10 Most Defining Failures of the Andy Reid Era for the Philadelphia Eagles
There was a time when the Philadelphia Eagles were one of the most dominant and well-respected teams in the National Football League. They were feared for their stifling defense, led by Pro Bowlers Hugh Douglas, Jeremiah Trotter, and Brian Dawkins, and their explosive offense, anchored by Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, and Jon Runyan. And they had one of the most incredible coaching staffs in the history of the game. The 2002 team, for example, featured six future head coaches: Brad Childress, Pat Shurmur, Leslie Frazier, Steve Spagnuolo, John Harbaugh, and Ron Rivera, plus a future defensive coordinator in Sean McDermott and one of the game’s all-time great coordinators in the late Jim Johnson.
The Eagles never achieved their ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t a great team. They finished as the top overall seed in the NFC for three straight seasons. They appeared in four consecutive NFC championships and played their hearts out in a Super Bowl loss to a team that was just a little bit better than they were. They were efficient on offense, intimidating on defense, and extremely disciplined.
The leadership on those teams was beyond incredible. Dawkins ranks among the game’s all-time great leaders. Trotter, Douglas, Runyan, and Ike Reese had the locker room completely under control. Most of the players on the Eagles had spent their whole career in the city, and they wanted to win a championship just as much as the fans did. They didn’t talk. They let their play do the talking. There was no me-first attitude. They were united, and on Sundays, they would win as a team or they would lose as a team. And usually they would win.
Oh, how the times have changed. Let’s look at your current Eagles. They’re sitting at 3-5 right now, with the worst point differential in the NFC and a reputation as one of the most overhyped teams in the history of the sport. And it’s a well-deserved reputation. The Eagles are finished in 2012. They’re not going anywhere. They’ll be lucky to avoid a losing season, and I’m fully prepared for a last place finish in the NFC East, something that’s only happened to two Andy Reid teams during his 13 full seasons.As the Eagles prepare to humiliate themselves over the final eight games of the season (it’s really a shame that we can’t just throw out the red flag for this season), I’m going to take a look back at ten events over the past several seasons that turned the Eagles from a proud franchise into the laughingstock of the league.
10. Constant Talking
The Eagles love to talk. They do as much of it as any team in the league. They love the spotlight and the immediate reaction they get for their comments. They just have absolutely no clue how to let their play on the field do the talking for them.
From Vince Young calling the Eagles a dream team to Jason Babin comparing the Eagles to the Miami Heat to Michael Vick speaking about the potential for a dynasty, the Eagles are very expressive with their thoughts regarding the talent of the team. But until they win a Super Bowl, or multiple Super Bowls in Vick’s case, they have absolutely no right to speak about their potential. We know that they’re talented. They usually have one of the more talented rosters in the league. And they’re usually a disappointment. The past two seasons, the Eagles have been one of the more colossal disappointments in the history of the sport.
I want the Eagles’ new head coach in 2013 to fine any player who has the audacity to open his mouth and speak on his opinion about the team. I haven't once heard about Reid discipling his players for all of their talk. He's clearly not because they keep doing it. That's a sign that a coach is losing control of his team.
9. Wide-nine defense
When the Eagles hired legendary defensive line coach Jim Washburn before the 2011 season, he brought with him a pretty impressive resume from his time in the National Football League. He also brought an unorthodox style of coaching called the wide-nine, which essentially means that the defensive line spreads out wider than most teams in an attempt to collect a bundle of sacks from the front four. But this leaves the defense very vulnerable to a run game, which is usually compensated for with great play by linebackers, such as Stephen Tulloch for the Tennessee Titans.Well, the Eagles used Washburn’s wide-nine last year and it worked to a charm. Jason Babin collected 18 sacks, Trent Cole tallied 11 more, and the Eagles led the league with 50 as a unit. But their linebacker play was awful, and opposing teams repeatedly gashed the Eagles with runs up the middle. Look no further than the season’s first play, when Steven Jackson took a handoff and sprinted untouched for a 47-yard touchdown.
So for the 2012 season, the Eagles brought in a pair of linebackers to help solidify their run defense. Veteran DeMeco Ryans is a playmaker and rookie second round pick Mychal Kendricks has showed tremendous speed and lots of potential. Yet the unthinkable happened. The Eagles’ defensive line, which led all teams in the preseason with 20 sacks and appeared to be even more dangerous than it had been in 2011, completely disappeared. They went four games without a sack and have collected just 11 in eight games, one of the lowest totals in the league. Babin and Cole have combined for five sacks, putting them on pace for 10, which would be 20 fewer than their 2011 totals.
Without pressure from the Eagles’ front four, the wide-nine has been completely useless. All it does is create more work for the linebackers and it makes players selfish and obsessed with their sack totals (I won’t say any names but I’m thinking of a 32-year old washed up veteran with tattoos on both arms). It’s difficult for a defensive coordinator to effectively manage the defense when you have a guy like Washburn who insists on doing it his way. Sure, the wide-nine used to be effective, but it’s not anymore. I look forward to the Eagles returning to their usual 4-3 defense with defensive linemen lined up in the normal spots, and if a guy like Babin can’t or won’t play in the new system, get rid of him. It’s time to focus on the younger generation on the defensive line, like Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and Cedric Thornton.
8. Michael Vick's $100 million contract
Michael Vick should become a salesman following his professional career. He would be a great salesman. After all, this is a man who convinced two different teams to hand him a $100 million contract, despite him never playing as a top 10 quarterback for more than a year. Never in football has a player made so much, twice, for doing so little.
We all know the Vick story before he joined the Eagles. Number one overall pick. Madden cover. Highlight reel plays. Attitude problems. Dog fighting charges. Prison.
The Eagles took a chance on him after he was released from prison and he took the starting quarterback job away from Kevin Kolb after just six quarters of play. The 2010 season was magical, and Vick was unstoppable. He accounted for six touchdowns against the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football, playing quite literally the most perfect game of football I’ve ever from an NFL player. He overcame a 21-point fourth quarter deficit against the New York Giants, easily the most memorable comeback in franchise history. And even though his first postseason game in Philly ended the same way it always did with Donovan McNabb (a last-minute interception), there were plenty of reasons for optimism heading into 2011.
100 million of them, in fact. That’s how much money the Eagles gave Vick, 31, over a six-year deal that would likely keep him in Philly for the rest of his career. The deal is structured, wisely, so the Eagles can get out of it after 2012 by cutting Vick, who is due $16.5 million in 2013. But it’s still a tremendous commitment to a player who really wasn’t the same player down the stretch in 2010 as he was earlier in the season. It’s not like he had a history of success either. Never with the Falcons did he play like he did early in 2010.
Vick regressed in 2011, throwing 14 interceptions and committing a number of costly turnovers in the red zone. The Eagles ranked as one of the worst teams in the league in scoreability (yards gained divided by points scored, which measures team offensive efficiency). Vick didn’t help when he was knocked out of the fourth quarter in weeks two and three, or when he missed three games with broken ribs.
Almost everyone expected Vick to rebound in 2012, especially with a happy DeSean Jackson and the stink of last year’s Dream Team gone. But Vick didn’t help anything with his dynasty comments, which heaped more unwanted pressure on the Eagles. His play this season has been difficult to judge, as he’s played behind an injury-depleted offensive line that many are calling the worst in the game. He hasn’t missed any time due to injuries, despite double-digit hits each game, but he’s sunk to an all-time low with his turnovers, especially in the red zone, where the Eagles are quickly becoming the laughingstock of the league.
There’s a chance that Vick returns next season with a new coach and a healthy offensive line, but there’s a better chance that the Eagles cut Vick after the season. I think he’ll head to Oakland or Kansas City, and the Eagles will find out whether Nick Foles can be the man in Philly.
The Vick contract is a tough one to judge. For starters, it was too extreme. It contained about three years and $70 million more than it should have, but give the Eagles credit for allowing themselves an escape clause. Vick is likely never going to win a Super Bowl, but there’s a much better chance of him winning it than Kolb. History will show how Vick’s contract is remembered in Philly, but since he’ll probably be cut after two years, three as a starter in Philly, without a playoff win, it should be viewed as a failure. Reid is a quarterback genius, yet he could never figure out how to get the most out of Vick. He was always a weapon but never a quarterback.
7. Juan Castillo as defensive coordinator
I’ll never forget my initial reaction to the news that Juan Castillo was the new defensive coordinator for the Eagles. I remember reading the text from philly.com to my dad and laughing about the website claiming that Castillo was the new coordinator. I figured it was a mistake and didn’t think too much about it. That’s when the texts started rolling in and I realized the unbelievable truth.
Reid’s decision to promote his offensive line coach of the last 12 years to defensive coordinator is without a doubt the stupidest decision I have ever seen a head coach make. Reid made an absolute mockery of the coordinator job. I still don’t really know what the Eagles’ original plan was after they fired Sean McDermott at the end of 2010, but it didn’t involve Castillo. That’s a fact.
The story goes that Castillo used to talk defense all the time with the late Jim Johnson, plus he was a linebacker during his playing days. He wants to be a head coach one day and a defensive coordinator job obviously looks pretty good on the resume. Reid is a pretty loyal guy (he once switched John Harbaugh from special teams coach to defensive backs coach for a year so Harbaugh could boost his resume for a future head coaching job) so he gave the job to Castillo, despite Castillo never coaching defense at the NFL or college level. (My theory is that Castillo knows the guy who owns Pat’s Steaks and promised Reid free food if he was given the job. But that’s only a theory.)
In an attempt to cover up Castillo’s incompetency as a coordinator, Reid brought in a slew of big names for the defense, including Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin, Nnamdi Asomugha, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. But that’s like trying to cover up body odor with cologne—it’s not going to work until you take a shower.
The 2011 season turned into a nightmare, and the defense received the majority of the blame for the failures. Although they allowed the tenth fewest points and led the league in sacks, they blew five leads in the fourth quarter, including an NFL-record four at home. The defense showed enough improvement during the season’s final four games that Reid brought back Castillo for a second season.
That ended in a disaster too. Despite the defense holding opponents scoreless on a potential game-winning drive in three of the first four games, they allowed a slew of third down conversions and an eventual walkoff field goal to the Pittsburgh Steelers. After they blew a ten-point lead in the final four minutes against the Detroit Lions, Reid decided that he had seen enough. He fired Castillo and replaced him with defensive backs coach Todd Bowles.
I don’t hold any form of a grudge towards Castillo for his failures as a coordinator. After all, he quite literally just didn’t have the NFL IQ necessary to make appropriate adjustments, particularly in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. I blame Reid, an experienced and successful coach of more than a decade, for not finding a real coordinator with experience. The 2011 team would have absolutely made the playoffs with a real coordinator. Would they have won the Super Bowl? Probably not. But one thing is for sure. The Giants wouldn’t have either because the Eagles would have been the NFC East’s only playoff team.
6. 2011 draft
As an NFL head coach, choosing the correct players in April’s draft is one of the most important decisions a head coach can make. With the Eagles, Reid’s had his share of hits and misses in the early rounds. He succeeded when he took Donovan McNabb, LeSean McCoy, and DeSean Jackson, and he missed when he took Freddie Mitchell, Jerome McDougle, and Victor Abiamiri. As a fan, I understand that not every pick is going to be Lawrence Taylor, and I think Reid has generally done a fine job choosing players. (Who can ever forget the 2002 draft where he selected Lito Sheppard, Sheldon Brown, Michael Lewis, and Brian Westbrook in the first three rounds?)
But I have major issues with the 2011 draft not just because it consisted of awful selections. I have a problem with Reid not using his head during the draft. Let’s go through the key players in that draft.
In the first round, he took Danny Watkins, a tackle from Baylor. There’s nothing wrong with that. The Eagles’ offensive line was weak in 2010 and Reid loves drafting linemen early. But I have a problem with the Watkins pick for a number of reasons. First, he was 26 years old. That’s totally insane. That’s the oldest first round pick in 30 years. Before he even stepped onto an NFL field, Watkins was one of the older players on the team. His age was justified by the excuse that he’ll be ready to contribute immediately. And second, Watkins was a tackle in college who needed to learn the guard position during an offseason shortened by a lockout.
Not surprisingly, Watkins wasn’t ready to play immediately, causing the Eagles to frantically scan the waiver wire for guard Kyle DeVan, who was familiar with offensive line coach Howard Mudd’s system from his days with the Indianapolis Colts. DeVan started the first four games before he was released in favor of Watkins, who failed to make the necessary strides expected for a first round pick throughout his rookie season. He hasn’t improved in his second season and the Eagles have quietly benched him (I don’t believe he has an injured ankle) for rookie tackle Dennis Kelly. I have lost confidence in Watkins ever turning into a key starter in the NFL.
The Eagles’ other picks included a second round safety from Temple, Jaiquawn Jarrett, who was cut early this season after he failed to show any of the tremendous hitting that made the Eagles think he had a chance to replace Brian Dawkins. Third round cornerback Curtis Marsh has still barely played, 24 games after he was drafted, and it’s no wonder when you realize that he switched from running back to cornerback halfway through his college career. And in the fourth round, the Eagles took linebacker Casey Matthews and kicker Alex Henery. Matthews, the younger brother of All-Pro Packers’ linebacker Clay Matthews, was the laughingstock of the Eagles’ defense for the first few games last year before he was mercifully benched, and kicker Alex Henery, who is, well, a kicker.
It’s not just that Reid picked poor players. He took huge gambles that didn’t come close to paying off. Watkins was an old man. Jarrett was slow and could have been picked in the fourth round. Marsh is still learning how to play cornerback. Matthews is nothing like his brother. And Henery, well, he’s a kicker.
The first four picks of the 2011 draft contributed nothing on the field in their rookie season. They’ve contributed almost nothing in their second season. I am losing confidence that any of them will ever make it in the NFL. Last year’s team missed the playoffs after losing a number of games by just a single play. You have to think that a solid draft class could have saved the Eagles. Even a subpar draft class would have helped. This one was awful, almost embarrassing. (Sixth round center Jason Kelce is the lone key player in the draft.)
5. Jim Johnson's death
If history could be re-written, I think the 2008 Eagles should have won the Super Bowl. They have all the makings of a recent Super Bowl champion like the Giants or the Packers. They struggled for most of the season, caught fire late, and won a couple of road playoff games. Only the Eagles’ season ended when they lost to the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC championship, a game that nobody knew would be the last of defensive coordinator Jim Johnson’s career.
Johnson, 64, was relieved of his duties in July because of a battle with cancer. He lost his life several days later, and the Eagles’ defense over the past three and a half seasons has taken a turn for the worse. After surrendering 289 points in 2008, they’ve allowed 337, 377, 328, and 366 (projected). The team hasn’t won a playoff game and they haven’t come close to finding a defensive coordinator who can handle the responsibilities. McDermott was a colossal failure and isn’t doing much better in Carolina (although with limited personnel). Castillo was a joke, although incredibly he was probably the best since Johnson, and Bowles appears to be completely overmatched through two games.
I look at the teams repsenting the NFC in the Super Bowl the past two seasons (Packers, Giants), and I wonder if that could have been the Eagles with a solid coordinator. The 2010 team lost to Green Bay 27-20 in the regular season and 21-16 in the postseason, and the 2011 team split with the Giants. It’s not farfetched to think the Eagles could have been a contender either year if Johnson hadn’t died.
4. Terrell Owens saga
The Terrell Owens saga of 2005 was the first time that an Andy Reid-coached team faced adversity. And they did not respond well.
Everybody knows the story of Terrell Owens. Acquired in an offseason trade before 2004, Owens proved to be the missing piece in the Eagles’ offense, catching 14 touchdowns in 14 games before a broken ankle sidelined him for the postsesason. He returned, incredibly, heroically, and against doctors’ orders, to catch nine passes for 122 yards in the Super Bowl loss. His performance stands as the most underrated moment of the Andy Reid era.
But everything went south the next year. Owens held out at the beginning of training camp, did sit-ups in his driveway for the TV cameras, called out Donovan McNabb for getting tired in the Super Bowl, predicted that the Eagles would be undefeated with Brett Favre (29 interceptions in 2005), and picked a fight with team chaplain Hugh Douglas. He was finally suspended for the final nine games of the season, following a 49-21 loss to the Denver Broncos in which he recorded a 91-yard catch and run touchdown (his final reception with the team).
The Eagles finished 6-10 in 2005 after a 4-2 start. You can blame McNabb’s sports hernia, which caused him to miss the final seven games. You can blame the slew of injuries. Or you can be realistic and blame Owens, who singlehandedly destroyed the unity of the Eagles’ locker room in just a single season.
I’ll never forgive Owens for changing the dynamics of the Eagles’ locker room. He caused his teammates to second-guess their quarterback. I know McNabb has never gotten over Owens betraying him.
Everything changed after the Owens saga. Everything. The Eagles turned into a franchise of mediocrity, and they’ve won just three postseason games in the last eight seasons. By comparison, they won seven from 2000 to 2004, when they were easily the cream of the crop in the NFC. Before Owens came to Philly, the playoffs were guaranteed every season. It was only a matter of how far the Eagles would advance. After the Owens debacle, the Eagles started relying on late-season heroics to reach the playoffs (2006, 2008, 2009). Imagine if Owens had played out his entire contract in Philly. Would the Eagles have won a Super Bowl? Yeah, I think so. I think 2006 would have been a strong possibility, or 2008.
But instead of a seven seasons and a Super Bowl victory, we were treated to 22 games. That’s not enough. This franchise deserved so much more.
3. Letting Brian Dawkins walk in free agency
As Eagles fans, there might not be a single moment in the Andy Reid era more painful than the end of the Brian Dawkins era. The postseason losses were awful, definitely, but each time you got the feeling that the team would be back in the same situation the next year (and they usually were).
But when the Eagles allowed 35-year old free safety Brian Dawkins to leave via free agency following the 2008 season, there were broken hearts scattered throughout Philly. A lot of them have never healed. I know mine won’t.
It’s difficult to explain to a non-Philly fan how much Brian Dawkins meant to this team. Steelers fans get it with Troy Polamalu. Ravens fans get it with Ray Lewis. But in a way, I think Dawkins means more to us than Polamalu or Lewis ever did. Those fans witnessed championships. They’ve got the 2005 or 2008 or 2000 team. Eagles fans have nothing but postseason disappointments. There were playoff games, more than we might like to admit, where Dawkins didn’t show up. But we’ve never blamed him and we never will. McNabb is blamed. Or Reid. Or even Jim Johnson. But not Dawkins. Never Dawkins.
No one will ever forget his role in the Eagles’ 2004 NFC championship game victory over Vick and the Falcons. Dawkins intercepted a pass in the red zone, leveled Alge Crumpler after a catch, and delivered a post-game speech that gives us chills every time we listen to it. When he left, we knew he could never be replaced, and we’ve been right.
Macho Harris was a joke. Nate Allen has potential but he’s not Dawkins. Jarrett certainly wasn’t Dawkins. No one comes close to him as a ballhawk defender, a blitzer, a tackler, and especially a team leader. No one has assumed the role of Dawkins in the locker room since 2008, and it’s hurt the Eagles. Ask me the team leader on defense and I won’t know who to tell you. No one?
It wasn’t about Dawkins losing a step in coverage. Besides, he still could play, earning two Pro Bowl selections with the Denver Broncos. And Eagles fans know how much Dawkins (and Tim Tebow) must have helped that locker room down the stretch in 2011.
A player like Dawkins comes along once in a lifetime. The Eagles had him for 13 years. And then they let him go without putting up a fight. To say that’s unforgivable is an understatement.
2. 2011 free agency signings
I follow former Eagles players like Trotter, Dawkins, and Reese on Twitter, and I see their thoughts on the current state of the Eagles. They’re absolutely baffled. They’ve never seen a more unorganized group of 53 players. There’s no team chemistry, no will to win, no fight, no motivation, no heart, and certainly no team leader.
You want to know why that is?
Blame Andy Reid’s free agent spree during the 2011 offseason.
When Reid brought in a number of high-prices veterans during the shortened free agency period, he completely killed team chemistry. The Eagles weren’t a team or even a dream team. They were a unit of stars who happened to play in the same city. Vince Young, Ronnie Brown, and Steve Smith were former stars looking to revive their career with a one-year stint on a popular team. Jason Babin only cared about sacks. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie appeared to give less than full effort at slot corner. Nnamdi Asomugha didn’t have a winning mentality after coming from Oakland. Even the coaches killed team cohesiveness. Mudd and Washburn are (or were) great coaches but they both have such unique coaching styles that the entire unit needs to revolve around them. I can’t imagine that was fun for the other position coaches.
Not only did Reid kill the team’s chemistry, he became a major hypocrite. How do you allow lifetime veteran Eagles such as McNabb, Westbrook, Tra Thomas, Trotter, Sheldon Brown, and Dawkins to leave when they reach the dreaded age of 30 (or around 30), and then you bring in a bunch of players the same age? Cullen Jenkins was 30. Nnamdi was 30. Babin was 32. How do you do that as a coach? If I was a neutral fan, I would think the Eagles got exactly what they deserved. They collapsed, publicly humiliated, and failed to even make the playoffs after boldly talking about Super Bowl aspirations during training camp.
1. Inability to change
You want to know the number one reason why the Eagles have floundered and disappointed over the past seven and a half seasons? Andy Reid’s ego.
Reid simply cannot admit when he is wrong. He will not make changes, refusing to believe that something he does as a coach isn’t working. I don’t understand how he can sit there at his press conferences and repeatedly talk about putting his players in a better position when he doesn’t change anything.
You want examples? The running game. Reid played a major role in the Eagles losing a Super Bowl when he threw 56 times, compared to 16 passes. He has the highest pass-run ratio in league history for a coach (minimum 100 games). He’s always had one of the game’s best running backs, whether it be Brian Westbrook or LeSean McCoy, yet the Eagles still frequently lose close games in which their quarterback threw 46 times and their running back received 14 carries. Reid cannot change.
It wasn’t until this year that Reid addressed the position of linebacker, always preferring to just “get by” with fill-ins like Jamar Chaney or Dhani Jones. He’d make occasional attempts to booster the linebacker corps, such as signing Mark Simoneau, Takeo Spikes, or Ernie Sims. But they never worked. And forget about the draft. He never picked a linebacker in the first round, usually choosing a linebacker in the fourth or fifth round. That never worked out either.
Let’s keep going. Reid usually has ignored the fullback position or power runner, even though the Eagles repeatedly lost games in 2008 when they couldn’t convert third and short or fourth and short runs. He ignored wide receiver for the first five years of his coaching career. He’s never learned how to call timeouts or properly manage a two-minute offense with his playcalling. He still uses the same playcalls that he did years ago. How many times do we need to watch a failed shovel pass with Vick before Reid realizes that it’s not going to work the way it did with McNabb?
Oh, and there’s the simple fact that he named his offensive line coach as the defensive coordinator and allowed him to keep his job entering his second season despite obvious weaknesses in the defense.
Listen, I have a tremendous amount of respect for Reid. He’s easily the best coach in franchise history. But he’s also got his flaws, and his inability to recognize AND address certain areas of the team that have needed change may have cost the team an opportunity to win a Super Bowl.