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Philadelphia Eagles; Soft Push-Overs

The Philadelphia Eagles have been through tough times and miserable seasons, but I can’t remember a team, more specifically, a defense, as soft as the 2011 version. Money buys talent. But money can’t buy “dogs that hunt.” I miss Jim Johnson.

After three games, Andy Reid and the Eagles are learning if you spend money like the Washington Redskins, you play like the Washington Redskins. I don’t even know where to start, so I’ll just start firing and when it’s over, it’s over. I’ll warn you now, you haven’t heard whining like this since Roseanne butchered the National Anthem.

Let’s start with Nnamdi Asomugha. This is a sick joke, right? Is this really the guy we paid $60 million for? (To be fair, over the past two weeks, Asomugha has effectively shut down Roddy White and Hakeem Nicks. Neither White nor Hicks exceeded three catches, and neither totaled more than 30 yards. Considering White and Nicks are two of the top five receivers in the NFC, I guess it could be worse.) On the other hand, Asomugha was the man burned on the two most defining 4th quarter plays of the last two weeks. In Atlanta a week ago, Asomugha gave up the 1st down reception to rookie Julio Jones on 3rd and long. The Falcons never looked back. This week, Asomugha looked like a drunk Lito Sheppard as he failed to locate the ball and awkwardly flopped around as Victor Cruz hauled in the game-winning touchdown. Asomugha is an all-pro. He’s supposed to prevent big plays and make some of his own. In his brief tenure with the Eagles thus far, he’s surrendered far more plays than he’s made. After Cruz trampled Asomugha in the 1st quarter on Sunday, I found myself missing Dimitri Patterson.

It’s obviously not all Asomugha’s fault. The Eagle defense, as a unit, is downright embarrassing. What’s worse, they’re unbelievably soft. The Eagles lack an intimidating safety and/or downhill linebacker. They need someone to set the tone for the defense and put the opposing offense on notice. Think about the great defenses in the NFL. The Steelers have Troy Polamalu and James Harrison/LaMarr Woodley/Lawrence Timmons. The Ravens have Ed Reed and Ray Lewis. The Saints won with Jonathan Vilma and Darren Sharper. The Packers had Nick Collins, Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews. The Eagles had Brian Dawkins and Jeremiah Trotter. Now, the Eagles are dreadful at linebacker and safety. In fact, the entire defense has been soft since the passing of Jim Johnson. There’s no swagger. No identity. The defense waits for the offense to dictate the game instead of forcing the offense’s hand. Remember when Hugh Douglas, Trotter, and Dawkins would rave about “Dogs that hunt”? Well, the Eagles only have dogs now. Poodles, to be exact.

It’s ludicrous that Andy Reid continually ignores the linebacker position. Implementing late round draft picks and lousy offseason acquisitions has gotten the Eagle defense nowhere. Reid wasn’t even responsible for drafting Dawkins and Trotter. In fact, Reid foolishly let Trotter leave before bringing him back years later. Apparently, Reid knows the game too well and doesn’t need a game-changing linebacker. That’s why he’s won so many Superbowls. He has it all figured out. You think he’s noticed his defense can’t get a stop in the 4th quarter, or that they haven’t contained an opposing tight end since Carlos Emmons left town? Doubtful.

Although the Eagles constantly address the safety position, their failures are just as embarrassing. At this point, even the aging Dawkins would be an upgrade. His leadership would be a big boost for morale, as well. One would think Reid would’ve learned his lesson by now, but no. The Eagles continually whiff on safeties, wasting precious draft picks. Quintin Demps? Gone. Macho Harris? Gone. Nate Allen? He’s the guy with Brandon Jacobs’ footprint tattooed on his chest. Kurt Coleman? Still trying to tackle Victor Cruz while Asomugha dances around him like a ferry. Jaiquawn Jarret? Inactive for all three games thus far.

Not one player in the Eagles’ back seven is going to intimidate an opposing receiver, running back, tight end, or quarterback. It’s a miracle teams don’t run the football more, especially at Asante Samuel. Find me an NFL player more inept at tackling than Asante Samuel. (Seriously, what do they tell Asante when they break down film? “Nice one Asante. You came within two feet of making contact. Don’t worry, you’ll get there.”) You can’t win without a standout linebacker in the NFL or a game-changing safety. As long as Reid ignores this fact, we’re stuck watching Eagle defenses get trampled on Sundays.

Softness isn’t exclusive to the defense; it’s an issue on offense, too. Look at the Eagle receivers. They lack size. There’s a reason Michael Vick gets beat like a piñata on Sundays. Speed requires time to get open. Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson can’t get open on a three-step drop. They aren’t big enough. Both lose the physical battle for position. Thus, Vick is forced to hold onto the ball longer and in turn, absorb hit after hit. One may ask, where’s Brent Celek? Why isn’t Vick looking for Celek like Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb did so often? Since Vick took over, Celek’s been a ghost. And why did the Eagles spend $4 million on Steve Smith when they already had Jason Avant AND desperately needed a linebacker? Adding Smith didn’t improve the team enough to justify passing on a veteran and capable linebacker. And what about the draft? Only one of the Eagles’ first three picks in April’s draft has been active for a regular season game, and that was only once, and he didn’t even sniff the field. When will Reid be held responsible for whiffing on so many draft picks, especially on the defensive side of the ball?

Sunday’s loss was a perfect example of the Eagles’ lack of grit. The defense, once again, couldn’t get off the field in the 4th quarter. Two New York drives, two touchdowns. It was identical to the 4th quarter in Atlanta. After Mike Kafka’s interception, the defense completely folded, surrendering two 1st downs on 3rd and long en route to the game-sealing touchdown.

The offense wasn’t much better. Explain this to me. If you fail to punch the football in from the half-inch line on multiple attempts, why on earth do you believe you’ll convert 4th and 1 on the next possession? Did the offensive line get stronger between series? Whenever the Eagles need a first down on a 3rd/4th and 6 or less, the ball HAS to be in Michael Vick’s hands. Let him drop back, look for an open receiver, and run for it if nothing is open. He converts the first down 80% of the time in that situation. It amazes me how stupid the Eagles’ play calling is sometimes.

For example, with the ball inside the five, the Eagles didn’t give LeSean McCoy a touch. Not one. Many consider McCoy the best back in the league, yet the Eagles stand him on the sideline at such a crucial time? What’s worse, the Eagles gave the ball to Owen Schmitt not once, but twice! Why? Why? Why?

The Eagles’ red zone ineptitude is yet another example of just how useless Maclin and Jackson are at times due to their size. They can’t fight off defenders in tight spaces. They won’t win any jump balls. Riley Cooper is more of threat inside the five. I’m serious. Unless they have the stones of Carolina’s Steve Smith, speedy receivers are overrated. Jackson’s a diva and Maclin is too dainty. Speed may kill, but it sure as h*** doesn’t win.

My dad wants Andy Reid’s head on a platter. “Same crap for 13 years,” he says. It’s hard to argue his point. Reid hasn’t learned. Instead of change, he continues with blueprints that failed time and time again. With 13 games yet to play, a lot can be fixed. The Eagles can still achieve their goals and win the organization’s first Superbowl. But for most Eagle fans, fans like my dad, they know better. 2011 will end like every other year in the Reid era. Reid refuses to adjust, refuses to learn, and in doing so, refuses to legitimately compete for a title.

I would love to be wrong on this, but 13 years of failure is hard to ignore.

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