Sunday, December 21, 2014

Why the Eagles may not be Super

History doesn't appear to be on the Birds' side

RON CORTES / Staff Photographer
RON CORTES / Staff Photographer
RON CORTES / Staff Photographer Gallery: Why the Eagles may not be Super

This is the glass-is-half-empty, the ac-cent-tchu-ate the negative, the Mr. Grinch third-quarter Eagles report.

After 12 games, Andy Reid's 12th Eagles team is 8-4, poised for yet another postseason, and that is reason to celebrate for Birds fans thirsty for their first championship in 50 years.

But somewhere between "I can take an 8-8 retooling season" and "Super Bowl or bust," the expectations for this Eagles team became unrealistic. Michael Vick's herculean feats and Philadelphia's case of football naivete have seemingly made the impossible possible.

If there were ever a season in which parity gave any playoff team a legitimate shot at winning the Lombardi Trophy, this is probably it.

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But consider this: When has a defense as mediocre as the Eagles' ever won a title? When has a defense that allows two passing touchdowns a game - as the Eagles do - ever won a Super Bowl? The answer is never. More on that later.

But, first, here are four other reasons the Eagles' season won't end with a parade.

 

1. Vick

No, the Eagles quarterback won't be the reason his team fails in its quest for ultimate victory. If anything, Vick is the only hope. That is why keeping him healthy is of the utmost importance. Somehow Vick has managed to avoid further injury since returning from damaged rib cartilage, but the hits continue to pile up behind a porous offensive line. Vick's swashbuckling ways and his defiantly getting up following blow after blow has inspired his teammates. But you can spur only so much motivation from the sideline, which is why Eagles coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg have to sprinkle in more of a running game. No one is saying the offense has to look like the New York Jets'. But when you have the talented LeSean McCoy and the underused Jerome Harrison as your first and second running backs, there is no excuse for exposing Vick to more hits than necessary.

 

2. The offensive line

If Reid and Mornhinweg are going to run the ball more (don't count on it), the blocking is going to have to play a significant part in that plan. Run blocking is a rhythmic exercise, so the linemen's scattershot effort in that regard this season isn't entirely their fault. The Eagles seem to think they don't have the front five to pound the ground and they are probably right. The unit is best when it catches a defense on its heels. If it's to the air the Eagles must go, however, there just isn't enough excellence to protect Vick for 40 pass attempts a game. Left tackle Jason Peters, apparently spurred by Vick's performance, is playing the most consistently good football of his Eagles tenure. But the rest of the fivesome are hit or miss. During the Eagles' steady run to the NFC championship in the early 2000s, Reid could rely on a consistent offensive line. This group, which has committed 31 of the team's 102 penalties, is a work in progress that may not even be that good when it finally reaches completion.

 

3. Pass rush

The Eagles made improving their pass rush first among their off-season priorities, and they made significant changes in that regard. The goal was to get to the quarterback as often as they have in the past, but in a way where they didn't have to rely as often on blitzing. Specifically, that meant adding defensive ends. The Eagles brought in top draft pick Brandon Graham and traded for Darryl Tapp. Neither has been a bust, but they have only five sacks combined through 12 games. Not having Victor Abiamiri for the season and losing Juqua Parker for a midseason stretch has not helped. And it's not as if the Eagles haven't gotten sacks. The defense was sixth in the league in sacks per pass play heading into the Texans game. But the pass rush just hasn't pressured the quarterback enough to counterbalance the secondary's deficiencies. And wasn't that the Eagles' point for drafting Graham instead of grabbing a safety like Earl Thomas or a play-right-away cornerback like Devin McCourty? Which brings us to . . .

 

4. Pass defense

The Eagles have already allowed 24 touchdowns through the air. Last year they surrendered 27, and that was considered a high number. In fact, it was the worst in Reid's 11-year tenure. If the defense were to hold its final four opponents to just three passing touchdowns, it might save face. The return of cornerback Asante Samuel should help. But if the Eagles continue at their current pace of allowing two passing touchdowns per game, they will have allowed 32 in 16 games. The most a Super Bowl champion has surrendered in the regular season is 28 by the 1998 Broncos. Only five teams gave up more than 20. While it is true offenses nowadays are skewed toward the pass, it does not mean Super Bowl-caliber teams in the last decade have given up more scores in the air then their predecessors. Here's the breakdown on how many touchdowns per game on average the championship teams from each decade allowed: 2000s (.92), 1990s (.92), 1980s (1.0), 1970s (.77) and 1960s (.84).

 


Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or jmclane@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Jeff_McLane.

 

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