If you're looking for positive trends as the Eagles prepare for Saturday's may-still-have-meaning game at Dallas, there are a few relating to Michael Vick.
The Eagles quarterback's best outing of the season came in the first meeting between the Eagles and Cowboys. His second-best came last week against the New York Jets and another Ryan-devised defense. (Rex Ryan is the Jets head coach and brother Rob is Dallas' defensive coordinator.)
The Ryan brothers run similar 3-4 defenses. Vick has had his best success this season against odd-man fronts. When Vick has started, the Eagles are 4-3 against 3-4 defenses, 1-3 against 4-3 fronts.
His overall passing numbers are also slightly better against the 3-4. In those games, Vick completed 61 percent of his passes for 265.2 yards a game and tossed nine touchdowns against 10 interceptions. Against 4-3 schemes, he has a 57.9 completion percentage and threw for 204.5 yards, four touchdowns and three picks.
But more important than statistics are the Eagles victories. The two most impressive came against the Cowboys and Jets when Vick effectively read defenses pre-snap and adjusted if necessary.
A great deal of training camp was spent on Vick's pre-snap reads. He had never been asked to call out the middle linebacker - typically the job of the center - before. But new offensive line coach Howard Mudd likes his quarterbacks to handle this responsibility.
"We mentioned last year not having him do quite as much, and this year he's been able to see things and he's worked very hard on that," Eagles coach Andy Reid said Monday.
But the lockout didn't help. It wasn't until Game 7 that Vick put it all together, completing 21 of 28 passes for 279 yards against Dallas. Both his touchdown passes came when he audibled.
And then Sunday, Jets safety Eric Smith told reporters after the game that Vick was correctly calling out many of New York's coverages.
"I think that whenever you're playing a 3-4 . . . [and] we're blocking them this way, the quarterback has to be in tune," Eagles center Jason Kelce said.
Vick hasn't been perfect against the 3-4. Last month, the Cardinals were able to confuse him with different looks, and Vick completed only 47 percent of his passes and threw two interceptions. The Eagles said he played most of that game with broken ribs.
When he returned from that injury and faced the Dolphins, Vick still wasn't 100 percent. But he was never comfortable in the pocket, partly because of Miami's 3-4 defense, partly because of his offensive line's struggles, and partly due to his own problems. Vick was sacked four times and hit several times more.
But with Vick and his line working in tandem they were able to recognize certain tendencies from the Jets. So Vick was never sacked, and he was able to run the offense on all cylinders.
If the Eagles are to have any shot at winning out, they must continue to keep Vick on the field. He said Tuesday that his ribs felt fine and that he is "feeling better each and every day."
The Eagles will be eliminated from playoff contention if the New York Giants beat the Jets in their 1 p.m. game Saturday. But if the Jets win and the Eagles beat the Cowboys in their 4:15 p.m. game, the Eagles head into the season finale against the Redskins with life.
They would still need a Giants win over the Cowboys. But they could certainly hold up their end against Washington, a 3-4 team they already beat this season.