Playoff Bound! If, you know, someone discovered that the world was ending in December and the NFL decided to just go ahead and start the playoffs right now. In that end-of-all-life-on-Earth scenario Chip Kelly leads the Eagles to the postseason in his first (and tragically his last) season at the helm.
More likely (almost definitely, in fact) the world will not end in December (although if it did... every Mayan you knew would be saying... "Damn. We were that close.") More likely, the season will play out and the Eagles will continue to confound us with inconsistencies on both sides of the ball.
Noticed Some Bad
1. Mike Vick is just incapable of playing quarterback for a full season. It's not his fault (well, a couple years worth of the time he missed was his fault... but that's a tale we know). But, irrespective of blame, it's too frustrating a scenario to have a quarterback who's not capable of staying under center all season. If you read any of my posts you know I believe Vick is in his last year in Philly so it is just as well that Nick Foles came in, looked pretty good, and warranted a little bit of hope if he's got to start next week. I'll go further and opine that I believe Foles should continue as the starter all year. Had we burst out of the gate and looked like a contender through 5 weeks I'd say, "Stick with Vick." But we're clearly one step into a multi-step rebuild as a team. We might as well see if Nick Foles can man the ship and still provide the offense with the pace and, more importantly, the space that it needs for the running game to thrive. We know Foles can throw. What we need to see is if the running game can exist in a world where no defenders particularly believe that our quarterback will take off and run. Better we find this out before the offseason so we can make an educated decision about just how badly we want a Bridgewater/Mariota/Boyd/Manziel-ish type player in the Draft.
2. I promise I'll stop mentioning the safeties just as soon as they improve. Until then: boy is it bleak. Of course, we aren't alone... the Cardinals can't find an offensive line, the Jets can't find consistent runners, the Browns have no quarterbacks... but like my Dad used to say, "This isn't about the Browns. We aren't talking about the Browns. The Browns aren't my son and you are. And I don't love the Browns. If the Browns jumped off a bridge...?" We need safeties. 2014: The Year of the Safety. I say we sign 3, Draft 7 and trade for 2.
3. The pass rush/penetration needs to improve. We had 1 sack. Now, Eli Manning was called for a ridiculous three intentional grounding calls (I've always believed that the closest defender should get credited for a sack on IG calls) which means there were at least 4 plays where Manning was under fire. But therein lies the problem... our defense was credited with one sack and 3 QB hits. That's all. And we made only 4 tackles for loss. The Giants defense (which wasn't good) hit our quarterbacks 9 times and made an additional 9 tackles for loss. My personal solution to this problem would be to get Vinny Curry on the field more than 12 plays per-game. But the long-term solution will have to be adding some folks to the front 7 who can get after quarterbacks and also drop back into coverage when needed. Mychal Kendricks was dominant in week 1 when he was asked to blitz time after time. He created havoc for the Redskins. But because Cole/Graham just aren't competent in coverage he's needed to back off as opponents have studied film... so Kendricks can't blitz without a TE/Slot receiver catching an easy intermediate pass and taking it right into the mouth of our safeties (whom, if you recall, aren't terribly good at football). This is not a surprising problem for a team switching into a 3-4 base defense. It's just another adjustment that needs to be made somewhere in Free Agent/Draft Land.
Noticed Some Good
1. We won. I bet you guys all noticed that, though.
2. Turnovers! Sometime in 2011 we decided that what our defense needed was... more practice! But, because we all know that you can't simulate game conditions during the week, we thought it would be wise to just start giving the other team the ball a lot. Accordingly, we gave up the ball 14 more times than we took it away in 2011. Not enough practice! So, in 2012 we gave it away an NFL-worst TWENTY-FOUR times more than we took it away. Last year, we took the ball away an embarrassing 13 times. All year. With 4 more takeaways on Sunday, we're already at 9 in 2013. And our differential is plus-2. It's not tremendous. But it's middle-of-the-road. And a massive improvement in an area that killed us many times over the last two seasons. Keep it up! But, also... continue finding ways to for the defense to practice: they need it.
3. Pro-Football Focus can say what they want (in this case, they say Cary Williams graded out at a very poor -2 in Sunday's win) but numbers don't tell the tale. Clearly, the Eagles decided that taking Victor Cruz (and the middle of the field) out of the game was the key to confounding Eli Manning. And, while Eli Manning seems to be doing a good job of confounding himself this year... it worked! The result was that Williams had little help along the borders of the field with Nicks/Randle at times and did get burned for 10 catches and over 100 yards. Bad on the stat sheet. But the same strategy also frustrated Manning on key plays (like 3rd downs) where going deep is too risky and he wanted to put the ball over the middle. Hence the 5-13 3rd down conversion rate the Giants posted. Also evidenced by three Manning interceptions on throws forced into the middle of the field. So yes... Williams gave up some numbers... but he did so in service of the greater good. Bottom line is that these corners (Williams, Fletcher, and Boykin) are playing at a level so far above what we've seen here over the last couple years that we might not even recognize it when we see it.
4. Our offensive line did a pretty nice job. Especially considering the adjustment from Vick to Foles... which is an awfully big adjustment in protection.
5. Special teams appears to have recovered from the debacle against the Broncos.
6. We're winning the Division and we're 2-0 against division opponents. Which, a quarter of the way through the season, isn't nothing. Is it a good division? No. Have we played the best team in it yet? No. But 2-0 and atop the NFC East is a lot better than the alternatives.
All in all it's been a roller-coaster through 5 games. Every aspect of the team has looked weak and strong at some point this season. It looks like a team searching for some identity and adjusting to unfamiliarity. That's exactly where we are right now. Tampa is our second consecutive winless opponent and is an opportunity to get back to .500. But it's an opportunity we've got to seize. It won't be easy. And it will require mistakes be fixed and improvements be built upon and repeated.
I'm picking the Eagles win 27-24.
But that's just a prediction.
Until then: 2-3 in 2013.