Philadelphia Eagles  

 

Exit Interview: Eagles stockpiled players to little effect

With the 2011 season in the rearview mirror for many teams, it's time for NFL.com's annual "Exit Interviews," a chance to review the ups and downs of the past season for each team and spin it forward.

2011 in a Nutshell: The team labeled the "Dream Team" -- thank you, Vince Young (or not) -- dropped the ball on the way to an 8-8 record. A club nearly everyone penciled in for 12-4 stumbled to a 4-8 start. Still, coach Andy Reid may have saved his job with a season-ending four-game win streak.

What Went Right: From an Eagles fan's perspective, not much. The offense is still formidable, and showed flashes at points during the season. Even the offensive line played better than expected, especially in the Sunday night thrashing of Dallas in Week 8. The O-line allowed offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to run his full slate of plays, as well as outcoach Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan that night.

The Eagles were not able to replicate that success regularly. LeSean McCoy was. His 185 rushing yards that night were part of a 1,309-yard campaign that saw him become a superstar. Quarterback Michael Vick is still a star, but injuries and 14 interceptions hurt his team.

What Went Not So Right: Jeremy Maclin's injury woes also adversely affected the club when it needed him most, like in a Week 13 loss in Seattle. Reid couldn't count on DeSean Jackson, whose play regressed greatly in a contract year. Jackson had 961 yards receiving, but only four touchdowns. He was either very productive or an absentee, and may have played his last game in the dark green.

It was supposed to be a dark day for offenses facing a facelifted defense with free agent acquisitions Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha. It didn't quite work out that way, as the safeties and linebackers struggled. The latter were responsible for filling in the gaps left by the "Wide-9" alignment used to get after the quarterback.

  Starts Tackles Sacks INTs Forced fumbles
Eagles starting linebackers 43 190 2 3 1
London Fletcher 16 166 1.5 2 3

The Eagles did get 50 sacks under much-maligned defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, and finished eighth in total defense by season's end, but too often this group got gashed in the run game. Take a look at the chart on the right to see how one Redskins linebacker (London Fletcher) fared statistically next to the Eagles' four starting LBs (Jamar Chaney, Brian Rolle, Akeem Jordan and Moise Fokou). Unreal. While defensive ends Trent Cole and Babin tore after the quarterback, the linebackers often couldn't make plays to cover their rears. The result was a series of tough losses that left the Eagles with too much ground to make up in December.

Offseason Crystal Ball: Look for changes to be made on the defensive side of the ball, with Castillo possibly losing his job. The first-time defensive coach had a rough go in his transition from offensive line coach. Ignore the Eagle's ranking in total defense. Castillo's unit didn't start limiting points until the team was 4-8 and in dire straits. They allowed nearly 24 points per game through those first 12 contests.

With Asante Samuel due to make more than eight million bucks in 2012, consider him a luxury this organization will likely due without.

Finally, Michael Vick needs to improve both his reads against pressure (11 interceptions in blitz situations) and how he handles that pressure. He has said himself, "I have to be available for 16 games." Running around the field is not conducive to that.

Team Needs and Draft: The defense needs a young linebacker who can make plays, especially in the run game; basically what the Niners got when they drafted NaVorro Bowman in 2010. If Jason Avant, Steve Smith or Riley Cooper isn't the answer, then drafting a young wideout with size is a good call. And don't forget safety. Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman are young but aren't exactly reminding anyone of Wes Hopkins.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @Harrison_NFL

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