Over the past decade, the Eagles’ faithful have come to expect at least one inexplicably horrible game every season. In 2009, that game showed up a few weeks earlier than expected for Andy Reid and his flock of birds. The Eagles are 3-2 and have more than enough time to straighten things out, so this is no time to panic. At least not until you look at what lies ahead. Now start panicking.
The combined record of the Eagles future opponents is 37-21. That’s not comforting to a team that has yet to find its groove. Of their 11 remaining games, only the Redskins are unlikely to compete for a playoff spot. Playing in the NFC East doesn’t help either. Unlike the NFC North (Lions), South (Bucs), and West (Rams), the Eagles do not have a “walk-over” team in the division that guarantees them two easy victories. Yes, the Redskins are flirting with that line, but they’re not there just yet. (Please note: Right now, nothing should be considered easy for the Eagles, especially after a loss to the Raiders.) Due to the level of play in the NFC this year, it is very possible that a 10-6 team will miss the playoffs. The Eagles will be battling the 49ers or Cardinals, Bears, Cowboys, Falcons, and Packers for two wildcard positions. The division champions are far from set, but as it stands now that is who they’ll need to pass. The Eagles will have every opportunity to make the playoffs as they play all of the teams noted above except for the Packers and Cardinals. Excluding the obvious importance of division contests, the games at Chicago and Atlanta will be the two most important games for the Eagles. If they lose both, they’ll essentially need to win the division to qualify for the playoffs because of the tie-breaking scenarios. Again, this is all according to the conference landscape right now. There’s a 99.9% chance it will look significantly different in another six weeks. The Eagles offense better have a different look in six weeks as well.
Raise your hand if you’ve heard this before, Andy Reid needs to balance out his offense. Can anyone explain to me why, when you’re averaging 4.8 yards per rush, you run the ball less than 25% of your total offensive plays? The following answers are not good enough: Andy is Reid is too dumb, Andy Reid needs to be fired, Brian Westbrook is old, Andy Reid wanted a cheeseburger. Yes, the Eagles trailed the entire day and yes, cheeseburgers are delicious, but the Eagles were never behind by more than one score, ever. Throwing the ball around the field 46 times was asinine. Add to that the, “equal opportunity hit our quarterback,” pass protection scheme, and the decision to continue throwing made even less sense. When your offense is struggling, you shorten the game and grind away at the opposing defense. The Eagles have invested more money in the offensive line than any other position. Yet, Reid continually asks them to drop back in protection a million times a day. It’s absurd. Reid should have established the run, worked the aerial attack off of the play-action, and been content winning 16 to 13. My little niece/nephew hasn’t been born yet and even she/he knows that McNabb doesn’t respond well to constant pressure and beatings from defensive lineman. In fact, early pressure, knockdowns, sacks, etc, will affect the production of any NFL quarterback. Again, throw McNabb a bone, Reid. Run the ball! Loooooonnnnnngggggg tangent here… I love Donovan McNabb. I hate that he whines about how he’s portrayed and I hate that he responds to pressure situations by smiling and laughing. However, I don’t think he doesn’t care like a lot of people do. I would like to see him respond like some of his peers in game changing situations; intense, focused, staring holes through the opposition a la Tom Brady, Kobe Bryant, or Mariano Rivera. Unfortunately, the Eagles can’t change who he is. Although, they can understand who/what he is and play to his strengths. For example, McNabb isn’t going to thread a ball through a defense and surgically dissect them like Peyton Manning. McNabb’s accuracy is average at best. Why then do the Eagles employ a group of small receivers that are never going to win a battle for a jump ball or sail across the middle for an errant pass? McNabb had this type of receiver for one year and looked untouchable. As we all know, the arrangement went sour and the Eagles never replaced Mr. Owens with a similar weapon. McNabb knows he needs that type of receiver. That’s why he continually lobbied management for more weapons. They’ve responded recently, but not with the big, physical receiver that McNabb needs. Andy Reid knows McNabb’s limitations and ignores them in his personnel decisions. That’s not Donovan’s fault.
The Eagles are also battling a combination of defensive issues and game mis-management. We’ll ignore game management because it hasn’t improved in ten years and we’d be foolish to expect a change now. The defense, however, has been uncharacteristically poor in its tackling and secondary play. The numbers for the Eagles defense are decent; 4th in total yards/game, 6th in passing yards/game, and their points per game average isn’t too bad either considering they surrendered 48 points in one week (51 points in their four other games combined). Regardless, I’m concerned. The Eagles have played one legitimate offense and got whipped. They still can’t solve a tight end and their tackling has suffered immensely without Stewart Bradley anchoring the middle of the field. Omar Gaither is solid, but he and Jeremiah Trotter are consistently exposed in coverage. With the athletic tight ends in the league today, defenses can’t hide a linebacker that is susceptible in pass coverage. Unfortunately, the Eagles have three (Gaither, Trotter, and Chris Gocong).
Worst of all, the Eagles’ blitz has been wildly inconsistent in flustering quarterbacks, even JaMarcus Russell. We’ve only seen the secondary challenged once, and the result was ugly. Asante Samuel is, in my opinion, overrated. Unless the quarterback is under heavy pressure, he’s not a shut down corner. Samuel won’t cover an above average receiver for more than a few seconds, which is a few seconds longer than Ellis Hobbs will cover anyone. The safeties are still trying to adjust to each other. Again, they haven’t been tested that often but against the Saints and Kellen Winslow they looked overwhelmed. Excluding the Redskins and 49ers, all of the Eagles’ remaining opponents have an offense that is capable of producing a lot of yards and a lot of points. Through five games, the Eagles defense does not appear up to the challenge.
Remember, this is the NFL; the standings we see today will not look the same at the end of the season. If the Eagles hope to improve their place in those standings, they’ve got a lot of work to do and only a few days to do it. Their season begins Monday night. We will know after the next five games if we have a contender to support, or if we should hibernate until the Phillies report to Clearwater.