Now that the Eagles have completed their three preseason games, fans are able to see the shape of the team, if only partially.
Eagles fans like to complain. They complain that preseason games are a waste of time, and then complain about what they see.
Mike Vick’s inability to last more than six plays is alarming. He talked all offseason about protecting himself in an effort to stay healthy and on the field. The initial result of that talk has been abject failure. Now he will enter the season after having played a quarter of preseason football. That is not the ideal way to begin a season.
Vick’s regression has placed a downward arrow on fans' expectations for the Eagles this season. Their preseason concerns started and ended with his continued inability to stay healthy and his erratic play; the regular season may hold more of the same.
The most intriguing aspect of this preseason has been the play of rookie QB Nick Foles. He has been more impressive than anyone anticipated, and has seemingly locked up the backup QB position. Given Vick’s continued struggles to remain on the field, it is likely the backup QB will play an important role on this team.
It is easy to get carried away with preseason performances, and a lot of fans have done just that with Foles. Entering the third game he had the highest QB rating in the entire NFL, compiled mostly against backup players (although Foles started against the Browns' first-stringers and looked great again).
Statistics do not tell the whole story for a young QB. In Foles' case, he has not only put up gaudy stats, he has impressed with his ability to stay relaxed in the pocket, feel pressure, take a hit and deliver both deep balls and short passes with precision. It has been very encouraging.
Michael Vick is still the starting QB and should be. Depending on how this Eagles season plays out, Foles may be the Eagles' future. It is entirely possible that Vick remains healthy and leads the Eagles to double-digit wins. It is also possible that Vick misses a few games, and in real game action, Foles falls flat on his face.
If Vick were to suffer an injury and Foles were to play well enough to convince the Eagles brass that he can be a starter, the franchise could cut ties with Vick in the second year of his two-year contract. It will give fans something other than the scoreboard to watch as the season progresses.
Preseason stats are imperfect, incomplete and misleading. Wins are often determined by players who won’t make the team. But they're all we have to go by at this point, and the Eagles have fared pretty well in their three exhibition games, winning all three games.
After the pre-season, the Eagles rank fourth in the NFL in defense and first in sacks. Their defensive line is loaded. Some fans have concerns about the secondary, but it was fourth against the pass, thanks largely to a relentless pass rush. The defense is sixth in the league against the rush and third in yards per rush, allowing a paltry 2.8 yards per attempt.
Some of the same confusion in the defensive backfield that plagued the team last year cropped up again this preseason. The full offseason was supposed to remedy that problem. Defensive Coordinator, Juan Castillo, did not distinguish himself last year, and has only this year to show improvement.
Even without their starting QB, the Eagles ranked fifth in the NFL in preseason offense—the only team in the top five on both sides of the ball—but temper those expectations. The Patriots, a perennial powerhouse, rank in the bottom third in the NFL in both offense and defense. No knowledgeable fan believes those rankings are indicative of how good the Patriots will be in the regular season.
In some cases, the stats paint a more positive picture than what fans have seen on the field, and the unsettled left tackle position is a major concern.
Free agent Demetress Bell was supposed to solidify the position in Jason Peters' absence. Bell was benched after six plays and replaced by suspect veteran King Dunlap. The Eagles face a number of tremendous pass rushers in their division this year—DeMarcus Ware, Ryan Kerrigan, Jason Pierre-Paul, to name only a few. Depending on Bell or Dunlap to protect Vick is worrisome.
Michael Vick’s shoulders are a precarious place on which to rest the fortunes of a team and the dreams of its fans, especially when he is lying prone of the field. Fans have to hope Vick misses no more than two or three games and that Foles can step up in his inevitable absence. Otherwise, it will be the old refrain of "wait until next year" once again. Hopefully, Vick can save himself from injury—and save his fans from that fate—this season.