After marching up and down the field against the New York Giants, the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense floundered at home on Sunday night in front of a national audience. The culprits for the offensive ineptitude have made appearances in the past. How long will they remain in town?
There was plenty of blame to pass around after Sunday night’s home defeat to the hated Dallas Cowboys; offensive ineptitude, miscues, and penalties were the most obvious. Allow me to offer one more addition to the group. I’ll agree I’m being fussy, but I expect more from an Iggle defense. Take a deep breath. There’s a lot to cover here.
The most obvious reason for the Eagles’ struggles on Sunday was Donovan McNabb. McNabb looked like JaMarcus “Rush”ell. He was hurried, flustered and most of his passes sailed wide, high, low, and even decapitated a few worms along the way. This is not news. McNabb has a few of these games every season. Although, if I’m Andy Reid, I take McNabb aside this week and tell him he has two weeks to get his accuracy under control before he visits the bench. While it’s true that none of McNabb’s mistakes DIRECTLY led to the defeat, he missed multiple receivers for first downs and failed to lead the offense on a point producing drive in the 4th quarter (garbage field goal doesn’t count). Reid also deserves some blame for the offense’s offensive performance. The Cowboys were in McNabb’s grille for most of the first half. Usually, a coach will run the ball a little more or call quicker pass routes to slow down the rush and help out his quarterback. My preference would have been to see them run the ball last night. The running game was decently effective (3.9 yards/rush), but asking Reid to commit to a running game is about as easy as asking Allen Iverson to come off the bench.
Where were the wide receivers last night, and why didn’t we take shots downfield? Glad you asked. First, let’s cover the wide receivers. Both Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson are fast, really fast. Unfortunately, as is the case with most speedy receivers, they aren’t big or physical. If the offensive line is providing McNabb loads of time, their size is irrelevant. When McNabb is under pressure, size matters. Due to their stature, both receivers struggled to get off the line when pressed by Dallas’ corners. McNabb needed them to get open in 1.5 – 2.5 seconds as opposed to the 3 – 5 seconds they’ve had in recent weeks. It should also be noted that Reid spends the highest percentage of the team’s payroll on the O-line and yet they are this unreliable. Yes, the receivers couldn’t get off the line, and yes McNabb missed them when they were open, but the ineptitude began at the offensive line and spread through the entire offense like swine flu.
As for the downfield attempts, the Cowboys executed the perfect game plan. First, pressure McNabb early. Regardless of whether you keep the heat on for the remainder of the game, McNabb has shown he responds poorly to being pressured and hit early in games. Second, don’t let DeSean Jackson get behind the secondary. The Cowboys sat a safety over top and forced Jackson and the offense to make the accurate passes within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage. Three, make McNabb complete those passes within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage. The Cowboys know this is where McNabb will struggle from time to time. He struggled on Sunday night. The Cowboys took away the Eagles’ bread-and-butter and forced the smaller receivers and McNabb to make plays in traffic. They weren’t up to the challenge, especially McNabb.
I watch every primetime NFL game regardless if the Eagles are playing. I can honestly say that, with the exclusion of the Titans’ performance against the Colts and of course the Redskins, The Eagles have performed the worst of any team. It’s been ugly. Last night, Reid proved why he is the most incapable, game managing coach since Gordon Bombay briefly sabotaged the USA junior hockey team in the “Mighty Ducks” sequel. The first challenge wasn’t necessary, and the field goal at the end could only be explained by a gambling problem (Reid clearly had the Eagles in a two-team tease). His play calling was again, questionable. (It should be noted that Reid’s play calling is almost always questionable until December. It’s almost as if he knows how to win but refuses to implement that style until absolute necessary. Maybe it’s to keep his opponents off kilter, or maybe it’s because he hates going home so much that he prolongs each and every game by passing 70% of the time. We may never know. All we know is that it causes migraines, stress attacks, and drunkenness across the Delaware Valley each and every fall.)
In addition to Reid’s failures, the Eagles had two penalties that really affected the scoreboard. The first was the kickoff return for a touchdown coming out of the half. The impact here was limited because the offense drove the field and scored anyway. The second penalty followed Sheldon Brown’s 3rd quarter interception. After Brown’s return, the Eagles would have had the ball at the Dallas 35 yard line. The low-block penalty gave the Eagles possession at their own 12. Instead of field goal position, the offense was buried inside their own 20. Worst of all, both penalties were committed by rookie linebacker Moise Fokou who was replacing the injured Chris Gocong. Not the best way to make a first impression.
Now, allow me to nitpick for a moment. The defense, as usually, is good enough to make a run deep into the playoffs. However, they haven’t established themselves as a unit that will win a game or two throughout the year. Think I’m wrong? Look at the schedule. The Eagles defense could have easily won the Raider game had they not missed a handful of tackles on tight end Zach Miller’s 86 yard touchdown scamper. “Tight end” and “scamper” should never be used in the same sentenced unless the term “blocking” is mixed in somewhere. The Eagles also needed the best from their defense in week two against the New Orleans Saints. With McNabb out and the offense adjusting to a new quarterback, the defense responded by surrendering 421 total yards of offense and 41 points. (Yes, turnovers contributed to many of those points, but an Eagle defense always prides itself on limiting the opposition to field goals on turnovers deep in their own end.) That leads us to Sunday night. The offense was clearly struggling. Therefore, the defense would be required to keep the Eagles in the game until they forced a critical turnover or McNabb found a groove. Trent Cole and his merry man accomplished this for 3½ quarters. Unfortunately, it all fell apart on a 3rd and 14 go-ahead touchdown pass from Tony Romo to Miles Austin with seven minutes remaining. (By the way, if you’ve found Sheldon Brown’s jock strap, please let him know. He’s been searching for it. Thanks.) How many times will Brown be burned on the double move before he learns? Even with Brown’s gaffe, the defense still had an opportunity to give their offense one final shot to tie the game. On first down, when all 68,000 individuals in attendance knew the Cowboys would run, the Eagles surrendered 16 yards. On the ensuing 3rd and 4, safety Quintin Mikell decided to play 6 yards off of Dallas tight end, Jason Witten. If you handed someone $500 and asked them to bet on who Romo would go to on a 3rd and 4 pass, how many would choose Witten? 75%? 80%? The Eagles put their “best” defensive player on the most likely option, and Mikell wasn’t mentally capable of making the play. On a night full of embarrassing moments, that was one of the worst.
There you have it, 1,200 words worth of Eagle failures from Sunday night. One would assume I’m jumping ship… No way. I still believe the Eagles are one of 4 or 5 teams that can win the NFC. Any Eagle fan will remind you not to judge an Andy Reid football team until the end of December. For whatever reason, Reid and his players bring their best in the final month of the year. I’m expecting the same this year.