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Bird Feed: Eagles’ strengths became weaknesses. Part Three

With a 3-6 record, there are plenty of reasons the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles have fallen short of expectations. Most shocking of all, though, have been the Eagles’ struggles in areas that were thought to be their greatest strengths. Today, we focus on coaching.

(Insert my dad screaming, “Coaching? A strength? We’ve known Andy Reid is a fool for years! Just fire him already!” )

Andy Reid is a polarizing figure. The majority of NFL experts outside of Philadelphia consider him a great coach. The 1.4 million NFL experts in Philadelphia think he’s a buffoon who overstayed his welcome. Personally, I’m torn. I like Andy Reid, but as Albert Einstein said, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” While I never considered Reid insane, it’s hard to argue with Albert.

The easiest way to approach Andy Reid’s role in this season’s collapse is to break it down into two parts. The stuff I blame him for, and the stuff I don’t. Let’s start with his failures.

I could just type, “Juan Castillo” here and that would say enough. Reid’s inexplicable decision to name his offensive line coach his defensive coordinator makes up about 85% of Reid’s failures this season. Just imagine if I approached the dishwasher at a five star restaurant and promoted him to manage the entire restaurant. No transition period. No training. Nothing. Does the fact that the dishwasher worked in the kitchen for several years qualify him to be the manager? Not quite. It doesn’t matter that he’s be around the restaurant for years and probably knows the business’ ins and outs. It’s a different job. One the dishwasher had never experienced before.

If Reid truly believed Castillo would make a great defensive coordinator, why not groom him before throwing him in the pool to sink or swim? Perhaps make him the linebackers coach for a season or two under an experienced coordinator. Allow him to settle into the defensive side of the game so he could learn and understand a new approach. Considering the investment the organization put into the 2011 season, rolling the dice with Castillo was a gigantic, irresponsible, and reckless risk. Many believe it cost the Eagles the season. It’s hard to argue otherwise.

Furthermore, as lost as Castillo has looked, he can’t be blamed for the lack of discipline on the team, especially the defensive line. That falls on Reid. As the head coach, it’s Reid’s responsibility to create a culture of accountability. To see Trent Cole, Jason Babin and the rest of the defensive line jump off sides at least twice a game is ridiculous. I understand coaches don’t want to take the aggressiveness out of defensive players, but stupid penalties have devastated the defense this season. That lack of discipline exists within the offense as well.

Michael Vick has been careless with the football, as have ball carriers. Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant both fumbled as the Eagles were driving to either tie or win the game against San Francisco and Buffalo, respectively. (I know Avant’s miscue was ruled an interception, but it was a really a fumble.) Drops have also plagued the team. Maclin has dropped too many passes to count, including the one on 4th down in Atlanta. DeSean Jackson only makes a catch if the conditions are ideal (perfect pass, no defenders near enough to crush him). The defensive backs have dropped interceptions on a weekly basis as well. And while dropped interceptions are crushing, poor tackling is even worse. Reid is responsible for making sure the team is fully invested in winning. Shying away from tackles on the defensive side (pick a cornerback) or avoiding contact whenever possible on the offensive side (DeSean Jackson) cannot be tolerated. Reid needs (or needed) to crack some skulls to get this team’s attention.

What would a blog post focused on Reid’s failures be without criticizing his offensive play calling? Once again, Reid has ignored the run in the 4th quarter while nursing a lead. I’m significantly less fussy about this than most, but Sunday’s loss to Arizona was a clear example of Reid’s delusional offensive approach. Vick was horrendous on Sunday. He was horribly inaccurate and his top two receivers were sidelined. Instead of relying on his best offensive player (LeSean McCoy), Reid continued to throw. McCoy only touched the football twice in the Eagles last 16 plays. That can’t happen at any point during the game, let alone the 4th quarter while protecting a small lead.

Finally, Reid built this team. Its foundation is on speed and skill, not grit and heart. When Reid took the Eagles to four consecutive NFC Championship games, he had the best team in the conference only once. His players were disciplined, they hustled, they battled; they embodied the blue collar spirit of the city. Right now, those types of players are obsolete in the Eagle locker room. Other than Jason Avant, I can’t think of a tenured Eagle you’d want leading your football team. Reid was successful with players like Brian Dawkins, Jeremiah Trotter, Brian Westbrook, and John Runyan leading the team. Guys that were relatively quiet off the field and fearless leaders on it. They didn’t crave media attention or accolades. They didn’t let contracts influence their play. The Eagles locker room is missing those players. There are too many divas, too many superstars fighting for the spotlight, and too many players focused on their personal success over the team’s. That falls on Reid. (By the way, I would also include personnel moves and draft picks as Reid’s failures, but that’s a whole other post entirely.)

As you can see, Reid’s hands are dirty. His failures as a coach are widespread this season. However, there are elements that Reid should not be blamed for. Let’s start with the practice limitations.

In the new labor deal, the NFL established rules regarding the amount of full contact practices. Essentially, each team is limited to 14 per season and never more than once a week (or something close to that). While I blame Reid for not holding players accountable for missed tackles, fumbles, avoiding contact etc…, his hands are tied when it comes to fixing those issues via a physical, lengthy practice. Besides, it’s not as if these tasks are complicated. Professional football players should know how to tackle properly, hold onto the football, and understand getting your clock cleaned is part of the game. Reid shouldn’t have to hold their hands throughout the entire season to make sure they do the simple things right. Athletes want superstar money but too often fail at the peewee fundamentals.

Furthermore, coaches can only go so far. Winning ultimately comes down to the players. Players play. If they don’t play well, the team will lose regardless of the coach’s scheme. If Maclin makes that simple 4th down catch in Atlanta, the Eagles tie or win the game on that drive. If Alex Henery doesn’t blow two chip-shot field goals against the 49ers, there’s absolutely no way the Eagles lose. If Chas Henry doesn’t throw the football like a 12-year-old girl on that fake punt, or if DeSean Jackson doesn’t backtrack 10 yards and then fumble, the Eagles probably don’t lose to the Bears. If Jason Avant doesn’t fumble twice in Buffalo, the Eagles probably rally for a win. If Michael Vick limits his red zone turnovers, or if the receivers hold onto to well thrown passes, the outcomes of other games could have been different as well.

The Eagles’ roster is supposedly full of stars. However, stars don’t wait around for ideal conditions to make an impact. They perform regardless. At times, Larry Fitzgerald made John Skelton look like Joe Montana. New York’s receivers outplayed the Eagles’ high priced cornerbacks. When Frank Gore smelt blood, he attacked the Eagle defense. The Eagles haven’t gotten star performances from any one of their stars with the exception of LeSean McCoy. More often than not this season, Reid has put his players in position to win football games and they haven’t come through. Players play. Reid can only coach.

Now the verdict. Unless the Eagles miraculously rally to reach the postseason, talk of firing Reid will only swell. So, should Reid be fired? While the evidence is damning, I say no, and for three reasons.

1. This team was built by Reid for Reid. The organization has invested a ton of money into a group of relatively older players. To fire Reid now would set the team back a year or two, and by that time, the “star” players on the roster the Eagles committed millions of dollars to would be past their primes. Firing him now accomplishes nothing. It’ll only set the franchise back.

2. I think the lockout fatally hurt this team. With so many new additions and changes, the Eagles needed a full offseason to bring everything together. Instead, the team had a month to introduce themselves, learn some plays, and figure out an entirely new defense. The front office should make 2012 a make-or-break year for Reid. Tell him it’s the Superbowl or unemployment. Or, tell him right now he has to fire Castillo or fire himself.

3. I know Reid is arrogant, stubborn, and his press conferences make you want to smash your head through your TV. But he’s a great coach, one of the five best in the NFL, in fact. Are we really willing to give up on a coach that’s kept the Eagles competitive for over a decade and risk going back into the Rick Kotite dark ages? I know the name of the game is to win titles, and I hear that. I agree with that. But it took Bill Cowher over a decade to win. Bill Belichick didn’t win until he lucked into Tom Brady. Tony Dungy finally won when he left Tampa to join Peyton Manning. Reid will win a Superbowl. I just hope it’s here and not wherever he ends up if the Eagles cut the cord, because you can be certain there will be teams lining up to have Reid run their franchise.

Tonight’s Pick

Jets at Broncos
I think the Tim Tebow story in Denver is phenomenal. Even while Tebow’s coach pats him on the back with one hand and stabs in it with the other, the kid keeps winning. I would love to see Denver make the playoffs just to watch NFL purists squirm. Unfortunately, the Jet defense is too good and too desperate to allow the Broncos to run the ball 55 times at over four yards per rush. At some point tonight, Denver will have to throw if they’re serious about winning the game. As much as I appreciate Tebow, his passing skills are lacking right now. Even in Denver, I fear the Jets win in a blowout. JETS If I were Charles Barkley; Jets -6

One Comment

  1. Derek

    Good points but I strongly disagree that Reid winning a Superbowl is inevitable. I don’t think it will ever happen with this team or another. He gets in his own way too much and I think his entire approach to the game is flawed. No doubt he wins games, but the guy either has no idea what it takes to win championships or he is too arrogant to make the adjustments. I hope I am wrong but nothing Reid has ever done hints at something new happening. In the words of my father, “Andy Reid has gotst to go!”

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