Man, August seems like it was a lifetime ago.
Let’s quickly reminisce on that wonderful time in Eagles history, when, for two weeks, Andy Reid, Joe Banner, Howie Roseman and Jeffrey Lurie could do no wrong. They made all the right moves (and then some). They said all the right things. They appeared to be on the same page as the fans.
The Eagles grabbed the city’s attention away from the Phillies with gusto, signing every player they could during the arms race known as 2011 NFL Free Agency, and seemingly set the team up for a spectacular championship run. Players were falling over each other to come to Philly and join what Vince Young dubbed the “Dream Team.” Analysts fawned over the moves and the rest of the league took notice. Fan expectations were palpable.
But then a funny thing happened on the way to the Super Bowl…
The first three weeks of the regular season.
After three games, it is safe to say that the 2011 Eagles Defense – with all of its high-profile additions – is no better than the 2010 edition(*). The four major flaws of last season’s team remain this year: they can’t stop the run, they can’t protect the middle of the field, they can’t tackle and they can’t stop teams in the redzone. Those are some pretty glaring problems.
(*)At least as it stands right now. With no offseason programs and a limited training camp, the unit still has a way to go until it’s a cohesive, comfortable group and could very well still come together at some point.
A lot of those traits can be attributed to the lack of actual Linebackers – the one area the team decided NOT to address in Free Agency(**). Sure they drafted Casey Matthews’ pedigree and Brian Rolle, but they didn’t really address the position that’s been their biggest need since The Walrus’ arrival. Why spend all that money and bring in all of those big name players if you were going to simply ignore the worst facet of your team? It makes no sense.
(**)A mind-boggling decision.
Speaking of Casey Matthews… can anyone who has seen this kid play explain why the Eagles drafted him, aside for his family’s name? Anyone? No, you can’t.
Fredo Matthews(***) has ZERO discernable football skills. He might look the part and his name might fool you into thinking he can play… but he can’t. He’s a liability in the run game AND the pass game. On running plays, he disappears from the instant an offensive player touches him. He has no ability to shed a block whatsoever and gets blown up by a Fullback, Lineman or Wide Receiver on every single play. And he may actually be even worse in coverage! Fredo allowed Brandon Jacobs – yes, 264 pound Brandon “Big Meat” Jacobs – to slip by him and catch a ball for an untouched 40-yard touchdown.
(***)Who will, from here on out, ONLY be known as Fredo.
But back to the Defense as a whole… How do you fix this? The D-Line is what it is: an overpowering force, predicated on pressuring the Quarterback and messing up his rhythm, while totally forgetting that the other team has the ability to run the ball. The Linebackers may as well not be on the field. It seems as if Blaine Bishop and Michael Lewis are still manning the Safety spots. And the team’s ultimate strength, the Cornerbacks, refuse to tackle… oh AND gave up two insane touchdowns to Victor Cruz (who?!).
The blame can’t all go to the Defense though. As bad as they were – and giving up 29 points to this Giants team was certainly unacceptable – our dear old whipping boy, The Walrus, deserves our true vitriol.
First things first, a confession: We defended his call to go for it on 4th and one at the Giants’ 43. Vehemently.
Look, it clearly wasn’t the smartest call – and, in fact, Reid’s actual play call was indefensible(****) – but it was gutsy and aggressive and could have ended the game if it was successful. We took a lot of heat in our section at the game for agreeing with his decision to not punt the ball and pin them back, but to his credit, there was no evidence that the Defense could stop the Giants anyhow. They were marching up and down the field at will(*****).
(****)How do you NOT have a lead blocker in front of Shady on that play?!?! Seriously, single-back formation with McCoy seven yards deep?! It made no sense. By the time he got the ball, the defenders were already in the backfield.
(*****)Tom Coughlin might be even dumber than Reid. Ahmad Bradshaw should have gotten 40 touches yesterday. The Eagles have NO answer for him.
Now, why Reid goes for it on 4th and one in the middle of the field and not at the goal line is beyond comprehension. As is not being able to punch the ball into the end zone from less than a yard out. Regardless, we couldn’t kill him for being overly aggressive, he just needs to pick one philosophy or the other and stick with it. You can’t fluctuate from conservative to aggressive over the course of a quarter and expect consistency.
Another thing about Reid’s philosophy… it’s the Achilles heel of the Philadelphia Eagles, and the real issue at hand here after three weeks of football.
The Eagles are built to play a very specific brand of football: a high-octane Offense that puts points on the board with a Defense predicated on protecting that lead. That’s it. They aren’t constructed to play smashmouth football, or even to play from behind. The Offense is supposed to make big plays and force the opposing team to play catch-up while relying heavily on the pass. That’s why the team has invested so many drafty picks and Free Agent acquisitions on Defensive Ends, Cornerbacks and Wide Receivers the past few years.
But what happens when the Birds can’t score consistently? Or score first? Or score at all? What happens when an opponent has a Running Back and Tight End that can take advantage of the gaping hole in the middle of the Defense(******)? What happens when teams are capable of playing catch-up and aren’t afraid of the scoreboard? What happens when the D-Line can’t get pressure and the Cornerbacks are getting burnt?
(******)Who’s looking forward to the Frank Gore/Vernon Davis combination next week?!
That Falcons game happens. That Giants game happens.
And here we are.
Sure, a team built around firepower, speed and pressure will win 10 or 11 games and make the playoffs, and even win a playoff game or two. We’ve seen this Eagles regime pull it off before and we’ll likely see them do it again this year. But it’s not sustainable the deeper you go into the playoffs and the better caliber of team you play.
Who knows? A team can get hot at the right time and go on a three-to-four game run in the playoffs, no matter what style they play. The Saints seemingly won Super Bowl 44 in that manner (though their Defense was much more capable than the Eagles’ current group), so there is some precedent. But it’s unlikely.
It’s safe to say that this Eagles season will end much like the last 12 Eagles seasons: with a devastating loss, blown expectations and no trophy.
Too bad the NFL doesn’t award championships in August.