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Full Steam Ahead For Second Half

Posted Oct 30, 2013

What do you think of the Eagles after eight games? The opener at Washington was a rocket blast, and the team has faced reality since. What happens in these next eight games? ...

To think the Eagles would play unblemished football in the first season of head coach Chip Kelly with a turned-over roster averaging 26 years of age (a tad younger now, with the trade of Isaac Sopoaga) and new schemes on both sides of the line of scrimmage would have been foolhardy, and so a 3-5 record, no matter how it has been reached, is about where the Eagles should be.

That remarkable first half against Washington set a high standard that the team has not been able to reach again. The Eagles caught some lightning in a bottle for those 30 minutes before settling back down to Earth.

Since then the ride has been, predictably, bumpy. From 1-0 to 1-3 to 3-3 to 3-5 and here we are, at the season's midway point.

What waits for the Eagles? Here is a look into the crystal ball ...

THE DEFENSE WILL CONTINUE TO IMPROVE

Terrelle Pryor and his unique skill set, along with a punishing rushing attack, present a series of challenges for the defense on Sunday, and then the real test comes against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. Nobody is looking past Oakland, for the Raiders are an up-and-coming team playing physical football. Clearly, the Raiders believe in Pryor and he certainly has game-breaking abilities. The Eagles must be extremely disciplined in their approach on Sunday.

It's all about the young players up front as the Eagles are relying more and more on Bennie Logan, Damion Square, Clifton Geathers and Cedric Thornton, along with Fletcher Cox. These are players who will improve with every rep they get in game situations.

I like the way the cornerbacks are playing, and safeties Nate Allen and Earl Wolff have made nice strides. Connor Barwin is a very good player, and DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks have been outstanding lately. I give props to Trent Cole, who has always played with great effort and now hasn't reduced that effort one bit in his new position.

There is still a lot of work to be done here, no question. The Eagles haven't allowed a lot of points in the last month and they've gained a lot in confidence. Upping their sack total, their takeaways, changing games with big plays ... these are the kinds of plays the very best defenses make. The Eagles are moving in that direction.

NICK FOLES WILL STABILIZE THE QUARTERBACK POSITION

He starts on Sunday in Oakland against a fast and tenacious defense. Nick Foles has a big task in front of him against the Raiders. The offense needs a boost of confidence, some early success.

This is a great chance for Foles to take the next step in his development. He played so well against the Giants and Bucs, only to struggle against Dallas. Every quarterback experiences those kinds of games. The best ones bounce back with strong performances and learn from their struggles.

Seeing Foles as inaccurate as he was against Dallas was the shocker. I expect him to come out slinging against Oakland, being very decisive and throwing the football with confidence.

That's the first step he takes toward taking control of the quarterback position. Foles is in prime position to do so. This is a pivotal moment in his career. Maybe it doesn't define his future, but it helps clarify what kind of ceiling he has.

JAMES CASEY WILL BE A FACTOR

One of the great mysteries is James Casey's lack of involvement in the offense. The Eagles made a big deal of signing Casey and the expectation was that he would play a large part in the offense. Then the team couldn't resist when Zach Ertz was on the board in the second round of the draft, and Casey's profile took a major step down.

Casey has just a couple of catches, but that's going to change in the next eight games. This is not to suggest that Casey is going to become the No. 1 target in the passing game, but he runs too well and has such good hands that the Eagles will build some confidence in his game.

BY END OF SEASON, OFFENSIVE LINE WILL MAKE STRIDES

The performance up front has been up and down, but the offensive line has the makings of being terrific. Lane Johnson needs to make sure he has his legs, and the rest of the line needs to fine tune what coach Jeff Stoutland wants. The talent is there. The veteran presence is in place. The Eagles need more time together.

The Eagles are going to ride the offensive line down the stretch and have the offense in a good place in December.

YOUTH RULES ON DEFENSIVE LINE

This is already the case, as Cox, Thornton, Logan and Co. mature together up front along with Square and Geathers. This is already a promising group, and Cox and Thornton have played good football through half of the season. It's time for Logan to start to make his mark. The increased reps will help his game a ton.

THE PRO BOWL EAGLES WILL BE ...

LeSean McCoy is going to be in Hawaii. So is left guard Evan Mathis. I also cast a vote for DeSean Jackson, assuming the Eagles find a way to get him free, and left tackle Jason Peters has a chance. Ryans probably deserves strong consideration for the way he's plays as a 3-4 linebacker.

Things have to go right, of course.  The offense has to get back on track. The defense must continue to improve.

The playoffs? I'm not going to go there. The Eagles have been too up and down to predict. Let's just say the NFC East is there for the taking, and a three-game winning streak, for example, would do wonders for the team's chances.

More important is the goal of improving every week. If the Eagles do that, they'll be pleased with where they stand at the end of the season.

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