The Eagles consider themselves Super Bowl contenders. I don’t, but those are the expectations they have set for themselves and so that is how I will judge them, and you should too. Jeffrey Lurie said it himself, 8-8 is not acceptable. I think this team is more like 7-9, but we’ll see. Their performance in the Browns game was not acceptable either, and it shows that they have a mountain to climb to get to the Super Bowl. Not just any mountain though, they have to climb K2, one of steepest, deadliest mountains in the world. Annapurna is the deadliest, but since the Eagles picked up the W they’re a notch above rock bottom. (Yes, I realize I used “rock bottom” in a sentence about climbing mountains.) Reach the summit and they’ll have achieved greatness; fail and the Andy Reid era will die.
They have a mountain to climb because despite winning, there was very little about the Browns game that was positive. DeSean Jackson allayed fears about his effort, DeMeco Ryans looked as advertised and, umm, uhh… Chas Henry punted well. Everything else was adequate at best, most of it was awful.
The offensive line was a disaster. We knew the loss of Jason Peters was huge, and that a ripple effect was inevitable. Against Cleveland, who lack a strong pass rusher, it was worse than we thought. Tight ends had to repeatedly help out King Dunlap because traffic barrels can only do so much, meanwhile the interior of the line, particularly Jason Kelce and Danny Watkins, was terrible. Against actual Super Bowl contenders like the Giants or Lions, they will be eaten alive. Most of the pressure and hits Michael Vick faced was from the interior, as Kelce and/or Watkins either simply let their man go free at Vick or they got bullied around. And of course they were heavily penalized. This is not the offensive line of a Super Bowl contender.
The QB behind them wasn’t any better. Vick either had barely enough time to get rid of the ball (not his fault) or held on to the ball for far too long (mostly his fault) and then felt phantom pressure (entirely his fault). The excuses given for the woes of the 2011 Eagles are quickly falling by the wayside. Vick had a whole off-season to prepare and he still is making bad reads, poor throws and moving out of the pocket too soon and too much. The one thing he did improve was he slid a few times when he would have continued to run, but he screwed that up too by sliding head first. This is not the QB of a Super Bowl contender.
The play calling was poor. Andy Reid said Vick, who played all of 11 or 12 snaps in the pre-season due to knocking himself out of games, was rusty. Fair enough, but then why give him over 60 dropbacks in a close game? Shady McCoy was running the ball well but only got 20 carries. It wasn’t just a question of run/pass balance. In the first quarter DeSean Jackson was able to have his way with Joe Haden, beating him all over the field with 3 catches on 4 targets for 68 yards. When the coaches tape comes out this can be detailed, but the Browns adjusted and Jackson wasn’t getting the space he was getting before. Credit to the Browns for that. But the Eagles couldn’t counter adjust and after the second quarter Jackson had only 1 catch on 6 targets for 9 yards. There were no attempts to get the ball in Jackson’s hands through other methods (say, a bubble screen), the reverse he had was in the first quarter and his 4th quarter catch was a simple slant route. This is not the play calling of a Super Bowl contender.
The defense should be graded “incomplete.” Maybe Juan Castillo has actually turned it around, but we don’t know yet. We don’t know yet because the Browns have perhaps the worst receivers in the league (the other being Miami). We don’t know because Brandon Weeden was so horrifically bad that any defense would have looked good yesterday. This was not the case of a defense making a QB look bad, it was absolutely a case of a QB making a defense look good. Weeden’s accuracy was terrible, his touch on the ball was nearly non-existent and he threw with no anticipation. The fluff about Weeden being mature because he’s 28 was exactly that: fluff, he had people pining for Colt McCoy. Weeden did however look really good putting the ball where only Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie could get it. Those were two really good passes to the Eagles’ defender. In fairness to Weeden, he didn’t have anyone with talent to throw to, because the Browns traded away a chance to get Julio Jones in 2011 in what Pat Shurmer deemed “probably one of the greatest trades in draft history.” Julio Jones is becoming one of the best wide receivers in the league. Oops. One of the picks the Browns got from the Falcons was the Weeden pick, but since they were that high on him they would have traded up to get him anyway, so they could have had Julio Jones out there on Sunday for Weeden to throw to instead of Greg Little. Great trade Pat. We don’t know yet because Trent Richardson’s 2.1 yards per carry was as much because of the Eagles’ excellent defensive line as it was rust on his part as Richardson spent the pre-season injured. Only two sacks from the Eagles is not disconcerting, the one thing the Browns have going for them is they have a very good offensive line, getting a bunch of sacks was never in the cards. That said, the prevailing feeling was that with an average QB, the Browns would have won the game, and it’s hard to argue otherwise. Nnamdi Asomugha got picked on right from the start, with a better throw would have been burned for a TD by Mohammed Massaquoi on the first pass. Instead they got a FG, had that been a TD the Eagles would have lost. This has never been and is not the defense of a Super Bowl contender.
It doesn’t get any easier from here. The Browns are likely the worst team the Eagles will face this year, meaning the schedule itself is a mountain to climb as well. Last year the Eagles went 5-1 in the division, which is hard to do for any team, regression to the mean will reduce that record for the Eagles. But it’ll also decline because the division got tougher. The Redskins made a massive upgrade at QB and the Cowboys improved a terrible secondary. On the flip side the Redskins still stink everywhere else on offense and the Cowboys and Giants offensive lines are putrid, which bodes well for the Eagles in head to head games. Still, 5-1 in the division isn’t happening again. So the Eagles are going to have to find even more wins from outside of the division, which is yet another mountain for them to overcome. Last year the Eagles went 1-5 against teams with a winning record: the Giants, Patriots, Falcons and 49ers, the lone win was the Week 11 game against the Giants. All the other teams they beat were 8-8 at best. The non-divisional schedule this season features six playoff teams from last year: the Steelers, Lions, Falcons and Saints all in a row (with the bye week in between), the Ravens and, on a short week, the Bengals. At least three of those teams will be playoff teams, likely four or five of them. Every year is different, but with what looks to be a tougher schedule, the Eagles will have to play that much better this year. Go 10-6 against this schedule and they’re a Super Bowl contender.
But nothing about this team so far indicates they are able to climb that mountain.