There a lot of theories about why the Eagles are just 3-4 this year. For now let's set aside coaching and schemes and talk strictly about talent. Are the Eagles as talented as everyone thought back in the summer?
The Eagles sit at 3-4. Who's to blame? Andy Reid? Michael Vick? Bobby April? The offensive line? The defense? There is no way a team this good should be so mediocre. Someone must be at fault.
One possibility is a question being brought by some people this week: are the Eagles really that good? Did we just overrate the talent on this team? I don't think that is the case, but it is a fair question. With that in mind, let's take a look at the roster and talk about the players.
QB - The hope for 2012 was that Vick would benefit from the full offseason as the starter and would make progress in the subtleties of playing quarterback. He'd get better at pre-snap reads. He'd improve at reading defenses. He would know the offense inside-out, which would help him audible better than ever. Vick's knowledge of the offense and of the game would finally catch up with his physical skills and he would get back to being an elite quarterback. Did. Not. Happen.
I won't get into the full Vick discussion, but he's definitely been a major disappointment. We're starting to see the decline of Vick's physical skills. He can still be very dangerous on the run, but no longer is guaranteed to outrun any member of the front seven. If Vick doesn't play great in the last nine games, I think his time in Philly will be over once the season ends.
Nick Foles has yet to play during the regular season. Hopes are still very high for him. Trent Edwards is worth bringing to camp in 2013, but needs competition from a younger player with better upside.
RB - LeSean McCoy isn't posting huge numbers, but I sure hope no one doubts his greatness. He remains one of the top backs in the league. Just ask the guys who try to tackle him if you have any doubts. Kenny Phillips and Sean Weatherspoon both got hurt while trying to tackle him at the line of scrimmage.
Bryce Brown has shown flashes of real potential, but is still very unproven. He's only got 20 carries for 56 yards. I think the biggest issue is that he's getting a touch here and there, but is struggling to adjust to how the Eagles use backup runners - infrequently. Brown has shown progress as a pass blocker, one of the concerns with him from the summer. Chris Polk has yet to play on offense and has been completely worthless on special teams. No one expected him to contribute as a runner, but his total lack of special teams production is a major concern. Is he willing to do what it takes to stay in the league? Not everyone gets to be a star runner. You must earn offensive reps by doing well on special teams.
Fullback Stanley Havili has played well this year and should keep that job for the next few years. He has blocked well, run well, and done a solid job on special teams.
WR - DeSean Jackson was wildly inconsistent in 2011, but got his contract in the offseason and has responded in the right way. He is back to playing at a high level. His stats aren't great, 34-524-1, but he has been open on a regular basis. Vick just hasn't been able to get him the ball to exploit the plays when Jackson is running free in the secondary. He easily could have five touchdowns and another couple of hundred yards.
Jeremy Maclin is a much trickier subject. His numbers are okay, 26-328-3. He also has been open on some plays where Vick just didn't see him or get him the ball. Still, I'm disappointed in what I've seen of Maclin. He has three games where he averaged less than 10 yards per reception. That shouldn't happen. His run blocking has been costly. McCoy and Vick have lost a lot of yards because Maclin wasn't doing his part. I do think Maclin has been slowed by some injuries, but he's not taken the step forward that I hoped for. I still consider him an above average player, but he's nowhere close to being a star or difference-maker. I would consider upgrading him in the offseason.
Jason Avant remains a good role player, but ideally should be a number four receiver and not number three. Yes, he's sure-handed. The problem is that he's not dangerous after the catch and he offers nothing in the return game. Avant also isn't good enough to play outside. Riley Cooper remains a mystery since he has only played a few games this year. He must show in the last nine games that he is worth keeping. Rookie Damaris Johnson has shown promise as a receiver. He is dangerous with the ball in his hands.
TE - Brent Celek is a good player. Maybe very good. I don't think he's in the same class as the top tight ends, but he's just below them. He's averaging a career high 13.9 yards per catch and has delivered some big plays. I think Celek is good enough to be the starter on a top flight offense. Backup Clay Harbor looked great this summer. He's had some good moments this year. I think his lack of production this year is on the overall offense. Harbor isn't getting enough chances to show what he can do.
OL - The return of Jason Peters and Jason Kelce will make a world of difference with this group. Evan Mathis has played well this year, proving that 2011 wasn't a fluke. Todd Herremans hasn't played up to his talent. He's not a turnstile at right tackle, but has come up small in some critical situations. That's frustrating. Danny Watkins continues to be up and down. He is a good run blocker, but his pass blocking remains an issue. Get the two Jasons back and I think you're good at four positions. Watkins is too inconsistent for any coach to be comfortable with.
As for the backups, King Dunlap has been a solid starter, but does have durability issues. Dallas Reynolds has the rest of the year to prove that he's worth keeping around. I would certainly look to upgrade. Dennis Kelly is coming off his first NFL start and looked good. He could take over at right guard. The 2013 starters should be fine, but depth must be worked on.
DE - This is a mystery group. Trent Cole and Jason Babin combined for more than 30 sacks in 2011. This season they have combined for four. Cole is playing the better of the two, but we could be seeing some aging with him. He turned 30 in early October. Babin is 32. Both guys are in great shape, but something is off. All it takes is losing half a step to go from a guy getting sacks to a guy getting pressures. The lack of production from these two, no matter how much of it is due to gameplans and extra blockers, is still a concern. They aren't getting as many one-on-one battles as hoped, but the problem is they aren't winning when they do get them.
Darryl Tapp is a hard-working veteran, but that's it. Brandon Graham leads the defensive ends in tackles-for-loss despite playing the fewest reps of the top four. He isn't playing great, but is back to being a disruptive player off the edge. I'd like to see him get the starting job. I want to know what he can do with more reps. Phillip Hunt has been a major disappointment. He was supposed to be a very good role player, but is barely getting on the field now. I think the Eagles should give some of Tapp's snaps to Hunt. Let's see what the guy can do. We all know who and what Tapp is. Hunt remains a mystery. Rookie Vinny Curry hasn't been active for a game this year, but did have a good summer and expectations for him remain high.
The biggest problem for this group is that not one guy is a difference-maker. They should be playing better as a group, but it would be nice if there was one guy who could be counted on to deliver in crunch time.
DT - The kids are alright. Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton have played well this year. I think those guys could be your starters in 2013 and most coaches would be happy to have them. Both guys have tons of potential and aren't close to being as good as they will. That's exciting. The veterans around them are more of a question. Cullen Jenkins looks good at times, but was challenged by the coaches earlier in the season. He's not as disruptive up front as he was last year. Derek Landri has disappointed. He's dealt with a knee injury that has slowed him down, but still has three tackles-for-loss and he remains a good run defender. Mike Patterson was just activated to the roster. He should make his 2012 debut this week. No one is sure what to expect from him. It is possible that the only guys coming back next year will be Cox and Thornton.
LB - DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks have been as good as advertised. The Eagles would love to see Kendricks make some plays and clean up his tackling a bit, but he's played well this year. He looks like a star in the making. The weakside spot has been a revolving door. Brian Rolle, Jamar Chaney, and Akeem Jordan have all played there. Jordan is the best of the group, but is at his best as a special teams player and backup. The Eagles need another starter to add to the mix. Casey Matthews has gotten better since last year, but hasn't shown that he's a guy you feel obligated to get on the field. It is disappointing that Chaney hasn't challenged for the starting job. He got it due to injury, but wasn't able to keep it. Better depth is needed.
S - This is a tricky area. Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman are better players than a lot of people realize, but neither one has played well enough for the team to be completely comfortable with them. I think the Eagles can win with Coleman and Allen, but the team should absolutely look to upgrade. Ideally the team would look for a physical safety with some size. Coleman is tough, but isn't that big. Allen is better playing in space than down in the box. Backup David Sims has yet to get on the field. Colt Anderson is really meant to be a special teamer.
CB - Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is coming off a bad game, but has played very well this year. I expect the Eagles to keep him around for a long time. Nnamdi Asomugha is tougher to figure out. He's scheduled to make $15M in 2013. Clearly that won't happen. Do the Eagles want him back at a reduced rate? Would the Eagles consider moving him to safety? Asomugha can still play, but he's lost a step. He might turn out to be a good safety. He might still be worth keeping at corner if you can get him at a reasonable rate and you just know he needs safety help. The Eagles have to figure out what they want to do with him and see if Asomugha will agree. While DRC and Asomugha were down against Atlanta, they remain a good pair of corners.
Brandon Boykin has had an up and down year in the slot. He definitely looks like a player who will be good. His issues have more to do with experience and technique than talent. Brandon Hughes played well in the Giants game, but struggled against the Lions. He is a good special teamer. Solid backup, but I don't know that I ever see him as starting material. Curtis Marsh hasn't played very much in 2012. The hope was to get him on the field this season and move Asomugha around, especially against really good tight ends. This hasn't happened. What we don't know is if this is because the coaches are down on Marsh or if they are so happy with the coverage of someone like Kendricks that they haven't felt the need to put Asomugha on a tight end.
The Eagles are good enough at cornerback for 2012, but may need to spend a high pick on one in the draft if they decide to cut Asomugha or move him to safety.
STs - Alex Henery has had a good season. Matt McBriar is doing okay, but clearly isn't a long term answer. Jon Dorenbos is an excellent long snapper. The return units are not getting the job done. Poor blocking has been a major factor. It is hard to know whether Boykin or Damaris Johnson is the answer because they haven't had the room needed to show what they can do. The talent on the coverage units needs to be better, especially from running backs and linebackers.
The Eagles have enough talent to still be a playoff team this year. Some players are definitely under-performing and that has hurt the team's overall success. Vick is the most notable one because he's the quarterback. If he and the other players start playing up to their talent level, the team can get on a hot streak. If they continue to be inconsistent and making mistakes, the Eagles will remain a mediocre team. The talent level on the Eagles isn't such that they can win regularly while playing mistake-filled games.
One interesting way to look at this, first year players aside, no Eagle is having a career year. There are multiple guys playing below where they should be, but no one has raised his game substantially. Last year you saw Derek Landri, Jason Babin, Evan Mathis, Jason Peters, Colt Anderson and LeSean McCoy all play the best football of their careers. That element is completely missing in 2012.