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What To Watch For Rest Of 2012

Posted Nov 19, 2012

It's dismal, I know. I'm not a fool. Nobody here is. Being 3-7 is not where the Eagles wanted to be 10 games into the 2012 season. With six games to go, what remains for this football team? ...

What happened in Washington was, we all know, sickening. The Eagles were trampled at FedEx Field, and nobody left that stadium in a good mood. And I understand the climate of the fans and the media: They want change, they want answers and they want it all yesterday.

But the Eagles have no choice but to keep quiet, keep working, prepare and play the games with pride and expect the best to happen. The coaches are going to coach to win and the players better follow suit, or they're going to lose paychecks.

It's a challenging time for everyone who loves the Eagles. It's a lousy point in what was supposed to be a great season. It's a gut-check moment (although it's fair to say there have been a bunch of them already) for players whose jobs are on the line for 2013.

Oh, there is still that sliver of what could be with a football miracle. Until that light extinguishes entirely, the Eagles always have a chance. You just never know ...

But the thrust in your mind -- the fans' minds -- is this: What am I looking for in the final six games of this season? I have my own list, which I shall share shortly. I'm not looking beyond this season. I'm not predicting the future.

I'm looking at the final six games as if they mean something, which they do ...

NICK FOLES, QB

He had a rough introduction to the world of starting quarterback, NFL. Pressured from the very start by a blitzing Redskins defense, Nick Foles threw a pair of early interceptions -- neither of which was really his fault -- didn't get anything going down the field and relied on screen passes and quick throws to have any gains in a struggling offensive effort.

There were a couple of moments when Foles really shined, though. He stepped up in the midst of traffic and delivered a nice toss to Riley Cooper for a first down. He escaped pressure and got the ball to LeSean McCoy on a screen pass. Foles threw some nice balls to tight ends Brent Celek and Clay Harbor down the gut of the field and looked poised in the pocket.

Foles also got rid of the ball too quickly at other times, didn't set his feet right on a few throws and made his share of mistakes.

The Eagles would serve themselves well to continue to look at Foles for as long as he makes progress. It's vital that they learn as much as possible about him, for it is extremely uncertain that Michael Vick and his hefty contract will return in 2013. Vick's health is a major concern for Monday night against Carolina, so it wouldn't be a surprise if Foles gets his second start against a Sean McDermott defense that puts heavy pressure on a quarterback with some creative pass-rush schemes.

Foles has good feet, a nice arm, plenty of size and the smarts and intangibles you look for in a young quarterback. Every rep he gets is invaluable.

BRYCE BROWN, RB

One run Bryce Brown had on Sunday really caught my eye: His initial lane, over left guard, was blocked, so he bounced outside and found running room and gained 5 yards. A holding penalty down the field wiped out an 18-yard run later in the game, but on that first run, the 5-yard gain, Brown showed great change of direction, vision and a burst to the outside.

I'd like to see him run with more urgency -- Brown tends to glide, thinking he can outrun everyone on the field as he did in his past -- but the talent is clearly there. Brown catches the football well, is an improving blocker and is running with more power inside than he did earlier this season.

With McCoy a question mark because of the concussion, Brown may be asked to carry a lot against Carolina. He seems like the kind of back who would get better and better the more carries he gets, and we may have the chance to find out.

It's also possible that Dion Lewis, the Forgotten Running Back here, will have a chance to get his first carries of the season. Chris Polk still has the toe injury and could be a ways away from playing.

EAGLES WIDE RECEIVERS

Their lack of activity on Sunday was startling, and disappointing. What's going on with DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin and where are all of their big plays in the passing game? They haven't all of a sudden become sub-par wide receivers. Coaches are paid to get wide receivers open and the receivers aren't open, apparently.

It's not just Jackson and Maclin who need to be watched. Riley Cooper stepped up with 5 receptions at Washington. Damaris Johnson makes big plays when he touches the football and would have even more yardage if he could stay on his feet.

Moving forward, the Eagles need more production in the passing game. Big time. Jackson and Maclin are too good to have a combined total of 2 catches and 5 yards against any team in this league.

FLETCHER COX, DT

There is still an element of inconsistency in his game, but Fletcher Cox has undeniable talent. At times he just dominates the line of scrimmage. At other times, he gets washed up a big in the run game, but he'll improve in that phase of his performance.

Cox has a chance to be a big-time talent, and it's going to be interesting to watch him through this six-game stretch. The Eagles need him to step up and be a leader on a veteran-laden defensive line. It's his time to make the next step in a career that should have many of them.

VINNY CURRY, DE

So why isn't Vinny Curry seeing any time at all? He clearly hasn't impressed line coach Jim Washburn enough to merit playing time. At some point very soon, though, it makes all the sense in the world to get Curry on the field.

The Eagles need to learn more about Curry. They need to know what they have at defensive end heading into 2013. The position, as a whole, has not been as productive as last season. Not even close. What's the future here? Are the veterans part of that picture? Where is Philip Hunt? Is Brandon Graham playing well enough to be a starter? Can Trent Cole still be a dominating end?

And this: Is Curry capable of being a standout end in this league? It sometimes takes defensive linemen a couple of years to understand the league, and Curry could be in that situation.

But if he's not playing, the Eagles will never find out, will they?

MYCHAL KENDRICKS, LB

He needs to be better closing in on the football -- he took a couple of bad angles against Robert Griffin III, and in the Pittsburgh game missed on Rashard Mendenhall on the sidelines -- but Mychal Kendricks will get that down. He's a player. He's physical and he's aggressive and he is versatile enough now that the Eagles are using him on the blitz.

I'm not sure in the big picture where Kendricks best fits a defense, but he fits on the field. He may be a middle linebacker some day. I wonder if he has the speed to play on the weak side.

Kendricks and Cox are huge pieces around which to build a defense for years to come. I'm looking forward to seeing how they crash through the rookie wall and finish strong in the final six weeks of the regular season.

DEFENSIVE COMMUNICATION

All of these breakdowns in coverage are shocking and they point to a lack of communication in the back seven. It's something that needs to be cleaned up immediately so that we have a chance to see how the defense is coming together under coordinator Todd Bowles.

The defense hung in there through three quarters against Washington and then just collapsed after that. Where are the takeaways? Where are the blitzes that need to get home? How can this defense improve and play more of the downhill, aggressive style that Bowles wants?

 

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