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Fan-Demonium: Put Them To The Test

Posted Nov 27, 2013

Some fans are worried because the Eagles have a bit of a tough schedule down the stretch. To me, that's a good thing. We need to see just how good this Eagles team really is. The goal is to win the Super Bowl. You need to know who can play well in tough games in order to build a team that can win in the postseason.

Last year, Washington had a favorable set of circumstances down the stretch. They won seven games in a row and took the NFC East title. They lost in the playoffs and life has pretty much been a nightmare for them ever since. Washington bought into their hot finish as something real. It wasn't. They got lucky in that winning streak. Two of those wins were against a bad Eagles team. That hot streak was fool's gold.

I would be stoked if the Eagles could play well and win the division. It would be great to see this bunch in the playoffs. But I also have an eye to the future. I need long-term answers more than lucky wins. Is Foles good enough to win tough games? Who on the team steps up in pressure situations? Which players don't?

O-LINE PASSES THE EYE TEST

I was recently reading some national articles that were praising the Eagles offense. A couple of them referred to the Eagles as having the best offensive line in the league. Interesting praise. If you go look at the stats, the line doesn't look that great. The Eagles have given up more sacks than most teams. I think there are a couple of reasons for that. First, Vick and Foles haven't always done favors for the line. Both guys hold the ball longer than they should. That puts pressure on the linemen to hold their blocks for a long time. The Eagles are also throwing the ball downfield quite a bit. They lead the NFL in yards per pass attempt. That also puts pressure on the line.

Use the eye test and you'll come away impressed. There are times when Foles has a completely clean pocket and plenty of time to find open receivers. You don't lead the league in passer rating if you're under heavy duress on a regular basis. The Eagles also have the NFL's leading rusher in LeSean McCoy. Some of that is due to his own dynamic moves, but there are also plays where McCoy has huge holes.

It doesn't matter to me if the Eagles offensive line is the best, second best or ninth best. It is good. Last year, the line struggled to be functional and the offense was painful to watch. This year the Eagles are top 10 in points and yards and have one of the best offenses in the league. A lot of that is due to the guys up front.

Jason Peters started slow, but he's gotten much better as the year progressed. Todd Herremans took some time to get comfortable at right guard. Lane Johnson has improved as he has adjusted to life in the NFL. Stability is also crucial. The Eagles have run the same five starters out each week. Last year, it seemed like a different unit just about every week.

PUTTING THE DEFENSIVE NUMBERS IN PERSPECTIVE

The Eagles defense is 31st in the league in yards allowed. That is an ugly number.

The problem is that you have to do some more digging to fully understand the situation. The Eagles have faced the most plays in football with 824. The Texans lead the league in fewest yards allowed. They also have faced the fewest plays with 644. That is 180 fewer plays than the Eagles ā€¦ or about the same as three full games. That is a significant difference.

If you go by yards per play, the Eagles are 21st in the league. That's not great, but it sure isn't awful. The Texans drop down to sixth in the league in yards per play. The Dallas Cowboys are dead last in yards per game. They are next-to-last in yards per play. That is a truly awful defense.

The Eagles remain sixth in the league in red zone defense. They are also 15th in the NFL in points allowed. You really are seeing a lot of progress from the defense.

Lawlor

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com and was a contributor to the Eagles Almanac.

GOODE DESERVES PLAYING TIME ON ā€˜Dā€™

I'm curious to see what the coaches do with Najee Goode when Mychal Kendricks comes back. Goode had a productive couple of weeks. I think he earned the right to get some snaps on defense. I would actually like to see the coaches use Goode at inside linebacker and shift Kendricks to outside linebacker in some passing sets. Kendricks would give them a true wild card. He can rush or cover. Kendricks had 8.5 sacks as a junior at Cal when they let him go after the quarterback on a regular basis.

I'm not talking about making Goode a starter, but rather trying to find a way to use the players creatively in specific situations. If you can come up with some new wrinkles down the stretch, that is a good thing. Give teams a new look, something they haven't prepared for.

VICK TRULY A CLASS ACT

Kudos to Michael Vick for his comments on Nick Foles staying as the starter. Vick has been a great teammate during his time with the Eagles. He's had to fight for playing time with Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb, Nick Foles and Matt Barkley. Amazingly, I think he is still friends with all those guys. That says something about Vick.

KELLY GETTING MORE PRODUCTION OUT OF PASS GAME

The passing game is so different this year that it really makes you scratch your head. The Eagles averaged 41 pass attempts per game last year. This year, they average 29 attempts per game. Amazingly, the Eagles are on pace to have almost 400 more yards this season. Chip Kelly has done a great job at maximizing production. Andy Reid threw the ball a lot, but didn't always get the production. Kelly is throwing less, but making the attempts count.

This is the way the passing game really should work. You throw less, but get more impact. Brent Celek isn't going to have nearly the amount of catches that he did last season, but he's already got more touchdowns and he is on pace to set a career high in yards per catch. Celek averages more than 15 yards per catch. He's never been above 13 in his career. Last season, Jason Witten averaged 9 yards per catch. He caught a ton of short passes. Those can be hollow stats.

Overall tight end production will be close to what it was last year. Zach Ertz has 21 receptions this year and his emergence is one of the reason Celek isn't getting as many catches. Ertz and Celek are on pace to combine for six touchdown receptions. That would double what Celek and Clay Harbor did in 2012.

QUARTERBACKS GETTING COLE FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Trent Cole did not have a sack in the first eight games. Since then, he has three sacks in three games. Is Cole doing something different? No. Cole has gotten pressure all year. He's just had a bit more luck in recent weeks. One of the sacks that Cole got against Washington happened when Cedric Thornton drove Robert Griffin III into Cole. That was a gift sack. Just a few weeks before that Cole drove a quarterback right to Thornton for a gift sack. That's what I mean by luck.

Pass rushers don't always get the sack when they get in the backfield and disrupt the play or move the quarterback off his spot. There can be other guys there to finish and the stat sheet gives them credit. Cole has been better this year than his sack total would indicate.

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