It's the Eagles' fall break so we offer our midterm grades for the team's Class of 2010-11:
Since the horrendous first half against Green Bay in the opener, the Eagles’ offense has found its groove, whether it has been Michael Vick or Kevin Kolb under center. That’s a notable achievement considering that the quarterbacks have dissimilar styles. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg deserves credit for formulating successful game plans that cater to each quarterback.
His spread-’em-out scheme against the Lions worked to perfection, as did his misdirection-filled play-calling against the Falcons. He could not find a way to penetrate the Redskins’ Cover-2 defense, however, and made some questionable late-game decisions (Chad Hall?) in the Titans loss.
Mornhinweg cannot be tagged for the offensive line’s woes. That blame rests solely on coach Andy Reid, who made the Stacy Andrews-Jason Peters mistakes and did nothing to upgrade the unit in the off-season.
Running backs (A-): LeSean McCoy has done it all: He has rushed for a healthy 4.5 yards per carry and five touchdowns and has led the team with 38 receptions. Even more impressive is how he has done it: with a broken rib and often making tacklers miss. Owen Schmitt has been a nice surprise, providing strong blocking and reliable hands when needed. The Mike Bell bust brings the grade down. The Eagles don’t have a reliable complement to McCoy — or a backup if Shady gets hurt.
Quarterbacks (A-): How did the Eagles get here? Oh, right, they traded Donovan McNabb and handed the job to Kolb. He got hurt, and Vick stepped in and played well. Kolb was demoted, and Vick was given the starting spot. Vick got hurt, and Kolb stepped in and played well. And now, Vick, supposedly close to recovery, will return and start against the Colts on Nov. 7.
Whew. For all the chaos, the quarterback position has been one of the brighter spots for the Eagles, especially when you compare the performance of Vick/Kolb to the way McNabb has played in Washington. Now there’s a quarterback dilemma.
Wide receivers/tight ends (B): The grade of the Eagles’ pass catchers is weighed down slightly by Brent Celek. A year after his breakout season, the tight end’s numbers are down across the board. Starting wideouts DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin have been dazzling for the most part. But Jackson had his concussion, and even before that he was having trouble getting the ball. Jason Avant’s production has slipped, but Riley Cooper appears to be a keeper and could see more time in the second half of the season.
Offensive line (C-): The Eagles have allowed 21 sacks, second worst in the league, and 41 quarterback hits, third worst. Those numbers would be worse if not for some Vick heroics. The line seemed to stabilize until the Tennessee game. The linemen have done well downfield to help pop some big screen plays, and the running game has been moving well. But the blocking crew has combined for 17 penalties, led by Peters’ five.
The Eagles are giving up 22.4 points per game, 20th in the NFL, and every time they plug one leak, another seems to open. Most important, they have allowed three big fourth quarters. The D has created some big plays, though. The Eagles’ 16 takeaways are tied for fourth in the NFL, and their 21 sacks rank fifth.
Defensive line (B): Because of the pressure generated by the front four, the Eagles haven’t had to blitz as much as they did last season. Their defense, led by relentless end Trent Cole’s six quarterback sacks, is fifth in the league in sacks per pass attempt. End Juqua Parker got off to a fast start but has cooled despite more snaps. Top draft pick Brandon Graham is going through obvious growing pains. The middle of the line has been an improvement over last season because backups Trevor Laws and Antonio Dixon have progressed.
Linebackers (C): Stewart Bradley and Ernie Sims rank third and fifth on the team in tackles, but they often are making stops after allowing decent gains. We rarely see this group in the opposing backfield, and a few tight ends have gotten loose on them. The linebackers as a whole have combined for two sacks and no interceptions. Moise Fokou has helped since taking over for Akeem Jordan.
Defensive backs (C): If report cards were handed out before the Titans game, this group might have fared better. But cornerback Ellis Hobbs and free safety Nate Allen were so bad in that game that it’s hard to justify a higher mark. Hobbs was just OK before the Tennessee debacle, anyway. Allen was better, equaling cornerback Asante Samuel, with three interceptions. But he wasn’t tested very much considering that he is only a rookie. That should change. Samuel still has tackling issues, but he’s as good a cover man as there is. Strong safety Quintin Mikell looks more like his 2008 self.
SPECIAL TEAMS (C-)
The Eagles have been hurt by big returns that set up opposing scores. They are near the bottom of the league in both punt and kickoff coverage. The punt- and kick-return games have been average. Sav Rocca is in the top 10 in both punting average and net average. David Akers’ four misses tie him for third most in the NFL, although they all came in one bad week.
The impulse is to look at “The Tennessee Meltdown” and “The Washington Gut-Punch,” (Great rock band names, huh?) and conclude that Andy Reid and his assistants have done a subpar job through seven games. But factor in three road victories and an impressive stomping of Atlanta and what you have is pretty much what you would have expected in the bye week: a 4-3 record.
Expectations were tempered for a relatively young team before the season, with many forecasting a record between 8-8 and 10-6. But somewhere along the line (maybe it had something to do with the weak NFC), hopes were raised and then tempered in Tennessee.
Reid, too, got caught up in the fever and ditched his rebuilding, retooling, whatever-you-want-to-call-it plan
when he made the quarterback switch. It remains to be seen whether he made the right call. So far, with a patchwork offensive line and coordinator Sean McDermott’s Jekyll-and-Hyde defense, quarterback appears to be the least of his worries.