1) THE EAGLES WON.
It's been a while. I almost forgot how good that feels. Some people thought the Birds should lose to move up a couple spots in the draft order. I didn't. And Chip Kelly absolutely doesn't think that way. He likes to keep it simple. The point of playing is to win. When you start over-thinking it and playing games, you're developing bad habits.
Next thing you know, players dog it if they have a big lead, or are behind a lot, or x or y or z, and you're a losing team. There's always a reason to lose. Winning is the point, and it needs to be a habit.
Before this season I predicted a 10-6 record, which is an improvement over last year given the tougher schedule. It wasn't enough to make the playoffs this time, but that's not only because of a dropoff in some areas (notably turnovers and quarterback play). 10-6 shouldn't have been enough to win the division last year, but the NFCE was terrible. Dallas improved too this year, so the standard was higher.
This team has big holes in talent that we're all familiar with -- QB, DB, ILB, OL depth -- but it continues to move in the right direction. (The loss to Washington still sucked balls, though.)
2) SPECIAL TEAMS ARE BACK.
The blocked punt and TD run back by Trey Burton (the 10th player to score on a return this year) was tremendous, and crucial to the victory. But there were other, smaller examples of how great this special teams unit is. Sproles' punt return TDs are great, but his ability to routinely turn a 2 yard return into 10 yards helps this team just as much over the season. And the coverage units do a great job of limiting opponents' returns. Donnie Jones landed four more punts inside the 20 yard line to break his own team record from last year. He has 34 punts inside the 20 this year.
3) RED ZONE DEFENSE.
Philadelphia stopped the Giants on four consecutive red zone trips, cutting what could have been 28 points down to 12. It made the difference in the game. A lot of that had to do with the Birds' now-routine masterful run defense. But even the long-suffering defensive backs had their moments, none bigger than Brandon Boykins' pass breakup in the end zone on 3rd and 2.
4) THE BOYKING IS BACK.
The Giants targeted Odell Beckham on 8 short passes while Boykin was defending. 4 were incomplete, and none was a first down. (The completions were 4, 9, 4 and 9 yards.) At the end of a disappointing year, Boykin finished strong, especially on a day when Beckham abused the rest of the Eagles' secondary (as he's done with the rest of the league, to be fair.)
The Boy King has one year left on his contract. It will be interesting to see if the Eagles extend him, try to trade him, or stand pat. BB has not made a great case to start outside this year. Can anyone imagine him shutting down Dez Bryant or Julio Jones?
That said, it might be worth investing some coaching creativity into finding a way to have him cover speedy, shorter receivers such as DeSean Jackson and John Brown who have given the Eagles so much trouble lately.
5) THE RUN GAME.
It has been erratic this year, but the Eagles ground attack finished strong. LeSean McCoy rolled up 99 yards and got around the corner repeatedly. Sanchez pulled the ball a few times and picked up 22 yards, which is crucial to this offense.
And on just 7 carries, Chris Polk picked up 38 yards, a touchdown and two first downs. One of them clinched the game by giving the Birds a new set of downs just after the two-minute warning. Another run, for 17 yards, didn't get a first down only because it came on 3rd and 18.
What does Polk have to do to earn more snaps? In two years, he has 6 touchdowns and 14 first downs on just 50 carries. (Don't forget his kickoff return touchdown.) You'd think that would be enough production to earn a couple more touches.
1) PASS DEFENSE.
To be fair, there were some good moments, not all by Brandon Boykin. Rookie Jaylen Watkins got thrown into the deep end of the swimming pool, guarding Beckham, Jr. at outside corner after Nolan Carroll, Jr. got injured, and he did a solid job. (Aside from falling down and giving up a touchdown.)
Eli Manning was only 28 for 53 passing, and not all of it was his errant aim (though a lot was.) That said, he still completed enough passes to rack up 429 yards through the air, and there's no way to spin that as good. Would it be excessive for the Eagles to acquire 4 or 5 defensive backs in free agency and the draft this year? I don't think so.
2) MARK SANCHEZ.
He had decent numbers -- 292 yards on 23-36 with 2 TDs and 1 INT for a rating of 96.1 -- but the numbers do not do any justice to how many bad decisions the Sanchize made. It seemed as if he literally could not see defensive backs, repeatedly throwing to double-covered WRs and missing interceptions only by luck or flag. (And why in God's name were the Giants double-covering Riley Cooper?)
Give him credit for a nice touch on his short TD pass to Celek in the end zone, and for running a few times -- one scamper picked up 15 yards. (Learn to slide though, bud.) Before this game I thought he still made sense to keep as a backup quarterback. Now I doubt he'll return.
Same book, new chapter. Still just as depressing as ever. The Eagles were lucky there was only one; easily five of Sanchez' passes could have been interceptions, without any heroic play needed by the defense.
Bright side? No fumbles, and getting rid of Sanchez will take a big bite out of the problem. (Foles had plenty of trouble with giveaways himself this year, though.)
Also, if the Eagles secondary could learn how to catch balls that are ALREADY IN THEIR HANDS, that would go a long way toward improving the takeaway/giveaway ratio.
4) CASEY MATTHEWS IS NOT LEGITIMATELY HATEABLE ANY MORE.
Eagles fans have had years of pleasure hating the crap out of Casey Matthews. I don't quite get it, he seems like a nice enough guy playing at his level (special teamer and depth ILB). But who am I to rain on anybody's blame parade? It's sad to lose any fun part of the game.
When Demeco Ryans went down for the season to be replaced by Matthews, the stars aligned for a massive hate-festival. It's true that this stretch coincided with the Eagles' collapse, but Matthews has played solidly at worst and occasionally been quite good.
He's been strong in run defense, OK in coverage and not bad when his number is called to rush (including a QB hit). So sadly, the fun is gone in slamming him. Luckily, Bradley Fletcher, Nate Allen and Mark Sanchez have performed well coming off the hate bench.
5) THE SEASON'S OVER.
For all the roller coaster emotions, the bad QB play and worse defense, the Charlie-Brown-field-goal 9-3 hope and the Lucy-pulling-the-ball-away disappointment, this season has been a lot of fun. It's an honor to write about the Eagles and to have you read my words.
Now let's rip apart this team and tell Chip and Howie how to fix it.