An Ode to Andy Reid (If This is Indeed THE END)
I’ve been told I was exposed to the Eagles in 1995, but my first vivd memories of being a fan were formed in 1996 (i.e. James Willis’s interception of Troy Aikman in the endzone, which he then lateraled to Troy Vincent to take the rest of the way to pay dirt), including my first heartbreak (14-0 Wild Card Round playoff loss to the 49ers). I was a few months away from my 11th birthday when Andy Reid was hired in 1999 — I still didn’t have the capacity or understanding to know football, I was just entertained and loved watching — and recall the universal “WHO?!” reaction when the move was announced. A mere year and a half later, that uncertainty had been replaced by jubilation. For all intents and purposes, the Eagles as constituted by Andy Reid is really all I’ve ever known.
I was in Veterans Stadium for that magical, initial playoff win over Tampa Bay, freezing my hands, feet and nuts off while drinking hot chocolate from a Camelbak and cheering so loud I lost my voice. I was there for Brian Dawkins’ incredible, historic performance against the Texans in 2002. I was at Lincoln Financial Field, sitting two rows behind the Eagles’ bench, for 4th and 26 against Green Bay in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Those experiences will stay with me forever — I’ll tell my children and grandchildren about them. The happiest and proudest moments I’ve had as an Eagles fan — so far — came with Andy Reid on the sidelines (yes, so too have the saddest and most crushing moments).
I’m sure the media and fans won’t miss Andy Reid’s terse, bland and repetitive press conferences, but that’s how he handled tough situations and protected his players. As frustrating as it was to hear him say the same thing over and over, especially when the same mistakes were not fixed, you have to respect why he acted that way. We forget so often that a head coach’s primary, paramount relationship is with his players, not the media and fans. There’s a reason 99.9% of guys who have played for Andy would do anything for him. By all accounts, as a person he is warm, genuine and engaging — so, essentially the opposite of how he presents himself to the general public. Given the nature of his job, however, rarely were we ever able to see him in that light. The only time that Andy’s unvarnished human side came out was when it was impossible to hide. His two oldest sons’ public episodes with drug addiction and criminal misconduct, as well as Garrett’s death at training camp of a heroin overdose, resonated with the fan base. There was an outpouring of empathy and sympathy, of love and support. It reinforced the reality that Andy Reid didn’t exist in a vacuum as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. He suffered through personal struggles and family problems just like everyone else. In a city whose fans yearn to emotionally connect with the leaders of their professional sports teams, it’s a shame that they could only do so with Reid when he was struck by profound tragedy.
Admittedly, my adulation for Andy Reid as a coach has waned considerably over the years, and I vehemently disagree with (what I perceive to be) his obnoxious offensive philosophy. I also feel his merits as a head coach have been overstated and overrated since the zenith that was the 2004 season. His regular season record post-2004 is 66-60-1, with four playoff appearances (where he’s 3-4). You know who Andy best compares to during that span? The Bengals Marvin Lewis, who is 62-64-1, also with four playoff appearances (0-3; fourth appearance coming this season). Whenever people, especially those on the outside, sing Reid’s praises and start with the self-righteous “you’ll be sorry when he’s gone” crap, I’m compelled to remind them of said recent record, and that if not for a multi-faceted miracle on the last day of the 2008 season, he would have a grand total of one — ONE! — playoff win since 2004. Is that elite? Is that even good? Seems to be the embodiment of mediocre to me. If you truly want to judge Andy Reid objectively, you have to separate those two eras within the full era. Naturally, I wouldn’t expect talking heads — former coaches, too — who are disconnected from the situation to acknowledge such facts because it doesn’t fit their narrative. It’s a lot easier to point to Reid’s successes from nearly a decade ago and lazily paint Philly fans as stupid and myopic ingrates.
Then there is the absurd notion that Eagles fans don’t appreciate what Andy Reid has accomplished and what he has meant to the franchise. That’s so misguided and entrenched in stereotype, it makes my blood boil. Isn’t it possible for us to acknowledge Reid’s successes from 1999-2004 while decrying his failures from 2005-2012, or does the first half of his head coaching tenure somehow outweigh the second? Why is our dissatisfaction so unacceptable, and why can’t we call a spade a spade? Maintaining the status quo has only proven detrimental to advancement. The Eagles need a new face, a new voice, a new philosophy, a new attitude, and a new direction. Players in the locker room might unanimously support Andy and want him to stay forever, but that’s no longer a viable option. Talk is cheap, and they could have helped control their head coach’s fate by performing better on the field.
The truth of the matter is that while Andy Reid may be a fine coach, he hasn’t been good enough for quite some time now. Hell, given his 1-4 record in NFC Championship Games and 0-1 record in the Super Bowl, you could argue he wasn’t even good enough when he was good enough (I hope that makes sense). Reid’s clear expiration date was the 2008 NFC Championship Game loss, followed by Jim Johnson’s death in the summer of 2009, for whom he never found a suitable replacement. Michael Vick’s brief career renaissance bought Andy a few more seasons, but, as we’ve seen, that only delayed the inevitable and trapped the franchise in a hamster wheel of sorts.
Andy Reid has always taken responsibility for his team’s failures, but it’s only ever been scapegoated coaches and players who have suffered the consequences. Monday will mark the opportunity for Jeffrey Lurie to finally, once and for all, actually hold Reid responsible by relieving him of his head coaching duties. It’s been real, but after 14 years he still displays the faults — gross offensive imbalance, continuously trying to fit square pegs (personnel) into round holes (philosophies), incompetent time management, poor draft/roster decisions (and, most recently, stupefying coaching hires) — that have precluded him from reaching the proverbial top of the mountain. Andy simply hasn’t fucking learned, and he hasn’t earned anymore chances to recapture past glory. What we’ve seen instead is stagnation and regression, so now the time has come for both sides to move on. Breakups are tough, but they are also necessary. I sincerely wish Reid the best of luck wherever he ends up (unless it’s with an NFC team). It would behoove him to learn from the mistakes he made over and over again with the Eagles, but given his trademark stubbornness — which, in addition to over-reliance on certain players, will always be his downfall — I doubt that happens. One day we’ll be able to look back upon the totality of Andy Reid’s stint in Philadelphia with fondness, but right now the feelings of disappointment and ultimate unfulfillment remain raw and pervasive.
Adios, Andy. Sometimes you just have to recognize when a relationship has reached its end. We need something new, and, honestly, so does he. That said, I’m hopeful Reid gets the proper sendoff today in the form of one final victory. He deserves that much after 14 seasons, and, given the unfortunate circumstances, there’s no better way to go out than by eliminating those hated New York Giants from playoff contention. A win would also put the Eagles at 5-11, the same record as Andy’s first year on the job. It would be a cyclical, fitting conclusion to one hell of a run.
Examining 2013 Free Agency: Safety
I made a commitment a few weeks ago to start looking ahead to the offseason, and I’m sticking to it. That will start in the next paragraph. Sunday’s thrilling and cathartic victory over the Buccaneers was extra sweet because, like douches, they celebrated the Super Bowl team that broke our hearts nearly ten years ago. It was good to have that (forgotten) winning feeling again, and I hope it proves to be a taste of what Nick Foles can do as a starting quarterback in this league. Two or three years from now, maybe we’ll fondly look back on this game as when we first got a glimpse.
By now you’ve read about Foles’ performance, both negative and positive — but mostly positive. I don’t want to minimize that he missed some throws and should’ve been intercepted to end the game right before brilliantly concocting the fourth down play to Jason Avant. I just want to emphasize that the natural attributes Foles did show were highly impressive and indicative of the type of quarterback who has classically dominated the position. His pocket presence was sharp and subtle mobility Brady-esque, all the way down to slowly but smartly scrambling for crucial yards. Foles’ football IQ, game awareness and general feel for the position are unlike what we, as Eagles fans, are used to seeing. Let’s just say I’m somewhere between cautiously and enthusiastically optimistic. Tonight’s game against the tough Bengals defense will be a key litmus test of his progression. After the stones — moxie, savvy, poise, HUGE BALLS — Foles showed on Sunday, I can barely suppress my glee and am thisclose to anointing him the real deal. Do you realize he did something that no other Eagles quarterback had achieved since the Elias Sports Bureau started keeping records in 1970 by throwing the winning touchdown pass on the game’s final play? If you don’t believe me, take it up with Merrill Reese.
Anyway, after last week’s article, taking a look at the upcoming free agent class seems like the next step. Just remember, Eagles fans, as you know full well free agency can be a minefield of fool’s gold. This first installment will feature the position you figure the team will target first and foremost, safety. There’s a nice crop slated to become available, but I’m skeptical any of the best candidates will reach market due to getting re-signed or slapped with the franchise tag. Here are the top names (minus Ed Reed and Ronde Barber for obvious reasons):
Jairus Byrd - FS - Buffalo Bills - 5’10” / 203
One of the league’s most dangerous game-changers on defense, Byrd would bring much-needed stability and playmaking ability to a flaccid Eagles secondary. His level of consistent excellence as a pro has been marvelous, and given the fact that he turns 27 next season, it’s reasonable to think he still has at least four or five elite seasons remaining. Understandably, the Bills have already reached out with the intent to re-sign Byrd. They’ll have to pay him as the top safety in football because his numbers warrant it. At worst the Bills will be forced to franchise Byrd, so I don’t see him being on the market.
Dashon Goldson - FS - San Francisco 49ers - 6’2” / 200
First established himself in 2009 and, as far as the numbers go, has been producing well ever since. Pro Football focus harpooned his 2011 season and labeled him a “seemingly average player.” I haven’t intently watched enough 49ers games (aside from seeing their offense thanks to the glorious NFL RedZone Channel) to accurately assess Goldson this season, so I’ll leave that up to the readers who can. Somehow I get the feeling he’ll be commanding a sizable contract. Turns 29 next season, not worth big money to me.
William Moore - SS - Atlanta Falcons - 6’0” / 221
He just might be the most underrated safety in the league. I really liked Moore in the 2009 draft coming out of Missouri; the Falcons selected him in the second round, a few picks after the Eagles took LeSean McCoy. Yeah, can’t say I would’ve wanted it to happen differently. Another player who will stay with his current team one way or another.
Under the radar options:
Louis Delmas - FS - Detroit Lions - 5’11” / 202
Like Moore, Delmas was a top-rated safety (of the free variety) in the 2009 draft. Like Moore, Delmas is a player of whom I thought highly. After making an immediate impact and looking like a potential All-Pro his first two seasons in the league, Delmas has been hit hard by injuries and seen his performance drop off. If the Lions don’t retain him, he represents an intriguing low risk/high reward investment. One I’d endorse, for the right price.
Kerry Rhodes - FS - Arizona Cardinals - 6’3” / 212
Got two of his four interceptions against former teammate and all-around jag Mark Sanchez, so I’m not sure if we should count those (half joking). What sticks out to me most about Rhodes, however, is his high number of solo tackles. You might also remember him for causing this. Solid player overall but turns 31 next season and isn’t worth breaking the bank. On a short-term deal, you talk me into it.
Others: Kenny Phillips, LaRon Landry, Sean Considine (just kidding)
Ready for dessert? I think I’ll finish with another mock draft, because, well, why not — it’s a chance to introduce a new fleet of prospects. Plus, today’s version includes something that so many fans are suggesting. I’m about to tickle the fuck out of my fancy with a fantastical trade down in the first round to acquire an extra pick (or two).
Trade (based on current draft order): #4 overall (1800 points) to San Diego for #9 (1350 points) and #41 (490 points). Points are based on the draft pick value chart.
* = underclassman
1 (9, via SD): *Taylor Lewan - OT - Michigan - 6061 / 310 - 4.98
Assuming he declares, Lewan has ideal measurables and is around the Luke Joeckel level athletically. Good length and a better run blocker than pass blocker; plays with a certain toughness and nastiness that would appeal to all of us who long for Jon Runyan, but the style is a double-edged sword. In the past Lewan was prone to instances of undisciplined play and letting his emotions get the best of him, which resulted in personal foul penalties that hurt his team. However, it seems as though the maturation process has paid dividends and caught up with his natural ability. After some early struggles, Lewan bounced back to have a quality (redshirt) junior season for the Wolverines and was voted the Big Ten Conference Offensive Lineman of the year.
I need to watch more tape (only seen a few Michigan games this season), but to be honest, Taylor Lewan is likely going to make or break his pro potential to me with how he performs in the Outback Bowl against Jadeveon Clowney, the projected first overall pick in 2014. That will be the lasting impression in forming my opinion.
If the Eagles want to trade down even further in the first round and get a king’s ransom for their pick, they should target Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews (Joeckel’s bookend partner and son of Hall-of-Famer Bruce), Central Michigan OT Eric Fisher, or Oklahoma OT Lane Johnson. All of them should end up going in the 10-25 range.
2 (36): *Justin Hunter - WR - Tennessee - 6035 / 200 - 4.49
Like fellow Volunteers wide receiver Cordarelle Patterson, I’m skeptical Hunter, if he declares (which appears imminent), would even last this long since I expect him to kill it at the Combine. Former track star who has everything you look for in a number one wide receiver and is the big, dynamic weapon the Eagles need to complete the offensive arsenal. Hunter has a long, wiry frame and is a fluid, freakish athlete with deft body control and mid-air adjustment capabilities; length creates a huge catching radius and propensity for high-pointing the ball, while he’s shown ability to pluck passes out of the air with ease. An advanced route runner who can create separation with his speed, acceleration and ability to sink hips without decelerating, Hunter is a game-breaker who can make defenders miss and rack up yards after the catch. Sometimes loses focus and drops passes because he doesn’t look ball into his hands (already has head turned upfield) or lets it get into his chest. Slender build and needs to get stronger, but that should come with continued maturation and NFL weight training. Superstar potential if mental component catches up with elite physical talents.
Justin Hunter would likely be a surefire top-15 pick in 2014 and steal at the top of the second round in 2013. Ah, I’m deluding myself, once the predraft process is over he’ll probably be a top-20 pick in April.
Note: Hunter tore his ACL in the third game of 2011 season, and I wonder what kind of effect the injury had on his 2012 season. Profiles as a candidate to break out as an NFL rookie in 2013, when he’ll be two years removed from injury.
2 (41): *Matt Elam - S - Florida - 5102 / 202 - 4.53
Here’s what I wrote about Elam back in early October:
On defense, Matt Elam reminds me of Brian Dawkins (*drool*). A complete safety with elite instincts, he covers ground, excels playing center field and in coverage matching up with tight ends and running backs. Elam is good against the run, a physical tackler who flies to the football and blows up ball carriers, while also showing flashes of being a dangerous blitzer and disruptive force in the backfield. Plays violently and toes the line, but can sometimes let emotions get the best of him. To that extent, my only real concern about Elam at the next level is his size and whether he’ll be able to sustain his current style of play. A scheme-flexible hybrid who could play probably both safety spots in the NFL, he has all the makings of a stud difference-maker at the next level. Capped with a dominant performance in Gator Bowl win over Ohio State (6 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack), Elam was the best player on Florida’s defense last year — what I loved most is that he actually led the Gators in tackles for loss with 11 — and remains so now. Seriously, Brian Dawkins-level unique skill set for the position, leadership intangible included. I want Matt Elam on my football team, but we might have to talk about wearing a bigger jersey. This isn’t the 1980’s.
Future note: In one of these mocks I’ll address the potential (likely?) scenario that neither DRC nor Nnamdi will be back with the Eagles in 2013 and therefore spend two of the first three picks on cornerbacks.
3 (68): Chase Thomas - OLB - Stanford - 6036 / 248 - 4.74
Has the size, strength, skill set and rugged, physical style of a throwback era linebacker. Thomas is my favorite player on what’s a ferocious, pro-caliber and highly enjoyable to watch Stanford defense. He’s instinctive, always around the ball and a tremendous tackler. Quick and anticipatory as opposed to fast. A little stiff and most effective down near the line of scrimmage instead of in space, Thomas developed pass rush skills as an outside linebacker in Stanford’s 3-4. While an average athlete at best, he should be able to play on his feet just fine in a 4-3.
As we saw in the Bucs game, Mychal Kendricks is best suited to play weakside linebacker, where he can utilize his elite speed (to close on the ball) and special athleticism (in coverage). With DeMeco Ryans in the middle and Chase Thomas ready to step in immediately, this selection would truly solidify the starting linebacker corps. I can’t even express to you how ecstatic I’d be if the Eagles draft him.
4: Jordan Poyer - CB - Oregon State - 5111 / 190 - 4.49
Well-rounded player who impressed me with each successive viewing. Showcases the kind of versatility that appeals to NFL teams and lined up all over the place on the Oregon State defense. Poyer has experience covering outside wide receivers, slot receivers and tight ends. Great athlete with elite awareness and innate feel for both man and zone coverage. Unafraid, always in attack mode. Ball skills are tremendous (7 interceptions this season and 13 for his career), perhaps best among cornerback prospects in this draft. What sticks out to me most, however, is how well Poyer’s able to turn and locate the ball while running with a receiver, so that even if he can’t necessarily make a play, he’s not face-guarding the receiver and committing pass interference. Not the prettiest tackler, but it’s not for lack of effort or desire; size just prevents him from being anythig more than average in this area, and getting off blocks will be an issue. Poyer can be outmuscled by bigger wide receivers and must get stronger, but he has the undeniable skill set of a top-notch NFL corner.
Unfortunately, Poyer was robbed of a chance to match up with Keenan Allen when the latter was sidelined with an injury for Oregon State/California, as I was looking forward to seeing how he would fair against one of the nation’s top wide receiver prospects.
Based on talent alone, another CB I’d want at this spot is Georgia’s Sanders Commings (6012 / 216), but I can’t in good conscience advocate selecting him. He was suspended for the first two games of the season and has a troubling history of domestic violent complaints.
5: Brandon Williams - DT - Missouri Southern - 6016 / 328 - 5.09
Williams might hail from Division II Missouri Southern, but he has everything you look for in a prospect and profiles as a player whose talent transcends that lower level of competition. In addition to being an unstoppable force, Williams’ size, strength, quickness and versatility (played all along the defensive line) will appeal to NFL teams. So too will his character and personality. The thought of pairing Williams with Fletcher Cox has my salivary glands going haywire.
6: Larry Webster - DE - Bloomsburg - 6062 / 240 - 4.74
Second Division II player in a row. Webster popped up on my radar about a month ago while I was putting together a scourting report on Maryland DE/DT Joe Vellano, a personal favorite of mine. At the time, Vellano was ranked one spot behind Webster by NFL Draft Scout. A defensive end who’s 6’6”, 240 pounds and runs a 4.74? Well, with such enticing physical attributes he passes the eye test with flying colors, so I had to know more. Turns out Webster is the son of former 11-year NFL veteran defensive tackle Larry Webster, so put a check under favorable bloodlines. The junior Larry, a four-year starting center for the Bloomsburg basketball team, hadn’t played football competitively since high school until this season. His length, athleticism, raw ability and seamless reintegration to the sport — where he was immediately dominant, even recording a sack and interception in the season opener — drew the attention of pro scouts. One of those “pieces of clay” who could be molded into something special with the right coaching. Very high ceiling, the type of talent you take a chance on at this point in the draft.
Another consideration here is Marquis Jackson (DE - Portland State - 6032 / 260 - 4.87). He’s a former USC recruit and Texas Southern transfer who brings a ton of raw ability to the table. With the size and talent to be an NFL defensive end, Jackson is a project who could blossom in the right situation.
7: Adam Smith - OG - Western Kentucky - 6045 / 325 - 5.46
This Adam Smith might not be the father of modern economics, but he is a player whose sheer mammothness (not a word) caught my eye. A classic road grader-type; limited athlete who relies on simply engulfing and overpowering opponents. I imagine I’d learn everything I need to know about Adam Smith’s NFL potential by watching the Alabama game (as an aside, this is when teammate Quanterrus Smith sent his draft stock soaring with a three-sack performance), which is a tape I’ve been meaning to get my hands on.
7 (via DEN, Brodrick Bunkley trade): Drew Frey - SS - Cincinnati - 6026 / 212 - 4.58
Obligatory Cincinnati pick. Frey is a try-hard thumper in the classic SS mold who’s effective down near the line of scrimmage and a liability in coverage. Athletic limitations and one-dimensional nature confine him to being a backup safety, but a player I envision earning his keep on special teams.
How do you like that Missouri Southern-Bloomsburg-Western Kentucky trifecta in rounds five, six and seven? God, I love the draft.
Finally, here’s to tonight’s game perpetuating the happy and hopeful feelings for the future. Here’s to Folesmania continuing.
A Preliminary Look at the Eagles’ 2013 Offseason
Losing to the Cowboys is always the antithesis of fun, a fate that typically tortures my soul and ruins my week. However, seeing as how I gave up on the season a long time ago, I’m now viewing games through the prism of preparing for next year and beyond. With that in mind, I saw reasons for optimism Sunday night. Nick Foles put forth by far his best performance to date. While he still missed open opportunities and was fortunate not to throw a pick-six to Danny McCray, the rookie showed encouraging signs of progression. He was poised and stood tall in the pocket, unafraid to take a hit to make a play. While Foles remains a project, for the first time I started to earnestly warm up to the idea of him being the Eagles starting quarterback in 2013. Whether I remain warm to that idea will be determined over the final four games.
Aside from Foles’s performance, Dennis Kelly showed flashes of being an NFL-caliber right tackle, a position he held at Purdue his entire four-year college career. It didn’t take long for the experiment of trying him at guard to be deemed a failure — with good reason, since he looked utterly lost and served as little more than a matador. Kelly, able to narrow his focus and utilize his size and athleticism to neutralize pass rushers, looked comfortable and competent with more space to operate. With the caveat in mind that the Eagles will be getting back three starters from injury in 2013, offensive line doesn’t appear to be as dire a need as it was a month ago. In fact, when you consider how Jake Scott’s addition has seemingly stabilized the unit, the Eagles suddenly have considerable depth there. Who knows if Scott will be offered a contract for next season with Howard Mudd retiring, but there’s no denying the impact he’s had since signing. Had you asked me a few weeks ago who the Eagles should target with their first round pick, I’d have said Luke Joeckel. Now I’m not so sure and lean more towards the best defensive player available. The Eagles need a rock solid performer, emotional leader and playmaker on that side of the ball. I know DeMeco Ryans has been one of the few bright spots on defense this season, but if Chuck Bednarik and Maxwell Award winner Manti Te’o is on the board, I think the Eagles should take him and go from there.
Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about Bryce Brown, who continued to show he’s a unique package of physical ability with superstar talent. Know this: His potential is limitless. I’d venture to say there are few running backs in the league who can rival his skill set. I’m not even lathering this in hyperbole sauce, I really believe it. Of course, Brown has to learn to better protect the football and curb his fumblitis, or none of that immense promise will mean a damn thing. Luckily, you can teach ball security; you can’t teach how he runs. An offense built around a tandem of LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown carrying the ball 30-40 times per game can absolutely win in an NFL that’s become tilted in favor of the passing attack. You know why? Because football is still, at its core, about lining up, putting a hat on a hat and beating the guy in front of you. Hopefully Jason Peters can be 100% healthy and back to form for next season because the thought of him clearing the way for McCoy and Brown is positively boner-inducing. Step back for a second and think about what the Eagles starting offensive line could look like next season: LT - Jason Peters; LG - Evan Mathis; C - Jason Kelce; RG - Todd Herremans; RT - Dennis Kelly. I could dig it.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Brandon Graham, Riley Cooper, and Damaris Johnson, all of whom made their presence felt against the Cowboys. Graham, for reasons that might have helped contribute to Jim Washburn’s firing, only played 31 snaps against Dallas despite owning Doug Free (then again, it appears everyone owns Doug Free these days). He was a terror in the first half, recording numerous pressures and 1.5 sacks, before slowing down a bit in the second half. As for Riley Cooper, I’ll continue to sing his praises until I’m blue in the face. I think Cooper is a legit weapon, especially down in the red zone, and he’s exactly what the Eagles desperately need. That touchdown catch was a fantastic, NFL-caliber grab (credit to Foles for trusting his receiver to make a play) — his second one-handed snag in as many games versus Dallas! I’ve been a Damaris Johnson advocate for going on two years and will continue to lobby he get the ball more on offense. He’s got a bona fide niche in this league as an offensive gadget player, waiting to be exploited. Against the Cowboys, however, Johnson made his mark at the end with a slick, electrifying 98-yard punt return that gave the Eagles a brief glimmer of hope.
At this point, I’d like to link my season preview article, where I posited the Eagles had to change their identity and forge a certain toughness on both sides of the ball. Part of this, to me, meant building the offense around its most dangerous weapon, LeSean McCoy. I was skewered at the time for romanticizing the power rushing attack and being antiquated, but I will not waver. The thing is, I’m not asking for a power rushing attack, I just want an offense where the best players touch the ball as much as possible. Like Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg stubbornly believe you win in this league by passing the ball ad nauseum, I stubbornly believe the next era of Eagles football must be constructed around a running game that has the potential to be dominant. Shit, I thought that before the emergence of Bryce Brown. As you might imagine, his play the past two games — he won me my fantasy matchup again! — has only strengthened my conviction.
What I really want to do in this article is get a head start on the offseason and assess the roster. I’ll open up the forum to you, the readers. Those of you who wish to share your opinion and have your voice heard, this is your chance: Which of the current players should be part of the Eagles’ plans in 2013, and which should be given their walking papers?
I’ll throw a few ideas to get things started…
- The Eagles defense is an affront to what a real NFL defense should be. Remember how DRC essentially branded the unit as soft and intimated they were a joke around the league? Yeah, that wasn’t emasculating or anything. We’ve heard the term “cancer” associated with the Eagles way too much the past two seasons. That influence has to be eradicated and the mindset of the defense has to be overhauled. In addition to a proven coach, the defense needs a real, demonstrative leader on the field. Someone whose presence and play can have a ripple effect and fundamentally change the defense’s identity. Someone who’s a playmaker, who can turn the game’s momentum and come through in the clutch.
- Should the Eagles trade Jeremy Maclin? I know I’d shop him around the league to gauge value. I get a feeling the best offer might be a third or fourth round pick. If it’s a third, I do it. Why? Because I don’t think he has value to the Eagles beyond next season. Get what you can for Maclin now because it doesn’t make sense to give him the contract he’ll demand. DeSean Jackson is already making big money, and Jeremy has shown nothing to indicate he’s more than a redundant, fairly “blah” complement. He’s mostly ineffective after the catch, and his (lack of) effort as a blocker at times has been appalling and off-putting. I don’t expect Jackson to do much more than just get in the way as a blocker due to his size, but Maclin has no excuse for playing like a bitch.
- Do the Eagles have to replace the entire secondary this offseason? I’m serious. Is that going to happen? The most dumbfounding, bizarre development this season is by far the thorough implosion of the pass defense. What the fuck happened? John Lynch, in an interview with Jome Rome, decried the secondary’s effort as “disrespectful… to the game.” Wow. We all know the video game numbers opposing quarterbacks have put up since Juan Castillo got shit-canned and Todd Bowles was elevated from defensive backs coach to defensive coordinator. The whole thing is simply mind-numbing. Talk about your all-time backfires, right, Andy? Speaking of Andy, I’m not buying the feared notion that he could be coming back next year, but I’m also in I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it mode.*
*I just feel sympathy for Reid at this point. He is a captain going down with the ship, doing his martyr schtick to the bitter end. After 14 seasons and the most successful era in team history, the man deserves to go out with his dignity in tact. I’ve had my disagreements with Andy — mainly pertaining to his obstinate offensive philosophy — and directed some expletives his way over the years, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate what he has done for the Eagles. The hard truth is his opportunity to win a Super Bowl in Philadelphia has long since expired. It’s simply time for us to go our separate ways. Whenever Andy retires from coaching, he’ll be brought back and inducted into the Eagles’ Ring of Honor, the fans will cheer and celebrate him, it’ll be happy feelings all around. The hollowness of not achieving the ultimate goal will never go away, but life is full of disappointments. I was fortunate to have Andy Reid as the Eagles’ coach during my adolescent years. I got to watch relevant, competitive, winning football more often than not. Now it’s time to move on and see if there’s someone else out there who can help the Eagles win that elusive, almost mythical Super Bowl.
I’ll devote a future post to free agency, but for the sake of discussion, here’s a very early Eagles’ mock draft:
Player - Position - School - Height / Weight - 40-Yard Dash Time (estimated)
1 (5): Manti Te’o - ILB - Notre Dame - 6015 / 255 - 4.75
I know, I know, DeMeco Ryans has earned the right to be the Eagles starting middle linebacker in 2013. I don’t think this pick necessarily changes that right now, but given his age (29 in July) and contract — Ryans is due $6.6M in ‘13; $6.8M in ‘14 and ‘15 — finding his successor would be a prudent move. Te’o has been in the spotlight since his senior year of high school, when he was ESPN’s second-ranked overall recruit. In addition to serving as the face of Notre Dame’s resurgence under Brian Kelly, Te’o has established himself as a college football icon. A player whose mere nomination for the Heisman Trophy is a remarkable feat, a player who screams impact pro. The Eagles need a fiery leader and game-changing playmaker on defense. Manti Te’o has always been a fiery leader, but this season he’s proven he can be that game-changing playmaker as well. The intangibles, solid tackling (most of the time), instincts and recognition skills have never been in question, and Te’o’s coverage skills have improved. While his seven interceptions in 2012 are impressive, don’t forget he had a grand total of zero his first three seasons. Interceptions or not, Te’o still profiles as a player who can dutifully and dependably lead an NFL defense for a decade.
Now, do I actually think Te’o will be the Eagles’ first pick? Let’s just say it would really surprise me. Then again, maybe such a selection would signify a shift in philosophy. A lot of the decision will depend on who’s the next coach. More than anything, I want Howie Roseman — of whom I am a supporter, and who I think deserves a chance to create his own legacy independent of Andy (his actions this past offseason sold me on him as a GM) — to stick to the board and pick the best player available. You know, like the Eagles did in 2012 after Roseman admitted they had strayed in recent years. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion of Howie. Some will never be able to see past the fact that he made his bones on the business end of operations and thus label him an “outsider” unfit for talent evaluation. Some will crucify him for the mistakes of 2010 and 2011. I’m over that. I want to see if Roseman can build upon his most recent momentum and continue to improve. How he’s handled himself to this point, and how he’s progressed along the way, makes me optimistic that his best is yet to come.
Other options: Luke Joeckel (OT - Texas A&M), Star Lotulelei (DT - Utah), Bjoern Werner (DE - Florida State)
Edit: I’m switching around the Phillip Thomas and Arthur Brown picks (I struggled with this while writing the article)… though I doubt Arthur lasts until the third round.
2 (37): Phillip Thomas - S - Fresno State - 6003 / 215 - 4.57
You remember Phillip Thomas, don’t you? The undrafted free agent out of Syracuse the Eagles signed, who also fell victim to a weird impersonator? Yeah, this Phillip Thomas is whole hell of a lot better. I don’t know where Thomas, who leads the nation in interceptions and is up for the Jim Thorpe Award, is projected to go in the draft, but I currently have him ranked in my top-40. A player who flashed as a freshman and sophomore, he has had an incredible senior campaign after missing all of last season with a devastating broken leg and dislocated ankle. What makes Thomas so appealing is that he’s a ball hawk who can cover tight ends and excels playing center field. He sometimes struggles when attacking downfield; needs to be more disciplined, as he has a tendency to launch himself instead of breaking down and exhibiting proper form. That said, Thomas has shown he can be a solid tackler, he’s just inconsistent. For example, in the Fresno State/Boise State game in October, Thomas shed an offensive lineman at the goal line and stepped up to stuff the running back. That’s an impressive, special play. Yet later in the game he had a chance to make a tackle but flew right by the ball carrier, allowing him to pick up extra yards. Thomas loves to lay the wood and is a fearsome hitter (different from “tackler”) with instincts and a feel for the game to match. A true playmaker with few glaring weaknesses, I think he can be an immediate starter in the NFL.
Other options: Matt Elam (SS - Florida), Desmond Trufant (CB - Washington)
3 (69): Arthur Brown - OLB - Kansas State - 6005 / 228 - 4.62
No, this doesn’t mean I’ve given up on Mychal Kendricks. Best player available, remember? Besides, competition at linebacker isn’t a bad thing. Maybe the Eagles will switch to a 3-4 in the offseason, who knows? I’m just telling you right now: Arthur Brown is going to be an excellent pro, and the type of player you find ways to get on the field. Aside from the fact that it would be cool to reunite the Brown brothers as pivotal (re)building blocks for the Eagles, the elder Brown — only by 11 months (!) — served as an adept foil to Robert Griffin III in their only college matchup, intercepting him once and sacking him 1.5 times (the game tape is glorious). I have a feeling we’re going to need players like that going forward. Brown’s value is tricky to ascertain. I’ve read anywhere from late first to third round. Like Lavonte David last draft, Arthur’s size will be scrutinized and obscure the fact that it’s literally the only negative aspect of his game.
Other options: Quinton Patton (WR - Louisiana Tech), Ra’Shede Hageman (DT/DE - Minnesota - A rare specimen whose size/weight/speed combination is downright Fletcher Coxian)
4: Blidi Wreh-Wilson - CB - Connecticut - 6004 / 190 - 4.48
Wreh-Wilson has jumped out at me in limited viewings this season after missing most of 2011 with a knee injury. Like his athleticism and physical style, will be a player I watch closely if I’m able to make it to the Senior Bowl.
5: Travis Kelce - TE - Cincinnati - 6052 / 260 - 4.68
Yes, Jason’s brother. Let’s make the Eagles a family affair! Travis is a big dude and legit athlete; strong blocker and sneaky dangerous receiver who came into his own as a redshirt senior. He fits the prototype for the league-wide revolution taking place at the position and is a perfect complement to Brent Celek (better than the relatively forgotten Clay Harbor, at least).
6: Blaize Foltz - OG - Texas Christian - 6036 / 310 - 5.32
Gotta love this guy. First, the name. Too awesome. On the field, Foltz is a true throwback, tough as nails and a mauler. He might also just be the strongest offensive lineman in the country. Seriously, dude is a freak. Going into this season, Foltz was benching 580 pounds, squatting 800, incline benching 530 and had clean jerked 430. And TCU coaches said he could do more if they let him. Um, whoa.
7: Mark Harrison - WR - Rutgers - 6024 / 230 - 4.58
Not a burner but has incredible size and strength, long limbs and makes highlight-reel catches. Harrison’s physical skills are overwhelming, and he understands how to use them to his advantage. His development this season, after a breakout 2010 and injury-stunted 2011, really made me take notice. Strikes me as a player coming into his own and represents significant value at this spot.
7 (via DEN, Brodrick Bunkley trade): Cooper Taylor - SS - Richmond - 6034 / 228 - 4.57
Aside from the imposing size and physicality, Taylor, a Georgia Tech transfer whose freshman tape you should definitely watch, has dominated FCS competition the past two seasons. He’s up for the Buck Buchanan Award and intrigues the hell out of me. College career was interrupted by rare heart disorder, but Taylor was cleared to play and, having seen his spot in the Yellow Jackets lineup usurped, transferred to Richmond.
Alright, flame away.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Think Monday night’s game was rock bottom? Who knows, maybe this Eagles team is looking to redefine the phrase. It sucks, it’s terrible, it’s humiliating. But listen, sometimes you have to reach this nadir in order to understand the gravity of the situation, to cut the cord and start anew. Maybe a total implosion and widespread public ridicule is what it had to take for the insanity to finally end.
Looking at the division is a scary proposition since every other team is set at quarterback for at least the next five years. Eli will finish his going-to-be-Hall-of-Fame career with the Giants, Robert Griffin III is about to turn the Skins into the NFC East’s new version of the early-2000’s Eagles, and Tony Romo will continue to be Tony Romo for those wonderful Cowboys. Who, exactly, is the Eagles quarterback for 2013? I know the general feeling amongst the populace is to look at the franchise’s current situation with feelings of dread and uncertainty, that the future is irrevocably doomed. I don’t necessarily see it that way. Rather, I see opportunity. I see a chance for change, for resurrection. To make the Eagles a team that Philadelphia can love again. That Philadelphia wants to love. Basically, the kind of team that died for good in 2009, first when Brian Dawkins wasn’t signed to end his career as an Eagle, and then again months later when Jim Johnson lost his battle with cancer. Because, let me tell you, the fans hate — so thoroughly loathe — these Eagles, and that’s not how anyone wants to feel. That’s not how it should be, and it breaks my heart. Ask ten people for one word to describe the 2012 Eagles, and I wager at least half would say “unlikeable.” That’s unacceptable.
I get excited when I think about the blank canvas that is the Eagles’ future, and I hope to be a part of it in some capacity. The Eagles are approaching what has to be considered the most pivotal time in franchise history. What happens directly post-Andy Reid will (likely) define the next decade of football in Philadelphia. It will define the second half of Jeffrey Lurie’s legacy as Eagles owner. Lurie and Howie Roseman can’t afford to screw up this head coaching hire, but somehow I get the feeling they already know that. For the fans, it’s open season on suggesting potential head coaches and looking ahead to the offseason, free agency and draft.
I’m not going to talk about what happened against the Panthers because there isn’t much I need to say… but I’ll say something anyway. You understand what we are witnessing, right? This Eagles secondary, which was fairly excellent the first six games of 2012, has devolved into the worst in NFL history. It’s mind-blowing. I’d say it’s unbelievable, but these are the Eagles we’re talking about. Nothing is unbelievable. I wonder if there was some kind of seismic shock that facilitated the collapse. I’m sure there was, just can’t seem to put my finger on it. Oh well.
On the plus side, Bryce “Jim” Brown is super legit and delivered on the promise anyone who’s seen him play football before knew was there. Brian Baldinger invoked a Bo Jackson comparison while reviewing the game film. If you remember, LeSean McCoy made the same comparison before the season even began. Yes, Brown showed his inexperience by carrying the ball loosely and fumbling twice (he’s lucky that was it). We’re talking about a player who hadn’t received 15 touches in a game since high school. How to correctly and safely protect the football is a skill that can be taught, but Bryce Brown’s rare blend of size, speed and power cannot. What we need now is a head coach committed to building the offense around Shady and Brown, around a run game that can physically devastate opposing defenses. Dare to dream, I guess. I mean, it’s kinda simple, right? What you have here are two unique talents at running back, both of whom are still young and entering their primes. They also just so happen to complement each other harmoniously. How do you not build the offense around them? Am I crazy, or is this not what logic dictates?
Brown wasn’t the only rookie to shine in the loss to Carolina. Vinny Curry made keeping him inactive the first ten games look positively foolish. Who was responsible for that decision? Yeah, fire him. Curry played with passion and had an impact nearly every time on the field, including a tackle on the very first snap of his NFL career. However, it was the hustle play he made to tackle Cam Newton at the line of scrimmage after falling down and missing him the backfield at first that tells you the kind of player Vinny Curry is. We so desperately need more of his caliber. With the merciful and overdue release of Jason Babin — probably THE poster child for the Eagles’ unlikeableness, whom I detested even last season because he’s an insufferable and self-important douche who plays a bitch brand of football (have fun in Jacksonville!) — we can finally see younger players who are hungry. Who have something to prove. Who play for more than just themselves. Who haven’t already checked out.
Nick Foles’ best moments of the game were when he recognized the blitz and audibled to a run at the line of scrimmage. Otherwise, his play was far below encouraging. Fine, it was bad. Hopefully Foles gets a few more games to start because I want to see if he progress at all. Right now it seems he has only regressed since taking over for Vick in the Cowboys game, and that’s a troubling concern.
Wait, I said I wasn’t going to write about the game. Damnit, my bad. Anyway, at the end of the season (only five weeks left!), Lurie and Roseman will have to make a critical determination: What kind of team do they want the Eagles to be? What kind of identity do they want to forge? What’s their vision for the future? I’ve already written at length about what kind of team I want, but it’s not up to me. In my ideal world, the Eagles are based on the current 49ers model. Mean, physical, imposing, badass you-know-whats. A team built on the solid foundational principles of football, that values strong defense and powerful rushing over finesse, glitz and gimmickry. Call me old school or antiquated, but that’s how I want to see my team play, especially when my team doesn’t have an elite or even efficient passer at the quarterback position. I want to make it very clear, however, for the people who mistakenly interpret my pleas as a romanticization of the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense. I just want fucking balance. That’s all I’ve ever asked for. Some discipline, some intuitiveness, some adaptability, understanding the ebbs and flows of a game. I delight in watching an explosive aerial attack — when it’s capable of success and executed properly. Hell, I’d be lying if I said I don’t enjoy Patriots’ games and watching Tom Brady orchestra the offense’s surgical, immaculate precision. It’s a thing of beauty. Andy Reid made his bastardized version of the West Coast Offense painfully beautiful for a time with Donovan McNabb, but failed to find the successor he needed to complete a second term in Philadelphia.
You’ve already heard the first rumor linking Chip Kelly to the Eagles, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. This circus is just getting started, so do yourself a favor and take nothing too seriously. That said, I’m casting all my initial support behind Greg Roman, offensive coordinator for the 49ers. He profiles as the perfect candidate to lead the Eagles into a new era. Roman is someone who has more than earned the opportunity and is highly regarded around the league. Read that linked article and tell me you don’t find the guy endearing.
Now, look at the offense Roman has created in San Francisco, where he’s part of an exemplary group of coaches that’s taking the league by storm. It’s only natural to expect Jim Harbaugh’s staff will get raided at some point. Speaking of which, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will also be in demand on the head coaching market. I actually suggested him at the end of last season. Chatter is that Lurie will go after an offensive mind, so that’s why I zeroed in on Roman. He will need to choose a quarterback from an underwhelming talent pool but can nonetheless come in here and immediately implement his philosophy, blessed with LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown to jump start the operation. Roman, a Ventnor City native and Eagles fan as a youth (I think?), would also appeal emotionally to a fan base starving to feel a connection with its football team and coach. Listen to one of his press conferences and tell me it’s not a breath of fresh air. He’s articulate, insightful and forthright. Sure, Roman throws some general cliches in there, but it’s not all cliches, which is what we’ve endured from Andy Reid. About the only thing these two have in common is their appearance — sans walrus ‘stache. Greg Roman was once described as an “athletically challenged 5-foot-8, 255-pound nose guard” (FROM: John Carroll). I feel obligated to inform you of the rest of that quote: “… [who] earned a 3.5 GPA and had a consulting job during his final semester of college.” Smart, if interestingly shaped, fella.
For the abortion that is this defense, we could only hope Roman manages to lure some of the 49ers’ defensive staff with him. I doubt that will be easy, especially if Fangio gets a head coaching job elsewhere. But just for shits and giggles: Maybe Roman brings Jim Leavitt (yes, the former South Florida coach who was fired for this unfortunate incident). I’m desperate enough to say his old, gruff face reminds me of Jim Johnson. I’m not desperate enough to say he appeals to me more than defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. Tomsula cut his teeth as a defensive assistant in NFL Europe before becoming head coach of the mighty Rhein Fire in 2006. He joined the 49ers in 2007, survived the purge of Mike Singletary’s coaching staff and sports a pristine 1-0 record as a head coach in the NFL. Undefeated! Add in Tomsula’s fiery personality and, sure, I could see him fitting in just fine with our city. Of course, all this conjecture is but one of infinite coaching scenarios; I imagine everyone will have, and be eager to share their own opinions and desires regarding the matter.
I’ll leave you with this final thought: Yeah, the season is over, but, come on, FUCK Dallas. Go Eagles, provide a sweet moment while we ingest this shit sandwich of a season by effectively ending the Cowboys’ season. And hey, if Bryce Brown could win me my fantasy matchup for a second week in a row, I would certainly appreciate it.
Week 10 Recap: Cowboys 38 Eagles 23
Rock bottom hit Sunday evening at Lincoln Financial Field, with the Eagles spectacularly imploding in the fourth quarter and handing Dallas the win on a silver platter. It happened in the span of 2:35 from the end of the third quarter through early in the fourth quarter, when all three phases of the team — defense, special teams, offense, in that order — utterly failed. Fitting, really.
I started to type out this column Sunday night, complete with the typical sections for “The Good,” “The Bad,” and “The Ugly.” After about ten minutes, I let out a sigh and said, “Fuck this.” Then I got a second wind on Monday, sort of. I’m not going to follow the normal format, I’m just going to write. So if this article appears at all lazy, I apologize in advance. I’m just fatigued and over the whole mess that is the Eagles, you know?
LeSean McCoy, coming off a week when he missed two days of practice due to illness, did what he always does. He ran hard, made the most of his opportunities, and churned his way to 5+ yards per carry. Shady also appeared to be getting stronger as the game went along, averaging nearly 9 yards per carry in the second half — on just seven carries. Instead of feeding his bell cow, Andy Reid insisted McCoy looked tired (Shady disagreed) and didn’t want to overwork him. Oh, hey, would you look at that, more bullshit. There were various instances throughout the game where the Eagles should have run the ball, but since Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg are smarter than everyone else on the planet, they decided that calling pass plays and having Demetress Bell attempt to block DeMarcus Ware — while King Dunlap commited penalty after penalty — was a better course of action. I’d continue, but you should just read Ray Didinger’s "Eagles Film Study: Coaches ignore ground game." Why Ray didn’t add “again” at the end there, I don’t know. I hate repeating myself, and that’s all I ever do when criticizing how Andy/Marty utilize their best offensive player. I’m spent, and I’m done devoting keystrokes to their idiocy. I just hope that the next coach is smart (and flexible) enough to build the offense around Shady, instead of arrogantly and pigheadedly wasting the prime years of his career because of an insatiable desire to satisfy a bloated ego.
Edit: How about that ridiculous, nonsensical offensive possession before halftime? That couldn’t have been more vintage Andy Reid. Too funny. I was kinda rooting for the punt to get blocked, honestly (came close). Can’t believe I forgot to include this originally.
Adendum: Can we please start seeing more Bryce Brown? Not only is he a talented and powerful runner, but his adept blitz pickup allowed Foles time to roll out and find Jeremy Maclin for the 44-yard touchdown pass.
It wasn’t all good with Shady, though. His post-game quotes about the Eagles being able to “dominate” when things “come together” reaks of last season’s interminable delusion. I saw Flight in theatres on Saturday, and Shady’s words reminded me of Denzel Washington’s character trying to convince everyone he’s not addicted to alcohol or drugs while simultaneously chugging a handle of vodka and snorting cocaine. This team’s self-perception is so warped and out of whack, it’s pathetic. Newsflash: You are what you are —a bad, stupid team that can’t get out of its own way. It’s well beyond time to accept reality. After all, admitting you have a problem is the first step in correcting it.
On defense, the players didn’t do much of anything to refute Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie’s claim that the rest of the league views them as a “pretty” unit with no interest in “hitting” anybody. I feel the need to nitpick a bit with that critique. You see, Eagles defenders love hitting, it’s tackling that they shun. There’s a significant difference between the two. Aside from being allergic to tackling, the defense set an NFL record for Swiss cheeseness by allowing a third straight quarterback to complete over 70% of his passes while throwing for at least two touchdowns and zero interceptions. Bravo, guys. Bravo. Of course the entire secondary, which had been a strength the first six games of the season, would collapse the moment its coach was elevated to defensive coordinator. It wasn’t all bad, though. The defense settled down after a porous start and held Tony Romo and company to 17 points, while the pass rush has started to show signs of life again. I haven’t seen this mentioned, but Mychal Kendricks was brilliant in coverage against Jason Witten and the running backs. The main issue is that the unit has no legit playmakers, no one who can force turnovers or spur a swing in momentum. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to mention that Fletcher Cox had a tremendous game, even single-handedly stifling the Cowboys’ first full possession of the second quarter. If only he could’ve corralled Romo on that fateful 3rd and 5 when the Gomer Pyle lookalike eluded every Eagles defensive lineman deep in the backfield before stepping up in the pocket and completing a 25-yard pass to Miles Austin. Three plays later came Dez Bryant’s diving touchdown catch that hit the ground and shouldn’t have counted, immediately followed by the coup de grâce that took all of 2:35 to transpire.
Finally, and most importantly, Sunday we witnessed the long-anticipated debut of Nick Foles, franchise savior (tongue, meet cheek). To whomever had Week 10 in the “When would Michael Vick suffer a serious injury?” pool, congratulations. Given the difficult circumstances, I thought Foles handled himself admirably and showed reasons for optimism, both from a tangible and intangible standpoint. He certainly didn’t get any help from a coaching staff that abandoned an effective rushing attack and had him drop back 30+ times. As a passer, Foles already displays anticipation that Michael Vick could only dream of (see: the two passes when Jason Avant and Jeremy Maclin slipped coming out of their breaks). As a leader, he commanded the offense, made calls at the line, and interacted with his teammates on the sidelines. Was Foles lights out? No, not even close. There were certainly some terrible decisions and poor throws. He’s a rookie, that’s going to happen. What will be most telling is if he learns from those mistakes or repeats them. All I know is it looked like the Eagles finally had a quarterback playing that position instead of an athlete. I also found Foles’ post-game comments refreshing and endearing. If nothing else, at least the Foles situation creates intrigue for what remains of another otherwise disappointing and disastrous season.
The rest of the season basically amounts to a trial run. Now we get to see if Foles can be the future at quarterback, or if the Eagles will have to look eslewhere for a solution in the offseason. This also means Andy Reid’s short-term interests can no longer supersede the long-term interests of the franchise, which was an undeniable conflict. He’s just lucky the decision was made for him. The Yahoo! report that states Andy will try to use Foles’ potential progression during the last seven games of the season to save his job pisses me off to no end. As I tweeted yesterday, short of a miraculous 7-0 or 6-1 record with Foles that propels the Eagles to the playoffs, Andy does not deserve anymore chances, regardless of how good Foles might look. Just go away already and give me my team back. I want to enjoy the Eagles. I want to like them again. Andy Reid has made that impossible.
Among other things I’d like to see during the rest of the season: Increased playing time for Damaris Johnson and Riley Cooper. I’ve made my opinion on Damaris Johnson and his skills as a playmaker known in the past. He deserves more touches as part of the regular offense. Cooper fulfills a different role. The Eagles desperately need a big, physical target to play opposite DeSean Jackson. An “unbitch” receiver, as my dear friend Ari Lowell puts it. Someone who can go up and get the ball when it’s in the air, someone who doesn’t need a perfect throw to make the catch. Cooper is the only player on the roster who fits the bill and has serious ability, as he showed with his jaw-dropping touchdown catch against the Cowboys and in limited opportunities last season (see: second Giants game). I used to be very high on Maclin and thought he was a better pure receiver than Jackson, but I’ve soured on him this season. In addition to being afraid of contact, he is redundant in this offense and should be shopped for a trade before the draft.
Two weeks after losing for the first time post-bye, Andy Reid has now experienced his first five-game losing streak as Eagles head coach. Here’s another upcoming first for him: Getting fired. It’s not even the middle of November, but I’m already looking forward to the offseason and, PLEASE GOD, the beginning of a new era. Just make this insanity stop.
Week 9 Recap: Saints 28 Eagles 13
As I drove home from work Monday night, the radio host mentioned the Saints hadn’t lost a game in November since 2008. That seemed like a bad omen. Sure enough, it was. Honestly, I don’t feel like wasting a lot of time with a lede for this game recap. I’m exasperated and fatigued, an utterly defeated man begging for mercy. What more can I say that I haven’t already for years?
This game sucked, the Eagles are bad, and they now have the worst point differential in the NFC. The offense showed its true colors tonight and scored 13 points against the worst defense in NFL history. A defense that this offense made look ferocious and opportunistic. A defense that registered 21 fantasy points, after accumulating a total of 31 through the first seven games (with a high of 9).
1. LeSean McCoy. Ran hard, as usual, and busted chunks of yardage on seemingly every first-half carry. But, as has happened more than a few times this season, Shady’s lack of long speed got him caught from behind (see: 34-yard gain down to the New Orleans 4). The inability to hit that final gear and finish these breakout runs has cost the Eagles touchdowns, especially since their red zone offense is beyond pitiful and produces either a field goal or turnover.
2. First half rushing. Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg must have been disgusted at halftime to see the Eagles had racked up 156 yards rushing. I’m very much looking forward to the day we have a coach who builds the offense around a rushing attack featuring LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown (who flashed against the Saints). Apparently, a lot of the big runs came courtesy of Michael Vick audibling at the line. Andy and Marty, clearly displeased with such tomfoolery, set out to make sure the run game would do no more damage in the second half. They succeeded in their efforts. I don’t want to hear people hide behind the “we were down double-digit points” horse shit. It’s another empty excuse in a long line of them. Teams have erased three-possession deficits by running the ball, so it’s not unprecedented. But God forbid the Eagles get back in the game by pounding the rock even when it’s working, right?
3. Special teams. More than a few times on Twitter it was mentioned that Chris Polk had been useless on special teams this season, accounting for zero points based on Bobby April’s scoring system. Not anymore. Polk punched the ball out on the kickoff immediately following DeSean’s 77-yard touchdown, and Brandon Hughes fell on the fumble.
Of course I loved the ingenuity on the Music City Miracle-esque throwback to Riley Cooper, who evaded detection by lying down and camouflaging himself in the painted Saints’ “S” in the end zone. It was a wonderful, brilliant design — right out of the Annexation of Puerto Rico family. Too bad Brandon Boykin threw a forward pass instead of a lateral. Oh well. Good job. Good effort.
4. David Sims. Yeah, he took a bad angle and whiffed on the Chris Ivory touchdown run, but I actually think Sims played a damn impressive game overall. He, at 5’9”, was matched up against Jimmy Graham, who stands 6’6”, in a no-win situation way too many times. To Sims’ credit, he immediately tackled the gifted tight end after each catch and once made a nice play to swat the ball away. I liked what I saw and think Sims belongs. At least he’s one guy on defense who can tackle.
1. Defense. Drew Brees didn’t even have to dazzle in this game yet still finished with an efficient 8.9 yards per attempt. He did it from a clean pocket most of the time as the Eagles once again failed to generate consistent pressure, although in the second half they graduated to generating sporadic pressure. While the pass defense didn’t offer much in the way of resistance, neither did the run defense, which the Saints, with their dead last-ranked rushing attack (72 yards per game), gashed repeatedly for 139 yards on 24 carries. Now imagine how things could’ve gone had Darren Sproles been healthy.
2. Tackling. I didn’t see the necessary effort. Plenty of weak arm tackle attempts, not properly wrapping up the ball-carrier, getting dragged for extra yards. It’s an epidemic again, just like it was last season. Looks like the Eagles are getting burned by the miscalculated scapegoating of Juan Castillo. Oops.
1. Pass protection. It was a free-for-all whenever Michael Vick dropped back to pass in the first half, prompting Jimmy Kempski to quip that the embattled quarterback was safer in jail. Don’t mind Jimmy, he’s just spitting truth. Dallas Reynolds appeared to botch a number of pre-snap blocking calls, Dennis Kelly looked completely lost, and both King Dunlap and Todd Herremans (who sustained a serious ankle injury and appears to be starting offensive lineman number three lost for the season) struggled with whatever defensive end came at them. Demetress Bell replaced Herremans and was exponentially worse. Evan Mathis didn’t suck, so there’s that. Vick never even had a chance most of the time. When he did, he underwhelmed. Per usual. By the way, for those of you who want to give Andy Reid a pass because of the injury-plagued offensive line, I direct you to the Steelers, a team that has encountered a similar problem but seems to be getting by okay. Edit: Like they always do.
Officially, Vick was hit on 18 of 53 dropbacks, but it felt like more than that. Here’s a hint, Marty/Andy: Stop dropping him back, if only for his health. It’s not like anything positive had consistently happened in the passing game anyway. In fact, aside from DeSean Jackson’s 77-yard touchdown, the only positive things that happened on offense came on run plays. I wasn’t being facetious when I went on an in-game Twitter rampage and wrote that every offensive snap should’ve been a run.
2. Scoring points. Stop me if this sounds familiar: 447 yards gained (actually 28 less than the Saints were giving up per game), just 13 points scored. Could there be a better stat to capture the true essence of all-style-no-substance? These are your Eagles in a nut shell, and the futility is record-setting. Lather, rinse, repeat. This team scored 13 points against the worst defense in NFL history, one that was giving up 31 points per game on the season. I’m not even mad anymore; if anything, I think I’m kind of impressed.
The problems with the Eagles are deep-seated, they are foundational, and they are NOT fixable in-season. If they were fixable, the same mistakes wouldn’t be repeated ad nauseum each and every game. Sorry, Andy, time’s almost up. Wish it didn’t have to be this way, but you’re leaving no other choice.
2. Red zone offense. Red zone incompetence, it’s a staple of the Andy Reid era. This season is par for the course. On 20 red zone plays, Marty/Andy called 17 passes and three runs. On 20 red zone plays, the Eagles gained -24 yards (-123 if you count the interception return for a touchdown). Five times the Eagles had the ball inside the 15-yard line and didn’t score a SINGLE touchdown. Only the Eagles could do this. No, for real, ONLY the Eagles. The Eagles’ red zone offense actually netted -1 points total. The entire debacle is nearly unconscionable. But we’re talking about the Eagles, so I guess nothing should be unconscionable. Congratulations, boys, you managed to outdo yourselves this time.
The Eagles had 1st and Goal four separate times. Here’s how each drive ended:
Drive #1, 2nd & Goal from NO 6: After three straight running plays that went for 8, 40, and -1 yards, Marty/Andy thought it would be a prudent idea to call a pass play, despite the disastrous state of the offensive line. What followed was classic Eagles. We saw it at the end of the half against Arizona on a fumble return for touchdown, and this time we were treated to the same result via interception. Here’s the ESPN.com box score play-by-play: “M.Vick pass short left intended for B.Celek INTERCEPTED by P.Robinson at NO 1. P.Robinson for 99 yards, TOUCHDOWN. PENALTY on PHI-M.Vick, Low Block, 15 yards, enforced between downs. The penalty for a low block during the interception return will be assessed on the ensuing kickoff.” Vick made a poor throw, Celek reached out and deflected the ball with his fingertips right into the waiting hands of Patrick Robinson.
Drive #2, 1st & Goal at NO 4: LeSean McCoy had just ripped off a 34-yard gain and was summarily taken out of the game to catch his breath, I guess. Here’s how the next three plays went: Handoff to Bryce Brown for no gain, shovel pass to Shady for no gain (courtesy of a Dennis Kelly missed block), pass incomplete to DeSean Jackson (who sure looked like he should have caught the ball), Alex Henery 22-yard field goal.
Drive #3, 1st & Goal at NO 8: Michael Vick pass incomplete, Michael Vick sacked at NO 19 for -11 yards, Michael Vick pass incomplete. Not handing the ball off to LeSean McCoy on 1st and Goal from the 8 should be a fireable offense. I mean it.
Drive #4, 1st & Goal at NO 5: Michael Vick pass complete to Clay Harbor for no gain but a penalty for illegal man downfield on Demetress Bell pushes ball back to NO 10, Michael Vick pass incomplete to LeSean McCoy but penalty on — guess who! — Demetress Bell for a false start, Michael Vick sacked for -7 yards, Michael Vick passes complete to Brent Celek who fumbles at the NO 8 and, after momentarily falling on the ball, has it squirt out. Saints recover.
3. Second half play-calling. Seven touches for LeSean McCoy in the second half, including ONE in the third quarter. Totally unacceptable, especially given what Shady did in the first half. Listen, the DeSean touchdown was nice, but why did Andy/Marty call for three straight passes inside the Saints’ 20-yard line after the ensuing kick return fumble recovery? How does Shady not get even a single touch on that series? Andy’s smug answer to that same question during his post-game press conference was so arrogant and aggravating, it made me want to destroy my TV. And wouldn’t you know it, that recovered fumble, which presented a chance to build on the budding momentum, resulted in a meek field goal. As far as I was concerned, that’s when the Eagles’ chances of winning ceased to exist.
I don’t know how many times I yelled, “WHY THE FUCK ARE WE IN FUCKING SHOTGUN GODDAMMIT FUCK ALL OF YOU ASSHOLES!!!!!!” in the second half, but it happened a lot. Then again, my (irrational?) reaction was predicated on a deep desire to see the Eagles continue to run the ball no matter what. Also, can someone explain to me the rationale in running empty backfield sets when the offensive line can’t block anyone? To compound it, Vick somehow appeared surprised when a free Saints blitzer was in his face as soon as he received the snap.
Overall, aside from the indefensible decision not to give Shady the ball in the second half, the coaching actually wasn’t to blame. Schemes and designs were fine, the execution was not. Ho hum. Trent Dilfer on the post-game show said the Eagles simply didn’t have the players to get the job done. He and Steve Young both called the Eagles’ situation “catastrophic.” An undermanned squad, ravaged by injury but without enough talent at the backup positions to persevere… yeah, sounds pretty catastrophic to me.
4. Hugh Douglas. Uh oh, even Big Hugh has turned on these Eagles. I thought last year was ugly, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Philadelphia fans plain HATE a team more than this one. “Unlikeable” is by far the most frequently used adjective when Eagles fans talk about this team.
Same shit, different season. And just in case you were wondering, the Eagles haven’t hit rock bottom yet. That loss to the Saints was dreadful, no doubt, but the opportunity to truly hit rock bottom will present itself Sunday at home against the Cowboys. If the Eagles perform as they have all season, it’ll happen. Jason Babin thought he heard appalling stuff from the enraged fans before? Get your earmuffs ready, dude, because you ain’t heard nothin’ yet. The rancor will be even more venomous,
perhaps likely with the accompaniment of hard projectiles. Although I guess if there’s one team that could outdo the Eagles, it’s these hilariously inept Cowboys. I’m not counting on it, though. This situation is a Molotov cocktail ready to explode, let’s see if the Eagles finish the job and light it on fire.
Week 8 Recap: Falcons 30 Eagles 17
Sigh, I guess that’s what I get for dialing up the optimism going into this game. I knew it was an inadvisable idea. I tried to give Andy Reid the benefit of the doubt, but all he did was further prove he’s likely in his fourth season past expiration. Sunday’s drubbing also continued to hammer home the notion that this era of Eagles football concluded with the NFC Championship Game loss to Arizona on January 18, 2009, followed by Jim Johnson’s passing a little more than six months later.
These 2012 Eagles, after two weeks off that saw a “team-wide evaluation” yield the dismissal of Juan Castillo, came out flat as can be on Sunday. Like a team that didn’t believe in its coaches, didn’t believe in itself. Like a team that had already given up on the season. The defense was in fourth quarter mode from the very beginning, letting the Falcons move down the field at will, even aiding their efforts by committing dumb penalties and allowing third down conversions. Over and over. Lather, rinse, repeat. It was just so absurdly easy for Atlanta, I was embarrassed (a word you heard a lot from the players) and ashamed.
For the third straight game, the Eagles didn’t make winning plays. Whereas they made those plays earlier in the season when they needed to, it’s no longer happening. The Eagles once again look like the team we have all come to loathe in recent years. Again, I have to ask: Have you been entertained AT ALL this season AT ANY POINT? Maybe for a few interspersed moments during the Ravens game? Maybe the second half against the Giants? More than anything, the Eagles just engender feelings of frustration, anger, hatred and rage.
Andy Reid is a rapidly depreciating asset who’s almost out of tricks, and the Eagles are going down with him. All that’s left is to sit back as the climax of wreckage unfolds, or life miraculously rises from the ashes. The fact that Reid has lasted nearly 14 years here is a monumental accomplishment in its own right, but the reality is he’s been a fairly mediocre head coach ever since the Super Bowl season in 2004. He has been living off equity for the past eight years. Now, with the decline unmistakable and pronounced, it seems like we’ve reached the end of the road. And to think, Andy Reid’s Eagles are 11-15 (including playoffs) since pulling off the Miracle at the New Meadowlands.
1) No turnovers. YAY!!! Except now the Eagles can be safe with the football and still suck, which is an important thing to know.
2) Second-half defense. Only allowed six points, though the Falcons never seemed too interested in anything more than possessing the ball and chewing up clock. I like that Brandon Graham started to take the snaps of the increasingly useless and detrimental Jason Babin, who is now doubly awful because he can’t get to the quarterback AND commits his idiotic — and trademarked — drive-extending penalties. Is it time to drastically cut Babin and Trent Cole’s snaps in favor of Graham, Phillip Hunt, Darryl Tapp, and Vinny Curry? I mean, it can’t get much worse, right?
3) LeSean McCoy. It wasn’t a sparkling statistical performance for Shady (though no fault of his own), but he seems like one of the few guys who played hard and with a sense of purpose. It was also refreshing to hear him speak out and take the team to task after the game for a lack of pride and heart. While Shady only put up 67 total yards on 19 touches, he scored both touchdowns, gave it his all and, as usual, would’ve been even better had Marty/Andy made him the focal point of the offense. Which reminds me, don’t let the 19 total touches deceive you. Through the first three quarters, McCoy had nine. Nine! That’s right, only in the fourth quarter with time dwindling and the game essentially out of reach, did Marty/Andy earnestly feed McCoy. If anyone has a suitable explanation as to why Shady got a mere nine touches in the first three quarters, when there was still plenty of time to get back in the game, but then ten in the fourth, I’m all ears. Marty Mornhinweg and Andy Reid, as game-planners and play-callers, either have warped senses of humor or are grossly incompetent.
I said multiple times in the week leading up this game that I’d stop watching the Eagles if Shady didn’t get at least 25 touches against the Falcons. Truth is, I wanted that number to be closer to 30. I won’t put my money where my mouth is just yet, but I’m getting to the same point of indifference that prompted me not to tune in for the final four games of last season. It’s not like subjecting myself to this team is a fun and enjoyable way to spend three-plus hours anyway. I’d rather watch Red Zone Channel.
4) Offensive line. I haven’t taken a look at the tape, but it didn’t seem like the offensive line was a glaring handicap. At least not enough to be part of “The Bad.” There were some breakdowns here and there, which happens, but I didn’t find myself thinking that group is what crippled the Eagles. Vick wasn’t getting pummeled on every dropback, plays weren’t constantly screwed at the snap. In fact, the line started to get push in the running game on the second drive, behind Todd Herremans and Dennis Kelly on the right side in particular, but of course Marty/Andy never stuck with it. God forbid the run game should be relied upon.
1) Marty and Andy. I just don’t understand. The Eagles had success on the ground during their first scoring drive, ending it with five straight runs and a Shady touchdown. Then, on their next drive, after the Ryan-to-Jones 63-yard touchdown strike, the Eagles offense was faced with a 2nd and 2 at the Falcons 49 after getting into a bit of a rhythm. The handoff went to McCoy, who was stuffed for no gain. On the next play, instead of going back to the offense’s best player and hoping the line could get enough of a push to pick up those two yards, Marty called for a quick pass over the middle that got batted away. On 4th and 2, with momentum hanging in the balance, Andy decided to punt. And by punt, I mean concede defeat. There is a time to trust your defense, but not when it’s simulated butter and the opposing offense a hot knife. That was capitulation, LOSER FOOTBALL, plain and simple. Andy Reid gave up. The Eagles’ only hope at that point was to maintain possession and get a score before the half, after which they were set to receive the ball to start the third quarter. Instead, Andy foolishly thought Todd Bowles’ muddled and bewildered defense could get a stop. Why the fuck would he think that after seeing how the first three drives went? Have a pair of testicles and go for it, Andy. Why do you have to act like a gigantic pussy and go down like such a bitch? It’s no shock the team follows that lead.
If it happens that Jeffrey Lurie is in pursuit of a new head coach this summer, I want him to present the above scenario as part of the interview. The candidates who think punting is the way to go should be eliminated from the search process immediately.
2) Pass rush. Yeah, the defense managed to end its drought by getting two second-half sacks (congratulations to Cedric Thornton on the first of his career), but pressure from the front seven was absent early in the game when the Falcons did all their damage. Naturally, when a defender did have a free run at Matt Ryan, he flew right by the quarterback, letting Ryan adroitly shuffle his feet, keep his eyes downfield, and buy extra time to make a play.
3) Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. A horror show for both players. DRC had perhaps his worst game as an Eagle from start to finish, littered with poor play, terrible penalties, and general apathy. Nnamdi tried to one-up his fellow starter and, in the play that might come to define his time as an Eagle, got burnt to a crisp by the speedy Julio Jones on a straight go route for a long touchdown. He didn’t even try to get a jam on Jones at the line, reduced to fruitlessly chasing from behind as the Falcons’ second-year star blew by and ran under a perfect throw from Matt Ryan. It brought back the “free agent bust” chorus that had quieted down a bit after Asomugha matched up so brilliantly against Calvin Johnson.
The pass defense as a whole, which had been the league’s stingiest up to Sunday’s game, was systemically picked apart by Matt Ryan. Oh, and Kurt Coleman bites so hard on every single pump fake and play action. I believe I’m being literal when I write “every,” but he’s not alone. Up next: A pissed off Drew Brees on Monday night.
4) Drops. There were a bunch, each more aggravating than its predecessor. Jeremy Maclin has made it an art to drop passes on third down and then complain to the officials that an undeserved flag should be thrown. But easily the most costly drop was that of Fletcher Cox, who had an easy pick-six on the second play of the game. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to hold onto the ball, and the Falcons used the next 14 plays to march down the field and score their first touchdown, setting the tone for domination.
5) The crowd. For the second straight game, the atmosphere inside the Linc was one of catatonia. Matt Ryan and friends never allowed the crowd to get involved, and for fans teetering on the edge, it didn’t take much to make them lose faith. Streams of people began leaving the stadium once the Falcons scored their second touchdown with less than a minute to go in the first quarter. Call me crazy, but I don’t think their departure had anything to do with the initial rains of Hurricane Sandy. Meanwhile, the fans who stayed incanted the first “Fire Andy” chants of the season.
1) The defense. I don’t think this is what Todd Bowles had in mind for his debut as defensive coordinator. But it was Juan Castillo’s fault, right? I saw some encouraging moments in the second half (including the two sacks), but this game was decided in the first 30 minutes when Bowles’s unit put forth an utterly wretched display. Once again, no turnovers were forced, leaving the pitiful total at two in five games. Nobody makes any fucking plays. Overall, the Falcons’ first six possessions yielded six scores — three touchdowns followed by three field goals. So, what are the excuses now? We’ll see in the coming weeks how Bowles operates in his new role and whether the defense can right the ship. Edit: Maybe implement a schematic tweak that focuses on taming the aggressiveness of the line — which can’t get to the quarterback as it is — a bit so the defense isn’t incessantly gashed by screens and short/dump off passes? I don’t know, some ADJUSTMENT of any kind.
2) This. I know I harshly discredited anonymous sources in my previous article, but I can’t do the same when the anonymous source is actually in the shit. Do I wish this anonymous player would’ve attached his name to these scathing words? Yes. But can I blame him for looking out for his own interests when he sees that no one is safe? No.
3) First quarter. I’d say the Eagles sure looked like a team that came out rejuvenated and ready to play. What a bunch of listless frauds. Presented to you, without further comment, are the first quarter stats for each team.
Falcons: 23 plays, 134 total yards, 14 points, 13:02 time of possession
Eagles: 4 plays, -3 yards, 0 points, 1:58 time of possession
4) Michael Vick’s post-game press conference. First, Michael Vick didn’t have a good day, he didn’t have a terrible day. He had a “blah” day, one that would’ve included a pick-six had Stephen Nicholas done his best D’Qwell Jackson impersonation and caught the ball thrown right into his hands. People say Vick has lost a step. Uh, he’s lost at least a step, and playing behind this patchwork offensive line has exacerbated the issue. Mentally, he’s cooked, too, as evidenced when he took the podium and announced he’d be okay if his job got taken away. On the list of things you want to hear from your quarterback, acceptance that he might get benched is last. What he said after the game can only be characterized one way. And for that, I’d like to call on the esteemed Homer J. Simpson: THAT’S LOSER TALK!!!! I don’t think Vick’s play is the reason for the Eagles’ current malaise, but with that mindset, I don’t want him starting at quarterback either. He certainly won’t be part of the solution with that kind of self-sorry sulking. Sounds like the Nick Foles era is nearly upon us, though it’s not like that move alone will solve what ails the Eagles.
5) Asante’s post-game comments. I’d say this qualifies as shots fired. In addition to blasting Andy Reid (and Howie Roseman) to a swarm of reporters and cameras in front of his locker in the most Asante-like manner, Samuel dropped this quote that cut to the core:
"We got really good coaching. We run the ball. Time of possession is real good."
Real good, indeed. Why, he’s only describing the offense I’ve lusted and pined for since… forever! One that controls the clock and dictates a game’s flow. One that is built around the team’s best player, LeSean McCoy. Asante, I think you’re a selfish asshole, hate your style of play (your game IS in steep decline, by the way), and am happy you’re no longer on the team — but thanks for speaking the truth here. Even though the Falcons have morphed into a passing offense built around Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez, Dirk Koetter still shows commitment to running the ball with Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers. We’re not talking about a formidable run game either, not like we’ve seen with the Falcons in years’ past. Yet the coaches still believe in its viability as part of the offense. Can you imagine if the Eagles made a REAL commitment to the run? Perhaps this game wouldn’t have been over late in the second quarter, when Marty/Andy refused to give Shady the ball on 3rd and 2 and 4th and 2, calling for a pass followed by a punt instead.
Schadenfreude moment of the day: Watching my man Jacquizz Rodgers tool on the Eagles defense during that 43-yard run of his late in the third quarter… and then finding out that it elicited a response of audible laughter in the press box.
This team is stupid, dysfunctional, and self-sabotaging. I really don’t have much else to say, nor the energy and desire to expand upon what’s already being said by everyone else. On Sunday, the Eagles were thoroughly outclassed and looked like a group that had quit, that was fractured beyond repair and headed for inevitable disaster. I said it in my Lions game recap article, and I reiterated it on Twitter early against the Falcons:
Say what you will about Andy Reid, but you cannot knock the man’s record when he has two weeks to prepare for an opponent. In the regular season, his teams are an immaculate 13-0 after the bye week (and 3-0 in the playoffs). I’d like to think this means the Eagles will be ready to go against the undefeated Falcons the weekend before Halloween. Then again, that game could end up being a damning indication Reid has lost his touch and is nearing the end of his tenure as head coach here in Philadelphia.
Well, looks like we’re there. If you can’t believe in Andy after the bye, what about him can you believe in anymore?
All the coaches and players do is talk. Talk, talk, talk. Spewing the same rehearsed and empty rhetoric. And they never back it up. The delusion is so ingrained at a foundational level that it might not be correctable without a full purge. You know the worst part? I actually think last year’s sad excuse for a team was better than this one.
After the bye week, the thinking was that this season could go one of two ways. The team could be galvanized and come together, or the players could lose faith entirely and begin a death spiral. Right now, the latter option seems to be prevailing. Yet for all the doom and gloom, I wouldn’t say this is rock bottom. Sure, it may have looked and felt like rock bottom, but it can’t be. Why not? This team, no matter how hopeless things seem right now, remains 3-4 and one win away from being back in the thick of the Wild Card race. Pretty remarkable to consider, since popular opinion is that the season is over. Now, if the Eagles go into New Orleans and lay another egg, against that historically horrendous defense (first ever to give up 400+ yards of offense in seven consecutive games), then it’ll probably be appropriate to declare the 2012 season — and the Andy Reid era — dead.
The Beginning of the Rest of the Season
Yeah, I suppose this past week qualified as a tumultuous one for the Eagles, all set in motion by a humiliating late collapse and loss to the Lions. A seventh blown fourth quarter lead in 22 games was, apparently, critical mass for the ill-fated Juan Castillo experiment. Andy Reid decided to hold himself responsible for the mess by going into terminator mode and firing the good soldier he’d put in position to fail. To the surprise of no one, reaction to the Castillo firing was a cesspool of drama, hysterics and negativity. It was so Philadelphia. The doomsday media vultures circled, wondering with their pens — and mouths — about Reid’s honor and integrity, not to mention his job security. Bloviations aside, they had every right to hurl nasty rhetoric his way. The incident was cringeworthy and borderline disgraceful. I know Juan’s shit-canning had to happen, but I still felt icky about how it all went down. So you can imagine how relieved I was to sit back Sunday and veg out on football, especially knowing the Eagles couldn’t ruin my mood and make me hate the world by derping like bumbling nincompoops. Watching the rest of the league slug it out — and other teams manufacture ways to lose — was like going through Eagles detox. Bye week detox.
I was talking to roommate, guest post pioneer, and resident Steelers fan Ben Keegan, who conveyed that the victory over the Bengals was the first time all season he felt good about his team. That’s when it hit me. Truth of the matter is, I haven’t much enjoyed the Eagles this season. On the whole, the experiene has been fucking brutal. I watch sports to be entertained. The 2012 Eagles have essentially done the exact opposite. Even the wins have been excruciating and resulted in a relative emptiness that should not accompany triumph. Just once, I’ve wanted to come out of a game feeling satisfied with the way the team performed. Is that so much to ask? Yes, showing fight and resolve in coming back to beat the Browns, Ravens, and Giants was encouraging to see. But be honest with me, did you ever do anything more than exhale and count your lucky stars at the end of those wins? I didn’t. I just wrote something to the effect of, “Getting this win is great and all, but there won’t be many more if the Eagles keep playing this way.” Yet when I take a step back and assess the situation, I try to exercise some perspective. The Eagles could be 5-1, 1-5, or 0-6, but they are 3-3 and in the hunt with two-plus months remaining in the regular season. That’s the reality. Another reality: It’s about getting hot and playing your best football in December, not at the end of October.
So, what did I decide during the bye week? If this is it for Andy Reid, then I’m not going to spend the last 10 games rooting for his demise like so many other fed up fans. I want my team to win. Only one time in my life have I rooted against the Eagles, and that was last season. The collective effort of that “team” fell so bar below an acceptable threshold, I didn’t feel they deserved my support. Hell, I was so disgusted and turned off, I protested by not even bothering to watch the last four games. Here’s the difference between last season and this one: I don’t see a glaring lack of heart and dedication with these Eagles (though they can be exasperatingly dumb). Sure, it hasn’t always been pretty, but at least the players appear to care (for the most part). That’s why last season was so inexcusable and dispicable, why I felt fine abandoning the team and washing my hands of the entire debacle.
I know the fan base is at wits’ end with the Andy Reid era and views the rest of 2012 as little more than a formality. I’ve been vocal in my displeasure with him, but as I think back on the totality of the 13-plus seasons under Andy, I appreciate that more often than not my football team has been relevant. I don’t take pleasure in Andy’s failures, and I want him to finally break through. Being bitter and hateful is so exhausting, maybe I’ll try the glass half-full approach. As far as I’m concerned, the Eagles are coming off the bye week with a clean slate. Let’s see if the offense can tighten up and play smart football, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Let’s see what Todd (Smokin’) Bowles — supposedly the object of Andy’s desire during the original search for a defensive coordinator before he settled on Juan Castillo — can do with this defense (one suggestion: blitz Mychal Kendricks, he was superb at it in college). I have it on rock solid authority that letting Nnamdi Asomugha play freely and do his thing was a mandate communicated during the defense’s first post-bye week meeting (despite Bowles’ promise to mix man and zone coverage). Glad to hear it, since obviously Castillo’s attempts to hem him into a specific scheme were counter productive. While this will be Bowles’ first time calling plays, his playing and coaching pedigree has me feeling optimistic. I also have to believe the players themselves trust and respect Bowles’ defensive acumen more than Castillo’s, which is something that should be manifested on the field.
First test: The Falcons, also coming off a bye and, before that, three narrow wins against inferior opponents. As far as 6-0 teams go, this one does not strike fear in my heart. They’re good, but not THAT good. I just can’t bring myself to respect the Falcons, ever, and these dirty birds are due for a reality check, a beatdown that brings them back to earth. Besides, maybe there’s not a lot to believe in with Andy Reid anymore, but his immaculate post-bye week record speaks for itself. If LeSean McCoy doesn’t get 25 carries against the Falcons’ porous run defense (143.8 yards per game allowed, 28th in the league), Marty Mornhinweg should be stripped of his play-calling duties and/or fired on the spot. Then again, how many times have I said that before? Another reason to commit to the ground game and feed Shady, besides him being awesome? The Falcons’ strength on defense, forcing turnovers (10 interceptions and 7 fumble recoveries), is the Eagles’ Kryptonite on offense. Succumbing to his greatest vice and putting an inordinate amount of the burden on Michael Vick to win the game as a passer is exactly what the Falcons hope Mornhinweg does. So, Marty, please, build the game plan around Shady. Run the ball to Asante Samuel’s side, too. Thanks. (Edit: Take a note from the Steelers and have a drive where you run the ball seven straight times with a mixture of McCoy, Bryce Brown, and DeSean Jackson on an end-around. This actually is a perfect lead into the following quote.)
"They played a lot of two high shell in the secondary, a lot of two high safeties, to take away the passing game. When they do that, we have to be able to run the ball.” - Ben Roethlisberger, at his locker after the Steelers’ 24-17 win over the Bengals
Cool. Someone print out a thousand copies of this quote — from a two-time Super Bowl champion and proven WINNER — and affix it to every inch of Mornhinweg’s office. At least while he’s still calling the plays.
I know I said I’m not ready to give up on Andy, but I’m also programmed to always look toward the future. Some ideas to kick around….
1) Coaching candidates
College: Chip Kelly, Bill O’Brien (departure seems unlikely given his contract buyout stipulations), David Shaw
Dark horse: Dan Mullen. Here’s a guy whose candidacy has piqued my interest, and not only because of the job he’s doing as head coach of the currently undefeated Mississippi State Bulldogs. Mullen, in addition to having served on Urban Meyers’ staff at Utah (QB Coach) and Florida (QB Coach/Offensive Coordinator), was born in Drexel Hill — though his bio lists Manchester, NH, where he attended high school, as his hometown — and matriculated at Ursinus College, where he played tight end. He’s young (born in 1972), energetic, lauded as a brilliant offensive mind, and has revitalized the Mississippi State program. Now, I don’t know anything about how he might interact with grown men as opposed to college kids, but what I do know is that I like what I’ve read. Oh, and would you look at that, Mullen and Mississippi State have a chance Saturday night — as 22-point (!) underdogs — to shock the nation against top-ranked Alabama and rise to unlikely status of national title contender.
Side note: The Eagles boast three players who Mullen coached in Riley Cooper, Jamar Chaney, and Fletcher Cox.
Post-game edit, after Mullen’s Bulldogs got murdered by Alabama:
A better dark horse candidate is Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M. I should have chosen him to begin with.
If as the season progresses it becomes apparent that the end of Andy is imminent, I’ll start to focus more on possible successors.
2) Changing the karma
A growing sentiment within the fan base has been to reinstate the old uniform color scheme. I’m thinking circa late 80’s/early 90’s (action shot). The 50th anniversary threads would suffice, but a darker green is preferable. I know, part of Jeffrey Lurie putting his stamp on the franchise was changing the logo and colors. I also surmise it’s
likely possible he’d rather die than ever go back to the retro look. That’s why I’d suggest a potential solution that involves, among other things, keeping the updated wing insignia on either side of a kelly green helmet. Overall, I think a (modified) vintage look with a modern slant could help establish the next step in Eagles’ football and go a long way in mollifying an alienated and disillusioned fan base. That merchandise would fly off the shelves, too. I just get the sneaking suspicion that midnight green will forever be associated with the frustration and ultimately unfulfilled promise of the Andy Reid era. A fresh start, if it happens, should also extend to aesthetics.
1) Oh, so Danny Watkins is refusing to speak to the media because he didn’t like what was written about him? QUICK EVERYONE JOKE ABOUT HOW THIS IS THE FIRST SUCCESSFUL BLOCK HE’S MADE ALL SEASON!
2) Not that I wasn’t expecting this, but Robert Griffin III is very, very for real. For the first time in 20 years, the Redskins no longer have to worry about the quarterback position. Provided that front office can overcome the hefty cap penalty and draft well despite not having first round picks the next two years (Alfred Morris is a nice start), the Redskins will ascend to legitimate contender status in short order. I know the popular opinion is to champion RG3 as a better, more cerebral (and right-handed) version of Michael Vick. But that comparison doesn’t take into account how gifted RG3 is as a traditional quarterback and how well he grasps the game. Like I wrote last year while RG3 was tearing up college football, he reminds me of Aaron Rodgers with the way he throws the ball. We’re talking about a player who combines Rodgers’ arm talent with Vick’s pure athleticism. There’s not a more exciting PLAYER in the league, and, unlike last year’s rookie sensation Cam Newton, who’s not a natural passer, RG3 should be able to sustain his current level of performance — injury notwithstanding — because he’s more than just an athlete playing quarterback. Robert Griffin III, not Cam Newton, is the new prototype to revolutionize the position.
3) Speaking of Cam Newton, I’ve been asked when I’m going to write a mea culpa to my mea cupla. We’re not quite there yet, even if the deficiencies he showed as a passer in college — see: sloppy mechanics and inability to quickly process coverages and navigate the intermediate area of the field — are now crippling him in the pros. Just as it’s becoming clear to me that I overreacted to Newton’s incredible rookie season, I’m not going to make the same mistake and jump at the chance to reassert my original opinion. There is no denying Newton’s raw talent, and it’s fair to point out he’s beset by a subpar supporting cast of talent and coaching staff. The thing is, last year presented a similar situation. Unfortunately for Cam, the element of surprise no longer exists, and the accumulation of game tape has enabled defensive coordinators to devise strategies to limit his effectiveness (see: take away deep ball and make him beat you underneath, minimize space in the pocket, pressure him instead of sitting back and respecting running ability). Newton hasn’t experienced this kind of on-field tribulation before — the acute media scrutiny is nothing new — and is still trying to figure out how to overcome it. In the meantime, he’s mired in a classic sophomore slump and regressing each week. Oh, and before I forget, cool sweater, dude, totally diverts the focus away from your performance. (Edit: Wait, Newton also called a female sportswriter "sweetheart"? Maybe he thought he was being playful and cute, I don’t know. Astonishingly poor form either way and a totally out-of-touch dick move. Why stop there, Cam? Complete the circle of fusty condescension and tell her to get back in the kitchen!)
4) My introduction to Randall Cobb came when he almost single-handedly defeated Auburn — by accounting for all four of Kentucky’s touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving, one passing) in a 37-34 loss — during the Tigers’ National Championship season in 2010. I was smitten. We’ve seen flashes of immense potential ever since he first stepped on the field as a pro, but his big game against the Rams on Sunday (and two before that against the Texans and Colts, making it a trend) is only the beginning of a breakout stretch for this Percy Harvin clone. If Cobb is part of your fantasy team, start him every week from here on out. I am.
5) Lots of Eagles fans, including yours truly, have touched upon the apathy supposedly pervading the fan base. Pro tip: If you continuously refer to your apathy towards a specific topic, you either aren’t apathetic or don’t know what it means.
6) “Anonymous sources" are gutless cowards and rumor-mongering maggots. Get fucked, assholes.
I’ll leave you with this enduring image, in honor of the upcoming matchup with Atlanta: