Monday, October 1, 2012
Eagles understand how good they can be
By Dan Graziano
The Eagles defense held up and Philadelphia committed zero turnovers in its Sunday night win.
PHILADELPHIA -- They are 3-1, which should stand for itself and require no further explanation. NFL games are tough to win, and the fact that the Philadelphia Eagles' three victories so far this season have come by a combined total of four points should not matter in evaluating what they have accomplished over the first quarter of the season.
Yet it does, right? We look at the Eagles' season so far, and what stands out is the imperfection. Even after Sunday's turnover-free 19-17 victory over the New York Giants, they are still a team that has turned the ball over 12 times and are a couple bad bounces away from being 0-4. The fact that Michael Vick has led three game-winning fourth-quarter drives -- three more than he led all of last season -- doesn't change the fact that you always feel as though he's one bad decision away from total disaster. They are The Most Interesting Team in the World: They don't always win games, but when they do, they give you heart palpitations along the way.
What's important to understand, though, is that the Eagles do not feel this way about themselves. Yes, they are aware how close their games have been, but they do not share your doubts. They know they have problems to correct, but they do not live in fear that the bottom will fall out at some point because the problems are not correctable. The Eagles have tremendous confidence that they can win every time they set foot on the field, and this confidence is born of what they see when they look around their locker room.
"We're a talented group," Eagles running back LeSean McCoy said. "We've got all the weapons you need. We've just got to go out and do the job."
McCoy is the perfect example. All week, in the wake of a road loss to an Arizona Cardinals team that still hasn't lost to anyone this year, the talk was about the game plan. Why didn't they run McCoy more? He might be the best running back in the league. The offensive line was banged up and obviously couldn't protect Vick, who himself was turning the ball over at the dizzying rate of three times per game. A pass-heavy game plan in Arizona was the epitome of the kind of stubbornness that has cost the Eagles too many games in the Andy Reid era.
Sunday night against the Giants, McCoy gained two yards on six carries in the first half. But the Eagles stuck with him, and things opened up wide in the second half. McCoy would finish the game with 123 rushing yards on 23 carries, and the Eagles' willingness to hand him the ball was a critical part of their ability to avoid turnovers and, of course, win the game.
"I think it's easier on everybody when the run game is clicking," said Vick, who chipped in 49 rushing yards on six fairly judicious carries of his own.
But it's not as simple as committing to the run, and the Eagles know that. For this team, it's about understanding the number of different ways they have to win a game. If they have to throw to beat you, they have the weapons with which to do that. DeSean Jackson showed that Sunday, while Jeremy Maclin stayed quiet. But Maclin was the star of the passing game back in Week 1, and Brent Celek played that role in Week 2. On defense, the Eagles won Sunday's game without getting a sack. But they showed that even if the opposing offense is determined to chip and help and do whatever it takes to keep the speed-rushing ends away from the quarterback, they can still get disruptive pressure up the middle from guys such as Cullen Jenkins and Fletcher Cox.
"We've got talent all across the board," defensive end Jason Babin said. "I think that's pretty apparent."
They're not cocky, necessarily, because you really can't win games the way they're winning them and feel cocky. They aren't the 2007 Patriots, blowing teams out and setting remorseless records. This is an Eagles team still finding its footing in this season, but it's one that draws tremendous confidence from the fact that it's been able to win three games without playing to potential. It's one that remains completely impervious to the outside perception of its problems. Asked what it felt like to finally play defense in a game in which his offense didn't commit a turnover, Nnamdi Asomugha said he was not aware that the Eagles' offense had not committed a turnover.
"As long as the offense is moving the ball and eating up the clock, I think, as a defense, we're fine," Asomugha said. "The turnovers, we can get those back. As long as the offense is taking time off the clock, that's all we need."
The Eagles' defense believes it will hold the opposing offense, even if it's Eli Manning running it and their coach is going to give them two chances at the game-winning field goal. The Eagles' offense believes Vick will lead it back in the fourth quarter, even though he didn't do it once last year, because this year he did it three times in September. The Eagles believe they can win ugly, win pretty, win on the ground, win in the air, whatever it takes.
"I like the personality of this team," Reid said. "I like the grit. They're willing to fight."
A big reason for that is that they know how good they can be, even if they have yet to convince the outside world of it. This time last year, they'd played pretty well for huge chunks of their games and were 1-3. This year, they've slogged through four brutally tough games, and they're 3-1. It doesn't take an Ivy League mathematician to figure out which one of those scenarios is better. And when the Eagles look around their locker room, what they see is a 3-1 team. And they're not surprised.