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Assessing The NFC East: Eagles With Fewest Flaws


Nobody reading this blog needs a reminder about where the Eagles stand in the division.

For the third time in as many seasons, the NFC East has a new reigning champion after the division was decided on the final night of the season.

This time, it's the Eagles who benefit from a win over the Cowboys. Philadelphia's 24-22 win in Dallas on Dec. 29 boosted them to a 10-6 record and sent them to the playoffs.

Like I brought up last week, though -- is the Eagles' hot streak of seven wins in the last eight games an indicator of future success?

2013: Eight games into the campaign the Eagles were 3-5, on a two-game losing streak and had potentially lost their top two quarterbacks.

Michael Vick had injured himself in two separate games against the Giants, and Nick Foles suffered a concussion in the lopsided loss to the Cowboys. All of that combined with a Philadelphia defense that had been torched by San Diego, Kansas City and Denver.

Then Foles came back and tossed seven touchdowns against Oakland, and you know the rest. The Eagles scored an average of 33 points per game. LeSean McCoy surged to the NFL rushing title, and Foles threw just two picks in eight weeks.

Perhaps most importantly, the Philadelphia defense forced 18 turnovers in the last eight games, while Foles and Co. committed just five turnovers of their own.

It all led to AT&T Stadium on the last night of the season, where Brandon Boykin intercepted Kyle Orton to secure the NFC East crown and a playoff spot.

The win sent Philly to its first playoff appearance since the 2010 season. They lost to New Orleans on the game's final snap.

What they did well: Is it safe to say Chip Kelly got his "new-fangled" offense to work in the NFL?

The Eagles used two separate starting quarterbacks in 2013, and both returned impressive results. In five starts before he got hurt, Vick threw for 1,185 yards and five touchdowns, as well as 305 rushing yards.

Foles, not quite as effective a runner, obviously enjoyed success: 2,891 yards, 27 touchdowns and just two picks while completing 64 percent.

McCoy posted a career year on the way to leading the league in rushing, as he was one of the league's most entertaining players. DeSean Jackson's 82 catches for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns were all career highs, as well.

The Eagles defense wasn't much to write home about, despite its turnover margin. But [embedded_ad] Philadelphia's 3-4 linebacker corps of Trent Cole, DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks and Connor Barwin combined to produce a strong unit.

Ryans and Kendricks combined for 233 tackles. Cole managed eight sacks, and Barwin deflected a surprising 11 passes -- including a key fourth down throw in the win against Dallas.

Draft: One thing is sure to stand out when assessing Philly's needs in 2014: despite Dallas' well-documented struggles on defense, it was the Eagles who finished last in the league against the pass.

Philadelphia gave up 290 yards per game in the air, which clearly calls the secondary into question. Personally, I think the trio of veteran Cary Williams and youngsters Boykin and Bradley Fletcher is serviceable.

I'm not so sure about the safeties, though. Nate Allen is a free agent, which leaves the shaky tandem of veteran Patrick Chung and rookie Earl Wolff.

The Eagles also managed just 37 sacks as a team, which they'd be wise to improve -- either at outside linebacker or defensive end. The secondary receiving targets behind Jackson -- Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin -- are also up for new contracts.

Prognostication: The Eagles appear to have found a quarterback of the future, a franchise running back and a line that can protect those two. And they have those key components secured for at least another season or two.

The questions facing the Philadelphia defense seem a bit more extensive.

I think the Eagles have the fewest questions of the four teams in the NFC East. I also think they probably aren't as great as their second-half hotstreak made them out to be.

I chalk Philly up as the least-flawed team in a flawed division.

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