10 Things We Learned From the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 8
The Philadelphia Eagles’ week eight matchup against the Atlanta Falcons contained a slew of storylines. The biggest included the return of cornerback Asante Samuel to Philadelphia, the Falcons’ quest to remain the league’s only undefeated team, Todd Bowles’ debut as Eagles’ defensive coordinator, Michael Vick’s quest to save his job as the team’s starting quarterback, and Andy Reid’s perfect record (13-0) following a bye week. But more importantly, the Eagles needed to win to basically save their season. At 3-3, a win would propel the Eagles right back into the playoff picture, and earn them nationwide respect if they could knock off the 7-0 Falcons in the process. But a loss would raise even more questions about the job security of Reid, who knows that he likely needs to take the team deep into the postseason to save his job.
Let’s just say that a win didn’t happen. It fact, it wasn’t even close. The Eagles were crushed at home by the Falcons, allowing touchdowns on the first three drives and field goals on the next three. The Falcons coasted to an easy 30-17 win that wasn’t even remotely as close as the score indicated. No, the Eagles were thrashed, plain and simple. They fell flat on their face against the league’s best team in a game they had 14 days to prepare for. They didn’t appear to play scary or tough. In fact, they looked as if they didn’t care. One ESPN analyst tweeted that he’s only seen the Eagles quit three times under Reid: the end of the season following the Terrell Owens suspension in 2005, the Thursday Night football loss to the Seattle Seahawks last December, and the loss to the Falcons on Sunday.
So, following one of the more embarrassing performances I’ve ever seen by the Eagles, I bring you the ten things we learned from week eight.
1. Quarterback is not the biggest problem for the 2012 Eagles.
The Eagles’ loss to Atlanta proved that quarterback is not the biggest problem on the team. I can think of at least four bigger problems: the depleted offensive line, the ineffective defensive line, coaching/playcalling, and a lack of motivation by the team. Benching Vick would not save this season. It would end it. I’m not sure rookie Nick Foles could survive behind an offensive line that played last game without three starters. The defensive line has to figure out how to put pressure on the quarterback. Two sacks against Matt Ryan is a start, but we’ve seen the potential of this unit (50 sacks in 2011). Reid needs to do as he says in ever post-game press conference, and actually put the offense in a better position by improving his playcalling (perhaps by taking over duties from offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg). And the team, as a whole, needs to figure out if it wants to play football or not.
2. Todd Bowles' defense is unpredictable.
Remember leading up to the game against the Falcons when new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said that he wanted his team’s defense to be unpredictable? He couldn’t have been more accurate. The defense was unpredictable in the sense that you never knew whether they would give up a touchdown or a field goal. What I’m saying is that Bowles had a nightmare debut, and he raised a lot of questions about his ability to coach an entire defense, something he’s never done before. 30 points against the Falcons is bad, not awful, but 24 points by halftime is awful. He also didn’t blitz as much as most expected, and when he did, Matt Ryan was 3 for 3 for 36 yards. It won’t get easier for Bowles as he prepares to face Drew Brees this Monday night.
3. Offense is still much worse than the defense.
I understand the frustration over the defense’s performance against the Falcons, but let’s make one thing clear. The offense is much worse than the defense. The Falcons are a great offensive team. Allowing 30 points is not going to get the job done, but ironically it IS five fewer points than Atlanta scored against the Eagles last season. It’s the offense that has failed to score 20 points in five of the seven games this year, with a high of 24. Had the offense been playing at an average level, the Eagles could easily be 5-2 this year instead of 3-4. The defense definitely needs to improve, but they’re not the team’s worst unit.
4. Dennis Kelly appears ready to play at the NFL level.
I was pleased with the performance of rookie Dennis Kelly, who flew under the radar on Sunday despite making the first start of his career. Give this man, originally drafted as a tackle, credit for playing at right guard, which is easily’s the team’s weakest spot on the offensive line looking towards the future (assuming Peters and Kelce can return completely healthy, as expected). According to Pro Football Focus, Kelly rated as an +0.2, which is slightly above average. He didn’t allow a sack or commit a penalty either. I would have no problem starting him against the New Orleans Saints in week nine, and if he continues to play well, I’d bench Danny Watkins and make Kelly the permanent starter at right guard. Oh, and I don’t believe for a second that Watkins is injured. He was fine after the Detroit Lions game. His injury is nothing more than an excuse to give a rookie a chance, and I’m fine with that because Watkins has been a major disappointment since he was drafted in the first round last year.
5. Evan Mathis is clearly the best offensive lineman on the team.
The Eagles’ offensive line is a mess this season. Peters is likely out for the year, and Kelce is definitely out for the year. Danny Watkins is a major disappointment at right guard, and as I mentioned earlier, I believe he was unofficially benched for Kelly. That leaves left guard Evan Mathis and right tackle Todd Herremans as the two solid starters. Herremans, however, hasn’t lived up to expectations since he abruptly switched from left guard to right tackle before the 2011 season. Mathis, on the other hand, was originally signed as veteran insurance for the guard positions. But he earned a starting job before the 2011 season, and if you look at PFF, he’s been above average in all 23 games in a Philadelphia uniform. He hasn’t allowed a sack and he’s cut down on his penalties recently. Give Philadelphia’s most entertaining man on Twitter some credit because he’s in prime position to earn his first Pro Bowl selection at the age of 31.
6. Jason Babin's starting job is in serious jeopardy.
If I’m Jason Babin, I’m scared that my career in Philly is nearing an end. After all, this is a one-dimensional player who all of a sudden can’t do the one thing that made him a great player last season. He has just 2.5 sacks this season, and none in his last four games. He can’t stop the run and he can’t stop committing penalties. What reason is there to keep him next season with 2010 first round draft pick Brandon Graham playing like a stud, and 2012 second round draft pick Vinny Curry dying to get on the field? Throw in Trent Cole, who should still be a starter next year, and Babin could be a 33-year old backup earning way too much money in 2013. But if he doesn’t pick up his performance now, he’ll be playing fewer plays than Graham, making him essentially a backup.
7. The epic sack drought has ended.
Finally. It took just under four full games for the Eagles’ defensive line to tackle a quarterback behind the line of scrimmage while he has the ball, or in other words, collect a sack. Defensive tackle Cedric Thornton brought a quiet Philly crowd to its feet in a sarcastic cheer when he took down Matt Ryan in the third quarter on Sunday. Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins picked up the team’s second sack later in the game. That total gives the Eagles nine sacks this season. They’re on pace to finish with 20. This is basically the same unit that led the league with 50 last year. Actually it’s a slightly different unit, in the fact that they have new playmakers in rookie Fletcher Cox and a healthy Graham. There is no excuse for the embarrassing effort this team has been producing. I fully expect defensive line coach Jim Washburn to be relieved of his duties following the season, where he can take his wide-nine with him. I’m ready for a normal defensive line.
8. There are no playmakers on this team. None.
You want to know why the Eagles put up yards but don’t win? They have no playmakers. None. There is no one on this team capable of singlehandedly making a big play. Vick’s big runs and miraculous escapes are a thing of the past. He looks older, slower, and less accurate than he ever has. LeSean McCoy isn’t breaking off the big runs, and blame the absence of the Jason’s on the offensive line. DeSean Jackson has no big touchdown catches. Jeremy Maclin is inconsistent. On the defensive side of the ball, it’s very simple. No one is sacking the quarterback and no one is intercepting the quarterback. The Eagles have nine sacks in seven games. That’s beyond embarrassing, given the talent on their defensive line. And they have seven interceptions, just three in the last six games. That’s also beyond embarrassing. Even when the team does something right, it doesn’t end the way it could. The defense has forced nine fumbles this year and they’ve recovered one of them. That’s just awful luck. Who knows how the season could have changed if Akeem Jordan’s forced fumble on the Lions’ punt return in overtime had been recovered by a member of the Eagles? The Eagles could be 4-3 right now, and the season would have a whole new outlook.
9. Michael Vick likely has one final chance to keep his starting job.
I do not think Vick should be benched. I don’t think it would save the Eagles. It would likely end the season. But make no mistake. This man is one poor game, maybe even one poor half, away from being benched. If Vick cannot do the job against the Saints’ awful defense on prime-time football, he’ll never get it done, and I think Reid knows that. Reports surfaced earlier this week that Vick was benched for Foles, but they turned out to be inaccurate, as confirmed by Reid’s press conference on Wednesday. Despite his lack of turnovers against the Falcons, Vick showed no signs of improving, and if the Eagles lost to drop to 3-5, I expect Foles to start at home against the Dallas Cowboys on November 11th—as well as the season’s final seven games. That would make Vick the most expensive backup in football, and it would guarantee that he finds a new home next season, likely in a place like Oakland or Kansas City.
10. Andy Reid has the hottest coaching seat in the league.
Reid’s seat is so hot that I can feel it from where I sit. This is a man with one of the most impressive resumes by any coach in the league. He’s the winningest coach in franchise history, with six division titles, nine postseason appearances, and ten playoff wins under his belt. But he doesn’t have that elusive Super Bowl trophy, and since 2005, the Eagles really haven’t been that impressive. They’re 65-51-1, with a 3-4 playoff record, and no playoff wins since the days of Donovan McNabb, Brian Dawkins, and the late Jim Johnson. The 2011 season was almost the final straw, as Reid completely changed the franchise during the short offseason. He hired lifetime offensive line coach Juan Castillo as his defensive coordinator, and brought legendary line coaches Howard Mudd and Jim Washburn on board. He acquired six former Pro Bowlers, five through free agency (Vince Young, Ronnie Brown, Steve Smith, Jason Babin, and Nnamdi Asomugha), and one in a trade (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie). The majority of the players were around 30 years old, an age that the Reid of old wouldn’t have touched. In fact, he allowed a number of veteran Eagles players to walk when they reached that age, including Brian Westbrook, Jeremiah Trotter, and Sheldon Brown. The result of Reid’s arrogance before 2011 was a humiliating 8-8 finish, which included starts of 1-4 and 4-8. Because the Eagles easily won their last four games, Reid was allowed to stay for 2012 but owner Jeffrey Lurie said before the season that another 8-8 season was unacceptable. At 3-4 right now, the Eagles have a lot of work to do to reach the playoffs, win a couple of games, and save Reid’s job.