At some point, certain realities have to be faced. Good football teams beat the teams they are supposed to beat. Successful football teams score touchdowns not field goals. Playoff football teams do not allow themselves to be beaten and can be physically dominant when the need arises. Championship teams adjust quickly to schemes of their opponents so as to not be exploited by their weaknesses. The 2011 Philadelphia Eagles have proven that – so far – they are none of these things. This preseason “Dream Team” has proven itself on the field to be a group of players who have yet to learn how to play as any kind of team. Had this been a fantasy football game the Eagles might have won.
People want to blame the coach or blame the linebackers or blame the offensive line or blame the quarterback or blame the running game or blame the defensive backfield or blame the coordinators. That’s fine because no matter which you choose to blame, you are partially right – they’re all wrong. The easy thing to do is criticize the rookie kicker Alex Henery for missing two FG in a one-point loss when the real question is why were they attempting field goals rather than going for the end zone?
The deeper look into the chronic problems of a team shows that there are much more complex fundmental problems at work. How about the fact that two Eagles drives inside the 5 yard line failed because this team cannot or will not run the ball effectively in the Red Zone? While that still doesn’t explain why Ronnie Brown attempted a forward pass while in the grasp of being tackled in the backfield on the two yard line, it does focus on the greater problem rather than the individual.
Andy Reid has never committed to the power running game and the time to do so is not when you have undersized “athletic” offensive linemen pushing into the defense. Power running doesn’t mean traps and draw plays or QB sneaks with a 202-pound QB facing the onslaught of rushers pouring into the backfield – and it doesn’t come from LeSean McCoy scampering for 42 yards east, west and dancing horizontally rather than run it up the gut. At worst, it means using that offensive line (Jamal Jackson) to develop power blocking schemes which create mismatches and running lanes and which make use of the circus-level skill of players in this Eagles offense.
Blame the linebackers for not making plays or blame the cornerbacks because the coaches are putting them into soft zone coverage when three of the top 10 cover corners in the NFL wear Eagles jerseys. Blame the coaches for not focusing on linebacker talent since the days of Seth Joyner. Blame the front office for not drafting quality and for choosing undersized, overmatched 6th and 7th rounders who are not ready for primetime. Seriously when was the last time you saw an Eagles linebacker actually make a play? Not make a tackle or put his hands on the ball-carrier as though playing in a two-hand touch game on the playground… but an Eagles linebacker actually make a play.
Michael Vick (30-46, 416 passing, 75 rushing yards, 2 TD, 1 INT) remained upright well enough to finish the game. DeSean Jackson (6 catches for 171 yards), Jeremy Maclin (7-74), LeSean McCoy (9-18 rush, 6-34 rec & TD) and TE Clay Harbor (3-55, TD) were all responsible for helping Vick spread the ball around in the air. On defense, Jamar Chaney led the way with 8 tackles. Jason Babin registered three sacks on the day. The team collectively rushed for over 100 yards, passed for over 400 yards and should have put the second team in by the middle of the third quarter. If you had any of these guys you probably won your fantasy league game but you cannot step off the gas in the NFL.
Case in point. Eagles are leading 20-3 in the third quarter of this completely winnable game against San Francisco. The third quarter kicks off with much-maligned Alex Henery booting one 69 yards to place the 49ers offense at their own 26 - after a 30-yard return from four yards deep in the end zone. Alex Smith passes to Josh Morgan for 26 yards to the Philadelphia 48. Kendall Hunter rushes for 3 yards followed by another Smith connection with Delaine Walker for 11 yards to the Eagles 29. This drive was then stalled and a David Akers FG attempt felled by King Dunlap blocking it.
Eagles ball at SF 40 yard line matriculating to the 15 before settling for a 33-yard FG. These would be the last points the Eagles would score as they would watch the 49ers score 21 unanswered points. How? By exploiting the weaknesses assessed in the Eagles defense over the first half and their recent drive. Smith to Walker. Smith to Hunter. Smith to Alex Morgan for the TD. This is Alex Smith and Josh Morgan not Montana and Rice!
Two Vick scrambles for 8 yards and an incomplete pass. Eagles three-and-out punt. 49ers ball @ 23 after losing 6 yards on the punt return. Smith to Morgan 38 yards (blown coverage on zone defense by Nnamdi Asomugha and Brian Rolle). Kendall Hunter rushes for 12 yards. Smith to Bruce Miller for 15. Frank Gore up the gut then 9 yard pass from Alex Smith to Vernon Davis for TD.
The true coup de gras came in the fourth quarter. Three minutes left Eagles have the ball on their own 20 yard line down one point. Short passes and the Eagles make their way to the 48 nearing the 2:00 warning. Vick passes to Maclin who catches at the SF 32 yard line, netting the first down and the clock running at 2:15. If Maclin falls down the Eagles have the 2:00 warning clock stoppage to devise a method of going 30 yards in two minutes… but Maclin loses the ball – which was stripped and then recovered at the SF 32. What do the 49ers do? Rush Frank Gore 5 straight times (2 up the middle, 3 to either side) against the Philadelphia defense, picking up two first downs and icing the game. Gore finishes the day rushing 15-127 or an 8.5 AVG and TD).
Now I know that I don’t know what the Eagles coaches know. They see the “All-22” game film and they are calling the shots and I’m just some schmuck watching on TV. However if you, me and Jim Harbaugh can all see the same finesse defense susceptible to a power rushing attack and breaking down in the fourth quarter then why is Andy Reid at the podium every week grunting “my bad” and “we shouldn’t have done that”?
Why have the Eagles been outscored 14-0, 15-0 and 7-0 in the fourth quarter each of the last three games by three inferior teams? Why have Frank Gore, Steven Jackson and Michael Turner run rampant on the Eagles Wide-Nine scheme which emphasizes the linebackers? If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results then when (in our 13th season under “Planet Reid”) are we going to check these guys into their padded cells and get on with our football season?
Want some more good news? Trent Cole was carted off the field with a torn calf muscle and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks.
Eagles will head back to the drawing board as they prepare to travel to Buffalo next week. They will take on the Bills who are no longer undefeated but 3-1 is a helluva lot better than 1-3. Maybe Andy Reid should go and get a ham sandwich (or some buffalo wings) because at least that would constitute doing something rather than beating his head against a wall.
BIRD DROPPINGS: At 1-3, the Eagles find themselves tied with NFL dregs like Seattle, Jacksonville, Denver, Kansas City, Carolina and Arizona. Given any of those opponents the way Philadelphia has been playing, a betting man might just take the field of 1-3 teams against the Eagles. Philadelphia has only beaten the St. Louis Rams (0-4) but have lost to Atlanta (2-2), NY Giants (3-1) and now San Francisco (3-1). What’s more amazing – that San Francisco is 3-1 or that an NFC West team has a winning record?
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org