hope new addition DeMeco Ryans
will be a playmaker in the middle of their 4-3 scheme. (AP)
With NFL training camps just around the corner, we’re taking a team-by-team look at how the offseason played out and what you can expect in 2012. Click here to read them all.
On paper, the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles had the look of a Super Bowl contender. Talent on offense, experience and athleticism on defense. And yet ...
It never came together. Michael Vick struggled through a turnover- and injury-prone season and the defensive backfield led by Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was little more than average (and the 27 touchdown passes Philadelphia allowed was more than 23 other teams). The Eagles finished the year by winning four straight games, but a 4-8 start left them out of the NFC East race.
Philadelphia did not sit idly by this offseason. The Eagles traded Samuel to Atlanta, picked up DeMeco Ryans from Houston and recently signed free-agent safety O.J. Atogwe. Perhaps even more importantly, they gave DeSean Jackson the big contract he so desperately wanted, which hopefully will keep him focused throughout the upcoming season.
The Eagles should contend in 2012. But will reality meet perception?
2011 Record: 8-8 (t-second in NFC East)
Key Additions: S O.J. Atogwe, OT Demetress Bell, DT Fletcher Cox, DE Vinny Curry, LB Mychal Kendricks, LB Ryans
Key Subtractions: C Jamaal Jackson, OT Winston Justice, DT Trevor Laws, CB Samuel, WR Steve Smith, QB Vince Young
Team Strengths: RB, WR, OL, DE, DT
Team Weaknesses: OLB, S
Three Things to Watch
1. How important was the Ryans addition?: The Eagles' middle linebacker spot was unsteady from the get-go last year, as they tried to plug in rookie Casey Matthews, only to replace him with Jamar Cheney early on.
Chaney held his own -- he led the Eagles with 92 tackles -- but he wasn't exactly the take-charge presence in the middle of the field a 4-3 defense needs. Ryans, whom the Eagles acquired from Houston this offseason, could be that guy. In fact, he used to be that guy for the Texans, back when he averaged 129.5 tackles per season from 2006-09. An injury sidelined him in 2010, and the Texans switched to a 3-4 defense, which created a square-peg-round-hole situation for Ryans.
There's a lot of pressure on the MLB in Philadelphia's "wide-nine" defensive scheme, since the defensive ends line up further outside than in a traditional set. For that approach to succeed, the Eagles badly need a playmaker in the middle. Ryans has shown in the past that he can assume that role.
2. Can Bell replace Jason Peters at left tackle?: Peters was a stalwart last season, allowing just three sacks in 14 starts and keeping pressure away from Vick. The folks at Pro Football Focus, in fact, graded Peters as the best left tackle in all of football in 2011.
His offseason has not gone as swimmingly, however. Peters tore his Achilles during a workout in late March, then ruptured it a second time about six weeks later, possibly putting his career in doubt. The unfortunate series of circumstances also left the Eagles scrambling to find a replacement at tackle.
Enter Bell. Formerly known as "Demetrius Bell," the 28-year-old has been pegged as the new left tackle in Philadelphia -- taking over for Peters, just as he did in Buffalo when Peters bolted for the Eagles in 2009.
As a whole, the Eagles' offensive line was pretty top-notch last season, and four of the five starters return this time around. And while there is not a ton of depth, Vick should have time to throw and LeSean McCoy ought to find plenty of running room -- if everyone stays on the field and if Bell holds his own.
3. Is Vick good enough to win it all?: Vick was angry that he wound up with the No. 70 ranking on the NFL Network's "Top 100 players of 2012" list this summer. The controversial quarterback felt he deserved a much higher billing -- and if he could ever stay on the field for an entire season, he might get it.
Vick missed three games to injury last season, after sitting out four in 2010. If that was Vick's only issue, Eagles fans might be more forgiving. Vick continues to struggle, though, with turnovers. He threw 14 picks last season and fumbled 10 times, one year after leading the league in fumbles with 11. Making matters worse in 2011, his QB rating dropped from 100.2 to 84.9, thanks to the eight additional interceptions he tossed.
Simply put, that is way too many mistakes for Vick to be making. The talent surrounding him is elite, with guys like Jackson and Jeremy Maclin at wide receiver, McCoy at running back and that stout offensive line in front of him. There is really no reason for Vick to take as many chances as he does, either with dangerous passes or as a runner.
The Eagles have all the weapons in place to be one of the league's best offenses, but it all will come down to how Vick manages the game in 2012.
Given Philadelphia's 2011 flop and the Super Bowl win of the division-rival Giants, it's odd to say this, but: The Eagles should be the favorites to win the NFC East this season.
That doesn't mean much. We've been down this road before with Eagles teams that boast loads and loads of promise, only to wind up disappointing. Last year was Philadelphia's first without a playoff berth since 2007, though the team's 2009 and '10 trips were one-and-done showings.
This could be a make-or-break season for Vick, who just turned 32. If he can't get it done this season or fails to stay on the field consistently, the Eagles will have no choice but to explore their options.
Of course, if all goes according to plan, Philadelphia will be right in the Super Bowl mix come January. But the Eagles' plans have gone very awry in the past.