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Bird Feed: East’s Beast

For the third time this season, the Eagles managed to pry victory from the snares of defeat. The Birds now have sole ownership of 1st place in the competitive NFC East. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Before we all get too excited about the Eagles victory over the visiting Giants Sunday night, let’s not forget the Eagles have pretty much dominated the NFC East in recent years and still have nothing to show for it. In fact, the last time Philadelphia didn’t finish 4-2 or better in the division was 2008. In their last 12 division games, the Eagles are an impressive 10-2. Against the Giants, the Eagles have won eight of the last nine meetings between the two rivals. In other words, the Eagles beat the NFC East all the time and it hasn’t translated to postseason success, or at times, even a postseason berth (see 2011).

Obviously, the national media is making a big deal of the Eagles victory and an even bigger deal of Andy Reid’s commitment to run the football. Some say he’s finally figured it out. For us Eagle fans, we know better. This isn’t the first time Reid woke up and beat a good team by running the football. Here’s what I offered on Friday in regards to Sunday’s matchup with the Giants:

“Is there any doubt the Eagles win Sunday night? Andy Reid does this to us all the time. The Eagles go on the road and get slaughtered. Reid looks like a buffoon. The whole city flips out and writes off the Eagles. Then, out of nowhere, Reid calls a perfect game and the Eagles, for one game at least, eliminate all the issues that normally plague them and emerge victorious.”

Can you tell I’ve grown up with Reid coaching the Eagles? That paragraph summed up the Eagles performance perfectly. Philadelphia ran the football 36 times to 30 passing attempts. They committed zero turnovers. Nearly everything that had plagued the Eagles in the first three weeks of the season was eliminated. So why am I not convinced the Eagles have settled into a groove? Because this is Andy Reid we’re talking about. Like moths to a flame, Reid always reverts back to an unbalanced offense. Only when his back is to the wall does Reid keep the ball on the ground.

With that said, I’ll give Reid a ton of credit for Sunday night’s game. Though the Eagles continually struggled to move the ball on the ground throughout the 1st half, Reid never abandoned the run. Even when the Eagles needed points on their final drive, Reid’s play calling stayed conservative. He perfectly managed the clock while marching down the field at the same time. Though unpopular, the 3rd and goal rollout was the best call. It burned a few more seconds than a simple run would have, and the play at least gave Vick an opportunity to score via the ground or air if he saw something he liked. All in all, it was Reid’s best game of the season (even though he almost blew it by failing miserably to ice the kicker).

Other thoughts

The Philadelphia defense has been mostly outstanding thus far, but one thing that continues to plague them is penalties, more specifically, penalties that convert 3rd or 4th downs into 1st downs. Great defenses pressure the quarterback, force turnovers, and get off the field. If it weren’t for senseless penalties, I’d give the Eagles consideration as a great defense.

Like the rest of Philadelphia, I was shocked to see Reid run the football three times in a row with 1st and goal from the one. It was certainly a welcomed sight. However, running plays that stretch sideline to sideline are less effective inside the five than between the twenties. Running north/south is the best method to scoring on the ground inside the five.

Speaking of the red zone, that’s three weeks in a row the Eagles have struggled to score touchdowns inside the red zone. Against Baltimore, turnovers plagued the Eagles as they converted only two of five trips into touchdowns. In Arizona, the Eagles went 0/2, on Sunday night, 1/4. Good offenses move the ball up and down the field. Great offenses convert scoring opportunities into touchdowns, not field goals. As I’ve mentioned a bazillion times, the Eagles are too undersized on the outside to have an impact when the defenses tighten up. Therefore, the Eagles must find a way to get Brent Celek and Clay Harbor more involved, similar to the way the Patriots use their tight ends (New England’s receivers are also undersized). Bringing back the shovel pass would also be a welcomed surprise. Whatever it is, Reid and the Eagles must score touchdowns in the red zone. Field goals win games in September and October but cost coaches jobs in November and December.

As everyone outside the Reid household has believed for the past three seasons, LeSean McCoy is the Eagles meal ticket. Run the offense through him and the Eagles will be just fine, regardless of the opponent. (And please, no more red zone carries for Bryce Brown until he does something impressive OUTSIDE of practice.)

The Eagles (an organization known for mishandling tenured players) having Brian Dawkins introduced to the crowd like he was still a member of the team was fantastic. Good call by the organization. Well done.

Finally, and most importantly, the Eagles have been nearly flawless in crunch time. In 2011, the Eagles were plagued by turnovers and missed opportunities when it came to winning close games. This year, Michael Vick and the Eagles are a perfect 3-3 on their final drive when trailing. The confidence that comes with winning close games in such fashion cannot be overstated. Furthermore, the defense has also come through in each of those situations by protecting leads Vick and the offense have provided (although they got some help from the Giants Sunday night). Teams that can steal or seal a game in the final minutes are the most dangerous come playoff time. Though the Eagles haven’t looked like title contenders in the 1st quarter of the season, they’re 3-1, alone in 1st place, and still (hopefully) have their best football ahead of them. At this time a year ago, the Birds were lost at 1-3. What a difference a year makes.

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