Eagles' strengths, weaknesses are clear

Posted: September 17, 2013

"They are what we thought they were!"

THIS PHRASE, coined during Dennis Green's wonderful 2006 meltdown, applies as much to the Eagles today as it did to his Cardinals in 2006.

After two games and 63 points scored, the Eagles' strengths lie in Michael Vick's arm, LeSean McCoy's shifty feet and DeSean Jackson's liquid hot legs, all fostered by a pedigreed offensive line that can give Vick 1.4 seconds in the pocket, or, sometimes, 1.4 minutes.

After two games and 60 points allowed, the Eagles' weaknesses lie in an undermanned secondary, a toothless pass rush and an inability to cover tight ends, especially when asked to do so, by design, for two-thirds of the game.

Also, there is a lack of precision on both sides of the ball and, of course, a deficit of discipline - expected realities for a team with a rookie coach and an absence of leadership.

Precision and discipline and leadership all can grow.

On the other hand, the Eagles will not be able to sprout new safeties or find backup linebackers to spell their exhausted starters.

This is what the Eagles should be.

It was evident in yesterday's 33-30 loss to the Chargers.

It was evident in last week's 33-27 win at Washington (also evident: Washington stinks).

The Chip "Machine Gun" Kelly attack has plenty of ammunition. Billy Davis' defense does not.

The team will play hard, but, sometimes, dumb. That cannot work against a veteran team with a dangerous quarterback; a team like the visiting Chargers.

To wit: DeSean Jackson took a 15-yard penalty for retaliating to a legal hit after Vick's fourth-quarter touchdown scramble gave the Eagles their first lead. The penalty set up a long kickoff return in a league where such things have been legislated out, which, in turn, gave the Chargers the lead back.


"I've got to do a better job of keeping my composure," Jackson admitted; then, accurately, he said, "I felt I had a great game."

It was beyond great: a career-best nine catches for 193 yards and a touchdown, arguably the best of his career. It would have been inarguably the best of his six seasons had not a 37-yard touchdown been called back. Rookie right tackle Lane Johnson lined up too far from the line of scrimmage.

That was Johnson's second such infraction; the first was declined.

It was a lack of precision, but temper any censure. It was, after all, Johnson's second NFL game; his first home game; and he faced speed rusher Dwight Freeney, who beat Johnson on the first series and nearly logged a sack. After that, Johnson tried to give Freeney plenty of room.

"The ref warned me two or three times, then he called it," Johnson said. "The penalty I had pretty much cost us the game."

No, it didn't.

The Eagles still scored 30 points; that, with a missed 46-yard field goal, and, of course, with the Chargers grinding the Eagles' defense to dust for more than 40 of a possible 60 minutes.

Kelly will insist that time of possession does not matter as long as the Eagles make more plays and score more points; but, playing on 5 days' rest instead of the optimal 6, the Birds seemed to deteriorate as the Chargers kept coming. The Chargers converted nine of their first 12 third downs in the second half.

Asked if the Eagles' fatigue eventually affected the defense, cornerback Cary Williams replied, "To a degree."

It wasn't fatigue, but technique, that put Williams in the doghouse yesterday. His Larry Bird defense - continuously holding his opponent's jersey - might fly with his former team, the Ravens, but he was tagged for it twice yesterday.

Considering the players occupying the safety positions behind him, you can hardly blame Williams. Considering the players occupying the linebacker spots, well, you can understand why Williams was reluctant to let go.

Eight-time Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates caught eight passes for 124 yards, often against Mychal Kendricks, who had no idea what was coming - a coaching issue, perhaps, more than anything else.

"The routes I practiced, I didn't see any of those," Kendricks said. "They came out with an entirely different package."

Kendricks yesterday played against the toughest tight-end matchup over the past decade. It was Kendricks' 16th career start.

He had little chance; certainly, Gates had plenty of time to run his routes.

The defense sacked Chargers QB Philip Rivers just once. Largely unmolested and fearless of the secondary, Rivers completed 36 of 47 passes for 419 yards and three scores.

"You've got to make the quarterback uncomfortable," Kelly said of Rivers, who could have run his squad from a Barcalounger.

It looked a lot like what happened in the second half last Monday in Washington, after Robert Griffin III realized his leg wasn't going to fall off.

It looked a lot like what usually will happen whenever teams scheme to smother McCoy. His 53 yards on 11 carries came mainly because he is, at times, untouchable. He also caught five passes for a career-best 114 yards, but 70 of those yards came on one play.

"They stacked the box and tried to stop him," remarked Jackson, who referred to McCoy by his uniform number. "They did a great job of [scheming to] take away 25."

That generally has been the case in most games since McCoy emerged as the team's best weapon in 2010. It should come as no surprise.

As usual, Vick and his center, Jason Kelce, offered the most sensible perspective for the afternoon's events.

"Early in the season, these things are kind of expected," said Kelce, whose line allowed only one sack.

"Hey, we made our share of plays today," said Vick, who played a superb and controlled game, hitting 24 of 37 passes for 428 yards, a career best, and two touchdowns. "We're on the right track."

Given a little more discipline, a little more seasoning and maybe a couple of defensive backs, that track could lead to NFL significance.

Until then, they are what we thought they were.

On Twitter: @inkstainedretch

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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