After the Eagles’ terribly disappointing 2011 season ended with an 8-8 record and no playoff berth, owner Jeffrey Lurie passed on the chance to make wholesale changes to the team.
Andy Reid and Michael Vick return, DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy got new contracts and the team stayed away from the big-name offseason additions that defined them last season. Sticking with the team that closed strong last season makes sense, but keeping key people in place came with an unwritten ultimatum that things have to be better this season.
There’s every reason to believe that things will be. The Eagles have a talented team with high-level talent at almost every position. The same was true last year, though, and we saw how that turned out.
If things go that way again, you can bet that the status quo won’t remain in effect in Philly.
Using the brief offseason in 2011 as an excuse isn’t possible because everyone was playing by the same rules. That doesn’t mean a full one won’t be a big benefit to the Eagles.
Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie have a year in Philly under their belts and they are both playing in more comfortable spots this time around. The entire defense has had time to adjust to Juan Castillo’s schemes and the Eagles took the time to address the most obvious trouble spots on that side of the ball during the offseason.
Jason Babin and Trent Cole have nothing to apologize about for their work last season, but the improvements around them could make the pass rushing duo even more dangerous than they were while racking up 29 sacks between them last season. With Cullen Jenkins on the inside, quarterbacks should be under a lot of pressure when they face the Eagles this year.
Jackson’s explosiveness was muted by his contract squabble last season, but that’s out of the way now and Jeremy Maclin is also coming off an offseason free from the medical questions that dogged him in 2011. That should mean good things for both wide receivers, especially if McCoy continues to add to his game the way he has over the first three seasons of his career.
Calling Vick a weakness isn’t entirely accurate, but he’s definitely a question mark for the Eagles. Vick’s decision making was awful for much of last season and he seemed less athletic than in past seasons. That might have been because of injuries, but Vick’s 32 and doesn’t figure to be much more durable this time around and the Eagles don’t have a good option behind him. If things don’t improve significantly from last year, it will be time for a change at quarterback in Philly.
Nate Allen closed the year playing well against some bad offenses, but the safeties were a major problem for the Eagles all season. They signed O.J. Atogwe to go with Allen, Kurt Coleman and Jaiquawn Jarrett so there should be spirited competition for playing time. Unless it results in better play, the Eagles will still be vulnerable in the defensive backfield.
The loss of left tackle Jason Peters to an Achilles injury could have major ramifications if Demetress Bell isn’t able to replace him as a lead blocker on screens and in the running game this season. Bell, signed as a free agent after Peters was hurt, wasn’t been able to stay healthy while in Buffalo and another injury would leave the Eagles scrambling on the offensive line. If center Jason Kelce and right guard Danny Watkins can improve in their second years, Peters’ loss should be less glaring.
The linebackers were a mess last season so the Eagles went out and added players that should make the unit much better this time around. They traded for DeMeco Ryans, who should solidify the middle of the defense, and drafted Mychal Kendricks to play on the strongside. Kendricks’ athleticism has been hailed far and wide, but it still remains to be seen if he can transition away from the inside spot he played in college.
The defensive line added a couple more pieces to their deep crew in the draft as well. First-round pick Fletcher Cox should slot into a defensive tackle group with Jenkins and Mike Patterson while Vinny Curry will be a pass rushing option behind Babin and Cole.
Another rookie will be charged with helping the team jumpstart their return game. Brandon Boykin returned four kickoffs and one punt for touchdowns at Georgia so he’ll see the field plenty as a special teamer. With Asante Samuel traded, Boykin could also wind up as the nickel corner.
Vick will have one less thing to worry about this season as the Eagles hand Kelce the job of calling out protections at the line. An extra beat or two to read the defense should help Vick, although Kelce still has to prove he can do the job.
Vince Young, the progenitor of the Dream Team label that hung on the team like a bad case of body odor, is gone to Buffalo. That leaves Mike Kafka, Trent Edwards and rookie Nick Foles behind Vick and leads us back to why Vick must stay healthy.
Reid has more power in the organization than before with Joe Banner’s departure from the president job. That power comes with the caveat that there’s no one else to blame if things go wrong again.
The defensive line rotation has to be hammered out. In addition to the players already mentioned, the Eagles have Brandon Graham, Derek Landri, Darryl Tapp and Phillip Hunt in the mix. The end result should be good for business, although it’s anybody’s guess how it all sorts out.
Brian Rolle has the inside track on the weakside linebacker job, but Jamar Chaney should have a shot to beat him out in camp. Ability to stop the run should be the deciding factor on that front.
The backup quarterback and starting safety battles previously mentioned will also go on this summer, but the Eagles will be much more focused on smoothing out rough spots than battling for spots.
Reid has never faced the pressure to win that he’ll face this season. Part of that is because of last year and part of that is because he also might be coaching the most talented team in his 14 years as Eagles coach. Falling short of the playoffs isn’t an option for this team, but they can’t just be content with that accomplishment.
The Eagles haven’t won a playoff game since 2008, which is simply unacceptable given the teams they’ve put on the field over the last three years. Another year without a deep playoff run will mean that it is time for Philly to start moving in different directions if they are ever going to win the franchise’s first Super Bowl.
Playing in the NFC East doesn’t make life easy and the rest of the schedule is far from a cakewalk, but there aren’t any excuses for the Eagles this time around. It’s win big or make big changes with no middle ground.