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Fan-Demonium: A Month Of Mystery

Posted Dec 9, 2011

Fan-Demonium

The Eagles are 4-8. The team has disappointed us up to this point, but I'm interested to see what the final month holds in store. This week's opponent is the Miami Dolphins. They were 0-7 and talked about as the worst team in the league, but have since gone 4-1. Now the Dolphins sit at 4-8, just like the Eagles.  I sure never saw that coming. 

Pro football is a fluid situation. Things change. Chris Johnson came into the season as arguably the most dynamic player in the league. He was flat out awful for a few months. Recently he's gotten back to being the dynamic "CJ2K" that we know. There is a flip side. Buffalo got off to a red hot start, in large part due to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Now the team is mired in a long losing streak and Fitzpatrick is struggling.

Bill Parcells old saying is that, "You are what your record says you are." That might have been true in the past, but football changes so much these days that I'm not fully sure the saying applies anymore. The Dolphins have a worse record than the Bills, but no team in the NFL would rather face Miami. That's the hotter team. The Bills are ice cold. This is life in the NFL, where the only constant is change. Every time we think we know something we find out we don't.

So with all this talk of change, what can we expect from the Eagles in the last month? Which players might surprise us, good or bad? What can happen? Here are some questions we'll get answered.

Can the Eagles stay in the playoff hunt?

That would be the biggest surprise of all. The Eagles do remain alive in the playoff chase for now. The Eagles must win out and also need a combination of wins and losses by the Giants and Cowboys. This is an unlikely scenario, but one that I think we'll all keep an eye on. We have seen some miraculous things before. Back in 2008, the Eagles needed Houston to upset Chicago and Oakland to upset Tampa on the final day of the season. If those things happened, the Eagles could get a wild card spot with a win over Dallas. Houston did win. Oakland pulled off a stunner and beat the Bucs. Then, the Eagles drubbed Dallas, 44-6. That was a magical day.

Going 4-0 is obviously a tough to believe based on what we've seen so far, but this team does have the talent. The key is for the players to focus on one game at a time.

Will Michael Vick get going?

Lawlor

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He was a finalist for Philadelphia's Most Influential Blogger Award and is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com

Coming into the 2011 season the question with Vick was if he could build on his great 2010 showing. Now, the question is whether he can get back to 2010 form. Vick has had his struggles. He's thrown just 11 touchdowns and hasn't run for any. Vick has been intercepted 11 times. He missed the last three games due to a rib injury.

Vick hasn't been awful or anything close to it, but he has been disappointing. There are any number of factors to blame. More importantly, I want Vick and the coaches to find answers. Vick is the future of this franchise. He needs to be back to Pro Bowl form for the Eagles to bounce back from the disastrous start to this season.

It would be great to see him get hot in the final month. That would build confidence in him by outsiders and himself.

It will be good to see him back on the field in Miami.  Vince Young had some good moments as the starter, but this team really missed Vick and what he brings to the offense as a passer and runner. 

Will the Eagles offense get going?

Do you realize that the Eagles have only scored three-or-more offensive touchdowns in four games this year? Yikes, that's not good for an offense that is so talented and explosive. Turnovers have hurt. Blown chances in the red zone have hurt. Also, big plays aren't leading to touchdowns this year.

DeSean Jackson has just four catches this year of 40 or more yards. Last year, he had eight such catches. Some of them went all the way. There was the 91-yard touchdown against Dallas that turned out to be a monster play in that game. Jackson opened the 59-28 destruction of the Redskins with a long touchdown. Jackson has two touchdowns this year. One covered 6 yards, the other 31. That was a wide receiver screen.

Last year, Eagles quarterbacks threw a total of 28 touchdowns. That figure is down to 15 so far this season. There are plenty of yards, but points have been too scarce for a team with this many weapons.

Can LeSean McCoy win the rushing title?

One player who has been even better than expected is LeSean McCoy. He leads the NFC and is second in the NFL in rushing. He is having a great year. Running backs under Andy Reid rarely get enough carries to be in the hunt for a title. Plus, you need some luck in having a healthy line and having the runner stay on the field as well. Things have gone right for McCoy in 2011. Now it will be fun to see if he's able to win the title. It isn't a huge deal, but it would be cool. McCoy would be very happy with the accomplishment and his blockers would be proud as well.

Right now, McCoy trails Maurice Jones-Drew by 3 yards. Matt Forte is in third place, but is hurt and will be a non-factor. The next two runners are 142 and 152 yards behind McCoy. He's got a real good chance to win if the coaches keep giving him the ball.

What can Casey Matthews do?

The rookie linebacker started the first three games of the season, but struggled and was benched. He's played in short-yardage situations and on special teams since then. The Eagles decided to put Matthews in the nickel defense, taking the spot of Jamar Chaney.

I'm sure Matthews has been dying to get back on the field. He's ultra-competitive and didn't do much sitting at Oregon. Life in the NFL can be humbling. Every year we see award winners, conference players of the year and/or plain old All-Americans who can't make it in the NFL. Matthews didn't take advantage of his time on the field in September, but now he's back in the lineup.

Matthews can help himself a lot by playing well. One of the things that stood out to me when watching him at Oregon was how confident and aggressive he was. Matthews flew around the field at full speed and played with reckless abandon. I never saw that guy at Lehigh or in the early games. It is hard to be confident when you're confused.

Now, Matthews has had a couple of months to sit and watch. He should have learned a lot and should be much more comfortable on the field. He's caught my eye on special teams a few times in recent games. That's a good sign. I want to see what he can do on defense. Playing in the nickel isn't the same as starting, but he needs to prove himself in a specialty role before worrying about any other situations. Take one step at a time.

How good is Brian Rolle?

I've been a big fan of Rolle's since watching him at Ohio State. He's just a fun guy to watch. A lot of people ask me about him and what will happen in the future. As much as I enjoy watching him play, we have to be careful in assessing what he's done.

Rolle hasn't done anything so special that he absolutely has a job locked up for 2012. I think he's played well enough that he deserves a shot at the job, but he hasn't won the job. Center Jason Kelce has absolutely sewn up his starting job for the foreseeable future. You can see excellent potential. Rolle has had some good highlights, but his overall play could get better.

I hope Rolle approaches the final four games as his audition for keeping the job next year. He needs to play the run better. He's solid, but there is room for improvement. Rolle needs to work on his ability to key and diagnose plays. Like many young players, he will make a poor read or just guess on some plays and get out of position. I'd also like to see him make more impact plays. He had the forced fumble and return for touchdown against the Bears, but that's it for big plays. No sacks. No interceptions. No other forced or recovered fumbles.

Rolle will remain a starter if he shows the coaches and front office that he deserves to keep the job. He's had a good rookie year, but there is still work to be done. "Good enough" isn't good enough.

What do the Eagles have at punter and kicker?

Winter is almost upon us. That's when you find out a lot about your kicking game. Chas Henry and Alex Henery have been solid for the most part. They've each had some ups and downs, but December is the real test. Sav Rocca always seemed to fade as the temperature dropped. David Akers missed some cold weather kicks. Those guys were talented veterans. Now, the young guys get to show what they can do in challenging circumstances.

Don't underestimate how important this is. You need to find out if Henry and Henery can be relied upon in bad weather. The 2011 Eagles might not play in a crucial December game, but hopefully that won't be the case next year. Henry and Henery need to show if they can handle things. If not, then the team has to bring in serious competition for them in the offseason. If the young guys do all right, then that makes you feel a heck of a lot better about their future.

For more dead-on analysis from Tommy Lawlor, check out the Fan-Demonium archive.

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