After receiving several requests (OK, three e-mails), I decided to do one final Man Up, looking ahead to next season.
Below is a player-by-player writeup of the Eagles' offense. Consider it an offseason primer for questions that need to be answered in the coming months.
Last week, I went over the defensive breakdown.
Michael Vick - I'm going to dedicate a couple longer posts to Vick's play, but we all know the two major issues: He needs to avoid turnovers, and he needs to stay on the field. Vick missed three games completely. However, he was knocked out of two others. And maybe most importantly, he played horribly (16-for-34 for 128 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions) at least partly because of injury against the Cardinals. Yes, Vick gets points for toughness. No one will question that. But the injuries were clearly a major factor this season. The other issue is turnovers. Vick had 14 interceptions and seven fumbles (two that were lost). Overall, 16 turnovers in 13 games. Vick was picked off about once every 30 attempts in 2011. In 2010, that number was once every 62 attempts. The Packers, Saints and Patriots have defenses that ranked 24th, 28th and 30th, according to Football Outsiders. But they also have quarterbacks - Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady - who carry their respective teams. Conversely, the Ravens, 49ers and Texans have gotten to where they are with top-10 defenses. The point is, good teams have identities. The Eagles need to figure out what theirs is, and in turn, determine what kind of player they need Vick to be next season.
Vince Young - I wouldn't expect him back in 2012. But the Eagles need to add a backup who can fill in for Vick and lead the offense. Young started three games this season. He led a game-winning drive vs. the Giants. Against the Patriots, a healthy Vick wouldn't have mattered. And the defense laid an egg against Seattle. But Young will forever be remembered around these parts for his "Dream Team" comment at Lehigh, which inadvertently set the tone for a disappointing season.
Mike Kafka - Can Kafka be the backup in 2012? Considering he's never started an NFL game, I'd say no. The Eagles need to grab a veteran. If they decide to draft their quarterback of the future in April, there might not be a roster spot left for Kafka next season.
LeSean McCoy - Outstanding season, piling up 1,309 yards on the ground and averaging 4.8 yards per carry, although it's worth noting that McCoy averaged just 3.4 YPC in his last five games. McCoy had 48 runs of 10 yards or more, tops in the NFL. Two areas where he can improve. One is as a receiver. McCoy averaged just 6.6 yards per catch; he can certainly become more prolific in the passing game. And the second is stuffs, which are defined as runs that are stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage. McCoy tied for the league lead with 45. It seems reasonable that we'll see that number go down in his second season with this offensive line and Howard Mudd's system. We'll see if/when the Eagles lock up McCoy with a long-term deal this offseason. He's entering the final year of his rookie contract.
Ronnie Brown - As I went over yesterday, Brown and Mike Bell have been failures as potential complements to McCoy. According to Pro Football Focus, no running back played more snaps than McCoy in 2011. It's not high on the priority list, but this offseason, the Eagles will need to find a better backup/complement than Brown.
Dion Lewis - Can he be that guy? I'm not sure. I guess it depends what the alternatives are. Lewis only had 23 carries as a rookie, averaging 4.4 yards per carry. He also handled kickoff returns, but didn't give the Birds much in that category.
Owen Schmitt - According to PFF, he only played about 10.8 snaps per game in 2011, compared to 22.7 in 2010. I'll have to take a closer look, but that probably speaks to more two tight-end sets and less two-back sets for the Eagles. My guess is the Eagles will take a look at some other options at fullback, but I wouldn't rule out the possibility of Schmitt returning.
DeSean Jackson - I'll admitI never saw the contract being as much of a distraction as it was. If you want to make excuses for Jackson, here's the case: He's 25 years old, and when he's on, he's among the most explosive wide receivers in the NFL. He had zero long-term financial security going into this season and has already suffered two concussions in four NFL seasons. He also saw the team hand out cash to the likes of Steve Smith and Vince Young in the offseason without rewarding him. Of course that's going to get in a guy's head when he's on the field.
And the case against Jackson: He's not Larry Fitzgerald. And if he insists on being paid like Fitzgerald, there's really nothing the Eagles can do. In addition to having nine drops, Jackson let his teammates down and was benched against the Cardinals, a game the Eagles lost. The Eagles would be foolish to commit long-term to a player like him.
As I'm writing this, I'm realizing I have a lot more to say about Jackson, so I'll save some items for a separate post. The bottom line is this: I don't see how having Jackson play under the franchise tag for a season can be an option, regardless of what he says. Yes, he would get paid about $9.5M, but he won't have a long-term contract. What makes you think the same issues that crept up this season won't surface again? If I'm the Eagles, I try to work out a reasonable longer-term deal with Jackson that makes both sides happy. If that's not possible, and they're convinced other teams will trade for Jackson, use the franchise tag and deal him. But keep in mind, any trade would be contingent on the new team working out a long-term deal with Jackson, so that option isn't as simple as it might seem.
Jeremy Maclin - If Jackson's gone, he better be ready to be the No. 1 guy. In 2010 Jackson was knocked out of the Falcons game in the first half, and Maclin had a monster agme (7 catches, 159 yards). The following week, with Jackson out, Maclin had five catches for 42 yards. This season, with Jackson benched against the Cardinals, Maclin had just two catches for 6 yards. But to be fair, Vick was injured and played horribly in that game. And back in 2009, Maclin had four carches for 83 yards without Jackson in a game against the Falcons. In 2011, he led the Eagles with 63 catches and a 66.1 yards per game average.
Jason Avant - His receptions have gone up in each of the past five seasons. Avant finished with career-highs in catches (52) and receiving yards (679). He'll assume the same role in the slot in 2012.
Riley Cooper - He showed some big-play ability, averaging a team-high 19.7 yards per reception. If the Eagles get rid of Jackson, they need to find a receiver to play alongside Maclin. Cooper is better suited for a backup/fourth WR role at this point.
Steve Smith - He'll be remembered for his drop that led to an interception in the first Giants game. In hindsight, you could argue that Smith was the Eagles' worst free-agent signing, considering he did not contribute, and his contract was a bit of a slap in the face to Jackson, who earned $600,000. Then again, it's important to remember that Maclin's health was a concern at the time of the Smith signing.
Chad Hall - He snuck on to the roster at some point in each of the past two seasons, but I really have no idea whis his future holds.
Jason Peters - I don't think any Eagle played at a higher, more consistent level than Peters, who was named a first-team AP All-Pro last week. He was a beast in the run game, consistently shoving defensive ends upfield before getting his hands on linebackers and clearing space for McCoy. And he held up well in pass protection, going against some very talented pass rushers. Peters is signed through 2014.
Evan Mathis - If the Eagles re-sign Mathis, the entire offensive line will return in tact in 2012. Mathis does not have the highlight reel that Peters has, but he was probably the Eagles' second-most consistent lineman. Pro Football Focus rated Mathis as the top guard in the league. I can't say I study other teams' offensive lines much, but that's high praise. My guess is Mathis, who played for three teams in his first six years in the league, would like to return and play for Mudd.
Jason Kelce - There were definitely growing pains for the rookie, who started all season. There wasn't a lot of confusion among the Eagles' offensive linemen though, and Kelce deserves credit for that (along with Mudd, of course). At times, he got overpowered by opposing defensive linemen, specifically in pass protection, but Kelce showed potential, and it's reasonable to assume he can make progress with a full offseason.
Danny Watkins - I need to see more from Watkins. Were there flashes of potential? Sure. But there were also plenty of struggles, particularly in pass protection. Remember, Watkins, who turned 27 in November, did not get the starting nod at the beginning of the season. It was only after the Eagles saw Kyle DeVan play so poorly against the 49ers that they decided to give Watkins a shot. This offseason will be crucial for Watkins, moreso than any other offensive player besides Vick.
Todd Herremans - The Eagles tried a bunch of options at right tackle at Lehigh and came up empty, forcing Herremans to start there without any reps in preseason games. He did not play at Peters' level, but held up well in a critical spot for the Eagles. Herremans, who is signed through 2013, should be back at right tackle next season.
Backup offensive linemen - As for the reserves, the Inquirer's Jonathan Tamari wrote a story this week indicating that Jamaal Jackson will be gone. So the Eagles need to make sure they have someone who can be Kelce's backup. Julian Vandervelde, who was a rookie this season, figures to compete for a backup spot at guard with whoever else the team brings in. And the Eagles need to sort out their backup situation at tackle. King Dunlap seems like he could be a fit for that role, but he's a free agent. Winston Justice's health is a question, and the Eagles would need to rework his deal if he's going to be a backup.
Brent Celek - His season is even more impressive, considering Celek had two surgeries last week - one to repair a torn labrum in his left hip and the other for a sports hernia. His numbers (62 catches, 811 yards) were up from a year ago, and Celek set a career-high, averaging 13.1 yards per catch. According to STATS.com, only five wide receivers and two tight ends had more yards after the catch than Celek, who piled up 500. He's also made great strides as a blocker.
Clay Harbor - Interesting take from Domo in this week's edition of SportsWeek, in which he argues that the Eagles will be fine without Jackson. Part of his argument is based on the possibility of the offense changing and perhaps relying more on two tight ends, like the Patriots. If the Eagles are going to part ways with Jackson, they either need to replace him with a speedy wide receiver or do what Domo suggests and change the identity of their offense. Harbor played about 23 snaps per game this season, according to PFF. He had 13 catches for 163 yards and also improved as a blocker.
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