The Eagles broke camp this week. Surely, it was a positive thing to move geographically, at least, from memories of the tragic death of Garrett Reid. As Reid himself said, "Life goes on," because it does. Two days after the funeral, the Eagles played their first preseason game.
They are typically sluggish in the preseason and this year was no different. The first team played poorly against the Steelers; however, any astute observer knows little can be learned about a team in the preseason, let alone the preseason opener.
Vick threw four passes. Lesean McCoy had two touches; Desean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin had none. Surprisingly, the defensive line was the one unit that dominated despite missing its two starting defensive ends: the backups sacked Steelers QBs seven times.
Again, it is difficult to learn much of import from the first preseason game. Reid is notoriously conservative in the preseason, especially knowing he'll face the Steelers in Week 5 in the Steel City. It is wise to not show too much in the preseason against a team you will see again when it counts.
This preview of the Eagles offense is based largely on its performance last year because it is largely the same unit. It starts with QB Michael Vick. His poor play last year has been well documented here and in many other arenas, but it was his inability to stay healthy that really hurt the team.
Vick's main problem—and the team’s main problem—were his turnovers. Eagles QBs threw 25 interceptions last year. To be fair, only 14 were Vick’s, but in only 12 full games, that is still far too many. Especially when he only threw six in 2010.
Last year, Vick saw his QB rating plummet about 15 points from its 2010 levels. He ranked 14 in the NFL, behind such luminaries as Alex Smith and Matt Moore. Vick simply must play better for the Eagles to have a successful season. He has to keep himself healthy, and the coaches have to aid him in reducing his turnovers. Vick's ability to do these things will determine the fate of the Eagles 2012 season.
By the end of the 2011 season, the Eagles offensive line was one of the best in the NFL. Rookie center Jason Kelce proved himself able to make protection calls and handle the position. His fellow rookie, guard Danny Watkin, was overwhelmed early but progressed nicely once he took on the starter's role.
Evan Mathis entered 2011 regarded as a journeyman, but under Howard Mudd’s tutelage, ended the season as one of the highest-rated guards in the league. The Eagles outbid the Baltimore Ravens for his services in the offseason. Todd Herremans made the change from guard to right tackle, and is one of the Eagles most solid and underappreciated players.
Left tackle Jason Peters became the best left tackle in football. NFL expert and Hall of Fame member, Ray Didinger, went so far as to describe Peters as this generation’s Orlando Pace. He was a bulldozer on running plays and a brick wall against pass rushers.
Peters tore his ACL while working out on his own March 27. In a bizarre twist that could only happen to an Eagles player, the device he was using to get around after surgery broke, causing him to fall in his kitchen. Peters tore the same surgically repaired ACL and had to undergo a second surgery. He will miss the entire 2012 season, reminding us again there is nothing worse in sports for fans than your football team losing a player to injury.
The Eagles then signed Demetress Bell, late of the Buffalo Bills, reportedly the best left tackle available. However, after one preseason game, Bell was demoted in favor of King Dunlap. Dunlap has never distinguished himself, so that position is a concern. The rest of the offensive line is strong, but it lost its best player. More time will have to pass before a consensus can be reached on Peters’ replacement.
Lesean McCoy turned in a monstrous season, amassing 1600 yards from scrimmage, averaging 4.8 yards a carry, and catching 48 passes. He broke a franchise record with 20 total touchdowns.
One of the most encouraging signs of McCoy’s breakout season was his ability to score in the red zone and his ability to convert short yardage into first downs. For years, fans have lamented the Eagles' excruciating inability to convert third-and-short yardage opportunities. The team finally started giving the ball to its best player in those situations, and it paid dividends. Hopefully, that problem is now in the past.
The wide receiver triumvirate of Desean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant seems poised to have a very productive year. Jackson, with his new, long-term contract, should be able to focus on football (like a professional should) and not on contract negotiations.
Maclin has been productive in his first three seasons, approaching the 1000-yard mark each year. He had a slow start to last year after a mysterious illness caused him to miss all of training camp, but still compiled over 800 yards, although his TD count dropped from 10 to five. The Eagles need him to take that proverbial next step forward this season.
Jason Avant never catches a ton of passes, but always makes the most of those he does catch: throughout his career nearly 65% of his catches have been for first downs. Avant set a career high in receptions last year with 52. He is a solid third receiver and his toughness complements the speed of Maclin and Jackson very well in the offense.
After a slow start, Tight End Brent Celek turned in another solid season. He caught 62 passes last year and he should be able to match that this year, making him a valuable outlet target for Michael Vick. The unsettled left tackle spot may require Celek to stay in as a blocker more often than the team would like. Time will tell.
Overall, the Eagles have the personnel to be a very dynamic offense. They have a stud running back, quick-strike receivers, and a solid tight end. The one possible problem is the left tackle spot, but Howard Mudd should be able to manage that. The most important thing is that QB Michael Vick must be lethal to the opposition and not to the Eagles, shooting them in the foot with mistakes and injuries caused by risky play. That is what it will all come down to.