Turn on a local sports radio station in Philadelphia and you will hear any number of fans looking for answers regarding the Philadelphia Eagles. Following two consecutive blown leads late in games that exchanged likely wins for losses has caused an uprising and louder calls for change. Even after one significant change was made, more is expected.
If you did not know any better you might think the Eagles have lost every game on their schedule, or perhaps just picked up a single win at this point in the season. Instead, the Eagles are sitting at 3-3 and just one game behind the NFC East division leading New York Giants, whom they have already defeated. But in a season in which the owner has already publicly stated 8-8 would be unacceptable, and after years of frustration in an ongoing Super Bowl victory drought and 14 seasons under one head coach, the status quo has never been in jeopardy as much as it is now. Andy Reid knows this, which may be why he has done something he was never thought to do before, fire a longtime assistant during a bye week.
Reid’s dismissal of defensive coordinator Juan Castillo has long been called for by the fans, and was probably one of the moves that needed to be made in order to attempt to save the 2012 season. Still, there is room for improvement across the board on the Eagles roster, on offense, defense, special teams and the coaching staff.
The defense has blown two late fourth quarter leads, resulting in losses that were mere minutes away form having the Eagles entering their bye week with a 5-1 record and on top of the division atop a comfortable perch. The truth is, the Eagles defense has not been all that bad. Performing in the clutch and putting the clamps on a victory has been the problem. Through six games the Eagles have allowed just 20.8 points per game, a statistic that becomes a little more impressive considering the Eagles have turned the football over a league-high 17 times, at least five more than any other team in the league. Of course, the Eagles have also struggled to create turnovers thus far, with eight forced turnovers, third worst in the NFC.
The wins have been tight but were good enough to get people thinking that maybe this Eagles team does have something to them. While playing a brutal game to open the season on the road against a Cleveland Browns team rebuilding from the ground up, Mike Vick and the offense came through in the clutch with a late, game-winning touchdown. For the home opener the Eagles once again pulled through late to beat a Baltimore Ravens team that was one play away from perhaps representing the AFC in the Super Bowl last season. A Sunday night NFC East victory at home against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants was thought to prove that the Eagles may not always win pretty, but they have what it takes to beat the best teams in the league.
But the losses have come in almost equally brutal fashion. A blowout loss at Arizona was joined by seeing Vick lead the Eagles to a lead as he walked off the field in Pittsburgh, only to see the defense fail to stop Ben Roethlisberger from driving down to set up a game-winning field goal as time expired. The defense once again collapsed this past weekend when the Detroit Lions rallied from ten points down with a little over five minutes to play. As a result, Castillo lost his job as Reid promised changes during the bye week.
So what else needs to happen before the Eagles get back to the grind for the remainder of their regular season?
For starters, getting running back LeSean McCoy more involved in the offense should be a primary focus. While the team has been battling some depth concerns on the offensive line, getting McCoy in a groove will be instrumental in to an offensive turnaround for the Eagles. In the past two games McCoy has rushed just 30 times for 75 yards. He has touched the football 20 times in each of the past two games when adding on his receiving yards but at some point Reid must adjust his philosophy and trust his running back to carry the football, especially if he can instill some confidence in the offensive line. Getting McCoy more involved will take some of the pressure off of Vick, and perhaps protect him better moving forward. If Vick is not under so much heat and throwing the football as often, he becomes a much more threatening weapon as well.
The season is far from over, and the postseason is still well within reach for the Eagles. Losses to the Cardinals and Lions could come back to haunt them when it comes time to dole out playoff tiebreakers, but with five NFC East games still to play the Eagles have plenty of time to correct the course on the season.
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Kevin McGuire covers college football for Examiner.com and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow him on Twitter (@KevinOnCFB). His work can be found on Examiner.com.