For those that have either already graduated college or are on their way there, class participation points are always the easiest to get. Show up, answer questions periodically, and it should be a big boost to your grade later on. They are the effort points.
If this Eagles season was a college semester, the team would not be doing well in class participation right now.
Watching this team the 1st eight games of the season, it's clear that they have done nothing to help themselves. They commit dumb penalties, they turn the ball over, they miss tackles. Against the Falcons two weeks ago, it was almost like the entire team cut class. They don't do the little things to help themselves, and account for their shortcomings as a team.
No matter what you thought this team's goal was this season, they are failing at it right now. The good news, however, is that the final grade is not complete. They still have half of the semester to turn things around. No matter how frustrated you are with the team, you can't deny that fact.
In order to do so, however, they will need to improve in pretty much every phase of the game. Here is a look at how the different units have played so far, starting with the defense.
Defensive Line: Not only has the defensive line been cutting class, it looks like they have dropped out all together. Eagles fans have been spending the first half of the season standing at the Linc going "Babin, Babin, Babin" like the economics teacher in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Through the first eight games of the season, the defensive line that had it's eyes on breaking records has totaled only 11 sacks, ranking them 31st in the NFL. The only team that has less is the Jacksonville Jaguars. The only reason this unit is not getting a F- is because of the play of Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox, who should both be starting next season. Grade: F+
Linebackers: Way back when the Eagles were 2-0, the main story surrounding this team was the play of the linebackers. DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks. Both were playing at near Pro-Bowl levels and turned one of the weakest part of the defenses last year into a strength. Kendricks has 34 tackles this season, but over close to half of them game in the 1st three games. Kendricks has started to look more like a rookie as the season has gone on. It's hard to blame him, but it still should be pointed out. Ryans has been able to keep his Pro-Bowl play up, and has a whopping 62 tackles and a sack through eight games. The play of the revolving 3rd linebacker- Jamar Chaney, Akeem Jordan, Casey Matthews- can not play much into the grade, as they hardly see the field. Grade: B
Secondary: Like the linebackers- and really the entire defense- the secondary had a strong start to the season. While the linebackers have been able to mostly sustain the high level of play, the secondary has started to really slip these last few weeks. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has had three straight poor games and Nnamdi Asomugha has really one had one good half this season. As for the safeties, ProFootballFocus has them ranked as the 2nd worst starting safeties in the league. The lack of sacks from the defensive line has hurt the secondary, but the most troubling thing we have seen out of the secondary this year is the lack of communication and constant blown coverages. Another troubling thing about the unit? There is no young talent there other than DRC that can really be counted on for years to come. Grade: C
Offensive Line: Grading the offensive line is like getting on a 4th grader for not doing great on the college entrance exam. At this point, the line is a patch work of players who might not belong in the NFL, who have not been in it long enough to really expect anything from. Before this season some suggested that Jason Peters might be the most important player on this team, and through eight games, the case can certainly be made. Without Peters the offensive has come to a complete stand still- they can't throw, they can't run block, and the screen play has been completely taken out of the offense. Throw in the fact that Jason Kelce was lost as well, and this team has suffered a blow that very few could recover from. When those players went down, the line needed other players to step up- especially Danny Watkins and Demetress Bell. Not only have those players not stepped up, they have both been benched. When this season is in the books, it will be the offensive line that will go down as the main reason this team struggled. Grade: D
Wide Receivers/Tight End: With the offensive line struggling the way it has, it's hard to grade the receivers. The offense has never been able to get in a consistent enough rhythm to say whether or not they have been doing their job. The team's top three wideouts- DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant- have combined for only 3 drops on over 140 targets, which is impressive. All three of those drops have come by Maclin, who has had a disappointing year. Maclin is on pace for only 56 catches, which would be the lowest amount since his rookie season. Many thought that with Jackson and LeSean McCoy getting paid this past off-season that Maclin would be next. Through eight games, however, it's hard to say whether or not the Eagle should invest long term in Maclin, or replace him with a taller, more physical wideout. Brent Celek is the lone player out of the group that has had a big time, impact game- but his drops are something that you would expect out of a rookie, not one of the veteran leaders. Grade: B
Running Backs: It's almost funny to think that coming out of training camp, there were questions about who would make the roster between Chris Polk and Bryce Brown. While Polk has not yet had a chance to make an impact, Brown has looked like the player he was in college. Brown had his best run of the season against the Saints, a 40 yard dash that highlighted his speed. Brown has averaged 4.4 yards per carry this season and while fans might not like the fact that he has taken carries from McCoy, he has done a good job when he gets them. Speaking of McCoy, he might be playing even better this season than last when you take into account this offensive line. McCoy is doing just as much dancing behind the line, but this year it is because he has to. Time after time this year McCoy has turned what looks like a 5-6 yard loss into a 3 yard gain. He looks like a stronger, faster, more powerful runner this year. The only slight criticism of McCoy could be his play around the goal line. He has not had as many oppurtunities as he should, be in the carries he has gotten in the redzone, he has not got the job done. Grade: A
Quarterback: The grade you give Michael Vick depends on what you expect out of him. The argument can be made that he is this team's MVP- but the argument can also be made that he is the biggest problem they have.
On one hand, Vick has been an absolute warrior behind this offensive line. Yes, some of the 27 sacks he has taken do fall on him. Most of them, however, fall on an offensive line that has him under fire on close to every snap. If Vick did not get away from as many as he did with his athleticism, the number might be even higher. Vick has also seemed to get his turnover problem under control.After accounting for nine turnovers in the first two games (six interceptions and three fumbles) Vick has thrown only three interceptions and lost two fumbles in the last six games. One of those interceptions- the tipped pass by Celek- was not even his fault.
When you take into account that he has driven the team down the field in the 4th quarter four times to take the lead, and three of them turned into the team's only wins, the case can be made he is this teams MVP. You can't point to a game- except maybe Pittsburgh- where replacing Vick with Nick Foles would have led to a win. Name one other player or unit that accounted for all three of the team's wins. This team has it's three wins because of Vick. If Vick can turn this season around and somehow get the Eagles into the playoffs, his name should be in consideration for league MVP.
The counter point, however, is that as a franchise quarterback, the bar cannot be set so low that not turning the ball over makes him a success. Has Vick been better over the past few weeks? Yes. Even with the improvement, however, he really has just been average. Nearly every quarterback has something working against them- a bad offensive line, no running game, a lack of talent at the receiver position. So to suggest that all of Vick's short comings should be taken away because of a poor offensive line is not fair. It is impressive that he takes the hits and stays in there, but games are not won by how many times a quarterback gets up. Games are won in the NFL by scoring points, and as the franchise quarterback, Vick is not getting the job done.
Vick does not deserved to be benched, but he has certainly not played at the level where he has taken the option out of Andy Reid's hands. The Eagles invested big money in Vick to make this team a winning team, and he's not doing it.
At the end of the day, Vick might not be a big part of the problem- but he has shown that be might not be the solution. As a franchise quarterback, that makes him a failure.
Follow Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks