What's most important at this stage in the season is that the Eagles are in first place after four games (yes, I stayed up late on Monday to watch the Cowboys lose. Who doesn't enjoy that??!) with a 3-1 record. We all wanted a good start to the season. After one month, the Eagles are in fine shape, with a very tough schedule ahead.
Knowing how NFL coaches are, of course, the emphasis is on teaching, on improving and on correcting mistakes made. The Eagles have made plenty of mistakes. They've also done enough to win three of four games, showing great fourth-quarter resolve in the process.
As the team prepares for Pittsburgh and the very-tough matchup on Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field, we have a moment to take a look at the first four games and what has gone right and what needs work.
Without further ado ...
- The Eagles can run the football because LeSean McCoy is a special player and because the running game designed by Howard Mudd is a go. I know the fans and the media complain about the run/pass ratio, but I generally don't buy those complaints. McCoy is third in the NFL in rushing with 384 yards. He's probably touching the ball more than the coaching staff would like, per game, but McCoy is so good and so durable and so strong in the fourth quarter of games that it's hard not to hand off to No. 25. Now, it's important that over the next four games, using the halfway point of the season as a yardstick, the Eagles develop Bryce Brown as the No. 2 back. He shows flashes, but Brown needs to have a consistent stretch of production.
- There is absolutely nothing wrong with the defensive line, despite so-so sack totals. The pressure and speed up and down the defensive line is forcing quarterbacks to unload quickly, and the key number here is the 65.6 passer rating opposing quarterbacks have against the Eagles (third-best for a defense in the NFL). Opposing quarterbacks are completing just 52.4 percent of their passes, ranking the Eagles first in the NFL in that category.
- I like a whole lot what the Eagles have at cornerback. In this pass-heavy league, the Eagles have allowed just 2 gains of 40-plus yards in the air and the bump-and-run scheme clearly fits what the corners like to do. Both Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha have been physical and challenging. Brandon Boykin is a battler who has given up some plays in the last two weeks in the slot, but some of his situations have been way difficult. Brandon Hughes played his best game as an Eagle on Sunday night and Curtis Marsh is another big, strong cornerback prospect.
- Something has to give on kick coverage. I agree that special teams is an attitude, and I'm not seeing a lot of players selling out to cover kicks. Linebackers Casey Matthews and Brian Rolle need to step up. Curtis Marsh has to make plays. David Sims has to be a factor. Brown and Chris Polk need to get to the football. Hey, for some of these players special teams is their meal ticket. They need to play with more desperation and sense of purpose. Why is longsnapper Jon Dorenbos, who has a high ankle sprain, making tackles on kick coverage?
- I love the no-huddle approach by the offense and I hope it remains a staple of what Marty Mornhinweg is going to do this season. The Eagles just play at a different tempo in the no huddle. The players are more crisp and alert and productive. Please keep it in the plan every week, Marty.
- Brent Celek is a Pro Bowl tight end, no matter what the numbers say at the end of the season. He currently leads all NFL tight ends in receiving yards. He is just so reliable and so physical and so powerful with the ball in his hands.
- In case nobody noticed, linebacker Mychal Kendricks shut down Giants tight end Martellus Bennett on Sunday night, a very important part of the success of the defense. Kendricks is a flat-out stud as a rookie.
- A huge kudos to the Eagles fans, who have made Lincoln Financial Field a home-field advantage the season. The energy in the building this season has been amazing. Of course, the games have been pretty remarkable, too. But did you watch Dallas and Chicago on Monday night and see and hear all of those Bears fans in Dallas? Pathetic showing by the Cowboys fans, who allowed the Bears fans to take over the building.
- We're all waiting for Demetress Bell to get to a new level. He may be the key player on the offense, Michael Vick notwithstanding. Bell played pretty well against the Giants. This is a huge test on Sunday in a very hostile environment against a team that loves to blitz.
- I really thought coming into the season that Clay Harbor would be more of a factor in the offense, and that could still be the case at some point. Harbor has the speed to get down the field and the size to be a plus in the red zone. And the red zone hasn't been very productive in the last two weeks.
- Hope you heard McCoy give a bunch of shoutouts to the play of fullback Stanley Havili on Sunday night. Good to see Havili being used in a variety of ways. He's athletic, he gets out and is a good lead blocker and he can handle the football a little bit. Watch this kid get better and better.
- DeSean Jackson is playing the best football of his career. He's making tough catches, he's going across the middle and he's very precise on his routes. Good first four games.
- Damaris Johnson showed some good decision making on Sunday night returning punts. He's been too anxious to try to make a big play and hasn't exercised the proper judgment on when to call a fair catch or let the ball bounce into the end zone. As for Boykin on kickoff returns, there just aren't holes to run through. The Eagles have to make adjustment both in kick coverage and in the kick return game.
- At some point here in the next five weeks the Eagles are going to have to decide on what to do with defensive tackle Mike Patterson. He can practice between weeks six and nine or go directly to Injured Reserve. Same with offensive tackle Jason Peters, who is a longshot to make it back this season.
- The offensive line remains a work in progress. Remember that. Dallas Reynolds is going to get better with each snap he takes. Replacing two starters is not an easy task.
- Needs work: Red-zone offense. Much improved: Red-zone defense.
- Finally, it's time to acknowledge Vick's mental toughness the way he's been bashed in the media this season. He has also engineered three winning drives in the fourth quarter of games. If he continues to play with the restraint -- just a bit -- that he showed on Sunday night when he did not have a turnover against New York, those giveaways are going to shrink and the wins are going to pile up.