Same Shit, Different Season
Some things will never change. I guess I was naive for thinking they would. I don’t even know why I bother anymore with Andy Reid because it’s obvious he’s still just as clueless as ever. Unfortunately for the head coach, Donovan McNabb isn’t around to get blamed this time, so the onus falls squarely on Andy’s large shoulders. Once again, we were privy to a lackluster game plan devised by him and his coaching staff at the most inopportune time. You’d think that after 12 seasons and no Super Bowl victories, something might change. Maybe diversify the play-calling a little bit and not pass all the time? Nope. Would it be so terrible to call 35 runs to 25 passes if it meant winning the game? Would it be so terrible to physically impose your will on a team and wear them down — you know, like Green Bay did to the Eagles? It doesn’t mean you have to completely change your identity and never pass the ball again. Just ask the Packers.
Speaking of which, I’d be remiss if I didn’t commend the Packers on their play-calling today. All I could do was watch with envy as Mike McCarthy and Joe Philbin (the Packers’ offensive coordinator) employed the exact gameplan I implored the Eagles to run — a balanced attack that chewed up the clock and kept the other team’s quarterback off the field as much as possible. James Starks (FROM… Buffalo, a prospect I had rated highly and would’ve been a 2nd/3rd round pick if not for injuries; go look at his college stats, pretty impressive numbers — http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/player/profile?playerId=170697), a sixth round pick in April’s draft who spent much of the season on the PUP list, got 23 carries and totaled 123 yards. The Packers made a concentrated effort to establish the run (this team was ranked 24th in the league in rushing, by the way), and Starks ended up breaking a few big gains. So, the Packers were content to give their rookie/fourth string running back 23 carries, yet the Eagles could only manage to hand the ball to LeSean McCoy 12 fucking times, against a team that ranked near the bottom of the league defending the run? That is inexcusable on every level. INEXCUSABLE. What about putting your players in better positions to make plays, Andy? What a steaming load of bullshit. Call me crazy, but I think Shady could have broken a few long runs of his own if he was fed the ball 23 times. It’s embarrassing how underutilized he was all game.
Please, can someone explain to me why LeSean McCoy only got to carry the ball 12 times? Furthermore, why did he only get eight carries through the first three quarters? Especially once DeSean Jackson got injured, how did Shady not become the focal point of the offense?! Don’t tell me that it’s because the Eagles were behind — they weren’t even giving him the ball enough when it was 0-0. What did I say had to happen in this game for the Eagles to win? At least 20 carries for LeSean and another handful of touches in the passing game. But no, God forbid the Eagles should try to win by running the football. They ended up with roughly a 60/40 pass/run ratio and, shockingly enough, came out on the losing end (the Packers, on the other hand, sported a 48/52 pass/run ratio). Being right has never felt so shitty. I don’t care that the Eagles were in position to win it at the end because that’s not the point I’m trying to make. It’s a shame that I honestly believe Andy would rather lose by passing than win by running, and it’s excruciating torture to watch this team operate season after season and repeatedly lose the same way. Hey, Andy, head coaches like Bill Belichick, Sean Payton, and Mike Tomlin — you know, the elites — have no problem committing to the run. In fact, all three think it’s a vital component to operating a successful offense. You know what else all three have in common that excludes you from being in their class?
EDIT: Just went back and looked at the play-by-play summary. Of the first 18 offensive snaps that counted, the Eagles called seven designed (so, not including Vick scrambles) running plays that netted 25 yards (3.6 average). Now, while that’s not exactly setting the world on fire, it’s not an indication that the run game isn’t working, either. If the coaching staff wants to classify that as “trying” to run the football, then so be it, but I’m not buying what they’re selling. By the time the offense came out for its fourth drive, the Packers were up 14-0 and the run game was pretty much abandoned. 14-0 isn’t an insurmountable lead, and I definitely don’t think it warranted abandoning the run and neglecting to attempt to control the clock, especially when the first half wasn’t even over yet. When you have a dynamic back like LeSean McCoy, keep giving him the ball because he’s going to break a run at some point. There should never be a game where he has less than 20 total touches. Overall, my point remains that this team isn’t physical enough to succeed in the playoffs. Andy’s teams are built to do well in the regular season, but it’s not merely a coincidence that they flop when the playoffs start and defenses force you to grind out possessions. The big play is sexy, sure, but it’s a feast or famine way of doings things; putting together drives with more sustainable play-calling, a la the Packers, is a necessity.
Andy Reid is now 10-9 in 19 playoff games (3-5 dating back to the Super Bowl loss to the Patriots, aka his peak as a head coach), which is nothing special. In fact, it’s pretty unimpressive. What’s more, he has lost in the first round of the playoffs each of the last two seasons, after never having done so before in his head coaching career. You’ll find more than a few Eagles fans who think Andy is trending in the wrong direction. The worst part is that he’ll probably keep going 10-6/11-5 and get bounced in the playoffs without any consequence to his job status because he keeps the team competive. As long as there are butts in the seats, everything will remain the same. At the end of the Eagles’ most recent NFC Championship Game loss two seasons ago to the Cardinals, team President Joe Banner said, verbatim, “The definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”* I think it’s safe to say that Andy Reid might be insane. Is the Eagles’ management contingent as well?
Michael Vick was average — not terrible, but not extraordinary; he made some plays and missed others. It sure looked like he could’ve used some help from the ground attack while he was under duress and running for his life most of the game. But what do I know, right? The first play from scrimmage when Desmond Bishop came in clean on the blitz and violently leveled Vick for a sack couldn’t have been more indicative of the Eagles’ offensive failings in general. I think I screamed “FUCK YOU, ANDY!!!” at the top of my lungs — I knew at that point that nothing had really changed from a few weeks ago, and a sense of impending doom started to fester in my gut. Overall, the Packers played textbook defense and did a superb job of containing Vick. Clay Matthews totally abused Winston Justice all game long — so much so that the Eagles’ right tackle was benched in favor of King Dunlap in the second half — and was breathing down Vick’s neck on seemingly every play. The guy is pretty much unblockable. Just like in the first game of the season, the Eagles didn’t show up for the first half and were faced with a double-digit deficit in the third quarter. Despite not getting much help from his coaches when it came to calling plays, in the second half Vick was finally able to move the ball on a very stingy Packers defense. As luck would have it, one of those drives stalled and David Akers missed a chip shot 34-yard field goal (his second miss of the game, and the first time he’s done that in 19 playoff games) to keep the score at 21-10. Still, the game wasn’t over quite yet, but it made the comeback that much more challenging. The Eagles managed to score a touchdown (missed the two-point conversion) to make it 21-16 with something like four minutes left. Then the defense was able to stop the Packers and get the ball back to Michael Vick and the offense. At this point, I wasn’t sure if I felt Vick would be able to pull it out, but I sure as shit felt a hell of a lot more confident than I ever did with McNabb leading a drive at the end of the game. And for the first handful of plays, that confidence seemed warranted. Unfortunately, whatever excitement was building as the Eagles moved closer to the red zone ended up being short-lived, and the script played out similarly to the way it has for this franchise over the past decade. After converting on third and long with an 11-yard completion to Riley Cooper, Vick decided to go back to the rookie receiver once more — this time in the endzone. Packers cornerback Tramon Williams was ready, the ball was underthrown, and in a split second the game was over. Talk about a pass that would’ve made Donovan McNabb proud.
I know I haven’t touched on the defense yet. Listen, I get it, the unit has been ravaged by injuries, and it’s never easy to function at a high level when you’re missing half of your starters. Still, every team in the league has to deal with injuries (the Packers, for example, were also devastated this season), and only losers use that as an excuse. It’s an inherent part of the game, and that’s why you need to have capable backups who can step in and perform. To that end, I don’t think the issue with the defense is talent. I really mean that. Jamar Chaney is a tackling machine and played very well in place of Stewart Bradley at middle linebacker (I propose leaving Chaney as the starter there and moving Bradley back to the strong side next season, which is his natural position). Kurt Coleman is solid, and Moise Fokou was a big reason (along with Antonio Dixon) why the run defense was so good down the stretch. At this point, I have no option but to look at coaching, where I’ve been anything but impressed with Sean McDermott. Did a single one of his blitzes even get to Aaron Rodgers? For that matter, did a single one of his blitzes get to any opposing quarterback over the last half of the season? I never felt less confident in an Eagles defense than I did this season. That unit MUST get better, which may mean finding a new coordinator. Nonetheless, McDermott will be back next season because he was handpicked to be Jim Johnson’s successor, and the Eagles aren’t exactly proponents of rocking the boat. However, something has to change. Somehow. Somewhere. The defense never seemed to have trouble on first or second down, but it could never get off the field on third down (Packers went 8/13), which was a common theme all season. Not only was the Eagles’ third down defense a major issue, but the red zone defense was even worse, allowing the Packers to score touchdowns all three times they moved the ball inside the 20-yard line. That’s nothing new, though, as this defense ranked dead last in the whole league inside the red zone. Think that’s bad? Well, it turns out the red zone defense wasn’t just the worst in the league… it was the worst of any team over the last 23 seasons (unbelievable). That’s so historically atrocious that I have trouble wrapping my mind around it. As if that’s not enough of a disheartening statistic on its own, it’s even more depressing when you consider that a stout red zone defense was always a Jim Johnson staple.
It sucks that I had to write a postmortem tonight, but at least this means I won’t have to do it after losing another NFC Championship Game. Congratulations to the Packers, they deserved the win today. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like that team, and I’ll be rooting for them going forward.
I realize there are a lot of disjointed thoughts in this post, but that’s because I’m mentally exhausted and pretty much just typing in a stream-of-consciousness manner. The Eagles were so resilient throughout the season — I truly believed they were capable of anything. After that second Giants game, I was convinced this team was different. Turns out, it wasn’t. Same goes for Andy Reid, who was outcoached once again in a playoff game. It’s remarkable that this team followed up the Miracle at the New Meadowlands with three straight losses and now will be watching the rest of the playoffs from home. Instead of using that comeback against the Giants as a springboard, the team inexplicably folded. Now, I want to mention that this wasn’t Andy Reid’s worst coaching job in the playoffs, really not even close — there was plenty of blame to go around. Still, in the end, the things that have plagued the Eagles throughout the Reid era ultimately doomed them again. Mental mistakes, mystifying play-calling, penalties, missed opportunities, poor coaching. You know, same shit, different season, and it all starts at the top. I guess I’m just suffering from fatigue with the Andy Reid show, which is precisely how I felt about McNabb at the end of last season. I don’t think firing Andy Reid is the answer — not yet — but I do think there needs to be an adjustment of offensive philosophy. Getting rid of McNabb was a good start in admitting change was needed… the organization now needs to go a step further in that process.
From the highest of highs to the lowest of lows… Eagles fans know that feeling all too well. Looking for a silver lining? This team is the third youngest in the league and should only get better. The bad news? It seems like we’ve been rehashing that same kind of silver lining for ten fucking years now. Want a better silver lining? Pitchers and catchers report in five weeks. In the meantime, go Flyers. I’m now fully in hockey mode.
EDIT/UPDATE: Ray Didinger, Hall of Fame football writer and probably the foremost authority on the Eagles, essentially echoed my assessment of the game, and the state of the team in general — except in a lot less words and none of the profanity. If Andy Reid ever hopes to win a Super Bowl with the Eagles, he needs to do some serious introspection and come to the realization that change is needed, especially in operating the offense. If he remains as stubborn as he has for the past decade, you can expect plenty more frustrating ends to seasons in the future. I thought Andy was changing this season (see: last four minutes of the second Dallas game), but I was wrong. Shame on me for even letting myself think things might be different. I should have known better.
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