We are again learning that being the offseason champ means little. The Philadelphia Eagles are 1-3. I’m glad I didn’t think they were the favorites to win the Super Bowl, or the NFC favorite after the Asomugha move. I still though, had them to win the NFC East even though I picked the Packers and Saints to reach the conference championship game. Back when I wrote about the Asomugha move, I said “[i]f the Eagles are going to be better than Green Bay in 2011, it’s because the linebacking group is an upgrade despite its extreme youth, the safeties also play well, and the offense with Vick and company is elite.”
Yeah, about that … the linebacking group is most definitely not an upgrade, and is a massive problem so far; Jarrad Page, who used to play in Kansas City and then wasn’t good enough to start for New England last year, is the leading tackler at safety. The offense, while still making plenty of big plays, has dealt with inconsistency with Vick’s injuries, offensive line concerns, and yesterday, red zone failures.
You could try to blame the loss yesterday on some bad luck. Rookie kicker Alex Henery missed two field goals, either of which would have been the difference. Of course, former Eagle kicker David Akers missed two for San Francisco as well, so kicking wasn’t the difference. You could point to turnovers, such as Ronnie Brown’s horrible fumble on an attempt to throw a pass at the goal line, or the game ending fumble by Jeremy Maclin.
But this wasn’t just a game where a few plays went bad, swinging the outcome. This was a close game where one team happened to come out on top in the end, but no one expected the Eagles to be in even contests with the 49ers at home a month ago. The Eagles got their butts kicked in the second half by a team that, entering the game was averaging a stunning 3.8 yards. Not per run, per offensive play. In the second half, the Eagles dreadful pass defense turned Alex Smith into Steve Young, allowing him to go 13 for 17 for 201 yards and 2 touchdowns, with only 1 sack by Jason Babin. Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter carried 14 times for 97 yards, continuing a theme with the Eagles struggling to fill run lanes that began in the first game against St. Louis. 290 net yards by San Francisco in one half is a major problem.
Through four weeks, any belief that the Eagles are a major Super Bowl threat is based on nothing more than hopes and prayers. They haven’t played a tough schedule, so pointing to close losses isn’t a good thing. The one win is over the winless Rams, who look like one of the worst teams in the league. The Falcons don’t look like nearly the team they were last year, just barely surviving Seattle and having their own defensive issues. The 49ers? They are better than we thought, but that offense was still a liability until the second half on Sunday.
The offense is still capable of big plays, but on Sunday, the 49ers shut down LeSean McCoy and limited any big plays out of him, and they kept DeSean Jackson out of the end zone though he had some big plays. When the Eagles didn’t get those big shots for scores, they struggled in the red zone, which they reached 7 times yesterday.
The offense will continue to be pretty good, but do we trust Michael Vick to play all 16 games? Remember, despite leaving the Falcons’ game, he hasn’t missed a game yet. They don’t have the luxury now–he must stay healthy and the offense must carry this team. The defense? It has some nice names on paper, but we are again learning that a defense can be only as good as its weakest links, and the Eagles have some broken chains and are weak at linebacker.
The season isn’t over, though they now find themselves 2 games back of both the Giants and Redskins. If they are going to compete in a division where no one looks ready to run away and hide with more than 10 wins, though, they still need to go on a run. Even if they turned it around, teams like New Orleans with Sproles and Jimmy Graham to attack linebackers, or the Packers with Jermichael Finley and their myriad of receivers, would be licking their chops if the Eagles somehow managed to get in the playoffs. The Patriots have a bad defense too, but at least their offense is so incredibly efficient they can generally overcome it. The Eagles have to be that great on offense too, or this season will get away quickly.
[photo via Getty]