This afternoon, I’ll be watching the Philadelphia Eagles take on the Washington Redskins. Like most recent late season matchups between these franchises, one of the teams is fighting for a playoff spot, while the other has long since been eliminated from playoff contention. Only this time, the Eagles are the team with nothing left to play for.
This was a team that many people have been touting as a possible Super Bowl contender for the past two seasons. Before the 2011 season, they brought in a lot of big-name free agents, prompting some to call them “The Dream Team.” That label did not prove accurate as they fell short of the playoffs with an 8-8 record.
Many people in the Eagles organization claimed that the disappointing season was due to considerable coaching and player turnover in an offseason shortened by a lockout. Supposedly, given a full offseason to work together, the Eagles would finally live up to the lofty expectations.
They apparently believed what they were saying, as the team brought back most of the same coaches and players to try it again. The result has been one of the worst seasons in Eagles history. The team suffered through an eight game losing streak, and after last week’s defeat, their record sits at an ugly 4-10.
So how does a team go from a potential champion to a 4-10 atrocity? There are a variety of reasons:
It is becoming apparent just how poorly the Eagles have drafted in recent years.
From the past five drafts, they have had only two players make the Pro Bowl. (LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson) While you can’t expect every pick to be a star, you should expect a decent percentage of your top picks to be good players. But aside from the aforementioned Pro Bowlers, the Eagles picks in the first two rounds have only resulted in one solid contributor. (Jeremy Maclin) More common have been guys who have turned out to be busts (Trevor Laws, Danny Watkins, Nate Allen) and one second round pick that was an outright disaster. (Jaiquawn Jarrett)
They might have been able to compensate if the lower rounds had been delivering some hidden gems. But aside from a few fringe starters like Kurt Coleman and King Dunlap, the bottom rounds haven’t delivered much talent either. Even worse, many of those lower draft picks haven’t even proven worthy of NFL roster spots, which has contributed to the Eagles horrendous special teams.
Without a strong talent influx from the draft, the Eagles have had to rely on free agents. While it is possible to obtain a star here or there in free agency, it has generally been proven difficult to build the core of a good team that way.
That hasn’t stopped the Eagles from trying to build through free agency. They brought in an array of former Pro Bowlers like Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, and Jason Babin. While none of those players have been awful, they also haven’t lived up to their hype and proven to be star level talents either.
For the past couple of seasons, the theory has been that the Eagles had a young, dynamic, playmaking receiver group. Except that group seems unable to demonstrate the consistency necessary for the Eagles to succeed. DeSean Jackson is an exciting player, but he’s ultimately a one-dimensional player (speed) who can’t be counted on to dominate week in and week out.
I’ve lost all patience with Jeremy Maclin. He can’t stay healthy, and even when he is on the field, he seems to disappear too often. Tight end Brent Celek is one of my favorite players, but he is inconsistent, and is no better than an average tight end in the NFL. Slot receiver Jason Avant is decent enough, but certainly nothing special.
On the defensive side, the team supposedly has a lot of talent as well. And yet, despite having guys like Trent Cole, DeMeco Ryans, and Asomugha on board, they can’t seem to ever get a key sack or interception. Heck, in many of their games this season, they haven’t been able to get ANY sacks or interceptions.
Sometimes a player fumbles the football and it bounces harmlessly out-of-bounds. Other times, it bounces right into the hands of a defender who runs it back for a touchdown. It feels like the Eagles have experienced way too much of the latter situation. You could argue that good teams “make their own good luck,” and that the real problem is the frequency of their fumbles, but it does seem like the Eagles haven’t gotten many breaks this year.
The Eagles have also gotten hurt by injuries. It started in the offseason when Pro Bowl offensive lineman Jason Peters suffered an Achilles tendon injury that would cause him to miss the season. Since then, three other starting offensive linemen have suffered season ending injuries. While you should hope that your team has enough depth to overcome some injuries (once again, this comes back to drafting well) that type of devastation is very difficult to overcome.
Injuries weren’t just limited to the offensive line. Other key players who have missed multiple games due to injury are Jackson, McCoy, and…
Two years ago, Michael Vick took the football world by storm. He looked like he had matured from his early days in the NFL and had added strong passing skills to his insane athleticism. In one memorable game against the Redskins, he delivered one of the greatest performances by a quarterback in the history of the NFL.
He took a step backwards last season, as he missed considerable time due to injury, and when healthy, his play was inconsistent. According to both Vick and the Eagles, that inconsistency was mostly due to the lockout-shortened offseason. Supposedly, given a full offseason, he would come back strong in 2012, and recapture his form of 2010.
That did not happen. He played in two preseason games, and was injured in both of them, which did nothing to quiet the criticism that he was too injury prone to be an NFL starter.
Vick claims he isn’t injury prone, despite the fact that he gets injured and misses multiple games every season. It seems obvious that his relatively small size combined with his tendency to hold onto the ball for an extended period of time leaves him vulnerable to big hits and the injuries that inevitably follow.
Defenses have also seemed to figure out an effective strategy for stopping him: Send delayed blitzes, often from the outside, and hit him whenever possible. A combination of questionable play calling, a weak offensive line, and Vick’s refusal to get rid of the ball quickly gives defenses plenty of opportunities to execute the last part of the plan.
Since the first game of the season, Vick has been pounded. He is under pressure on many of his pass attempts, and seems to get hit more than any other quarterback in the league.
Many people thought Vick might be best served by embracing his role as a “running quarterback.” Instead of holding the ball in an attempt to find an open receiver, he might be better off scrambling if his first two receiving options aren’t available. But Vick seems determined to play a more traditional role, no matter how ineffective the offense becomes.
Part of this determination is likely due to the mindset of the man who coaches him. The man who I feel is the root of the Eagles problems.
I have been a long-time critic of Andy Reid. Despite the success that his teams have experienced, I’ve always felt that with a better coach, at least one of those teams would have won a Super Bowl.
Reid has never been a good game day coach. His inability to make in-game adjustments or to adapt his game plan to the opponent has been maddening. His frequent time management blunders don’t even upset me anymore. They just seem so unfortunately inevitable.
As an offensive coach, Reid (and his offensive coordinator Marty Morninghweig) have always favored the passing game over the running game. But their refusal to adjust has cost the team many games over the years. They don’t seem to recognize when the passing game is not working, or when their quarterback is having a bad game.
During Donovan McNabb’s tenure as QB, if he started off slowly, Reid would always say he would “dial up some short passes” to get him going. Except many times, McNabb never got going, and neither did the offense.
Reid began his NFL career coaching Brett Favre. Since then, he has seemed determined to make every quarterback he’s coached into another Favre. But is that really the best fit for athletic quarterbacks like McNabb and Vick? Shouldn’t Reid have adapted his offense to fit his players’ skills rather than vice versa?
Reid also should have recognized when the team’s personnel wasn’t adequate for a passing-based offense. If the team’s top receivers are Reggie Brown and Kevin Curtis, maybe the team should utilize the running game a little more.
For years, the team had enough talent to overcome those woes and consistently make the playoffs, where Reid’s mistakes would inevitably cost the team victory.
The Eagles won the NFC East from 2001 through 2004, and again in 2006. They made five appearances in the NFC Championship game in that stretch. At some point, Reid’s power within the organization expanded, and he was given more control over personnel. Eventually, all of the players who made up the core of those teams have left. And as mentioned, they haven’t been adequately replaced. Who has been the man at the very top of the organization during this time? Andy Reid.
Despite all of that, the move that may have proven to be Reid’s undoing was his hiring of offensive line coach Juan Castillo to be his defensive coordinator. In the history of NFL coaching hires, there were very few – if any – examples of a team hiring an offensive position coaches to serve as defensive coordinator.
Apparently, there was a good reason for that. The Eagles defense did not perform well, and Reid decided to fire Castillo in the middle of the season. Apparently, it wasn’t all Castillo’s fault, as the defense went from inconsistently mediocre to outright embarrassing.
Part of the problem may have been due to the presence of assistant coach Jim Washburn who both installed a gimmicky “Wide 9” scheme, and supposedly did his best to undermine his bosses. Teams were able to effectively counter the Wide 9, and his derisive presence did nothing to help team unity. Washburn was fired a couple of weeks ago, and since then, the defense has shown marked improvement. But the move was clearly made too late to have any beneficial effect on the team’s fortunes this season.
All of those mistakes almost assuredly will lead to Reid leaving the team after the season. After last season, owner Jeffrey Lurie said that 8-8 was “unacceptable.” There’s almost no way he could bring Reid back without completely alienating an angry fan base suffering from extreme Reid fatigue. Most likely, Reid will be forced to “resign” soon after the season concludes.
Just because Reid will be gone, it doesn’t mean that good times are ahead. The team will likely have to undergo a rebuilding process under a new coach. They’ll have to see if rookie quarterback Nick Foles is capable of being a legitimate NFL starter. I’m personally rooting for him, only because I don’t think enough humor has been taken from the fact that he looks like Napoleon Dynamite.
At least with Reid out of the picture, I’ll have optimism about the future. I won’t have to suffer through the same agonizing mistakes year after year, or listen to infuriating Reid press conferences where he talks about “Not putting players in the right positions to succeed.”
But for now, I have nothing left to root for than except for the Eagles to play spoiler against their opponents. Over the next two weeks, they can seriously damage the playoff hopes of both the Redskins and Giants. Since both teams are division rivals, that would be at least a little sweet.
It’s not much consolation, but in this atrocity of a season, sadly it’s all I’ve got.