Five Reasons Why QB Michael Vick is Not the Biggest Problem for the Philadelphia Eagles
The biggest storyline for the Philadelphia Eagles, perhaps in the entire National Football League, throughout the 2012 season has been the demise of veteran quarterback Michael Vick, who is likely just one bad game—or even a bad half—away from getting benched for rookie third round draft pick Nick Foles.
Everybody knows the Michael Vick story. After an up-and-down six-year career with the Atlanta Falcons in which he was arguably the most dynamic player in the league, Vick was sent to prison for 23 months for his role in an illegal dog fighting ring. When he was released from prison at the age of 29, Vick turned his life around, with the help of mentor and former Super Bowl-winning head coach Tony Dungy. Reid and the Eagles took a chance on Vick, signing him as their third quarterback. But he became the starter just two games into the 2010 season, taking the job away from a struggling Kevin Kolb.
Vick and the Eagles rolled to an NFC East division title, thrilling fans along the way with some of the most memorable performances in league history, including a six-touchdown effort against the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football, and a 21-point fourth quarter comeback with the division title on the line against the New York Giants. The season ended, however, the same way it used to in the Donovan McNabb era—with an interception, not a touchdown, in the final minute of the playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers.
The 2011 season turned into a disaster, as Vick heavily regressed, and the Eagles went from preseason Super Bowl favorites to the laughingstock of the league. The 2012 season hasn’t been much better. Despite declaring in the offseason that the Eagles had the potential to turn into a dynasty, Vick has become a turnover machine, and the Eagles rank 31st in scoring offense with just three wins in their first seven games.
We all know what’s at stake for Vick against the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football. If Vick cannot lead the Eagles to points against the NFL’s worst defense, he will undoubtedly be benched for Foles. However, Vick’s failures are far from the only reason for the demise of the Eagles this season. The following five slides will highlight, in order, five problems for the Eagles bigger than the play of Vick.
5. Running game
Michael Vick is not a great quarterback. I don't think anybody would dispute that. But he is, however, a great quarterback when he is helped by his running game. Let's look at 2010 as an example. In 2010, the Eagles had the greatest single-season rushing average in the history of the NFL through 15 weeks. You think that helped Vick at all, with a running game (LeSean McCoy) that consistently gained more than five yards per carry? You bet it did. (Now one of the big reasons for the success in the run game was Vick himself, but McCoy was still tremendous.)
But in 2012, the Eagles are averaging fewer than 4.0 yards per carry by their running backs. McCoy isn't breaking off the big runs he used to, although the offensive line certainyl isn't helping, and backup Bryce Brown is averaging just 2.8 yards per rush. According to Michael Smith of ESPN Numbers, the Eagles' running game has cost the team 40 points of offense so far this season, a far cry below the team that ranked second in the NFL in EPA by their run game in 2010 and 2011.
4. Offensive line
To say that the offensive line has been a disappointment is a major understatement. Even when the Eagles lost Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters to a torn Achilles tendon in March, the team didn’t panic. Peters had been arguably the best offensive lineman in the league in 2011, but the Eagles reacted quickly and signed the best free agent available, veteran tackle Demetress Bell. But Bell has been a total bust, and veteran King Dunlap, a solid backup but a poor starter, is now playing for Bell. At center, Jason Kelce went down for the year in week two against the Baltimore Ravens. He had a solid rookie season and was picked by some experts to earn a Pro Bowl selection in his second year. Replacement Dallas Reynolds is playing like you’d expect from a 28-year old who has never received playing time before. Right guard Danny Watkins, last year’s first round draft pick, isn’t helping the line, and he’s in danger of losing his starting job to rookie Dennis Kelly, who had originally been drafted as a tackle.
Veterans Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans are playing well, with Mathis likely to earn his first trip to the Pro Bowl, but two solid starters isn’t enough to make up for a weak three-fifths of the line. As a result of the poor line, Vick is taking way too many hits, and a lot of the receivers are unable to complete their routes before Vick is pressured. Forget about deep passes to DeSean Jackson. Vick didn’t throw a single pass more than 15 yards downfield against the Atlanta Falcons. No wonder his yards per attempt is so much lower than last season.
3. Defensive line
Analyst Adam Caplan summed it up best when he said that in his 14 years working in the NFL, he’s never seen a unit disappear without any explanation like the Eagles’ defensive line did from 2011 to 2012. In 2011, the defensive line was the talk of the league, with veteran line coach Jim Washburn and his unusual wide-nine technique resulting in a league-high 50 sacks, including 29.5 from veterans Jason Babin and Trent Cole. Throughout the 2012 preseason, expectations grew even higher for the defensive line, with first round draft pick Fletcher Cox, a healthy Brandon Graham, and a thriving Phillip Hunt poised to join Babin, Cole, and Jenkins in the frequent sack parades. The unit collected 20 sacks in the preseason, and some analysts talked about Philly tallying 60 sacks, which would be the most by any team in four seasons. So what has happened to the defensive line is something straight out of the Bermuda Triangle. It’s a disappearing act that has no explanation.
Through seven games, the Eagles have exactly nine sacks, putting them on pace for 20, which would be one of the lowest totals in league history. Think about that. A unit that was expected to collect one of the highest single-season sack totals in history is on pace for one of the lowest totals. How does that happen? How? The highlight, or lowlight, for the defensive line came when they failed to collect a sack in four straight games, ranging from the third quarter of the Arizona Cardinals’ game in week three to the third quarter of the Atlanta Falcons’ game in week eight. During that period, CSNPhilly columnist informed us that more than 12 million babies had been born. They ended their streak with a pair of sacks against Matt Ryan, but the unit has a lot of work before they’re actually a feared group again.
Oh, I hate when people say that a team has a bad attitude. How do you prove that? You can’t, so why say it? Yet for this team, I know it’s true. You can just tell. Let’s start with the fact that they’re overconfident. This is a trait that the old Andy Reid teams never dealt with, but it began last year when Vince Young calling the Eagles a dream team, Jason Babin tweeting that the Eagles were the Miami Heat of the NFL, Trevor Laws saying that the Eagles should blow out the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday Night Football (the Eagles were crushed 31-14), and a number of the players saying that other teams were lucky that they wouldn’t have to face the Eagles, who won their final four games to finish 8-8, in the playoffs.
That attitude has carried over into this season. It began during the offseason when Michael Vick said that the Eagles had the potential to turn into a dynasty. Others quickly defended Vick, but I don’t support a mediocre quarterback coming off an embarrassing season making such a bold prediction when he’s never even won a playoff game in Philly. Vick’s comments showed me that he thinks the 2011 season was a total fluke, and so far, he’s done nothing to show that it was a fluke. It’s not just Vick whose attitude I have an issue with.
No player has stepped up on defense as a leader. There’s nobody who compares to Hugh Douglas, Ike Reese, Jeremiah Trotter, or Brian Dawkins. The players talk, but they don’t go out on the field and back it up. They’re soft. I’m sick of players like DeSean Jackson throwing a punch at the Baltimore Ravens, Fletcher Cox getting ejected for fighting, or Mychal Kendricks missing the first series of a game because he was benched for disciplinary purposes, or Trent Cole picking a fight with Tony Gonzalez after he was invisible all game. I want 53 players who let their play do the talking. I want 53 players who are unconcerned about their statistics as long as the team is winning. And that leads me into my final point.
I have a major issue with the coaching on the 2012 Eagles. I think it’s been awful, at almost every position. I’ve been realizing recently how important coaching is to the success of a team. That’s why the Dallas Cowboys and San Diego Chargers consistently underachieve, and that’s why the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers are winning games despite major weaknesses on their team (look at the Patriots’ defense and 49ers’ wide receivers last year). The Eagles have a lot of talent but the coaching hasn’t been there to (using Reid’s favorite line) put the players in position to win games.
When the Eagles are undisciplined and lack leadership, it’s the coach who is more to blame than anyone else. He’s the leader and it’s his job to be a leader of men. I believe that Reid lost control of his team when he brought in a slew of 30-year old free agents (Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins) after sticking to a firm policy throughout his coaching career that players begin declining around age 30. How do you justify allowing Trotter, Dawkins, and Sheldon Brown to walk when they become old when you’re now doing the very thing you used to preach against? It’s not just his free agent signings. I don’t believe that players fear Reid the way they used to. The mark of a great head coach is that you’re terrified of him when you mess up. Reid used to be that coach. He’s not anymore.
It’s not just Reid. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has no creativity or variety in his playcalling. The offense is very predictable and boring, and it doesn’t take a genius to realize that the Eagles don’t take any chances with the ball. Old defensive coordinator Juan Castillo didn’t have the respect of his players because he never coached defense before, and new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles (through one game, which is a very small sample size) appears to be all bark and no bite. Special teams coach Bobby April’s coverage units this season have been beyond awful, and there’s been speculation that he could lose his job soon. Offensive line coach Howard Mudd is a legend, but he hasn’t been able to turn around the line like most expected, injuries or not. And defensive line coach Jim Washburn’s unit is invisible this season, making the famed wide-nine completely useless and a major liability. There’s also the difficulty of hiring a defensive coordinator who can work well with the unusual wide-nine. I’ve heard whispers (which seem to be accurate) that it’s Washburn’s wide-nine or he’s gone, making him essentially the most important defensive coach on the team. Perhaps I’m a bit dramatic, but Mudd and Washburn, who both have unusual yet successful coaching styles, seem to be not worth the trouble because the entire offense or defense has to be shaped around the line. I wish the Eagles had just stuck with Castillo at offensive line coach, hired a real defensive coordinator with experience, and brought in a normal defensive line coach. That would be putting the players in a better position to make plays.