Losing is never fun, but you definitely have to understand that not all losses are created equal.
Go back to 2010 and the season opener. Green Bay looked dominant at times. The Eagles made a valiant comeback, but lost the game. You could see that Michael Vick still had some magic left in him. You liked the way the team responded to adversity. Still, the Packers were the better team.
Think about Sunday night's loss to Atlanta. How many people feel like the Falcons were the better team? They won and I give them all the credit in the world. Matt Ryan is a terrific quarterback and he made some really clutch plays, but I feel like the Eagles were definitely the better team. It didn't show on Sunday's scoreboard, but that's the beauty of the NFL. If this were college football, the Eagles would be in a world of hurt. In the NFL, you can lose a regular season game and still stay right on track with your season.
The Eagles made huge strides from the opener to Sunday night. Forget about the results for a minute. Think about how the team looked. In St. Louis, the Eagles were rusty and sloppy. You could see the effects of the shortened offseason. Nothing was crisp. The Eagles beat the Rams in large part due to simply being more talented. The game in Atlanta was far different. Don't get me wrong. There are still some issues for the players and coaches to work on, but the team played much better.
The 2011 NFL season is off to a start unlike any other that I can recall. There are nine teams averaging over 400 yards on offense. Not one team finished the 2010 season above 400 yards per game. The Packers defense, which was brilliant in 2010, is ranked 30th. They allow 476 yards per game. Below them are the Patriots at 479 yards per game. Dom Capers and Bill Belichick are certified defensive geniuses with some good players, but the results aren't pretty at all. Juan Castillo's defense is allowing "just" 326 yards per game. Scoring is up around the league. Rookie quarterbacks are throwing for 300 and 400 yards as if they were back in college. Like I said, this is a very odd season so far.
The Eagles are very much a work in progress, especially on defense. Castillo is adjusting to the role of defensive coordinator. The returning players are adjusting to the new wide-nine scheme and all that entails. New players are adjusting to life with the Eagles. Think about Nnamdi Asomugha. He has had a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter in both games as an Eagle. How often did that happen in Oakland? Playing with the lead is better than trailing, but it isn't easy. The other team gets desperate and takes some chances.
It felt like the Eagles had the Falcons on the ropes Sunday night, but the injury to Mike Vick changed everything. Mike Kafka came in and the Eagles scored a couple of plays later, but the wind was gone from the sails. There wasn't panic, but there was a seismic shift in momentum and this was while leading by 10 points. Watching Vick helped off the field gave the Falcons a sense of hope. That was huge for them and helped Atlanta to rally for the win.
Losing in Atlanta hurt, but I'm still very optimistic about the Eagles. The goal isn't to peak in September. You want to do that in December/January. It's great when a team is hot right out of the gate and plays that way all year long. We saw that in 2004. This group had too much offseason change to be that kind of team all year long, but the potential is through the roof. It is now up to the coaches and players to continue getting better.
The 2007 Giants won the Super Bowl with a fierce pass rush and some timely offense. Steve Spagnuolo was the defensive coordinator of that team. It was his first year on the job and the team took a while to work out the kinks in his scheme. The Giants gave up 35 points in the season opener and then 45 the next week. Eighty points in two games! Spagnuolo kept tweaking things, the players kept getting better and the defense drastically improved as the season went along. The Giants allowed a total of 65 points in four playoff games. What looked like a disaster in September was a thing of beauty in January.
Be patient with the team. The talent is in place. As long as the team gets better each week, the end results should be pretty impressive. It also might help to not have to deal with Tony Gonzalez again. That old man can still play.
SOME QUICK HITTERS
1. Jason Peters was awesome on Sunday night. You could see what a complete player he is. There were some plays where he used strength and power to overwhelm defensive linemen. On Jeremy Maclin's wide receiver screen that resulted in a touchdown, Peters got out front and acted as the lead blocker. He looked like a giant fullback out there. He really is a special player. On one early run he absolutely leveled a defensive back. Peters hit the guy so hard he sent him flying. Beautiful.
2. Speaking of Maclin, he had a great game - almost. He was huge, catching 13 passes for 171 yards and a pair of touchdowns. It was so good to see him back and tearing it up. That's what made his fourth down drop at the end of the game so crushing.
3. Just how good is LeSean McCoy? He is sky-rocketing up the charts. I'm not sure how many running backs I would take over him. I can't believe how far McCoy has come in his young career. Last summer, we were asking if he could handle being "the man." Uh, I think the answer is yes. I don't know if there is another player in the league who can turn more broken plays into gains.
4. The Eagles offensive line didn't give up a sack. Jason Kelce is moving from question mark to good young player. His ability to pull and block outside or to get out in front of plays in space is extremely impressive. Kelce is the real deal.
5. I'm not starting to wonder if Cullen Jenkins is the best offseason acquisition. He has three sacks in two games. Numbers aside, he is a disruptive force. The Eagles haven't had a player like that since Corey Simon from 2000-2003. Jenkins is very quick off the ball, but he also uses his hands really well.
6. Trent Cole was a monster against the Falcons. I hate that his performance came in a losing cause, but boy it was fun watching him. He drove left tackle Sam Baker and Ryan crazy. Cole used his bullrush move a lot, but also his speed rushes and inside moves. Baker didn't know what was happening. He just went backward a lot.
7. The linebackers had another up and down night. Moise Fokou was too quiet. He also missed an easy tackle of Michael Turner in space that made a short pass a big gain. Jamar Chaney made some nice plays, but also some big mistakes. His missed tackle of Turner near the goal line was big. Rookie Casey Matthews got better from the opener, but still has a long way to go. He's definitely headed in the right direction.
8. Gonzalez was a killer matchup all night long. The Eagles tried a few things. Jarrad Page was close on some plays, but close isn't good enough with Ryan and Gonzalez. That's a deadly duo. Chaney was up and down in coverage. That's supposed to be a strength of his. He needs to get better. Teams will continue to test the tight end coverage until the Eagles show they can get the job done.
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