Bird Feed – A Familiar Sight.

November brings cold weather, the occasional flurry, Thanksgiving, and at least one Eagles loss that leaves fans flabbergasted. That loss came Sunday in Chicago. Here’s what Andy Reid needs to do about it. Because after all, I kinda/sorta/maybe know what I’m talking about.

To begin, let’s thank the Chicago Bears for embarrassing Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson, the Eagles secondary, and the rest of the team. It was too early for the Eagles to peak anyway. Although the loss essentially eliminated the Eagles from contention for home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and probably a first round bye, a humbling loss like the one Philadelphia absorbed in Chicago last Sunday will only help the young ‘Iggles in the long run. It’s not the first time Reid’s Eagles suffered a bad loss in November, either. Take a look:

In 2006, the Eagles got smoked at home against the Tennessee Titans and a young punt returner named Pacman Jones. McNabb also blew out his ACL, which eventually led to a surprising playoff run with Jeff Garcia at the helm.

In 2007, Philadelphia was blown out at home by Dallas before a surprisingly close, yet equally devastating defeat to the undefeated Patriots.

In 2008, the Eagles followed up the now infamous “I didn’t know ties existed” game by getting shellacked in Baltimore. And then promptly went on a 6-1 run to the NFC Championship game.

In 2009, the Eagles dropped consecutive games. First losing to Dallas when Miles Austin signed and sealed Sheldon Brown’s walking papers, and then having a 4th quarter rally fall short in San Diego. The Eagles responded by winning six straight before the “two week disaster that shall not be named” happened. But whatever.

The point is; the Eagles and Andy Reid have been here before. With a little tweaking, Philadelphia should get back on track.

Let’s start the tweaking on offense. Like most quarterbacks, Vick looks flustered when under heavy pressure. Against New York, I felt he bailed too quickly. Against Chicago, I felt he didn’t scramble enough. One thing is for sure, though, the Eagles need to figure out how to handle pressure.

Unfortunately, small receivers that rely on speed struggle to make a defense pay for blitzing. Speed is only an advantage if the receivers are given time to exploit slower defensive backs. Constant pressure on the quarterback challenges receivers to get open sooner, often requiring the receiver to win a physical battle for positioning. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin aren’t built to win physical battles. They’re burners, not bruisers.

Enter Brent Celek. He’s the only proven pass catcher the Eagles have with the physical tools to fight for positioning off the line. (And maybe Jason Avant. Riley Cooper has the physical tools, but is still raw.) Yes, Celek has been a ghost of his 2009 self this season, but part of that is due to his increased role in pass protection because of Philadelphia’s inability to give Vick/Kolb time. Moving Celek out of pass protection won’t help the offensive line. It would, however, give Vick a viable option to combat pressure and more importantly, the blitz.

The other, more reasonable (and probably more effective) option would be increasing LeSean McCoy’s workload. Because this makes the most sense, it’s unlikely Reid will even consider it. But oh well. McCoy ran the ball 10 times in Chicago for more than 5 yards per carry. Vick threw the ball 44 times. So let me get this straight, if a team generates constant pressure on your quarterback, you continue to throw the ball, right? In Reid’s world? Absolutely… because eventually, the defense will get tired. Or something like that.

To recap; McCoy needs the ball more, Vick needs Celek as his hot read, and the smaller receivers need to man up.

Defensively, Philadelphia is a roller coaster. After containing the Manning brothers in consecutive weeks, the Eagles made Jay Cutler look like Tom Brady. The secondary was victimized in both coverage and tackling while the linebackers got steamrolled on a consistent basis. Furthermore, it’s only a matter of time before Stewart Bradley finds himself standing next to Sean McDermott on the sidelines. Maybe Bradley’s knee isn’t fully healed, or maybe he lost a step from the injury. I don’t know, but seeing him chase running backs and tight ends all over the field brings back flashes of Levon Kirkland in the 2002 NFC Championship.

The secondary wasn’t much better. Who would have thought tackling would be an issue for a unit missing Asante Samuel? Joselio Hanson isn’t a viable corner unless he’s the third defensive back in the slot. Rookie Trevard Lindley was victimized consistently in the second half, and Nate Allen and Quintin Mikell were outwitted by the normally witless Cutler. It was a bad day all around for a secondary playing without its best player. Hopefully, that’s all it was. If not, the Eagles will be a quick out in the playoffs, if they get there at all.

The strategic deficiencies Chicago exploited can be addressed. What worries me most about Sunday’s thrashing was the effort displayed by the Eagles. I’ve said it a hundred times since his rookie season and I’ll say it again: DeSean Jackson won’t finish his career with the Eagles. He’s Terrell Owens with twice the speed and half the brawn. Watch him when he has the ball. He does whatever it takes – flops, dives, slides, runs for the sidelines – to avoid contact. He’s unbelievably small, so it’s understandable for him to avoid unnecessary hits, but at times taking a hit is essential. For example, in a critical situation when the Eagles desperately needed a touchdown, Jackson alligator-armed a bullet from Vick that would have put Philadelphia down by one score instead of two. What’s worse, he pouted about his lack of touches in the locker room after the game. Reid was so ticked, he reportedly ripped Jackson in front of the whole team. Reid never does that.

I understand Jackson got lit up last month and still might be a little gun shy, but come on. Anquan Boldin took a shot two years ago that made Jackson’s hit look like a Swedish massage. Boldin not only played a few weeks later with his jaw wired shut, but he never changed his style of going across the middle and reaching for balls in traffic. Jackson has a lot of talent…but little heart. He’s more Ricky Watters than Duce Staley.

On the other hand, it was nice to see the Eagle defense get fired up on Chicago’s final possession. Anytime your defense is determined to force a turnover when the opposing offense is in the victory formation is a positive sign that good things are going to happen…. Too bad the game was already decided.

Although it was a costly loss, it was a necessary one. One that will require the Eagles to address certain weaknesses and remind themselves they’re not as good as they think.

All in all, only good things should come from it.

* * * * *

Since I didn’t post a week 12 review (too depressed over the loss), here are my updated rankings:

Someone take them to Chic-Fil-A (NFL’s top 5)

1. Patriots – The next three weeks will be tough for the Patriots. After hosting the Jets, New England travels to Chicago and then returns home to face the Packers. Tom Brady and the revamped offense look up to the challenge.
2. Jets – I’ve moved the Jets back into my top five. In part because of what they’ve done, but mostly because of what the other teams in my top five haven’t done. Something is wrong with the Steelers. Thus, they got the boot.
3. Falcons – A big, big, big win against Green Bay at home on Sunday. With a two game lead over the NFC East leader, the Falcons are all but guaranteed home field throughout the NFC playoffs if they can remain a game in front of the Saints.
4. Ravens – In my opinion, Baltimore hasn’t looked good in awhile. That’s not a Superbowl offense, either. I know the Ravens won a decade ago with a poorer offense, but that defense was better than the 2010 version.
5. Packers – They lost a game they should have won due to a goal line fumble, a stupid penalty, and poor defense in the game’s final seconds. The loss will probably cost them at least one home playoff game, if not more.
(Last Week: NE, GB, BAL, PITT, ATL)

Not even Ramen Noodle worthy (NFL’s bottom 5)

28. Broncos – It’s bad enough being a lousy team. It’s much worse being a lousy team that is old. Denver needs to get younger and start over. What they have now clearly isn’t working.
Lions – I can’t decide if they played well for a half, or if the Patriots were simply asleep for a half. I’m leaning toward the latter. Why the Lions don’t target Calvin Johnson 18-20 times a game keeps me up at night.
30. Panthers
– A gut wrenching loss in Cleveland (John Kasey missed the game winning field goal as time expired) was probably the highlight of my brother’s 2010 NFL experience. Fittingly, it was Carolina’s old friend, Jake Delhomme, who kept the Panthers in contention until the final seconds ticked away.
Cardinals – Hopefully, Monday night was the last we see of the Cardinals for a long time. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ken Whisenhunt felt the same way.
32. Bengals
– How a team goes from winning the NFL’s toughest division to being the worst team in the entire league within a year is beyond me. All I know is the Bengals are bad. Really, really bad.
(Last Week: SF, DET, CINC, AZ, CAR)

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