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5 Reasons to Be Excited About the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013

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In addition to playing in a weak division—the Giants are struggling, the Cowboys stink, and the ‘Skins are hurting—the Eagles have these five things going for them in 2013:

1. LeSean McCoy Is Back, And He’s (Very) Healthy

McCoy was back to his old self against the Panthers (via Getty Images)

In 2011, despite poor performance from the quarterback position, the Eagles finished 8-8 due to a strong rushing attack led by LeSean McCoy. They were 5th in the NFL in rushing yards, a big reason why their offense was able to put points on the board (McCoy had 17 TDs and averaged 4.8 yards per carry). Last year, with McCoy sidelined with injuries for a quarter of the season and the offensive line in shambles, the Birds finished 13th in the NFL in rushing while still remaining in the bottom six when it came to passing. That was a recipe for disaster, and the team thus finished 4-12.

Now, with McCoy 100% healthy and the offensive line back and better than ever, the Eagles’ rushing attack figures to be one of the best in the league once again. Last week against the Panthers, McCoy averaged nearly 6 yards per carry and as a whole the team rushed for 166 yards. The combination of the read-option, which freezes defenders and gives McCoy that extra split-second to get into the second level, and an athletic offensive line, which provides blockers for McCoy five yards past the line of scrimmage, will make him the league’s most dangerous running backs this year. He also still has the dirtiest cutback in the league, as evidenced by his 21-yard burst last week.

2. Special Teams Is Much Improved

Boykin has been dangerous as a returner (via EaglesAddict)

As much as Chip Kelly’s ingenuity has benefitted the Eagles’ quick-strike offense, special teams coordinator Dave Fipp has equally transformed the team’s Special Teams unit.

Last year, the Eagles were 31st in opponent yards per punt return and 21st in opponent yards per kick return. They were also 28th in yards per kick return of their own. To put it simply, they were awful under Bobby April, the so-called special teams “guru.”

This year, things have been completely different under Fipp, also known as “Fipper” to Chip Kelly. Brandon Boykin looks like the dangerous returner that made the cornerback such a “steal” during the 2012 draft for the Eagles, showing more aggressiveness and decisiveness. Damaris Johnson doesn’t look confused anymore, and his punt returns—including a 61-yarder against New England—have been dramatically better. The punt coverage team has been better in every respect, from the punter (Donnie Jones and Brad Wing have been booming the pigskin) to the gunners (Brent Celek, Russell Shepard, and Brandon Graham have all made big tackles/downs).

Although people often forget, special teams is 1/3 of the game, and it is 1/3 of the game where the 2013 Eagles far surpass their 2012 counterparts.

3. Michael Vick Looks As Sharp As He Ever Has

Vick has had a lot to celebrate this summer (via Philly.com)

Uncertain, confused, rattled, frustrated. All four adjectives accurately describe the Michael Vick we have seen over the past two seasons. In those two seasons, he’s played 23 games, thrown 24 interceptions, fumbled seven times, and put together an 81.2 passer rating. The team has gone 9-14 in those 23 games, with four of those wins coming in 2011 after the team was eliminated from playoff contention.

This summer’s Michael Vick, however, looks (and sounds) completely different. Last week, after the team’s win over Carolina, Vick said, “I’m in love with the game of football . . . I can’t worry about [when Chip Kelly will name a QB].” That doesn’t sound like someone who’s frustrated, rattled, or confused. It sounds like someone who’s determined and focused. And that’s the Michael Vick we’ve seen this preseason.

He is 15-17 with 199 yards and a touchdown with a QB rating over 110. He’s been making deep throws with precision and speed, he’s been running the read-option flawlessly, and he looks as fast with the ball in his hands as ever. In fact, he hasn’t made a single major mistake this preseason.

The Eagles haven’t had a productive QB since 2010, the last time they made the playoffs. If Vick can continue his brilliant play, there’s no reason not to think this unit can’t put 30 points a game; they’ll win a fair amount of games scoring at those rates.

4. The Pass Rush

Graham, the projected starter at WILB, has led the revamped pass rush (via NJ.com)

The Eagles’ pass rush was almost nonexistent in the first half of last year, leading to shredding at the hands of opposing quarterbacks. Then, when the team let go of Jim Washburn and scrapped the wide-nine, the pass rush started generating more pressure and defensive results improved.

This year, with the 3-4 and a lot more pressure getting to the quarterback from the defensive end position, the Eagles defense has been able to fluster Tim Tebow, Ryan Mallett, Cam Newton, and Derek Anderson alike. Vinny Curry, Chris McCoy and Brandon Graham have been in the backfield on a number of plays, wreaking havoc and forcing bad throws. With a developing secondary, getting pressure on the quarterback has taken pressure off of the defensive backs and led to tons of 3-and-outs.

Getting to the QB will help determine whether or not the defense succeeds, and thus far the front seven has passed the test with flying colors.

5. Chip Kelly’s Ingenuity/Adaptability

Kelly knows how to get the most out of this team (via OregonLive)

One thing that has stood in the way of Philadelphia’s success over the past few years has been inflexibility and a lack of originality at the coaching level. Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg scripted 15 plays before every game, something that never made sense to me. If a play/scheme isn’t working, why keep to the script when you can catch a defense off guard?

Chip Kelly, however, has none of that. He coaches in the moment, analyzing what the other team is doing and using that information to adapt and succeed. Last week against Carolina, he saw that the Panthers were doing a good job of covering double routes over the middle and deep, so he used the read-option combined with a bubble screen to scorch them on consecutive possessions. To put it more simply, when the defense is trying very hard to take away a certain part of his game, he just uses scheme/formation/play sequence to beat them.

Now, Kelly isn’t perfect. He will make mistakes, calling the wrong play or using the wrong personnel. But at least we know he’ll learn from his mistakes and become a better coach every play. And he won’t use a mandatory timeout in the first quarter either.

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Categories: Eagles, Editorial

Author:Manav Khandelwal

I am the founder of Khandyman Sports, and follow all Philadelphia pro sports teams religiously. I also write for the Hoop76, covering the Sixers for ESPN, and am a credentialed Flyers reporter for Main Line Media News.

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