Heading into Christmas weekend, the Eagles look to be in a pretty favorable situation. They have a 4-1 divisional record, and will clinch a home playoff game with one win at home against Minnesota or Dallas or one Giants loss. When Michael Vick has played start to finish, the Eagles have only lost one game, and that was on the road to another 10 win team without Asante Samuel. In those nine games, the Eagles have outscored their opponents by 86 points. However, playoffs in Philadelphia are an expectation. The goal is to win the Super Bowl, and while the Eagles have put themselves in a comfortable spot here in late December, they will have to beat at least three equally impressive teams to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in Jerryworld. Here’s a list of things they must do to accomplish their goal.
1. Stay healthy. Luck is a big factor when evenly matched teams meet week after week after week. Most teams’ chances in the big game hinge on their overall health going into the big game. Green Bay, for example, looked to be peaking at the right time until their franchise player (Aaron Rodgers) sustained a concussion last week. Now, they are on the outside looking in on the NFC playoff picture. The Eagles need to make sure that they have Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Asante Samuel very close to 100% when playoff time rolls around. Very few super bowl champions overcome an unusually high amount of injuries to win it all, especially not to their key players.
2. Keep the offense a step ahead of the game. The Giants’ success in stifling Vick and the Eagles offense was disturbing to say the least. This cannot lead to a potential blueprint on how to stop Philadelphia. I doubt it will considering very few teams have athletes like Antrel Rolle, Justin Tuck, and Michael Boley who can collectively contain Vick. However, Andy Reid and Marty Morninwheg must continue to find creative ways to move the ball that defenses will have to game plan for. The playbook cannot be set in stone, because the Eagles will face too much athleticism and too many brilliant coaches to keep doing what they have been. In nine out of ten games, Vick and company will put up 30, but the organization must have a backup plan in place in case somebody figures this dynamic offense out.
3. The pass defense must improve. The Eagles have recently lost Nate Allen, drafted in the second round in April to be a permanent replacement for Brian Dawkins, for the year. Ellis Hobbs and Marlin Jackson have both been on injured reserve for a long time, and missing those three veteran presences is a big loss for the Eagles’ defensive backfield. They must rely on young and unproven players on the back-end now such as rookies Trevard Lindley and Kurt Coleman. Dimitri Patterson, Hobbs’ replacement at right corner, just had his worst game this season as Eli Manning threw (and successfully at that) in his direction every time the Giants needed a big play. The aging Quentin Mikell has been inconsistent at strong safety, but he can still play at a high level and he will have to if the Eagles want to advance in the playoffs. The situation in the defensive backfield is highly unfavorable, and one of the best secondary coaches out there (Dick Jauron) will simply have to do more with less. A number of young players must step up, and the pass rush must pick up some slack. Otherwise, the Eagles will be watching the super bowl from the Linc.
4. Be smart. The single biggest reason the Eagles have not won the big game under Andy Reid is because of those bonehead plays. Andy Reid is the single worst decision maker when it comes to challenging plays or not. We cannot leave points on the board by mishandling our challenges in a critical contest. Also, Reid is not a very good game manager, often calling time-outs at the wrong point in time. Not all the bonehead plays are the coach’s fault, though. Against San Francisco, LeSean McCoy slid to the ground one yard shy of a first down after he thought he had gotten past the sticks. A first down would have sealed the game for us. DeSean Jackson has been flagged for excessive celebration, which could be a game altering penalty against New Orleans or Pittsburgh. He could also get stripped on one of his arrogant touchdown celebrations while he struts along the goal line without crossing it. Ultimately, plays like those are the ones that separate the Eagles from the Patriots or Steelers, not the talent on the field.
The Eagles can physically create any mismatch they want out on the field. Our biggest obstacle in our road to the super bowl is ourselves. We must be lucky enough to avoid another major injury, but we must also win the mental part of the game. Don’t be mistaken, though. There is no team out there that is unafraid to take the field against the Eagles and their speed.