow suit.
Expect a big year from DeSean Jackson. His 2011 season as an individual was a fluke. He was better before and he will be again.
3: Michael Vick’s Untimely Injuries
The three games Michael Vick missed were extremely well documented. Vince Young came in, as we already discussed, and was just terrible.
Most quarterbacks will get hit and most will suffer at least one injury during the course of a season. The truth is, the Eagles could have survived the three games he missed in 2011.
What really did them in were the two games he was unable to finish. They both factored into the 1-4 hole the team dug itself into.
In Atlanta Vick left the game with a 31-21 lead in the third quarter. Mike Kafka came in and played admirably but the team failed to score another point in a 35-31 loss.
The following week, hosting the Giants, Vick was knocked out again, this time in the fourth quarter with a 16-14 lead. Kafka played less admirably as the team failed to score again in Vick’s absence. They lost by a score a 29-16.
In the two fourth quarters Vick missed the Eagles were outscored 25-0. If they come away with just one of those games it’s a different season. When it came to Vick’s health in 2011, there were a lot of factors at play.
Vick will probably miss some time in 2012 but it will be less time than last season. Expect Vick to make health a priority next season.
2: The Offensive Line Was a Mess Early
This one is almost a piggyback of Michael Vick’s health issues. Early in the season the offensive line was in tatters.
Injuries and inexperience led to players being shuffled around almost up until the opening game of the season.
There was no continuity and no one was comfortable in the group. The Eagles started a rookie at center in Jason Kelce. They had Todd Herremans moved out to right tackle and Kyle DeVan was in the starting lineup.
Vick was battered in the first month of the season and this unit was a big part of the poor opening month. Howard Mudd got his troops in order and showed them the ropes in a hurry. By late in the season this appeared to be one of the best lines in football.
With Peters getting hurt it looks like the unit will take a step back but that would be an alarmist way of viewing things.
Look at what Mudd got out of last year’s group with a short offseason and with changing players and positions on the fly. He has a full offseason to work with his whole stable of linemen.
Everyone will know his strategy and techniques and everyone will be on the same page. They have Peters’ temporary replacement already and he will be good to go by the time the season starts.
The two rookies, Kelce and Danny Watkins have a full season under their belt now as well so look for this unit to be strong from day one.
1: Juan Castillo’s Rookie Year
There is no one that could have predicted the shocking promotion of Juan Castillo from offensive line coach to defensive coordinator.
Everyone did predict that he would fail and for the most part he did. He took a lot of heat for the team’s failure to make the playoffs and deserved the criticism.
After several months to think things through, there is no other way to view Castillo as having had no chance to succeed.
First he was moved from offensive to defense. He was given his first ever coordinator position. He was handcuffed with a defensive line coach’s philosophy. He had no linebackers or safeties. He had a lockout shortened offseason to get an overhauled defensive roster on the same page.
Needless to say, Castillo didn’t get the job done. The defense was abused in the running game and gave up too many big pass plays. They blew five fourth quarter leads as well. The defense and it’s leader deserve a lot of blame.
As bad of a season as Castillo had in 2011 he did seem to start figuring some things out. He will also be armed with more talent at his disposal.
Even more than having better players it will be Castillo’s legendary hard work that will see him vastly improve in 2012.
One of the key reasons for the dismal 2011 season was the lack of an experienced defensive coordinator. Juan Castillo will prove in 2012 that he will not be overmatched again.