Reasons for Optimism (Pessimism) at the Bye
The Philadelphia Inquirer Blog - Eagles
Reasons for Optimism (Pessimism) at the Bye
Jeff McLane and Zach Berman
As disappointing as the Eagles' 3-3 mark is at the bye, there are still a few reasons for optimism with ten games left to play. Of course, on the flip side, there are plenty of reasons to worry about this team. We take a quick look at both sides:
THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM
1. Schedule gets easier
Some of the opponents that appeared daunting before the season should be less worrisome now. Specifically, the Carolina Panthers have not taken a step up after quarterback Cam Newton’s spectacular rookie season, and none of the Cincinnati Bengals’ three wins have come against teams with winning records. The New Orleans Saints have also struggled after the season-long suspension of head coach Sean Payton. In the first six games, the Eagles played three teams with winning records. In the next 10 games, they play only two teams that presently have winning records.
2. Todd Bowles’ defensive experience
Even though Todd Bowles has never been a defensive coordinator, he at least has experience as a defensive coach. That could be an advantage when making in-game adjustments, because Bowles has coached during the different scenarios he’s bound to encounter as the season progresses. One issue that the Eagles struggled with in all three of their losses was confusion about different coverages. Bowles’ specialty is with the secondary and he should be able to determine the best way to deploy Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie when the Eagles play against top quarterbacks.
3. Offense’s yards can turn into points
The Eagles’ offense is somewhat of a statistical anomaly. They average the 11th most yards per game in the NFL (379), yet the 31st most points per game (17.2). Of the 10 teams ahead of the Eagles in yards per game, nine are scoring at least 24.8 points per game and five exceed 28 points per game. The Eagles’ average scoring is affected by all their turnovers, particularly the ones that occur in the red zone. Those are a variable that likely will not continue, so the Eagles’ yardage should eventually turn into points.
THREE REASONS TO WORRY
1. The offensive line is a disaster area
There have been glimpses of steadiness, mostly in the second half of games, but Howard Mudd’s line has been the No. 1 reason why the Eagles offense has been ineffective. The loss of left tackle Jason Peters can’t be overstated. But when center Jason Kelce went down in Week 2, the line lost its quarterback. Reid could call on the reserves – King Dunlap to replace Demetress Bell, Steve Vallos for Dallas Reynolds – or shuffle things up – Todd Herremans to left guard, Evan Mathis to center – but that may be the equivalent of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
2. Defense can’t generate enough pressure on the quarterback
Whether offenses are countering the Eagles’ four man pass rush with more blockers and quicker throws or not, Bowles must find a way to increase pressure. The Birds haven’t recorded a sack since Week 3 in Arizona. No one got the ball out quicker than Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb, and yet, the defensive line sacked him three times. So the quick throws excuse doesn’t quite cut it. Defensive ends Trent Cole and Jason Babindo appear to be facing more double teams this season. Still, they’ve looked ordinary in one-one-ones. Bowles may be forced to dial up more blitzes. It was difficult to ascertain whether the Eagles’ unproductive blitzing had more to do with Juan Castillo’s calls or personnel, but the innovation seemed to be lacking.
3. Special teams
The Eagles return units are 31st in punts and 26th in kicks, their cover units are 27th in punts and 28th in kicks, and they’ve done little to inspire confidence going forward. Reid tried to shake things up by benching rookie Damaris Johnson and having Mardy Gilyard return punts against the Lions. It did not work. He even put DeSean Jackson back for a punt, but he had zero room to run. If the problems were just related to the returners it might be easier to fix. But the units collectively just aren’t very good. They’ve given their offense, on many occasions, poor starting field positions, and they’ve placed the defense in some difficult spots. Bobby April’s special teams don’t have to be game-changers, however. They just need to be competent for the Eagles to thrive. It’s possible.