Vick believes Eagles' fortunes are changing

Posted: October 21, 2011

IT WOULD BE stretching the truth to say Michael Vick knew the Eagles were going to struggle in the early part of their season, amid all the hype about their free-agent acquisitions.

But it was Vick, pretty much alone among the team's key players, who sounded a cautionary note amid all the revelry when the 136-day NFL lockout ended and training camp abruptly began, right before the Eagles' buying spree. Vick talked about time missed working together, and how difficult it would be to make up that time, with new coaches and techniques coming in, and rookies expected to contribute right away.

"As a player, you think about the time you miss and you don't have," Vick said earlier this week, remembering that late July adrenaline rush when a season in peril was suddenly saved - without salvaging the normal minicamp and spring work. "I was telling coach [Andy] Reid the other day when we were talking that I understand the importance of having the minicamps and the OTAs, being in the building, to get the little things done. That time we did miss, it could have affected us, and every other team that has struggled in certain areas. I just understand we've got young guys, and it's very important to have those guys in to understand what the scheme is and what you're trying to do.

"If you don't get that time in, and the time is condensed, you're just trying to play catch-up. We had games, you had to play on the fly . . . It's no excuse. I think right now we're starting to gel, we're getting it together."

That's the issue to ponder, as the Eagles rest during their bye week, before hosting the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 30. They are 2-4. Was their victory Sunday over Washington just a brief respite in a disappointing season, a season to be defined by a hurried spending spree that assembled a bunch of mismatched parts, along with the bizarre decision to make the offensive-line coach the defensive coordinator? Or is the worst over, and can we expect, from here forward, to see the powerful, explosive team many of us envisioned when the season began?

In some ways, the stage for success seems to be set. The Birds play their next three games at home, and four of five, interrupted only by a trip up the turnpike to play the Giants on Nov. 20. They don't get on a plane again until they fly to Seattle for a Thursday night game, Dec. 1 - only 4 days after hosting the Patriots, which will be a tough turnaround, but the Eagles can do a lot between now and then to make it look less foreboding.

"The one thing I do know is that we can have a good football team. We have a lot of character guys, guys who know what it takes to excel in this game," Vick said. "I think winning the last game, we gained some confidence going into the next game. We're playing three straight home games. Things are in our favor.

"This is a great time for a break. Get a win, get some time to reflect on what happened."

It might be unrealistic to think coordinator Juan Castillo's defense has fixed every problem and will suddenly start playing every week the way it did against Washington. Rex Grossman won't be quarterbacking the Cowboys, Bears or Cardinals the next 3 weeks, and opposing offensive coordinators will have some video to pore over of the adjustments the Birds made in their "wide nine" alignment, mostly on first down against Washington, a team that really likes to run the ball on first down.

But that said, some numbers ought to bode well. As we've noted already this week, the Eagles are outgaining opponents by an average of 100.5 yards per game. Is it really possible to keep doing that and finish with a losing record? They have 148 first downs to opponents' 115, they're converting a higher percentage of third downs (42.9 percent to 34.2), they have a 4-minute, 16-second edge in time of possession and they've taken half as many sacks as they've achieved (nine vs. 18). Though they've committed some costly penalties, they aren't incurring any more of them than the opposition-37 penalties for the Eagles, 38 for the teams they've played.

Last season, the 10-6 Eagles set a franchise record with 6,230 net yards. They have 2,650 net yards in six games this year. That total projects to 7,067 over a full season. The 2011 Eagles have 1,020 rushing yards. That projects to 2,720 for the season; the team record is 2,607, set by the Steve Van Buren-led 1949 NFL champions. Of course, the season was 12 games in 1949. The team record for a 16-game season is only 2,556, set in 1990.

Jeremy Maclin, with 37 catches for 489 yards, projects to 99 and 1,304. The 99 catches would be a franchise record. The 1,304 yards would rank third behind Mike Quick's 1,409 in 1983 and Irving Fryar's 1,316 in 1997. LeSean McCoy has gained 569 yards on 105 carries, which projects to a 1,517-yard rushing season. Wilbert Montgomery's franchise record is 1,512, set in 1979, on 338 carries. McCoy projects to only 280 carries.

Some of the negative stats also project to high totals. The Eagles have given up 145 points, which projects to 387. That wouldn't be a franchise record, but it would be second in the 13-year Andy Reid era only to the 388 allowed by the team that went 6-10 in 2005. Then there's the minus-8 turnover differential, which projects to minus-21, way too high for any team with playoff aspirations.

"If we go out and play together, I know we're on pace to do a lot of great things," Vick said. "At the end of the day, winning and losing is what you measure on. I'm confident we're going to win football games. I'm confident that being able to shatter those records, it'll be something we can cherish forever."

The hope has to be that the turnovers are, to use a favorite Marty Mornhinweg expression, "cyclic," and that maybe opponents won't make highlight-film catches of tipped balls all season long. Of course, it might help if Vick would occasionally pump-fake a guy leaping in his face, as well, instead of trying to bore a hole in him with the ball.

Amid all the angst about the four losses in a row, three of them occurring despite the Eagles' holding fourth-quarter leads, McCoy's breakout season hasn't gotten the marquee attention it deserves. He turned 23 in July, is less than midway through his third NFL season, and ranks 16th on the franchise's all-time rushing list. McCoy could be knocking on the door of the top 10 by season's end. And that negative turnover ratio? He owns not one bit of it. McCoy has not fumbled this season.

"Shady's played great. The thing about him is, he's willing to learn. He's a great teammate, great football player. He's definitely one of the leaders on this football team," Vick said. "It's great to see him developing and maturing and becoming the player that we know he can become. He does things that we don't normally see. It's evident on the film - the cutbacks, the moves that he makes, the things that he does to create space."

It sure seems Vick, McCoy, Maclin and DeSean Jackson will make history this season, one way or another. They'll either become the engine of the first NFL team since the 2004 Packers to rally from a 1-4 start to make the playoffs, or they will be remembered as the offensive array that could set records, but couldn't figure out how to win.

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