One final look at the Eagles' 2013 season

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Zach Ertz was a great acquisition at tight end, good for four regular-season touchdowns and this one in the wild-card game against the Saints.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Zach Ertz was a great acquisition at tight end, good for four regular-season touchdowns and this one in the wild-card game against the Saints.
Posted: January 13, 2014

I HAD a birthday this past Sunday, and I received a card that depicted four dogs playing poker. One of the dogs is looking at its cards thinking, "Whoa! A straight flush! I must not wag my tail, I must not wag my tail, I must not wag my tail!"

As I read it, I contemplated a long offseason and the pain of the agonizing loss to the Saints and thought to myself, "I must not think about the Eagles, I must not think about the Eagles." I will try to adhere to that admonition but probably won't succeed. Before I do, I thought I would ruminate one more time about the 2013 season. Here goes!

The season was an unqualified success. Consider that none of us, and I mean none of us, predicted a winning season. I said here we would go 7-9, and Ray Didinger and many others derided me as too optimistic. But we shocked the world and won seven of our last eight to win the NFC East. Chip Kelly's offense took the NFL by storm and Bill Davis' bend-but-don't-break defense did just fine. As hard as it is to get over, even the heartbreaking loss to the Saints in the playoffs can't negate what this team has achieved!

Kelly and his coaching staff did an awesome job. Sure, he had some issues with challenges and time management, there were times he forgot we have the best running back in the League, and the pooch kickoffs against Minnesota were a disaster. But he did superb work in motivating his players and bringing them together into a cohesive unit, and his offensive schemes had opposing teams shaking their heads in disbelief.

Quarterback Nick Foles turned out to be a keeper - smart, accurate and courageous. He might not be the next Tom Brady, but he is every bit as good as Eli Manning, who led the Giants to two Super Bowl wins. One thing Nick needs to improve on for next year is that he simply cannot hang on to the ball so long and take sacks or intentional-grounding penalties. He and Kelly seem obsessed with the touchdown-to-interception ratio, and, as a result, Foles throws only to receivers who are wide open. The truly great quarterbacks try to make difficult throws in crucial situations. Drew Brees and Andrew Luck were both intercepted twice in the first half of their playoff games last week, and both led their teams to comeback wins. And besides all this, it's OK to throw the ball out of bounds downfield when you have a receiver anywhere near the sideline. The big question here is who will be our backup next year. I would love to see Michael Vick return. He showed class, grace and real leadership the way he handled adversity this year, and, don't forget, he saved Riley Cooper's job. But I doubt Vick would come back - he wants to start and I wish him well. The experts say Matt Barkley is not ready, so we will need to sign an experienced free-agent backup. How about Matt Cassel?

The offensive line is an excellent group of players who came together very well, but with Todd Herremans and Jason Peters getting older, we should look to sign a free agent or draft some depth here.

At wide receiver, I suggest we sign both Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin (assuming no other team makes either a ridiculous offer). Brian Westbrook had an intriguing suggestion on this - make Maclin our No. 1 and put DeSean Jackson in the slot. Maclin runs much better routes, and can you imagine nickel backs or linebackers trying to stay with Jackson? I like this idea, but it does hinge on Maclin's knee returning to 100 percent and staying there, and Jackson not getting decapitated across the middle (and even being willing to go there). Brent Celek and Zach Ertz (a great draft pick) give us a very good tandem at tight end.

LeSean McCoy is the best running back in the NFL. Shady has no peer, with the possible exception of the Vikings' Adrian Peterson, and Bryce Brown and Chris Polk are exceptional backups.

The defensive line was improved. Bennie Logan, Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry, et al., improved, but as the Saints game showed, we have a ways to go. We could use a lights0out interior pass rusher.

Linebackers DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Connor Barwin and Trent Cole turned out to be the strength of our defense, but we could use a bit more pressure from the outside.

Defensive backs Bradley Fletcher, Cary Williams and Brandon Boykin did a surprisingly good job, but we could stand to draft some depth here. Nate Allen looked like a train wreck after four games, but he turned it around. Earl Wolff showed real potential before he got hurt, but getting a top-flight safety through the draft or free agency should be our top priority.

Punter Donnie Jones should have been an All-Pro and kicker Alex Henery, regrettably, should be gone. We simply need a stronger leg.

So it has been a great year, and I believe the best is yet to come. The Birds are young, with just a few holes to fill. The rest of our division is poor or mediocre, at best. The Giants are old, the Redskins are a mess, and the Cowgirls led by Jerry Jones are permanently flawed. Next year's road to the playoffs will be difficult - the schedule is much tougher, and it is unlikely that we will be free from injury as we were this year. We can't possibly have the same run of good luck as we did this season. But no need to worry, we will repeat as NFC East champs and be better positioned for a deep run in the playoffs.

But that's next year. For now, thanks, Chip, for making football fun in Philadelphia once again!!!


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