To simply say the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles were awful would not only be a gross understatement of how pathetic they were, but it would also be an injustice to the entire Philly fanbase. However, there is reason to believe that this season will be just as promising as the last.
The Eagles of 2011 displayed such an outrageous level of ineptitude and incompetence on the gridiron that at times it would have been warranted to ban every player from the city following the conclusion of the season.
Forgive me for resurrecting the painful memories of an abysmal season, but I assure you, it’s necessary.
They managed to steal the offseason headlines by signing every high-profile free agent under the sun. But the icing on the cake had to be when they swooped in (no pun intended) and stole the most coveted of them all, Nnamdi Asomugha, completing the best trio of corners mankind had ever seen. The free-agent frenzy gave way to a contagious feeling that perhaps the Eagles just might end their Super Bowl drought that year.
But then the season started and reality hit.
Expectations proved to be insurmountable and they fell flat on their face. Someone forgot to tell Andy Reid & Co. that games are not won on paper. The NFL is not like the NBA, you can’t bundle superstars together as if you were simulating Madden and expect them to work out the kinks en route to a championship appearance a la the Miami Heat. Certain factors are essential for success in the NFL, those of which could not be found in their play on the field or in the locker room.
But fear not, good people. At the end of every tunnel awaits the light, or in this case, 69,000 fans waiting to see how their team will respond—69,000 who believe that an 8-8 record is not indicative of the talent and potential of their team.
If you are so bold to believe the Eagles won’t rebound and return to the form that sent them to five NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl, then you are either foolish or a Cowboys fan.
Personally, I’d prefer the former. But I digress.
There are several reasons to have high hopes for this season, but three in particular stand out.
The first is regarding DeSean Jackson
Philly was praised for snatching every big name on the market, but all the while they held out on those most deserving of a new contract, namely their star receiver.
Let’s be serious folks, the dude is a beast.
When Jackson burst onto the scene, he established himself as one of the league’s most electrifying players. With unparalleled speed, he’s a threat to score from anywhere on the field, whether he’s lined up as at receiver or returning punts. Through four years, he’s compiled 4,085 yards, 21 touchdowns, with an average of 17.8 yards per catch, plus four punt returns. It was no surprise that his production declined significantly last year. An untrained eye could have noticed that Jackson seemed unmotivated and distracted on the field. After all, he was only paid $600,000 in the last year of his rookie contract.
Are you serious? Just $600,000 for a guy who was named to the Pro Bowl for two positions in the same season? That’s absurd!
On the flip side, DeSean Jackson has a history of doing bone-headed things at inopportune moments, and his off-the-field conduct is suspect at times. He is not one to get into legal trouble, but his lifestyle did not exactly inspire confidence, and it contributed to the Eagles second-guessing themselves to extend his contract.
Nonetheless, the reward heavily outweighs the risk, and the Eagles finally realized that. Jackson, a key component to their explosive West Coast offense, is an irreplaceable, rare talent who changes the game on the drop of the dime. Any hopes of returning to the NFC Championship would have went up in flames had the Eagles not retained Jackson.
His new deal is worth $51 million over five years, with options that benefit both parties. Eagles fans should expect to see the DeSean Jackson of old this season with an extra bounce in his step and that signature confidence and swagger now that he has his money.
Speaking of confidence, Juan Castillo should have a little himself. To kindly put it, Castillo’s first year as defensive coordinator was brutal, but it ended on a high note.
It’s actually surprising that Philly fans did not show up to the man’s house in the middle of the night with pitch forks and torches in hand, demanding his resignation.
Immediately after Andy Reid made the head-scratching decision to make his offensive line coach his new defensive coordinator, questions arose about Castillo’s capability and credentials, especially considering there were more qualified names on the market and he had not coached defense since 1989. In fact, he had never coached defense on the professional level.
Halfway through the season, there were calls for not only Castillo’s firing, but also Reid’s. After all, it was Reid's decision to begin with, thus making the defensive blunders his responsibility.
Plus, the offense was not a picture of consistency itself. In their first nine games of the 2011 season, the defense had blown five fourth-quarter leads and allowed four 100-yard rushers. For the entire season, they allowed 27 passing touchdowns, just four less than the year before, despite having the best group of corners in the league. To add insult to injury, they were 18th in the league in interceptions and 29th in forced fumbles.
Anyone who knows anything about Eagles defense knows that former defensive coordinator, the late Jim Johnson, was probably rolling over in his grave. You don’t need stats to know there was not any continuity within the defense, and at times they seemed completely clueless. Players were not buying into Castillo’s schemes and it showed. The ferocity that we’d become accustomed to for so many years was nowhere to be found and the defense was missing an identity.
But what do you expect to happen when you bring in a new defensive line coach, coordinator and various players in a matter of months with no offseason to mesh. Growing pains and inconsistency should have been foreseen. Like a well-manufactured car, a team must endure vigorous tests and be refined time and time again in order to reach perfection.
Juan Castillo and the defense now have a full year under their belt and a full offseason to prepare. More importantly, players are acclimated to the wide-9 scheme that Jim Washburn brought with him from Tennessee and have a better understanding of Castillo’s system. Proof of that would be how they finished last season, winning their final four to get back to .500. They even managed to finish with the league’s eighth-ranked defense and fourth-best offense.
As the season progressed, so did the team chemistry. Trust developed among the players and they began to play as a team, putting all three phases of the game together. There was a sense of unity in their play, with one common goal—win. Team chemistry is typically built through practice, patience and time, but when adversity is thrown into the mix, it becomes that much stronger.
2011 did not go how the Philadelphia Eagles, or the rest of humanity, expected it to. But they came away with some very important lessons in what is required to win football games at the professional level that should prove helpful in 2012. Philly is just as dangerous, if not more so, heading into this season, and the rest of the NFL is aware of it. There is still an abundance of first-class talent on both sides of the ball and they’re coming off a very impressive draft.
We should all forget the aberration that was last season and set our sights on this coming season because the Eagles have a chip on their shoulder with something to prove and only one thing on their mind—a championship.