Friday's summertime film study takes a look at the Philadelphia Eagles.
The story of the Eagles' 2011 season was one of inconsistent play throughout. After a win opening day against the St. Louis Rams, they went on a four-game losing streak, with two of those loses coming at home against the Giants and 49ers. Down the stretch, though, they won four straight and finished one game out of a division title.
I have been critical of Michael Vick throughout his career, but it is now very hard to do that. He still has the magical mobility, with the ability to consistently buy a second and third chance with his feet. When I studied Vick early in his career with the Falcons, I had questions as to how well he would ever throw the ball. I had never seen a quarterback that made his receivers work to catch bad balls like Vick. Tight end Alge Crumpler was his best target and most reliable receiver. It appeared Jim Mora and his staff were trying to keep the offense simple for Vick.
In Philadelphia, Andy Reid and his staff have done a really nice job of developing Vick as a passer. His arm strength has never been a question - it was his accuracy. Now you see him making all the throws with accuracy and touch. Where Vick is outstanding is when he can throw the ball in the middle of the field on a crossing route to Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson or Brent Celek, working between the hashes. Vick will throw the ball at all arm angles. He will drop down and side-arm the ball under a defender. This is where Maclin and Jackson kill you, when Vick can hit receivers on the move. It's always interesting to see how teams play him. Do you rush or drop? Teams that are able to control him with the rush tend to do a better job with him. San Francisco and Chicago were two of those teams that played him well in 2011.
If I was starting a team, I would have to take a strong look at adding LeSean McCoy as my featured back. It's really amazing the ability that he shows when you study him down after down. His start-and-stop quickness is outstanding, but what is really impressive is his vision. He can see and get through holes that most backs would never try. He can make jump cuts in the hole to get himself out of trouble in a blink of an eye. He does a really nice job of running the sprint draw, will make a slight delay, read the blocks and then explode through the hole. You also have to worry about him in the red zone when it comes to catching the screen. McCoy Has a feel for how to sell the play action, then work into space to catch the ball. He's a serious open field runner that can make defenders miss.
The offensive line will take a huge hit this year trying to replace left tackle Jason Peters, who suffered an Achilles injury in the offseason. In the games I studied, Peters was a dominant player. There were several times when he was matched up on rushers without any assistance. Demetress Bell takes over for him at left tackle, so that is a spot to watch in 2012. Left guard Evan Mathis was outstanding as well. Mathis handled one-on-one blocks, and when paired with center Jason Kelce would rarely allow a pressure. Right tackle Todd Herremans is not the most stout point of attack player, and didn't play with the best technique in the running game, but was serviceable in the passing game. Danny Watkins is in his second year at right guard and is still learning. Where this line catches a huge break is in its quarterback's ability to escape the pocket and avoid trouble. There are times when you do see pressure, but Vick does a nice job of buying that second chance. Trying to replace Peters will be a tough job for this team, though.
From the beginning of the season, when the team went though it's four-game losing streak, to the last month of the season, you could see a huge difference in the way the Eagles were playing on defense. There were plenty of questions about new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo in the beginning, and rightfully so, but as a group they got better. In the San Francisco game there were clear holes in this Wide-9 defense when it came to defending the run, but later in the year the tackles and inside linebackers did a much better job of controlling blocks and playing square. The Eagles can really hurt you when they get you in passing downs and unleash Jason Babin and Trent Cole on your blocking scheme.
These defensive ends never stop attacking the pocket. Defensive line coach Jim Washburn is one of the best in the league when it comes to breaking down your protections. Cullen Jenkins can push the pocket from the inside and adding rookie Fletcher Cox makes this group really dangerous because they usually try and put pressure on you with a four-man rush.
At linebacker, the Eagles traded for DeMeco Ryans of the Texans in the offseason. Ryans was a fish out of water in Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme, but with two men in front of him, he has a chance to make every tackle.
In the secondary, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie takes over for Asante Samuel, who was shipped off to Atlanta, with Nnamdi Asomugha on the right side. Where the Eagles benefit the most from Asomugha is his ability to line up anywhere in the defense. He can play on the outside or in the slot with no problem. In the 49ers game, he lined up over tight end Vernon Davis and carried him all over the field. In the Washington game, he even took a turn at safety in one of their defensive packages.
I don't see the Eagles getting off to the poor start they did in 2011. This club has very few weaknesses, and as long as Michael Vick is quarterback they will present huge problems to their opponents. They have the runner in McCoy and the receivers with Maclin and Jackson. Celek is a quality tight end. On defense, the ends can put pressure on any scheme, and now with DeMeco Ryans in the middle they are more solid against the run.
I know the Giants won the division last year but player for player, this Eagles squad is just as good and in some spots even better.