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Settling Back Down In Letdown City

November 17, 2011 3 comments

We’re past the honeymoon stage of our new status as a championship city, and this trophy marriage has taken a nosedive, from our newfound perch found in the Fall of ’08, back into a pool of miserable disappointment. The mood around town suggests the populace is thinking it might be another 25 years before the city’s next championship. Settling right back into our familiar role as Letdown City just isn’t as comfortable this time, because we’ve had the taste of glory, of how fun it is to win. It’s also a difficult pill to swallow considering the high number of hyper-talented athletes that continue to grace their respective fields of play in South Philly.

One day soon after the Phillies exited stage scoreless from the shocking Philadelphia tragedy also known as the 2011 MLB Playoffs, I jotted down a bunch of barely legible notes on a napkin next to my equally mind-blowing (in a better way) Khyber Pass Pub burger. Those written reactions to the end of the Fightins’ season have still never been published on this site. Sadly I think I’m still in the denial stage of that crisis, and as soon as I’m past that step, they may get posted in conjunction with some free agency commentary. But one thing I’ll share now is that I remember drawing a lot of comparisons between that debacle and ones orchestrated by the Eagles in recent years which led them to arguably sit second fiddle behind the Phils in terms of popularity in town.

Well wouldn’t you know, I sit here now, ready to circle back to those Eagles. The Birds, in the midst of their competition to grip the fervent fan base, have upstaged their sports complex neighbors with one of the lamest seasons we’ve seen.

Analysts both local and national have taken their turns assigning blame to this disaster. But that seems like a futile exercise to me, because there has never been a clearer case for which everyone deserves to be blamed. A consistently successful franchise with boatloads of talent does not become the utter mess the Eagles have become without the players, the coaches, and the front office all contributing. Everyone sucks this year (except maybe LeSean McCoy) and it’s everyone’s fault.

Be that as it may, Andy Reid, who has rightfully taken so much of the praise for this franchise’s success over the last decade, now needs to assume its heinous 2011 failure thus far and the ultimate failure to win a Super Bowl during his time. It’s time for a new, even better regime than Big Red’s.

It's time to do a better job...like literally a different job...like don't be the Eagles coach anymore

All very good, long-tenured coaches reach the end of their road. At this point, it’s just too easy to come up with a list of flaws and legitimate reasons to dead end the Andy Reid path. The Eagles have now become that friend who is too afraid to dump his/her significant other. They are that friend who scratches and claws to stay in the relationship just because it’s comfortable, turning blind eyes to the fact that the relationship seems to be bad for everyone involved in and around it. Nothing is more frustrating than watching that friend, for whom you care so much, drag on with a boyfriend or girlfriend that treats them like shit, insisting on preserving a union that clearly isn’t working. Sure, it worked at one point, and sure there are some great moments that will last as cherished memories, but those elements have been overshadowed by the present problems which threaten growth going forward. So here now a couple million people sit watching with such agony as one of their best buds, the E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles wallow in disillusion, sticking it out with their head coach year after year even though it hasn’t really been working for some time.

Bill Cowher stuck around and finally won it. But since he left, has the franchise really suffered to succeed? Has it sacrificed its football identity since he left? Absolutely not. They’ve experienced tweaks, but the Mike Tomlin Steelers sure as hell garner much of the same respect as the Cowher teams. And the Tomlin Steelers won a Super Bowl too. Jeff Fisher reached his end too. Has the beginning of the Mike Munchak era in Tennessee been a debacle of rebuilding and soul searching? No. The Titans are respectable 5-4, bordering on impressive without a flashy roster, without their best wideout and with a mild contribution from Chris Johnson.

Speaking of Chris Johnson, he might be the only thing missing from this team that is chock full of inflated egos (Asante, DeSean) and distracted minds (Kelce, and the brilliant Avant) who made the mistake of not only thinking players are better than the fans, but actually telling that to them publicly. All these egos are mere droplets in a deluge of egoism flowing from the front office and head coach.

Leadership is one of the clear-cut characteristics missing from this entity, and Reid’s smug demeanor seems to have truly been emblazoned on the attitudes of his players. The DeSean Jackson benching, though seemingly appropriate, is still a laughable act of discipline he tried to pull over a fan base and media group that watches a strikingly noticeable lack of discipline on the field each week. It’s just too late in the game for him to convince us he’s got control.

You can see on the players’ faces and in their performances that the team is diseased. They have been infected with bad vibes and mixed up directions (Juan Castillo’s unit exhibit numero uno) that have left them looking like a jumbled up Rubik’s Cube that’s stuck.

It’s not just that they lose every game in front of the home crowd, but they regularly commit more penalties in their own house than the visiting opponent. It’s not just that the elite stars acquired via free agency haven’t found a way to gel, it’s that they are all there to begin with because absolute garbage has been plucked from the draft in last few years with the exception of Shady McCoy.

It’s not just that the team is showing up, squatting over the field and taking a steaming dump all over it week in and week out. It’s that the bigger the game or the bigger the moment, the larger and steamier is the deuce they manage to push out. And it’s not just that they deuce their pants in every one of those moments, but it’s that no-name players like John Skelton and brand new coaches (HINT HINT!) like John Harbaugh are throwing the Eagles face down in the shit and walking all over them in those exact same kinds of moments.

The Eagles should be so much better. With the electric players they have, they should be so much more likeable too. The team has a window now that would be criminal to close on a city that is obsessed with its football team. Guys like Maclin, Jackson and McCoy are young and we’ve seen they can be flat out awesome. Guys like Babin, Cole, and Jenkins are in their primes. It’s been pitiful to waste this season. It’s been heartbreaking that a team which was positioned to make up for the Phillies’ oops of a playoff run has fallen on its face faster and harder than any in recent memory.

Many are hoping that a rhetoric of change similar to the one that swept a nation can also bring a new face to the helm of ship going scarily off course. I ask, with all the talent on the team ready to be steered in the direction of the Lombardi trophy, could there be a better moment for a coaching change?

Getting rid of Reid by no means disrespects him or denies the success he has brought to the franchise, but continuing to allow the underutilization of talent, poor identification of talent, and horrid gameday performances does disrespect the team and the diehards who want so badly to shell out 150 bucks every Sunday as long as they can get just some inkling that it will be worth it. Dan Klausner’s account of a crowd on Sunday whose  “general mood at the Linc was one of apathy. [Where] people were too downtrodden and catatonic to waste energy booing” is one of the saddest things a Philly sports fan can read. How can the organization live with that?

It needs to be acknowledged that criticism of the team’s unwillingness to part ways with Reid is hypothetical, an assumption that the organization will continue to back him as they have throughout his tenure. But we’ll just have to see what happens at season’s end.

Surprises are one department where they haven’t come up short. They took a giant chance on Michael Vick. They made an O-Line coach the D-Coordinator. They made a stunning move to get a shutdown cornerback and managed to make him look like a lost boy trying to cover Tinkerbell. They’ve uncovered one of the most rabid runners in the game but refused to unleash him.

Just maybe Jim Washburn can help the Eagles brass design one more surprise this off-season: a good ol’ fashion sacking of the coach.

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Bye Bye Controversy: Another post-rest W and Vick has Eagles Flying High

November 8, 2010 1 comment

Kevin Kolb would not have won that game yesterday. Let’s be honest. Thank you Mr. Vick for ending all controversy once and for all.

The numerous 3rd down scrambles are the signature plays that Vick can pull off in a way Kolb can’t. But the play yesterday that made me say the Birds wouldn’t be winning the game with Kolb, was Vick’s flick of the wrist under pressure in his own end zone, hurling the rock 58 yards to DeSean Jackson like it was a Nerf football. It would have taken 12 Kolb dinks and dunks to cover that distance. In one play, the Eagles went from dangerous territory to midfield. After seeing that, I’d dare any of the Eagles coaches to keep saying Kolb can make every throw on the football field.

Vick showed he can hurl a perfect 60-yard strike from this release point. It's Monday afternoon and my jaw is still on the floor.

Even in one of the Eagles biggest wins of the last few years–an uncharacteristic W in a tight game against a great team, by no means the Eagles specialty on Sundays–they still proved they have yet to cure their chronic ailments. They continued with poor goal line execution and bushels of penalties. But the key statistic that separated this game from a couple of the heart-crushing close losses this season: zero turnovers. The McCoy fumbles in the Washington and Tennessee games were fatal. He avoided that this time around. Vick didn’t throw an interception, whereas the great Peyton Houdini found Asante Samuel’s hands twice, and should have been charged with a lost fumble at the end of the game were it not for the old “grazing the QB’s equipment” penalty.

The most overlooked advantage of Vick’s running acumen is that it prevents him from throwing bad passes. Plays that lead to scrambles and forced throws for most quarterbacks, become positive running plays for him. Sometimes for only two yards, sometimes for 30. Ask me about Vick’s most important statistic so far this season and my answer is zero INTs. Zero. 0. Zip. McNabb didn’t throw many picks either, but the consequence was a conservative approach (at least more so in his later years) of throwing the ball out of bounds or deep over everyone’s head. Vick has managed to be electric and aggressive without allowing the downsides of that approach to cramp his style.

The best part of Vick's legs? They keep his INT numbers down

Even with the brilliant flashes Vick has shown during his playing time, I’ve still been saying the Eagles will be an 8-8 team. The offensive line is suspect, the defense has struggled, and the in-game coaching continues to have me close to breaking the flat screen in my living room. If not for the fact that none of us in my household own the television, it would have been in pieces by now.

Forget the burned timeouts, delays of game and nonsense that is hard to even discuss. Game after game the Eagles start with verve and progressively worsen has the game goes on. The pattern emerged again on Sunday. We started stalling on offense with no answers to the Colts defensive adjustments while our defense just allowed screen after screen to push them back eight, 10, 15 yards at a time. The middle quarters were drab as usual, the poor officiating and disturbing Collie injury didn’t help the matter.

Vick has superseded the coaching shortcomings. He has risen from the dead to become the Eagles’ messiah. His playmaking overcomes any lack of play-calling adjustment and he seems to influence his cohorts on the other side of the ball to do the same. Trent Cole and the unit he leads, had a burst that’s previously been missing late in games. Maybe I’m getting carried away, over-crediting Vick and not giving enough to the bye week rest and Andy Reid’s post-bye-week streak. The long and short of it is that I’m now starting to reconsider the 8-8 train of thought.

The face...and ribs...of the Eagles' savior

My team has a leader now who can sway my mindset. On the field he is stepping up and making throws even when he knows he’s about to take a crushing blow.  And he’s been just as daring off the field, dropping the “Super Bowl” bomb in press conferences left and right, a sign of a leader on a mission to bring his troops to their destination. A fire and determination that, if McNabb even had, he would obscure behind his giggles and smirks.

The closing games agains the Vikings and Cowboys look less intimidating than they did when the schedule was released, but another Washington game and two epic battles with the Giants loom on the path to the playoffs. As long as Mike Vick is getting the snaps it looks like the Birds will keep their opponents on the ropes.

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