PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 30: Michael Vick #7 of the Philadelphia Eagles runs onto the field before the game against the Dallas Cowboys at Lincoln Financial Field on October 30, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
The Philadelphia Eagles struggled with more than just labels in 2011. Did they do enough during the offseason to challenge for the NFC East in 2012?
It was just a little offhand remark from Vince Young. It meant nothing, as harmless as the threat of the former Texas quarterback under center in the NFL. Nevertheless, throwaway labels like "Dream Team" have a tendency to stick with teams who spend big in the offseason like the Philadelphia Eagles did last year.
Andy Reid pushed back on the "Dream Team" label, obviously unaware of the speed at which memes like that circulate. The head coach seemed prescient at the time. As the season went on, he seemed absolutely prophetic. The Eagles' offseason moves last year advertised a team determined to get back to the Super Bowl, hence the intractability of Young's words.
One week they would beat a division rival, only to lose a match-up in the NFC West after that. Despite the Eagles' myriad troubles, they still managed to end the year with an 8-8 record, avoiding their first losing season since 2005 and softening the landing enough to hand out a few more second chances in 2012.
Needless to say, finishing the year at .500 will not be enough for Philadelphia this season. Andy Reid's team is built to challenge for the NFC East and make a deep run into the playoffs.
A defense backstopped by Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was supposed to tie up opposing receivers and let the pass rushers disrupt quarterbacks. Years of skimping on linebackers compromised rookie defensive coordinator's Juan Castillo's system. Offenses walked through big holes in Castillo's Wide-9 front, on the run or by hitting pass catchers over the middle. At times, particularly the first half of the season, the defense looked undisciplined, especially in the secondary.
But it wasn't all bad for Castillo, who miraculously survived in his current position, which may have had to do with Steve Spagnuolo seeing a better opportunity in New Orleans. Though often derided, Castillo's defense recorded 50 sacks, tied for the league's best.
On offense, Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson drew most of the attention, but LeSean McCoy was the team's best player. McCoy led the league with 17 touchdowns. Together, the offense scored more than 24 points per game, putting the Eagles among the top 10.
Turnovers compromised the offense. The Eagles finished with a -14 turnover ratio, second-worst in the NFL. Vick threw a career-high 14 picks. Young and Mike Kafka added 11 more. Vick also fumbled the ball 10 times, tied for third-most in the league.
Best Free Agent Pickup
The Eagles swapped a fourth round pick and exchanged places in Round 3 with the Houston Texans in exchange for linebacker DeMeco Ryans. It's not technically a free agent pickup, but it was Philly's most notable move of the offseason outside of the draft. Ryans plays well against the run and gets by in coverage. More importantly for the Eagles, he fits the mold of a solid middle linebacker.
Bonus points for signing left tackle Demetress Bell and quieting the DeSean Jackson distraction with a long-term contract.
2012 NFL Draft
Rumors of Philadelphia's interest in Fletcher Cox started circulating in the weeks before the draft. Sure enough, they cashed in some late-round picks to move up to the 12th spot for the Mississippi State product. Cox is a natural three-technique who is at his best pushing through linemen and getting up the field. He looks like a natural fit for the Eagles' aggressive defense.
Their best pick might have been Cal linebacker Mychal Kendricks, a real thumper for the strong side. Marshall defensive end Vinny Curry was a steal with the second of two second-round picks. Lined up wide on the outside, his explosiveness adds another dimension to their pass rush, and gives the team more than enough depth in the front four. Cornerback Brandon Boykin, a Round 4 pick, could be the team's third corner by the time the season starts.
VIDEO: Fletcher Cox Scouting Report
From SB Nation's Bleeding Green Nation:
The Eagles more or less dominated the NFC East last year and came up with pretty much nothing to show for it. They went 5-1 against the division including sweeps of the Cowboys & Redskins (several in blowout fashion) and a Vince Young led comeback win over the Giants in New York New Jersey. Yes, Tom Brady could not lead a late drive to beat the Giants last season... but Vince Young did. Go figure.
Actually, the Eagles have had the best or tied for the best record against their division rivals in each of the last three seasons. So while the division is always important, the Eagles' ability to win that division may very well come down more to how they do against everyone else. Outside of their division last year the Eagles managed only three wins, none of which came against playoff teams and two of which came against the Rams and Dolphins, some of the worst teams in the league. That's going to have to chance if they want to get back to the top of the NFC East in 2012.
They Make The Playoffs If ...
Right now, it sure looks like a dead heat for the top of the NFC East, between Dallas, New York and Philly. The defense improved down the stretch last season, and the new talent, particularly at linebacker, looks like it matches up well against the division rivals.
The key to the Eagles' success is Michael Vick. They have a better insurance policy with Trent Edwards replacing Young, since health is a perpetual concern with the risk-taking Vick. More importantly, Vick has to cut down on the turnovers from the 18 he had last season. If that happens, the Eagles will make the playoffs.