Ever since the words “Dream Team” escaped the lips of backup quarterback Vince Young, Philadelphia Eagles fans everywhere knew this was about to get ugly. The collective exhale likely created choppy waters along the Delaware River and began what was to become a nightmare of a season.
Some believe that now-infamous press conference put a target on the Eagles’ backs, but I don’t buy into that theory. Teams want to beat other teams regardless of prior successes, failures, or what is said during a press conference. So while that moniker from Young for the 2011 Eagles would be brought up repeatedly throughout the season, it’s not a reason for failure as much as it is fodder for the media.
With that said, here are the five mistakes that actually brought the Eagles’ season to its knees.
5. Not Dealing With DeSean Jackson
This does not necessarily mean the Eagles made a mistake by not giving Jackson a new contract, but not dealing with him in some fashion was a mistake the team likely now regrets.
If the team did not want to give him a new contract before the season, he should have been tossed on the trade block and dealt to the highest bidder. Instead, Jackson sat and watched as the team dished out an exorbitant amount of money to free agents while he was largely ignored. Jackson has time and again showed the world he’s part of the new-age prima donna NFL athlete, so the Eagles should have expected he would be upset and discouraged by the lack of a new deal rather than motivated to prove himself in a contract year.
It became obvious early on Jackson was not interested in playing without a new deal. He let it be known he was going to be careful about going over the middle and that his No. 1 goal was to escape the season without injury. He met his goals, but it came with the heavy price of watching the offense stall and his production go in the tank on both offense and special teams.
A motivated DeSean Jackson can be a dangerous playmaker, but a half-hearted effort from him is a recipe for disaster.
4. An Ineffective ‘Plan B’ to Michael Vick
If we remove the final drive of the game against the New York Giants, Vince Young was, at best, wildly ineffective while filling in for Vick and, at worst, downright putrid. He threw far too many interceptions, missed open receivers on several occasions, and looked very uncomfortable running the offense.
Young, not exactly known for his football intelligence was asked during a shortened offseason to pick up an extremely difficult Andy Reid/Marty Mornhinweg offense and be ready at a moment’s notice. Considering the fact that Vick has played a full 16-game season exactly one time in his career, the team had to know whomever was signed to back him up would see significant time, so banking on Young being ready to handle that was a costly miscalculation.
Mike Kafka in his second year would likely have been the better option. He’s a more conventional quarterback who would have had the support of one of the best running backs in the league in LeSean McCoy on which to lean. Perhaps, in this case, hindsight is 20/20, but it’s difficult not to think Kakfa would have been able to execute the offense more efficiently and with fewer mistakes than Young.
3. Completely Overhauling the Offensive Line
I understand the newly-hired Howard Mudd wanting his own type of guy to execute his blocking schemes, but the total overhaul was unnecessary and contributed to the team’s slow start.
First of all, I’m completely dumbfounded by the love and admiration for Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, and Todd Herremans. While I will concede Kelce progressed significantly as the season went on and looks like a guy with a bright future, I cannot get behind the support for Mathis or Herremans in any fashion and still do not understand starting the year with Kelce and Kyle DeVan.
I understand moving Herremans to right tackle and plugging in Mathis at left guard to start the season because Winston Justice was still hurting from last season and unable to play to start the year. However, Jamaal Jackson was perfectly healthy and ready to go. There’s no doubt he was a better option to start the year at center than Kelce, so why push him to the bench? And did the team truly believe DeVan was going to play any better off the waiver wire than Danny Watkins would have?
The thinking was DeVan had already played in Mudd’s system, but the guy hit the waiver wire for a reason. He was slow off the ball, in his footwork, and in his reaction to the defense. Did Mudd and Reid, a former offensive linemen, really not see this in practice? Even if he had to be told his assignment before every snap, Watkins could have easily outperformed DeVan. I thought he did during the preseason, and he certainly was an upgrade once DeVan was shown the door and Watkins was handed the job.
The thinking behind Kelce was he was lighter and quicker than Jackson, so he would fit the system better. But I seem to recall Jackson being athletic enough to get out in front on screens and do any pulling that was asked of him. To say he didn’t have the athleticism necessary to zone block sounds ludicrous. At no point in Jackson’s career, and I’ve watched every snap, have I thought he was lacking in athleticism. That included the preseason while he was running Mudd’s blocking scheme.
Kelce did improve every week, which is all that can be asked of a rookie, but there is no doubt he was a liability over the first month of so as his inability to make the line calls and read opposing defenses had the offensive line a step behind — a step they would not have lost with Jackson calling the shots and Kelce learning from the sidelines.
I have never been a fan of Herremans as a guard. He gets pushed around by bigger defensive tackles and has an awful habit of being stood up and stopping his feet when he’s bullrushed. As a lighter guy, I always thought he belonged at tackle, which is where he played in college. However, the same problems emerged. In addition to being handled by guys bigger than him, Herremans also got lazy at times and watched speed-rushers run around him on a clear path to the quarterback.
Had the signal-callers been less elusive than Vick and Young, it could have gotten very ugly. But because those two are so elusive and could escape the rush, Herremans inability to deal with the better defensive ends he faced was largely ignored. Once Justice was healthy, there was no reason not to play him as he would have been a clear upgrade over Herremans.
That brings us to Mathis. He’s a funny guy on Twitter and everyone in the locker room, including the media, seems to love him. On the field, however, I was incredibly unimpressed.
The biggest issue with Mathis seemed to come on combo blocks. There is just something about them the guy does not understand. The first thing stressed on a combo block is to make sure the first line of defense is secured and moving backward before moving to the second level, but he never accomplished step one before moving to step two. I lost count of the number of times Mathis was blocking a linebacker while McCoy was dropped two yards behind the line of scrimmage because he abandoned his block.
He was a much better pass blocker, or so it seemed, but there were far too many times throughout a game and throughout the season I found myself putting the blame on Mathis went something went array.
This was a situation in which the team likely could have had its cake and eaten it too. The starters from 2010 were and are more than capable of learning and running Mudd’s scheme. The new scheme could have taken effect while keeping continuity and the team would have been much better off.
2. The Misuse of Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie, and Joselio Hanson
Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie are, and always have been, bump-and-run, man coverage corners. So when the Eagles went out and acquired both guys via free agency and trade respectively, it made sense to think the Eagles would be running a lot of bump-and-run and man-under schemes.
But if that’s what you thought, you thought wrong.
Instead, the Eagles and new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo went the total opposite direction. The defense played a ton of zone coverage that not only did not fit the strengths of Asomugha, but did it with two new starters on defense that did not have time to get a feel for one another because of the lockout.
Asomugha started across from Asante Samuel with Jarrad Page and Kurt Coleman playing safety. Asomugha and Page could not get on in sync and it led to a lot of big plays that were incorrectly and unfairly blamed on Asomugha, which is why the entire city is convinced he had a terrible season. A down year, perhaps, but the culprit several times was Page.
Samuel was comfortable in the zone since he’s played in it a lot before during his days in New England, but Coleman in only his second year had a difficult time playing it well. Not only that, but Coleman’s biggest strength is in the run game, anyway. All in all, the zone just did not fit the personnel.
In addition, Castillo was playing Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie out of position.
Asomugha was used as something of a joker who played all over the field, but the logic in that was flawed. Asomugha, while talented enough to fill that role, has been the best outside corner in the league for the past five or six seasons, so why change that up? Castillo seemed to like sticking him on the opposing tight end, which basically removed the tight end from the game, but that wouldn’t be necessary if the defense played the tight end properly.
Instead of sticking the tight end off the line with a defensive end or linebacker and throwing him off his route, tight ends were almost always allowed a free release. And when an athlete like that is able to get on a linebacker in open space with nearly infinite directions to move, it’s going to be extremely difficult to defend.
Rodgers-Cromartie was, for most of the season, used in the slot. Putting a guy who has always played on the outside in the slot, which is a totally different animal, would be bad enough on its own, but it’s made worse by the fact the Eagles have one of the best slot corners in the league in Hanson.
Rodgers-Cromartie should have been the dime corner and immediate backup to Asomugha and Samuel while Hanson stayed in the slot, but instead the guys were moved around and had their weaknesses brought to the forefront rather than putting them in position to showcase their strengths.
This changed as the season went on and Castillo began to learn on the fly, but the early misuse of the three corners was so egregious it would be difficult to overcome.
1. Not Addressing the Linebacking Corps
As soon as Jim Washburn was hired to coach the defensive line and the Eagles let it be known they would employ the wide-9, the next move should have been to find linebackers who were tackling machines. The wide-9 puts a ton of pressure on the linebackers to make plays because the front four is shooting upfield so quickly with no regard for playing the run. While this leads to a ton of sacks, it also leads to a lot of plays needing to be made in the second level.
Unfortunately, the Eagles did not have anyone capable of making those plays.
After eight snaps in the Eagles’ first preseason game, it became obvious Casey Matthews was not only not starting material, but had no business in the middle; especially after the way Jamar Chaney finished out the 2010 season in the middle. Instead, Chaney was forced to learn a new position on the strong side and Moise Fokou somehow managed to enter the season as a starter.
Playing guys out of position is nerve-racking enough, but when clear improvements rot on the bench, it makes it that much worse.
Specifically, I mean Akeem Jordan. Jordan had started in years past and had always been solid while occasionally making big plays and showing flashes of the ability to take his game to the next level. However, he remained on the bench until Fokou hurt himself late in the season and made it very clear very quickly he was an upgrade.
Starting Brian Rolle on the weakside and moving Chaney back to the middle was an improvement, but it took too long. And even though Rolle played well as a rookie, it was still not up to snuff with what was needed out of a linebacking corps in a wide-9.
The team drafted a linebacker in the fourth round (Matthews) who was clearly a sub-package guy at best, the undersized Rolle in the sixth, and Greg Lloyd, Jr. in the seventh. Lloyd, Jr. spent the season on the practice squad and then on the inactive list.
That was the team’s definition of addressing the linebackers.
Paul Posluszny, Barrett Ruud, Stephen Tulloch, Kirk Morrison, Nick Barnett, and several other linebackers all found homes elsewhere while the Eagles signed and acquired corners they would use out of position. It was almost as if the team was making personnel moves like the Jim Johnson/Sean McDermott blitzing scheme of defense — that put a ton of pressure on the corners — would still be employed and failed to realize the most basic downfall of the wide-9 and the defense has a whole.
But as long as bankers and guys without a football background of any kind are making personnel decisions, these types of issues will always creep up.