Three Thoughts On the State Of the Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.Given everything that’s happened this week, and because it’s the bye, now is a good time to assess the state of the Eagles. Below are three thoughts to consider.

1. Let’s start with the defense and Andy Reid’s decision to replace Juan Castillo with Todd Bowles. Reid went with an outside-the-box idea when he promoted Castillo back in 2011. He thought that with the talent the Eagles had on defense, if he gave Castillo capable assistants, he could grow into the coordinator role and have success. In 2011, the ‘D’ had its ups and downs. But the Eagles lost five games in which they entered the fourth quarter with a lead. The defense gave up 60 points in the final 15 minutes of those games.

After an 8-8 campaign, Reid re-assessed things. While he has said he felt good about how the defense finished 2011, it was clear this offseason that he wanted to get Castillo more help. And so he tried to get Steve Spagnuolo to come on board in an unspecified role, but Spags chose the Saints instead.

Sidenote: Before you comment about how New Orleans’ defense stinks under Spagnuolo, that’s not the point. The point is that Reid tried to get help on the defensive side of the ball.

The other move he made was to bring Bowles on board to coach the secondary – a veteran who had experience, someone who could help maximize the talent in the back end and ease the burden off of Castillo.

Meanwhile, from a personnel standpoint, the Eagles acquired DeMeco Ryans and spent four of their first five draft picks on the defensive side of the ball.

Through six games, the defense has been the team’s strength. But after a meltdown against the Lions, Reid decided he had to make a change. This move was not so much about who the defensive coordinator is from Monday to Saturday. Putting together the game-plan and running practices is in many ways a collaborative effort. This move is about Sundays. Specifically, making the right calls, avoiding meltdowns and making adjustments.

Right now, the offense is a mess. If the Eagles are going to salvage their season, it very well could be the defense that has to lead the way. They’re healthy and talented on that side of the ball. Reid could have kept Castillo on and had Bowles call the plays, but what would have been the point? This move is about getting the most out of the ‘D’ in the final 10 games. Reid believes Bowles gives him the best chance to do that.

One final thought on the defense: It’s important to recognize that Castillo’s failure is Reid’s failure. No other coach in the NFL would have made the move he did. Of all the decisions he’s made during his time with the Eagles, this could be the one that ends up costing him his job.

2. What about the offense? That’s a question many asked as soon as the Castillo move was announced. Why didn’t Reid fire Marty Mornhinweg also?

That’s flawed logic. While the two sides of the ball are connected, these are separate issues. Defensively, Reid had a coach on staff whom he felt could do a better job than the guy in place.

The offense is a different story. The Eagles set franchise scoring records in 2008, 2009 and 2010, respectively. Mornhinweg was the coordinator each of those seasons. In other words, he has a track record. It’s reasonable for Reid to think Mornhinweg can help him turn things around.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t to say Mornhinweg should be free of criticism. The Eagles are averaging 17.2 points per game – second-worst in the NFL. But again, this is about looking at the final 10 games and how they can salvage their season. Reid had a choice to make: Either continue with Mornhinweg or take over himself. Right now, it looks like he’s sticking with Mornhinweg.

The other point here is that players on both sides of the ball have to be held accountable. Take Sunday’s’ game, for example:

  • Brent Celek drops a relatively easy touchdown.
  • Celek is called for offensive pass interference, negating another touchdown.
  • Michael Vick misses DeSean Jackson deep for what could have been an 80-yard score.
  • Vick’s pass to a wide-open Jeremy Maclin on the second-to-last drive is batted at the line of scrimmage by Ndamukong Suh.
  • Dallas Reynolds snaps the ball before Vick is ready, resulting in a turnover with the offense driving in Lions territory.
  • Todd Herremans, the most talented and experienced lineman on the team, gets beat one-on-one to start the drive in overtime, giving up a sack and putting the Eagles in a hole.

None of those things had anything to do with the play-calls. Players were put in the right positions and failed to perform at the level expected of them.

3. Lastly, we have to talk about the quarterback, starting with the position the coaches have put him in. This offensive line is bad. I’ve heard some say it’s the worst of the Reid era, and I have a tough time arguing. The struggles up front make it critical for Mornhinweg and Reid to put Vick in a position to succeed.

That’s why they changed the offense after the Cardinals game. Shorter passes to negate pressure and beat the blitz? We’re seeing those. Vick has been outstanding against extra pressure the last two weeks. Just look at the numbers: 21-for-30 (70 percent) for 280 yards (9.3 YPA). The offense has really performed well against the blitz in the last three games. The coaches are giving Vick more options to get rid of the football quickly, and he’s taking often times making use of them. Are there exceptions? Sure. Tim did a good job of showing a few in his All-22 breakdown. But for the most part, the offense has been tweaked to help negate pass pressure and make up for the deficiencies of the line. Vick is completing 63.2 percent of his passes in the last three games.

What about the run game? Wouldn’t using a heavier dose of LeSean McCoy help Vick? A couple issues with that argument. One is that McCoy’s averaging 18.5 rushing attempts per game – seventh-most in the NFL and the most of his career. He also has 25 catches, second-most among running backs, behind Darren Sproles. McCoy has played more snaps than any other running back in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. In other words, for the most part, the Eagles have tried to squeeze every ounce of production out of McCoy through six games.

The other issue is this: While we tend to focus on the offensive line’s struggles in pass protection, they’re not getting the job done on the ground either. McCoy had nowhere to go against the Lions and has averaged 2.5 yards per carry in his last two games.

The truth is that while a balanced attack and a heavy dose of McCoy are good things, the Eagles are simply going to need to get more out of their passing game to be successful. Vick is actually throwing interceptions at a higher rate than even last season (one every 30.2 attempts in 2011, compared to one ever 28.9 attempts in 2012).

But it’s not just the turnovers. Going over the All-22 from last week, the Eagles had countless opportunities to hit on big plays. Against Pittsburgh, I thought Vick played well minus the fumbles. Against Detroit, I thought he left too many plays on the field. Again, it’s not just Vick. But he’s part of it. And I think that’s why you heard Reid decline to say whether he would be the starter against the Falcons.

I don’t think now is the time to make a move. I agree with what Tim wrote yesterday on the topic. But I do believe Reid is weighing all his options. Don’t forget that in the offseason we heard reports that the Eagles looked into acquiring Peyton Manning and thought about trading up for Robert Griffin III. I fully understand that Nick Foles is not either of those guys, but the point is Reid at least had some doubts about whether Vick could get it done in 2012. You didn’t see other coaches who were confident in their quarterbacks look into either one of those moves.

Vick is showing improvement in some areas (blitz, getting rid of the ball quickly), while staying the same in others (ball security). Reid is not going to make a decision based on the future. He believes he can win now, and really, he has no choice considering he might be gone in 2013. Now, Reid has to decide whether Vick is the quarterback that gives him the best chance to be successful in the final 10 games.

As of earlier this week, he was still undecided.

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