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By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA, PA (CBS) — There’s been no tangible hint of angry mobs bearing pitchforks and torches in front of the NovaCare Complex during the Eagles’ bye week. Not yet, at least. But you get a feeling, listening to the general tenor of the city, there’s a lot of venom being loudly spewed, demanding heads and questioning whether or not the current Eagles’ hierarchy actually knows what they’re doing just six games into this 2012 season.
It has been a very disappointing 3-3 start with the Eagles in their bye week.
Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo has already been a casualty, fired Tuesday morning when the specter of blown fourth quarters resurfaced. The Eagles dribbled away an NFL-high seven fourth-quarter leads these last two years, five in 2011, and five at home in 2011 and ’12 combined. They yielded an NFL-high 38 turnovers last year, and the Eagles already seem on their way to possibly surpassing that with 17 this season, the second-highest total in the NFL behind the lowly Kansas City Chiefs’ 21.
In the last two years, the Eagles have 55 turnovers, more than any other team in the NFL. The Eagles are minus-9 in giveaway/takeaway ratio, only behind the Chiefs’ minus-15.
This was supposed to be a season of urgency and of change for the Eagles. Coach Andy Reid was given a not-so-subtle ultimatum from team owner Jeffrey Lurie that another 8-8 season won’t be tolerated.
Yet here they are, committing the same mistakes, turnovers and squandered fourth-quarter leads, galvanized by Sunday’s disastrous fourth-quarter meltdown in a 26-23 overtime loss to the Detroit Lions, who committed an NFL-season high 16 penalties for 132 yards.
So with the Eagles in the bye week, here’s a highly unofficial report of the coaching staff, offense, defense, and highly subjective view of the key players and surprises at the bye-week break.
Coaching staff: D
This may be highly generous, considering if you asked Reid what he would give himself, he’d probably reply with a big, fat red ‘F.’ The Eagles could easily be 5-1, take away Michael Vick’s fumble in the end zone against Pittsburgh and their utter ineptitude in the fourth quarter against Detroit.
They could just as easily be 0-6. There is nothing lucky about winning in the NFL. You don’t beat defending Super Bowl
champions like the New York Giants, and contenders, like the Baltimore Ravens, based on luck.
For as much as Reid and the coaching staff get criticized, they have managed to place the Eagles in a position to win in five out of six games. This team’s lack of discipline is a glaring alarm Reid and his staff need to confront. That’s instilled by the coaching staff.
“It’s undisciplined football,” said an angry Jason Avant after the Detroit loss. “We’re an undisciplined team at this point. Six games in, it’s embarrassing. That’s the word. Embarrassing. For coaches, and veteran players. With the mindset of, ‘Me before the team,’ in certain instances. And we need to address that.”
Reid and his staff better or this season may be lost for good.
The Castillo move seemed more a way of Reid appeasing the masses as the Eagles scurry in damage control trying to put the pieces of this season together.
Part of the problem was the defense … the more looming concern has been the offense.
Everyone seems to know Michael Vick isn’t the Michael Vick of 2002 or even 2010. Except for Reid and Vick himself. Vick’s 13 turnovers this season, five lost fumbles and eight interceptions, is a major reason why the Eagles average an NFC-low 17.2 points a game and are 31st in the NFL in average points.
Part of that is the revamped offensive line. When All-Pro Jason Peters went down before the season, it created a gaping void on the Eagles’ offensive front and a domino effect the Eagles can’t escape. Then when center Jason Kelce went down, it created more concerns. There’s no mystery why Vick is constantly on his back each week, and why LeSean McCoy is not fulfilling the huge contract he signed in the offseason.
Right guard Danny Watkins has regressed. He often times looks bewildered as to what to do. With the cornerstone, Peters, gone, it’s also exposed left guard Evan Mathis, who’s also labored. Right guard Todd Herremans has been disappointing and center Dallas Reynolds is still learning. The problem with that is the NFL is not a teaching league. One mistake and someone, in this case, Vick, takes an awful whack.
DeSean Jackson may be more suited as a situational player than an every-down receiver. He’s too tiny. Jeremy Maclin, when healthy, has game-breaking ability, but like Jackson, seems to have had a problem breaking away from defensive backs. With the offensive line needing help, it’s hampered Brent Celek from being used more to open space.
As for McCoy, he’s shown flashes of being electric. But his stunning 2011 may have had as much to do with him as it did running behind Peters. Now Peters is out. What has McCoy really done this season?
Maybe the Eagles, as well as those that follow the team, overvalued the talent the Eagles have assembled on offense. When Peters went down, so, too, did the Eagles offense.
Castillo got fired and the defense was only a part of the problem. Sunday’s loss to Detroit seems to have wiped away the three fourth-quarter stops the Eagles defense made in beating Cleveland, the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants and Baltimore, an AFC Super Bowl contender.
Middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans was a brilliant pickup. Drafting strong-side linebacker Mychal Kendricks was also a great move, and the two have bolstered what was a weak area. Cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha have been shaky at times—the last quarter against Detroit—and strong at times, the first three quarters against Detroit.
A strength was supposed to be the defensive front. They’ve been a large disappointment. Defensive end Jason Babin seems more concerned with how his hair looks after games than anything he’s done on the field so far. Trent Cole, the other defensive end, seems delusional. He thought the Eagles put pressure on Lions’ quarterback Matt Stafford on Sunday. He may have been the only one. Babin and Cole have combined for four sacks, and the Eagles as a team have a scant seven.
It’s imperative the wide-nine defense put pressure on the quarterback and produce sacks. They haven’t. Maybe new defensive
coordinator Todd Bowles can concoct the type of exotic—and timely—schemes the Eagles used run under the late Jimmy Johnson.
Reid brought up an interesting point in his Tuesday press conference explaining why he fired Castillo, and the reason the Eagles have not had the kind of aggressive defense Johnson designed.
“A little bit of it is scheme,” Reid said. “When you develop the wide-nine, you’re giving up a couple of things to get a whole lot, in theory. That puts your guys in a pass rush situation the whole time because you’re moving off of people’s bodies to give them the opportunity to rush the passer. With that, if you add in the blitz – also, with Jim you would think by the way people talk is that he blitzed every down, and that’s not what he did. He blitzed a very low percentage of the time, but he blitzed at opportune times. It’s how you utilize the blitz within that scheme. We can do a better job in that area. That’s what we’ll try to do.”
What the Eagles need to do is correct the mess that’s currently going on and correct it fast. Otherwise, five months from now this season receives an F and Lurie will be calling a press conference announcing the new coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.