By John Russo
The moniker has already sickened Eagles fans to death. Ever since newly signed back up quarterback Vince Young pronounced the Philadelphia Eagles the “Dream Team,” ESPN, NBC and every national media outlet has run with the nickname, and it’s finally getting to the Eagles.
After back-to-back ugly losses, the Eagles find themselves with a 1-2 record three weeks into the season and people are already starting to wonder if the so-called “Dream Team” is nothing more than that - a dream.
Despite the gaudy free agent moves, three questions were asked heading into this season of uncertainty:
1) Despite a new contract, can Michael Vick stay healthy? 2) Will the holes at line backer, safety and offensive line prove to be a huge problem for the Eagles? 3) Will Juan Castillo and John Washburn change the Eagles’ run defense misfortunes?
Vick has not had a healthy past. Since entering the league in 2001, Vick has never played a full season under center with the Falcons or the Eagles. That was the number one concern when Vick was signed to a 6-year, $100 million contract last month.
Now with Vick already suffering a concussion in the Eagles’ Week 2 loss to Atlanta and a right-hand (non-throwing) contusion in their Week 3 loss to the Giants, many are already starting to wonder if the Eagles in fact overpaid their star quarterback and if they will be able to win without the game’s most exciting player since Barry Sanders.
The next question plays the biggest part in the team’s lack of success this season. The Eagles splashed all over the board: two new corners, a defensive end, a defensive tackle, a wide receiver, a running back and a back-up quarterback.
But just like the past few seasons, the biggest holes have remained on the offensive line and in the middle of the next two levels on defense - linebacker and safety position.
The offensive line is the reason why Vick’s health is a huge concern. The line has barely played as a unit together, and only three weeks in, they have almost gotten Vick killed a handful of times.
Their big move before the season was moving stud left guard Todd Herremans to the right tackle to protect Vick’s blind side. Though Herremans has proved to do fine over their, left tackle Jason Peters, center Jason Kelce and guard Evan Mathis have been blown up on countless plays, forcing Vick out of the pocket and leaving him vulnerable to get hit more.
The poor protection got Vick concussed in Week 2 and his hand broken in Week 3. The damage may have finally been done as Vick could miss next week’s start against the Niners in Philly.
On the defensive side if the ball, the safety position has been burned more times than Metallica’s James Hetfield on past tours. It all starts with Kirt Coleman, who I am too embarrassed to say he’s a Philadelphia Eagle to want to even comment on him. He got torched by Tony Gonzalez last week, and failed to tackled Victor Cruz on his 74-yard touchdown scamper on Sunday for the game’s first score.
At linebacker, the Eagles plugged a 4th round pick at middle linebacker for the first two games. Casey Matthews was embarrassed in coverage and was well out of position for most of the Eagles’ Week 1 win in St. Louis and loss in Atlanta the following week.
In a move to hopefully fix the problem, defensive coordinator Juan Castillo swapped Matthews with weak side linebacker Jamar Chaney against the Giants on Sunday. Matthews was most burned by running back Brian Jacobs on his 40-yard touchdown in the 1st quarter.
With Castillo and Washburn’s wide-nine defense, too much pressure is put on the inexperienced - as well as undersized and under-talented - linebacking unit to make the plays, a problem in itself that will help answer the third question presented.
Castillo and Washburn’s wide-nine system has allowed Jason Babin, Trent Cole and Cullen Jenkins get to the quarterback a handful of times this season.
But it’s put too much pressure on the linebackers and has caused their unit to get scorched in the running game even worse than previous seasons. The wide splits allow opposing offensive lines to head straight to the linebackers, and unless the Eagles boast dynamic names such as Brian Urlacher and Ray Lewis, they will continue to find themselves out of position or blown out of the play.
The big number: the Eagles are 30th in run defense after three weeks, giving up 131.3 yards per game, a total of 394 yards already.
Examples: In Week 1, St. Louis’ Steven Jackson burned the Eagles defense on the opening play for a 47-yard touchdown. Though he left with a quad injury, Cadillac Williams filled in and ran for 91 yards of his own. The following week, Atlanta’s highly touted running game lead by 114 yards from Michael Turned ripped through the Eagles linebackers like butter.
This past game, they coughed up 102 more yards from the Giants, who actually killed the Eagles more with screens and passes to the running backs than actually running the ball. Those plays exposed the linebackers even more, extending drives and keeping the Eagles dangerous offense off the field while putting up points.
If these three questions, which have turned out to be the three biggest problems for the Eagles 1-2 record, don’t get fixed, this season may go from being a dream to one bad reoccurring nightmare.
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