The Philadelphia Eagles are the reason the NFC East had such a down year in 2011. Despite being projected by many before the season to run away with the division, the Eagles struggled to a 1-4 start and never recovered. At one point they were a dismal 4-8. They created a huge vacuum in the division that no one filled, and it didn’t even require a double-digit win total to secure the division title.
The Eagles remain a team that has never won the Super Bowl. On the bright side, they have at least been to the big dance a couple times, whereas the Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans have never been. However, Eagles fans don’t compare their team to such also-rans as the Browns or the Jaguars. The Eagles are compared to division rivals the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and New York Giants. Also they are compared to the cross-state Pittsburgh Steelers. This leaves the Eagles woefully short, because as of 2011, the Steelers and Cowboys are the only two franchises to play in as many as eight Super Bowls, with the Steelers winning six and the Cowboys winning five. The Giants and Redskins have been to at least four Super Bowls each and have won three Super Bowls each.
So will the Eagles ever win the big one? In some ways the Eagles are like the Chicago Cubs baseball team in that they can’t seem to win for losing. Something always goes wrong. But whereas the Cubs are known as lovable losers, the Eagles are anything but that. When the Eagles signed quarterback Michael Vick, a convicted felon and an abuser of dogs, it only reinforced the Eagles bad-guy reputation that goes back to the Buddy Ryan era in the 1980s. The fans in the Philadelphia area did not welcome Vick with open arms when he came to town three seasons ago. They took solace in the fact that he was the third-string quarterback behind Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb and as such would probably not see much game action. However, the team gave up on an increasingly unproductive McNabb two seasons ago, and Vick outperformed an oft-injured Kolb a year ago. So suddenly the man who sanctioned dog fighting on his property was the starting quarterback. Relatively speaking, the fans have somewhat warmed up to Vick, but they have not totally embraced him. As a result the Eagles fans are not as fervent in their support as they used to be and are not as strong a “twelfth man” as are the fans in many other towns. Perhaps this is why the Eagles managed to have a winning record on the road in 2011 but had a losing record at home.
The Eagles must decide whether Vick is worth the erosion in the fan base and whether he is capable of leading the team to a championship. According to ESPN NFL, he is listed as being six feet tall. That is being quite generous. Vick is not six feet tall and he also has a sidearm delivery. These two things mean many of his passes from the pocket are deflected or batted down at or near the line of scrimmage. The Eagles wasted several downs because of these “shortcomings.”
Another problem with Vick is that he is quite injury prone. He seems to get hurt on almost every other play. He doesn’t slide down to avoid hits and he holds on to the ball too long as he makes decisions. In both of his seasons as a starter he has missed significant time due to injury and has played through several other injuries.
There is also the question of whether Vick can perform in the clutch. The Eagles continuously bogged down in the second half of games in general and in the fourth quarter in particular. They tied the record for the most losses of games in which they led at some point in the fourth quarter. A large part of that was Mike Vick’s decision-making and inability to complete drives late in games.
As reported by the huffington post, backup quarterback Vince Young labeled the team a “Dream Team” during a media event shortly after signing with the team. He certainly did not learn his lesson from the plight of the Miami Heat of the NBA. Calling yourself a “Dream Team” only puts a bull’s-eye on your back. Young also showed during his time filling in for Vick that he is not the answer to the Eagles’ need for a backup quarterback.
The only time during the Andy Reid regime that the Eagles had more than one capable running back was by accident. Reid inherited Duce Staley, drafted Correll Buckhalter in the fourth round, according to pro-football-reference.com, and drafted a relatively unknown local product named Brian Westbrook out of Villanova. During the early 2000’s they became known as the three-headed monster. Starting quarterback McNabb was also willing to run with the ball often during this stage of his career. But during the rest of Reid’s era he has usually had a feature back and a bunch of other backs who can do no more than block. Reid’s vision has been of a fullback like Daryl Johnston of the Cowboys blocking for Emmitt Smith. But Smith was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of back who became the league’s all-time leading rusher. You need to have more than one back you can turn to. This year the Eagles have depended almost exclusively on the talented LeSean “Shady” McCoy. They have relied on him to get the tough third-and-one yard and third-and-goal yards. McCoy has a skill set that makes him an outside runner, not an inside runner. When called upon to get a tough inside yard, he still tries to bounce it outside. And what if McCoy should be injured, as is often the case with running backs? The Eagles would be sitting there with nothing in the backfield and another season wasted. They should not keep putting all their eggs in one basket. They need to find three or four quality running backs. And they have to find a big power back to get the tough inside yards.
Whether it comes from Reid or from offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, the Eagles play-calling is just atrocious. They simply call for too many pass plays and don’t exhibit a balance between the run and pass that is necessary to win. A great illustration was the road game against the Redskins in the 6th week of the season. Vick was shaken up and Young was sent in for his first action of the season. The Eagles had the ball near their own ten-yard line in a very close game. Yet despite the fact that Young was rusty and hadn’t played all year, Mornhinweg still immediately called pass plays for Young from his own ten-yard line. Young threw an interception. Fortunately for the Eagles, the Redskins gave the ball right back and the Eagles went on to win. But the Eagles should have been running the ball under those circumstances.
The Eagles had a bad plus-minus ratio and they took way too many stupid penalties. They also don’t seem to understand that you need a ferocious defense to compete in the NFL, and that time needs to be spent drafting linebackers, the key to defenses. You can win championships if you have great linebackers like Lawrence Taylor of the Giants in the 1980s or Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens circa 2000, and you have a competent offense that just doesn’t lose the game for you. For many years defensive coordinator Jim Johnson papered over the Eagles defensive deficiencies with brilliant schemes and blitz packages. But since his passing, the defense is showing what neglect can cause.
Trades do not happen often in the NFL, and the primary ways to build a team are through the draft and free agency. The Eagles greatest needs are at linebacker and running back. And they need to sort out their quarterback situation and bring in bigger wide receivers. They also need bigger defensive linemen in order to stop the run. They don’t seem to be anywhere near winning a Super Bowl. But Eagles fans will keep hoping.