By Christopher DiMarino
This is another entry in a set of early looks at the teams the Pittsburgh Steelers will play in the 2012-13 season. The goal is to acclimate the average Steelers fan to the offseason changes each opponent has made. This will make the in-depth analysis in the week before the game more familiar and understandable.
Who: Philadelphia Eagles at Pittsburgh Steelers
What: Week 5 Regular Season Matchup
Where: Heinz Field
When: 1:00 EST Sunday October 7th, 2012
Key Free Agent Additions and Losses:
|Key Free Agent Additions and Losses|
|Position||Name||2011 Team||2012 Team||Role|
|OT||Demetress Bell||Buffalo Bills||Philadelphia Eagles||Starter|
|OT||Thomas Welch||St Louis Rams||Philadelphia Eagles||Practice Squad|
|OT/G||Mike Gibson||Seattle Seahawks||Philadelphia Eagles||Injury Starter|
|C||Steve Vallos||Cleveland Browns||Philadelphia Eagles||1st String Backup|
|MLB||Demeco Ryans||Houston Texans||Philadelphia Eagles||Starter|
|FS||Oshiomogho Atogwe||Washington Redskins||Philadelphia Eagles||Starter|
|WR||Steve Smith||Philadelphia Eagles||St Louis Rams||1st String Backup|
|OT||Winston Justice||Philadelphia Eagles||Indianapolis Colts||1st String Backup|
|G||Kyle DeVan||Philadelphia Eagles||Tennessee Titans||1st String Backup|
|DT||Trevor Laws||Philadelphia Eagles||St Louis Rams||1st String Backup|
|DE||Juqua Parker||Philadelphia Eagles||Cleveland Browns||1st String Backup|
|LB||Chris Wilson||Philadelphia Eagles||Washington Redskins||Depth|
|CB||Asante Samuel||Philadelphia Eagles||Atlanta Falcons||Starter|
|QB||Vince Young||Philadelphia Eagles||UFA||1st String Backup|
|RB||Ronnie Brown||Philadelphia Eagles||UFA||1st String Backup|
|FB||Owen Schmitt||Philadelphia Eagles||UFA||Starter|
|C||Jamaal Jackson||Philadelphia Eagles||CUT||1st String Backup|
|C||Zane Taylor||Philadelphia Eagles||UFA||Practice Squad|
|DE||Victor Abiamiri||Philadelphia Eagles||UFA||Starter (Injury)|
The “Dream Team” isn\’t too far removed from the roster they had last year. The Philadelphia Eagles appeared to have a team that should easily have made the playoffs. Unfortunately, with hype comes the inevitable risk of disappointment and the Eagles are a testament to that. Philadelphia finished 8-8 and started even worse (1-4 after 5 games). The good news is that they lost only a few impact players from their stacked 2011 roster. They were able to pick up a few players as well, and some of these additions might be make them even better. In my opinion, trading a measly 4th round pick (and swapping 3rds) for Demeco Ryans was the steal of the offseason. This addition addresses questionably the Eagles biggest positional need.
Offensively, the Eagles lost a few backups in skilled positions, but added some linemen. The Eagles chose not to bring back running back Ronnie Brown and backup quarterback Vince Young. Wide receiver Steve Smith and starting fullback Owen Schmitt are also gone as well. It may be a little alarming that they haven\’t filled any of those vacated gaps in free agency, but none of those players really excelled in their roles. On the offensive line, the Eagles lost 3 backups, but signed 3 players who have the possibility to fight for a starting position. Their biggest upgrade was releasing Winston Justice and signing Demetress Bell.
On defense, Philadelphia had a couple losses and a few major additions at different positions. The Eagles let both players fighting for backup defensive end roles (Parker and Abiamiri) walk. They traded starting corner Asante Samuel but realistically could not afford him. The fact that they only received a 7th round pick is evidence. I already talked about the key addition of Ryans, but they were also able to sign safety O.J. Atogwe. While his output has dropped in the past few seasons, if he\’s able to bring his level of play back up to where he was in St Louis, he could really shore up this defense.
2012 Draft Analysis:
|2012 Draft Recap|
|DT||Fletcher Cox||1.12(12th)||Mississippi St||6\’4||298|
|RB||Bryce Brown||7.22(229th)||Kansas St||6\’0||223|
Philadelphia had a good draft complete with several good picks over all the rounds. Only two of their picks were in their original positions, as they were a part of multiple trades. In the first trade, Philadelphia traded up three spots in the first round to move from 15th to 12th. They had to send the Seattle Seahawks their 4th and 6th round picks for that trade. Philadelphia got an additional 2nd round pick when they traded Kevin Kolb to the Arizona Cardinals (also received Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) last offseason. The Eagles gained a 4th round pick when they traded down in the 2nd round to the Green Bay Packers (51st to 59th).
The Eagles were without their acquired 4th round pick because of the trade for Ryans. This trade also involved them swapping 3rd round picks with the Houston Texans (76th to 88th). Philadelphia had another 4th round pick because of a trade down with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the year earlier. The Eagles traded up in the 6th round (187th to 172nd) with the Indianapolis Colts and included Justice. Philadelphia received a 6th round pick in a trade with the Denver Broncos for Joe Mays because J.J. Arrington didn\’t make the Eagles roster. The Eagles received a 6th round pick from the New England Patriots for linebacker Tracy White and a 7th round pick. They reentered the 7th round thru a trade with the Atlanta Falcons for Asante Samuel.
While Philadelphia was been busy trading on draft day, they clearly had also been busy scouting. They made a lot of sensible selections and worked to improve their current roster as well as lay the foundation for the future. Choosing Fletcher Cox was a good move and he will fit perfectly in their 4-3 defense. Many teams threw him around as a possible 3-4 Nose Tackle, but that wouldn\’t have played to his strengths. The trade up didn\’t seem necessary as he was a mid to late 1st round value, so they must have been tipped off that an another team (Rams chose Michael Brockers 2 picks later) was eyeing him.
Mychal Kendricks received a lot of Steelers pre-draft buzz. He jumped up the boards in the month before the draft and effectively made mockers question Dont\’a Hightower. He is a fast, pass aggressive inside linebacker who can cover and this exposed the talented Hightower who was more of a slower and traditional run stopper. Given the Eagles excellent defensive line and addition of Otogwe at safety, the Eagles should be much better against the run. While Ryans will start at middle linebacker, Kendricks can spell him on passing downs, or possibly make the move outside.
Vinny Curry is a good pick but at an overpopulated position for the Eagles. The selection makes sense in the long run as keeping all these big contracts together for coming years will require sacrifices (Trent Cole and Jason Babin are both making around 6 million in 2012). This is even more apparent as Babin is signed through 2015 and Cole\’s salary jumps from 6.6 million to almost 12 million that same year. The selection of quarterback Nick Foles is smarter than it seems as he can learn a lot from Michael Vick\’s athleticism in and out of the pocket.
There were a few other decent picks but the two names that jump out at me are Marvin McNutt and Brandon Washington. Both were taken late in the 6th round and both were originally projected as 3/4th round values. McNutt was rumored to be on the Steelers watch list, but when they traded their 6th round pick to move up and grab Alameda Ta\’amu, McNutt slipped away (Toney Clemons was taken in the 7th). Washington had his fair share of question marks, but still should\’ve gone much higher given the lack of depth at guard in this draft.
When you think of the Eagles, you think of Andy Reid. While he has been on the hot seat several times over the past 5 years, he is still one of the most successful coaches in the NFL. He has a world renown ability to coach quarterbacks and can prepare his team for anything. The 8-8 record last season left a bad taste in the mouth of most Eagles fans and one more disaster season will likely have them calling for his head even more. If there is a coach that can turn it around though, it\’s Reid.
Marty Mornhinweg returns as the Eagles offensive coordinator. He was previously the head coach of the Detroit Lions in the two years before his hiring in Philadelphia in 2003. He lead the Lions to a paltry 5-27 record and was not well respected for his performance as a head coach. However, he continues to excel as an offensive coordinator and works particularly well with Reid.
Juan Castillo remains the Eagles defensive coordinator even after his dismal 2011 season. Castillo replaced Sean McDermott the season earlier, who also fell short in terms of leading the Philadelphia defense. McDermott became the interim defensive coordinator when defensive legend Jim Johnson had medical issues. As Johnson\’s condition worsened (to his unfortunate death), McDermott took over full time. Castillo is an interesting selection because he was an offensive line coach previously for the Eagles. He was given the tough situation of working with numerous superstar players who were also brand new. Following in Johnson\’s legacy will be difficult as he was able to make even weak defenses (personnel wise) perform well enough so the Eagles could contend.
This team has only one new coach for the 2012 season. The Eagles secondary was one of the worst performers for its talent level, and accordingly, Todd Bowles was brought in. The worry is that one more bad season could lead to a major coaching change in the organization. Four of the coordinators have over 10 years of experience with the Eagles, so a coaching change could rattle the very foundation that the Eagles are built upon.
Last Year\’s Stats:
|2011 Team Stats|
|Fumbles Lost (2011)||13||26||13||26||10|
|Sacks Allowed (2011)||32||9||42||23||37|
|Avg Time of Possession||31:20:00||7||32:33:00||2||30:00:00|
|Fumbles Recovered (2011)||9||19||4||30||10|
|Punt Return Avg For||7.1||28||10.5||13||9.9|
|Punt Return Avg Against||5.7||3||8.4||12||9.9|
|Kick Return Avg For||20.9||31||25.1||8||23.8|
|Kick Return Avg Against||23.1||14||23.7||16||23.8|
|Field Goals Made||88.89%||5||74.19%||31||82.89%|
|3rd Down % Offense||41.46%||9||45.92%||4||38.00%|
|3rd Down % Defense||35.55%||12||38.91%||19||38.00%|
|4th Down % Offense||46.67%||12||37.50%||19||43.26%|
|4th Down % Defense||41.18%||12||61.54%||28||43.26%|
|Red Zone % Offense||51.52%||14||50.94%||18||52.18%|
|Red Zone % Defense||59.57%||30||54.84%||17||52.18%|
The Eagles did a great job in certain areas, but a poor job in others. Their offense racked up the yards but had a lot of turnovers. Their did well against yards but was not as apt at generating turnovers. They were good at covering kicks and punts but bad at returning them. Philadelphia was middle of the pack in terms of efficiency but bad for turnover differential and red zone defense.
The Eagles had a top 10 offense in almost every category. They were particularly good at gaining overall yards, rushing yards and first downs (all top 5). This was offset by how many turnovers they had. They threw the 2nd most amount of interceptions in the NFL, and turned the ball over 38 times! Vick getting hurt had a lot to do with this disparity. LeSean McCoy had a great season running the ball and catching out of the backfield, but the injuries on the offense prevented the Eagles from reaching their full potential.
The defense had the same trend as the offense but to a lesser extent. The defense was top 10 in overall yards and passing, but 16th against the run. This was the reason that the Eagles went after Ryans and Kendricks. While the defense sacked opposing quarterbacks the most in the NFL, they were below average in takeaways (24 total).
Philadelphia had mixed results on special teams. They were near the top of the league covering punts and average at covering kicks, but they were very bad at returning, ranking within the bottom 5 of the league in both punts and kicks. One would think having DeSean Jackson return punts would make them explosive. Kicking was a strong point for the team and Alex Henery put on a show in 2011. He hit almost 90% of his kicks, but 2 of his 3 misses were between 30-39 yards. Aside from turnover differential and red zone defense, the Eagles were slightly better than average in terms of efficiency. The downside is that both red zone defense and turnover differential are two of the most important stats in determining if you win or lose.
Dream team 2.0? I don\’t want to be as candid as Young was last season, but the pieces are there once again for the Eagles to have a great season. They have a stable set of successful and proven returning coaches to lead them to victory. Injuries affect all teams, and Philadelphia will have to do a better job at working through them this season. I think adding Ryans will offset losing Samuel and this defense could drastically improve. I don\’t think that Rodgers-Cromartie is a star, but when you have Asomugha on the other side, it will be easy to scheme around him. I think there will still be heat on Castillo, but if he can put together a decent year (top 10), then he will see success in the coming years.
Offensively, the Eagles have one of the best young cores in the league. The biggest question mark is Vick\’s health. When he\’s in the game he\’s a difference maker, but his style of play, much like Ben Roethlisberger\’s, leaves him prone to injuries. Jackson is signed long term now and he joins McCoy and Jeremy Maclin as Vick\’s primary offensive weapons. Tight end Brent Celek on the other hand has a very rich contract for his output, so I would think he\’s replaceable next offseason unless he puts a good 2012 together.
One perplexing fact that I don\’t understand is playing Jackson as the punt returner. The clear line of wisdom is that if he\’s higher on the depth chart than 3rd, he shouldn\’t return (a la Antonio Brown). Jackson\’s return skills are undeniable, but even Devin Hester cut back his returns as he began being featured in the passing game. We all remember the return he had against the New York Giants, but his 2011 return stats should bring him back down. More importantly, if Jackson gets hurt, the wheels could fall off of this team very fast. Losing Smith left them without any other credible receivers. I think McNutt can beat the odds and develop into a compliment, but not this year.
Slow Starters. The Eagles have never been a team to get off to a fast start. Over the past 5 years, the Eagles best record after game five is 3-2. While that\’s better than 0-5, it leaves a lot to be desired. Having those prolific starts to seasons like the Chiefs, Patriots, Colts and Packers have had in the past few years means a lot to early matchups. The Eagles lack of ability to hit the ground running at the start of the season could be an advantage for Pittsburgh in this important Game 5 matchup.
|*||Record after 5||Finishing Record||Record after 5||Finishing Record|
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