Just like every other team in the NFL, the Philadelphia Eagles will enter the 2012 season with their own set of question marks.
Some of their problems are a carryover from last year, while other issues have newly arisen.
Regardless of where they came from, or when they formulated, they must be addressed.
Here are 10 issues that the Eagles will face and an explanation as to why the team will survive.
Not only did the Philadelphia Eagles enter last season with new starters at four different positions along the offensive line, but were also bringing in a new offensive line coach as well.
What began as a huge concern for the team, eventually turned out to become a tremendous asset.
Although they started the season a bit shaky, Howard Mudd’s unit developed chemistry once Danny Watkins found himself in the starting lineup and finished the season ranked as Pro Football Focus’ second-best line.
It’s true that Jason Peters’ injury will force him to miss the entirety of the 2012 campaign; however, it doesn’t mean the offensive line will be in worse shape.
To replace the All Pro left tackle, Philadelphia immediately went out and signed Demetress Bell, who was the best available tackle on the free agent market.
With Michael Vick’s protection returning all of its’ starting players except Peters, I expect there to be a better sense of continuity than last year—especially after a full session of training camp.
It seems strange that a team would become better through the subtraction of a Pro Bowl cornerback, but that’s the reality for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Unlike the offensive line, the secondary was expected to be a strength of last year’s defense.
Well, it didn’t turn out that way as the unit was guilty of allowing 27 passing touchdowns and over 212 passing yards per game.
This may not seem like a ton of yardage, but once you consider the fact that the defense led the NFL with 50 sacks, it begins to put the chunks of yardage that the secondary forfeited.
Although Asante Samuel was tremendous in coverage last year, his soft approach to the game forced defensive coordinator Juan Castillo into playing more zone.
This also subjected one of the best man-to-man corners Nnamdi Asomugha into the same coverage and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to play the slot—a position that he isn’t built for.
Now with Samuels gone and DRC starting on the outside, Castillo should be free to call more press-coverage than before, which would make the defensive line all the more potent.
The Philadelphia Eagles have been looking for a leader in the back-end of the defense ever since the departure of Brian Dawkins.
They’ve invested high-round draft picks in Nate Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett, but haven’t received a proper return in either investment.
Seventh-round selection Kurt Coleman has been the most consistent safety over the past two seasons and will once again challenge the latter two for a starting spot in training camp.
Although Jarrett remains unproven, Allen had shown flashes of promise to close out the season.
With the offseason hiring of secondary coach Todd Bowles, there comes a new approach and philosophy to this position.
Before finishing last year as the Miami Dolphins interim head coach, Bowles had spent eight years in the NFL as a safety and won a championship as a member of the Washington Redskins.
I expect all three young safeties to develop in a positive manner under the tutelage of Bowles.
Linebackers have never been a real strength of an Andy Reid-coached team.
Except for this year.
After watching Jamar Chaney, Brian Rolle and Casey Matthews struggle to adjust playing behind the wide-nine, Philadelphia brought in former All Pro middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans and drafted super-athlete Mychal Kendricks.
Both Ryans and Kendricks are expected to start during Week 1—which alleviates the pressures of last season’s linebacker carousel.
As a downhill player with a knack for sniffing out ball-carriers, Ryans is an ideal fit for Philly’s system.
Kendricks is a bit undersized, but has tremendous speed and excellent coverage skills. His ability to stick with elite tight ends is something that will be tested early and often.
With a new group supporting the front and back-ends of the defense, expect the overall play of the unit to improve.
Vick’s injury concerns
As every season begins, there’s a good chance that Michael Vick is going to get injured.
The signal-called has completed a 16-game slate only once during his 10-year career and remains susceptible to big hits due to his style of play.
When extending plays with his legs, Vick has a tendency to hold the ball longer than he should. Rather than tossing the pigskin towards the sidelines, he’ll take off down the field.
Now I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but there are ways Vick can avoid contact.
Instead of fighting for extra yardage or diving head first, he can simply slide.
Although the dual-threat quarterback has sacrificed his body on numerous plays in the past, he has taken a different stance during this offseason and sought out Jimmy Rollins for help.
If No.7 can remain conscious about his health, there should be no reason for this team to miss the playoffs.
LeSean McCoy’s Workload
If Michael Vick is the number one threat on offense, then LeSean McCoy is a very close second.
Last season the running back set a franchise-record by scoring 20 touchdowns and earned himself a trip to the Pro Bowl.
Although he had a career year, McCoy was subjected to an extremely heavy workload.
Andy Reid admitted, “I probably overplayed LeSean McCoy a little bit, even though he doesn’t want to hear that.”
The 23-year old had 20 or more touches in nine of the 15 games he played in—which may explain why he started to slow down as the season closed.
With Dion Lewis, Bryce Brown and Chris Polk entering training camp as legitimate contenders for the backup running back spot, there should be at least two players who Reid can use to give McCoy a break.
DeSean Jackson’s Contract
It’s undeniable that DeSean Jackson allowed last year’s contract dispute to dictate his level of performance and effort.
He looked reluctant to sacrifice his body, fight for extra yards and cooperate with the team.
The four-year pro even missed a special teams meeting that subsequently led to a one-game suspension.
With all that said, he still put up numbers that are comparable to his career averages and remains as one of the top receiving threats in the league.
Now that he’s received a new deal, there will be naysayers who believe he’ll tank again.
But I’m not one of them.
If Jaccpot replicates his 2011 campaign, not only will he have nearly 1,000 yards receiving with an average 16.6 yards per catch, but he’ll also continue to affect coverages in a way that benefits his entire team.
Just take a look at the fourth example and you’ll notice how Jackson’s presence alone causes defenses to bend.
Whether he plays motivated or not (I’m betting he will), the speedster will continue to impact the game just by stepping onto the field.
Poor Red Zone Offense
Although the Philadelphia Eagles sport a prolific offense, they have a tendency to leave points on the field.
During the team’s 1-4 start, they put up 423 yards in Week 1, 447 in Week 2, 376 in Week 3, 513 in Week 4 and 439 in Week 5.
That’s an absolutely staggering number of yardage for only one victory.
While there’s no guarantee that the team will improve in this area, the renewed health of tight end Brent Celek, who played essentially all of last season with a sports hernia, and the inclusion of more two-tight end sets should help.
Andy Reid drew the ire of plenty people last season when he promoted Juan Castillo, his long-time offensive line coach to defensive coordinator.
Castillo didn’t help his case either by experimenting with a veteran defense and giving up five fourth-quarter leads.
With Steve Spagnuolo leaving the St. Louis Rams during the offseason, there seemed to be a vacancy for Castillo’s job. However, this wasn’t the case.
Although Reid offered Spagnuolo a job, he wasn’t looking to replace his coordinator. Reid claimed, “My feeling was if you’ve got two great coaches on defense that’s even better than just having one. And that’s about as far as it went there. We didn’t talk about titles.”
Now that Castillo is in sole possession of the defense and has a year under his belt, there will be a better sense of familiarity and experience that comes with it.
I don’t expect him to experiment with this group of talented players like he did last year, but rather bring his focus around getting new players like DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks acclimated to his base defense.
If you’re looking to fire Juan Castillo, then you better take a long look at the man who hired him in the first place.
It seems like Andy Reid enters every season on the proverbial “hot seat”—which makes every year a make-or-break season.
Needless to say, this puts tremendous pressure on a staff that can already feel the heat from its’ fans.
After a disappointing 8-8 finish to last season, this offseason was no different.
Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie decided to keep his staff of Joe Banner, Howie Roseman and Reid in tact—giving them one more chance to bring a Super Bowl to Philly.
Reid and his staff responded in a positive manner by bringing in a new middle linebacker, a talented left tackle and what is arguably the best draft class in the NFL.
Also, don’t overlook the fact that the team resigned all their top free agents and extended the likes of LeSean McCoy, Trent Cole and Todd Herremans as well.
The Michael Vick restoration project also hinges on the shoulders of the man that brought Philadelphia to five NFC Championship games.
It’s been no secret that Reid’s players love to play for him. Evan Mathis even went as far as to call fans “idiots” for wanting Big Reid fired.
Now that he has management, fans and players on his side, it’s time for Reid to give the city of Brotherly Love the only thing it truly wants.