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Philadelphia Eagles’ Weaknesses Suddenly Not So Weak

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Just over two months ago, those weren’t the Eagles you saw soaring after their season opener against the Green Bay Packers.

Those were vultures.

That opening Sunday featured all of the weaknesses many feared could be an issue with the 2010 Eagles, and it looked as though a feeding frenzy was about to begin on a rebuilding team.

Aaron Rodgers repeatedly picked on the Eagles linebackers and secondary. Kevin Kolb sIt was a rough season opener for Kevin Kolb against the Packers. Photo:Getty Images truggled through two quarters during which he was heavily pressured and ultimately planted head first into the Lincoln Financial Field sod. The offensive line surrendered five sacks and was only trusted to block for ten rushing attempts by players not named Michael Vick.

Three weeks later, the Birds looked awful in a loss to the Redskins, and at 2-2 it seemed that the undermanned offensive line, average linebackers, and green secondary would punch the team’s ticket to a very mediocre season.

So, over the course of the last six games, how did the Eagles go from potential roadkill to legitimate Super Bowl Contenders? How did they go from below average to 6th in both ESPN’s and Fox Sports’ NFL Power Rankings?

Certainly, the emergence of Michael Vick as the most dangerous player in professional football has been a leading factor in the Eagles’ upward ascension.

But, perhaps just as important Vick’s freakish talent has been the overwhelming improvement of the glaring weaknesses mentioned above.

The offensive line started the season with all of the makings of a complete train wreck. The team’s $100 million experiment with the Andrews brothers started the ball rolling, and the early season loss of center Jamaal Jackson had everyone thinking that Eagles QB’s would need suits of armor to survive from week to week.

But despite everyone’s pessimism, the O-line has managed to steadily improve. After surrendering 12 sacks in the first three weeks of the season, the group has given up only 16 in their past seven games. They have helped pave the way for the third highest rushing total in the NFL (over 150 yards per game). And while Vick’s rushing yardage has contributed to this figure, so has LeSean McCoy’s 4.97 yards per carry and current 1,200 yard projected rushing total (on only 14 carries per game).

In fact, the Eagles NFL rank in rushing yards per game (3rd) is quite a bit higher than their rank in passing yards per game (9th). It’s enough to make you wonder: If this trend continues, could Andy Reid actually consider running the ball 20 times a game on purpose?

In addition to running the football, the Eagles have made a remarkable improvement in their ability to stop the run. The defensive line and linebackers entered the season as a group that was known for being pushed around by physical offenses (remember those 2009 season ending losses to the Cowboys?). And through the season’s first few weeks, the new linebacking unit of Stewart Bradley, Ernie Sims and Moise Fokou was looking as bad as the one it was supposed to make us forget.

However, over the past month and a half, the play of the linebackers has been solid. They have not been great in pass coverage, but they have combined with the defensive line to limit opponents to less than 100 yards rushing per game (8th best in the NFL). Their ability to stop the run is also a big contributor to the success of the unit that caused the greatest sense of alarm for Eagles fans: the rebuilding secondary.

The corners and safeties were expected to be this team’s undoing, but have instead The corners and safeties were expected to be the Eagles' undoing, but have instead elevated their game and become a reliable bunch.elevated their game and become a reliable bunch. Rookie safety Nate Allen has been solid, while Dmitri Patterson has provided stability at corner. Quintin Mikell is not going to make any All-Pro teams, but he is leading the defense in tackles. Finally, Asante Samuel is having one of the best seasons of his illustrious career.

The development of the secondary has the Eagles leading the NFL in interceptions with 19 (which is 4 more than any team in football) and passes defended with 65. They are also the main reason for the Eagles’ league best plus-15 in takeaways (which is 5 more than any team in the NFL).

In the end, the success of the 2010 Eagles will be mostly attributed to the bizarre turn of events that led to Vick taking the reins of the team’s offense. And it’s hard to argue that his MVP-caliber statistics aren’t the most significant reason that the Birds are suddenly looking down at all but one team in the NFC standings.

But, the Eagles 5-1 record in their past six games has also been fueled by the terrific play of some units that were universally believed to be in shambles just six weeks ago.

Perhaps we are seeing the work of a coaching staff that continues to field playoff teams despite our frustrations with many of their shortcomings.

As the season heads into its final six games, though, we should consider that there are very few teams that would be favored over these Eagles in a big game. When the number one team in ESPN’s league rankings is the Atlanta Falcons, the thought of the Eagles’ thorough Week 6 domination of those southern birds of prey begs the question…..

Could the Eagles really have a shot?

Matt Babiarz was born and raised in the Philadelphia area.  He graduated from the University of Alabama, but remained a very close observer of the Philadelphia sports scene.  He recently began covering the Phillies for Philly2Philly.com.   You can also read his work at Bleacherreport.com within the Philadelphia Phillies section. 

Matt can be contacted at mattbabz@comcast.net 

Photos: Kolb photo-Getty Images

Secondary photo: AP/Matt Slocum