Bird Feed: Dose of Reality

Sunday’s defeat to the Detroit Lions was ugly, discouraging, painful, and downright maddening. Six games into the 2012 season, there are some realities Eagle fans should accept. (AP Photo/The Wilmington News-Journal, Suchat Pederson)

[I considered changing the name of this weekly Eagles post from “Bird Feed” to “Bird Poop” based on the Eagles play over the past two weeks. It’s still a possibility if the Eagles descent continues at its current rate.]

Reality 1: Andy Reid will not be fired (yet)
Well, at least not until the Eagles are so far out of contention that it wouldn’t even matter. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie gave Reid the season to keep his job. He’s been loyal to Reid for over a decade now, there’s no way he cuts him loose with the Eagles still in contention for a playoff spot. Besides, take a good, long, hard look at this team. You can’t tell me a new coach all-of-a-sudden changes much.

Would a coaching change improve game management? Certainly. Does the offense improve? Doubtful. Does the injury ravaged offensive line get fixed? No. Does Vick stop fumbling? No. Do receivers stop dropping touchdowns? No. Does the running game miraculously improve? No.

Sunday was a perfect example. Reid stuck to the running game for as long as possible. LeSean McCoy had 14 carries for 22 yards. How many times can you bang your head against a brick wall before you lose consciousness? The offensive line forced Reid to abandon the run. It was the right call and it was the only reason the Eagles had a 10 point 4th quarter lead in the first place.

Reid is the head coach, so ultimately everything traces back to him, but he’s not the Eagles lone problem. I’d argue he’s not even the biggest. (Vick is.) There’s a whole pie of blame and while Reid owns a big slice, he doesn’t own the whole pie.

Am I advocating keeping Reid? Not exactly. But changing coaches mid-season in the NFL doesn’t change fortunes like it does in the NBA or NHL. And unlike everyone else, I’m willing to give a nice portion of the blame to the players. After all, they’re grown men, too. They’re paid the most. They want all the glory when times are good. And right now, they suck worse than their coach.

Reality 2: Michael Vick needs to put up or shut up
If you’re going to constantly kill your team, fine, at least own it. Stop talking about fixing the problems. There’s no need to tell us about how you carried a football around the facility all week. Last I heard no one is trying to take your head off as you walk to the cafeteria. And finally, please, no more promises. Like any politician, your promises are empty and misleading.

Is it Vick’s fault he’s under constant pressure? Of course not. Have all his fumbles been due to carelessness? No way. In fact, the fumbles inside the pocket caused by a blindside hit don’t bother me. Vick is trying to make a play and he gets clobbered. I get it. It’s the fumbles when he’s escaping the pocket or running downfield that are unacceptable.

Protecting the football isn’t a complicated science. Turnovers equate to defeat. It’s that simple. Make the throws you know you can make. Live to play another down. Listen, Donovan McNabb wasn’t Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees. His accuracy was average on a great day. But you know what McNabb did well? He played within the offense. If a guy wasn’t open, he didn’t force it. McNabb knew one play wasn’t going to win the game. Again, live to play another down. Vick needs to stop taking unnecessary risks and play more within Reid’s offense. It made McNabb an all-pro. With the Eagles current stable of offensive talent, Vick only needs to be better than average.

[Here’s where I go glass half full, so bail now if you want to remain in, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore,” fury.]

Reality 3: The Eagles are still in contention for the playoffs
Heading into the bye at 4-2 would certainly be better than 3-3, especially with the undefeated Falcons on deck, but all is not lost. The NFC East isn’t running away from the Eagles. The Giants and Cowboys both face schedules equally as challenging as Philadelphia’s. After only six weeks, it’s hard to project where the Wildcard berths will go, but it’s likely the Eagles only road into the postseason is through the division. Losses to Wildcard contenders like the Cardinals and Lions will hurt as tiebreakers are sorted out in late December.

Regardless, we’re not even in November yet – the time of year Andy Reid teams typically play their best ball. Things are bad now, but if you recall, they were worse in 2011. And you know what? The Eagles came within a game of winning the division and heading to the playoffs. Remember what league you’re watching, too. Wire to wire teams don’t win championships anymore. The Packers snuck in on the last day of the 2010 season and hoisted the Lombardi trophy. The Giants finished 9-7 and won the title despite losing five of six games between Weeks 10 and 15. Panicking is the natural and understandable response; it’s just not the right one.

Reality 4: It’s not as bad as you think
Tell me, what’s the story heading into the bye if the official doesn’t make a phantom pass interference call on Brent Celek late in the 3rd quarter? Or, what if the usually sure-handed Celek doesn’t drop an easy touchdown early in the 3rd quarter? Or, what if Vick doesn’t essentially drop the football on the goal line in Pittsburgh? It’s easy and reasonable to believe the Eagles could be 1-5, but it’s equally as reasonable to believe the Eagles could be 5-1.

Vick’s fumble and Celek’s drop had nothing to do with the opposition. Like many of the Eagles issues, they were self-inflicted wounds. Granted, self-inflicted wounds are the worst kind, but they’re fixable, too. The Eagles are beating themselves more than they’re losing to the opponent. Andy Reid fixed those issues last season, just too late. If he can fix them in the next three weeks, the Eagles will remain in the playoff hunt.

Reality 5: Juan Castillo got a raw deal, but he wasn’t blameless
It’s true, Reid fired the leader of the team’s most consistent unit. Obviously, Reid chose his own rear end over his friend’s. While Castillo’s defense wasn’t great, it did keep the Eagles in several games this season. On the other hand, like the rest of those wearing green, Castillo’s unit underachieved.

It’s been three weeks since the Eagles registered a sack. Turnovers are a rarity. I can’t even remember the last time the defense made a big play. Worst of all, in three consecutive games the defense allowed the opponent to drive down the field into game-winning field goal range after the offense had provided a 4th quarter lead. (The Giants couldn’t convert even though the defense gave them chance after chance.) That’s on Castillo and the defense.

The Seahawks sealed a win against Tom Brady Sunday. Good defenses close out games when given a lead in the 4th quarter. The Eagles defense failed to do so in two (but really three) straight games. From Reid’s perspective, his team is 5-1 if his defense holds. While it’s not a totally fair assessment, it’s not wrong, either.

Sometime on Monday Jeffrey Lurie likely handed Reid a gun loaded with one bullet and presented the embattled head coach with two choices. Reid chose to shoot his friend. Such is life in the NFL. If it saves the Eagles season and Reid’s job, then it was the right call.

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