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Monday, January 10, 2011

Musings on the Eagles' Season

Here goes:

1. That They Made the Playoffs Was an Accomplishment in and of Itself. Eagles' fans who are expressing their disappointment today forget that going into the season the NFC East was deemed to be a horse race at best, and that many didn't have the Eagles' making the playoffs. So, that they made the playoffs this season was an accomplishment. To me, that they did not go further was not, despite the unfounded optimism that met the team about a month ago, where some were calling them the team to beat for the Super Bowl. Was I happy that they lost yesterday? Of course not, but they lost to a good team.

2. Was David Akers the Goat? Not really. Sure, if you do the math, had Akers converted on two very makeable (distance-wise) kicks, the Birds would have won 22-21, and all would be happy in Mudville this week. But, Akers missed, and those misses underscored greater shortcomings in the team as a whole. Put differently, Green Bay was the aggressor for most of the game and had the Eagles on their heels. In playoff games, a team's weaknesses get magnified, and I'll get to those later in the post. In the end, losses are team efforts, and the Eagles made too many mistakes and didn't adjust well enough to Green Bay's defensive schemes often enough to force the action. Akers' misses certainly didn't help, but I'm not sure that the Packers wouldn't have found a way to eke out at least one more field goal had Akers made both of the attempts he missed on.

3. The Configuration of the Eagles'Offensive Line is Counterintuitive. The team took a victory lap two seasons ago when they traded for Pro Bowl offensive tackle Jason Peters, a left tackle. Right now, the Eagles are very strong on the left side, with Pro Bowler Peters and first alternative for the Pro Bowl, veteran guard Todd Herremans. The rest of their offensive line is average at best, with center Mike McGlynn, guard Max-Jean Gilles and tackle Winston Justice, whom King Dunlap replaced in the fourth quarter yesterday. If you do the math, the Eagles aren't protecting Michael Vick's blind side well at all because most teams invest heavily on their left tackle (which is what the Eagles did when they acquired Peters, figuring he'd protect both Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb -- righties -- in succession). Now, I think, the Birds will have to improve vastly on their right side, particularly at right tackle. The bet here is that they're looking for veterans and free agents who spent their college careers protecting the blind side of lefthanded quarterbacks. It makes perfect sense, but they have to do something on the right side or else give up on Vick (heresy) and keep Kolb (double heresy).

4. What are the Eagles' Weaknesses in Addition to Part of the Offensive Line? They need to improve their offensive playcalling when faced with all sorts of blitzes. I'm not so sure that Vick was well enough prepared to find the "hot read" receivers, unless, of course, the blitzes were so overwhelming that even Tom Brady and Peyton Manning wouldn't have had time for the hot reads. Vick looked either underprepared or overmatched, and the Eagles need to focus on that. As for the defense, well, they need to get more of a surge on the defensive line, and I'm not sure that anyone other than Trent Cole and Antonio Dixon are keepers at this point (okay, so, probably, is rookie Brandon Graham). But what about Broderick Bunkley and Mike Patterson, for whom any adjective above "serviceable"might be a stretch? The linebacking corps is thin, and there are question marks at defensive back as well. It's one thing to throw defensive coordinator Sean McDermott under the bus, but remember this, a strategy is only as good as the people you have to execute it. So, it's hard to tell how good a theorist McDermott is if he doesn't have the personnel, but, then again, if he's a good theorist, he's not creating a strategy that his current crop can execute well. Andy Reid will have to think about both the coaching and the personnel on defense.

5. Would Eagles' fans trade the possibility of a 5-11 or worse season for a greater likelihood of having a better record than 10-6 and a better chance to win a Super Bowl? In a heartbeat. Look, Andy Reid is one of the top 5 coaches in the NFL, as I'd put Bill Belichick first, followed by, in no particular order, Mike Tomlin, Sean Payton and perhaps Tom Coughlin (after all, he's won the Super Bowl). And, some might argue that Reid is the best coach not named Belichick. The question remains whether Reid can get back to the Super Bowl and win it, and whether management can make the right moves to fortify the roster. To many fans, the team typically goes into the season with an obvious flaw, or the team can be bold about free agents only to misfire and leave open other holes. Few, if anyone, question the commitment of ownership and Reid to winning. Under owner Jeffrey Lurie, the team has played very well. The big question is whether they have the right combination of decisionmakers to win a Super Bowl. And that question remains.

6. Who Will be the Quarterback in 2011-2012? Michael Vick.

7. Will Kevin Kolb Return? No.

8. Who Will Be Vick's back-up next season? Not Mike Kafka. Donovan McNabb? Not likely, but intriguing. Could there be a good enough lefty out there to back-up Vick? I like Tampa Bay's Josh Johnson, but I'm not sure he'd be available. Given how much Vick runs, the team will need a capable back-up.

9. Which Veterans Will Not Return Next Year? Assuming that there's a season, of course. One of Broderick Bunkley and Mike Patterson will not be back. David Akers will be back. Jamal Jackson will not return, and I don't think that Winston Justice will start at right tackle (if he returns). It's hard to see that Ernie Sims will return, but, then again, who will play linebacker next season. Given his serious injuries over the past 2-3 years, I find it hard to believe that Ellis Hobbs will return.

10. Prediction for the Eagles for Next Season. Schedule doesn't look too difficult, NFC East rivals not the robust, and Andy Reid remains a wily fox. 11-5, win the NFC East, get a #3 seed, win the first-round game and then who knows.

It's about 5 weeks, I think, until pitchers and catchers report to the Phillies. Can't wait.


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