Over the past couple days at the Novacare Complex, players and coaches have tried to articulate what exactly has gone wrong with an offense that is scoring just 17.1 points per game, 28th in the league.
During training camp, it seemed like the 2012 version wouldn’t be far off from last year’s group. Michael Vick and company produced 64 pass plays of 20+ yards in 2011, eighth-best in the league. The plan was to cut down on turnovers, get DeSean Jackson back on track and resume the high-flying, big-play attack.
But a few things happened to derail that plan. Demetress Bell failed to be even adequate filling in for Jason Peters at left tackle. Another hole was created when center Jason Kelce suffered a season-ending injury. And the offense failed to fix the turnover problem.
After the Cardinals game, Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg decided to switch things up. More balance, coupled with a methodical passing game, was Plan B. If the defense could come up big (like it did against the Giants), perhaps that kind of offense would be good enough for the Eagles to get into the playoffs.
Nope. That hasn’t worked either.
When talking about the lack of big plays recently (Vick did not even attempt a pass of 20 yards or more downfield last week), Jason Avant nailed exactly why this team has had problems.
“If you can’t run it effectively and you can’t hit the short game, guys are just going to stay back,” Avant said. “If you’re not going to be consistent and move the ball methodically down the field, guys are just going to say, ‘We’ll play deep, and they’ll mess it up.’ And that’s’ what we’ve been doing. They’ve been playing deep, and we’ve been messing it up.”
The methodical approach has looked good at times. Against the Falcons, drives of 13, 9 and 16 plays resulted in scores. But there haven’t been enough of those to win consistently. The Eagles have dropped three in a row and four of their last five. The line has still had issues, the offense has still turned it over (last week being the exception), and new issues have surfaced.
For example, LeSean McCoy has 120 yards on 46 carries in the last three games (2.6 YPC). In the last two games, he’s been dropped at or behind the line of scrimmage on 11 of 30 carries. Think about that – 37 percent of the time, he wasn’t able to pick up a single yard. Too often, McCoy’s just had nowhere to go.
And so, with their season at a crossroads, the Eagles have to decide which course provides the best option going forward. It could change on a weekly basis, but Vick said Thursday that he was too conservative against the Falcons. Mornhinweg seemed to agree.
“The last ballgame, I thought we were just a little bit too careful with our mentality,” Mornhinweg said.
“It’s a certain attitude that we are the baddest men on the field. And that mentality that we are going to be aggressive, aggressive, aggressive.”
The problem is it’s not that simple. The mistakes and turnovers are part of what caused the changes initially. The Eagles have an offensive line that can’t protect well enough for plays to develop downfield. And they have skill-position players who can’t execute at a high-enough level to consistently move the ball in a methodical manner. The parts just don’t fit together in a way that makes sense.
“Every game, you don’t play a perfect game,” Reid said earlier this week, when asked if Vick missed opportunities vs. Atlanta. “You can take any player in this league, nobody plays the perfect game. So, I mean, you can sit here and say, ‘Okay, did he miss one?’ That’s ok. That’s alright. You’re going to do that in the game. He managed the game well. He got the ball out on time. I thought he did a nice job there.”
Earlier, Reid said he thought Vick played one of his better games of the season. This was an outing in which the Eagles scored 17 points, and he averaged just 5.5 yards per pass attempt. That tells you all you need to know about where expectations are right now.
But we are only seven games in, and the Eagles can get back to .500 with a win in New Orleans. Perhaps their best hope at salvaging their season is to find an offensive identity against the Saints, one of the worst defenses in the league.