I like this Eagles team. Rather, I like components of this Eagles team. We have a long season ahead, and the Eagles are going to be in the thick of things in the NFC. Some of the things this team has shown through seven games are very good, very promising. Other things ... not so good. Not so promising. The loss in Tennessee was hard to accept, but it was a product of a team not quite ready to stomp on a solid, veteran opponent.
Truth is, the Eagles should have been in far better position at the time of the fumbled handoff from Kevin Kolb to LeSean McCoy. The offense opened the game with possession of the football at the 34-yard line, 34-yard line and 48-yard line and came away with a single field goal. Then the offense accepted the gift of a Quintin Mikell takeaway by turning the ball right back over to Tennessee on the next play, and the Titans drove 45 yards on 5 plays for a touchdown.
From that point in time, in the second quarter, through the fumble at the Titans' 3-yard line, the Eagles played like a dominating, playoff-bound team. And that is the picture I have in my head of what the Eagles can be, should be, need to be with some tinkering.
I loved the play-calling for much of the game. The Eagles spread the football around, used their personnel wisely, had inventive formations and played tough at the line of scrimmage. Kolb missed too many throws -- he had Brent Celek open early, he had Chad Hall in the clear and then he underthrew Maclin at the end of the first half -- but I like how Kolb is coming along. I think he is going to be an outstanding quarterback.
McCoy is Brian Westbrook, part deux, and more durable. McCoy is a yard-producing machine, and his work in the screen game has provided for the offense a devastating weapon.
Owen Schmitt is clearly a very, very solid fullback who has reliable hands and is a good blocker. The Eagles did a nice job replacing Leaonard Weaver.
I'm puzzled by Brent Celek's lack of production -- he has just 21 catches and a pair of touchdowns -- and I think that is an important factor for the Eagles to improve: They need to control the middle of the field with the tight end and provide more breathing room for outside receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.
The offensive line has improved by leaps and bounds since early in the season, and that is encouraging stuff. Jason Peters' return will make a difference. The Eagles are getting mileage out of Max Jean-Gilles and the center spot is being manned capably by Mike McGlynn. That group should only improve in the weeks to come.
Michael Vick, the starting quarterback when play resumes, is a game-changing player who has to learn to protect his body. The sky is the limit for the offense should Vick return playing at the high level at which he played prior to his injury, and his excellence in the red zone gives this offense a chance to be incredibly dynamic.
On defense, the play has been uneven. The run defense, after early troubles, has been outstanding in the last few weeks. The linebackers are playing physical football. Antonio Dixon has been a force inside at tackle. Ends Trent Cole and Juqua Parker are doing a fine job. I really like the run defense. Moise Fokou seems to be playing pretty well at SAM linebacker.
However, there are problems with the pass defense, as evidenced oh-so-clearly in Tennessee. I'm not an expert, but it sure seems like both Atlanta and the Titans went after Ellis Hobbs and had quite a bit of success. And that the help over the top, specifically from rookie Nate Allen, wasn't good enough. I can't remember a team with one good wide receiver dominated an Eagles secondary as Kenny Britt did on Sunday. I waited for the adjustments. I waited for the clamp down. I wondered if Sean McDermott would send Asante Samuel to follow Britt.
Instead, the Eagles were destroyed by Britt, so now the defense has a week to evaluate. McDermott will get it right, but he has some personnel challenges. The Titans protected Kerry Collins well in the second half and the Eagles tried a variety of blitzes that did not get home. The secondary couldn't cover Britt, who is a good, young talent but who is nowhere near the level of star receivers the Eagles have on the schedule ahead.
I wonder if McDermott will take a look at Joselio Hanson, Dimitri Patterson or even rookie Trevard Lindley more once the team returns from the bye week. I wonder if there are player moves McDermott will consider.
The defense is really close to being there, just like this team. But there are questions. Where is Brandon Graham? He hasn't been heard from since the San Francisco game. Who else is stepping up in the pass-rush game? The Eagles can't go an entire fourth quarter against a statue of a quarterback like Collins and allow him to sit in a pocket and throw the ball 40 yards down the field. They need a pass rush without selling out and blitzing the farm.
Is Dixon the starter, even when Bunkley returns from injury? Dixon deserves to play, that's for sure. Is there, in the deep secondary, cause for concern seeing the way the Titans attacked down the field?
More questions to come later in the week, when there is clarity after the loss in Tennessee. The special teams are another story for another day, although the signs of improvement are there. It's just that the return game, so potentially explosive with Jackson in the punt game, hasn't changed field position as much as expected. Why not?
Look, in the big picture the Eagles lost to an AFC team, a good one, on the road. The Eagles are 4-3, very much in the picture in the everbody-is-the-same NFC. What hurts is that the Eagles had a game in their hands and they couldn't seize the moment. I don't know how a team learns to win other than to go out and win games.
The bye week is going to be a bear. Who wants to think about that defeat? Maybe, in the big picture, it is what this team needs. The players need to heal. The coaches need to self-evaluate. And when the Eagles gather again in a week, there is a playoff spot to be won with nine games remaining on a very difficult schedule.