What Are the Eagles Really Made Of?
“Man looks in the abyss, there’s nothing staring back at him. At that moment, man finds his character. And that is what keeps him out of the abyss.” — Lou Mannheim, Wall Street
In each of the past four weeks, the Eagles have faced questions that would help define the team and provide clues to the season’s ultimate outcome.
On Nov. 7, we wanted to know whether the Birds could beat a quality AFC powerhouse, Indianapolis.
A week later, it was about a prime-time matchup with the Fighting McNabbs, who had beaten them earlier in the season. [SIGNUP]
Then came the big NFC East clash with the Giants, followed by Sunday’s road trip against a conference power. Four games, four opportunities. While we learned something each time, this team’s true character will be revealed over the next three days, as it tries to shrug off the loss to Chicago and prepare quickly for a visit from Houston. The Texans don’t necessarily pose that much of a threat, especially if standout receiver Andre Johnson is suspended following his MMA brawl Sunday with serial itch Cortland Finnegan.
After the loss to the Bears — and most especially following the post-game drama involving QB Michael Vick, wideout DeSean Jackson and coach Andy Reid — the Eagles are no longer the happy-time outfit that dazzled the football world with its big-play capabilities and the quarterback’s story of redemption. They are a staggered team that didn’t play well for several reasons, some self-inflicted, others due to the opposition. Whatever the reasons, how this young team rebounds from the defeat will be the strongest indication of whether great success awaits it or more disappointment.
There is plenty of work to do, even though there isn’t much time available. Reid and coordinator Marty Mornhinweg must find ways to liberate Vick from the constricting pass rushes the Bears and Giants unveiled these past two weeks. After watching Vick dazzle with his ability to pressure defenses with his legs and arm, opposing coaches have decided to make him more one-dimensional. Although he gained 44 yards on nine carries Sunday in Chicago, Vick’s longest run was 11 yards, he was sacked four times and hurried on numerous other occasions. Vick was clearly uncomfortable on numerous other occasions, resulting in throws off his back foot or hurried releases. It is a testament to his talent that Vick still threw for 333 yards and two scores, although it took him 44 attempts to get there.
It would be nice to see the Eagles run the football a little more than the 13 times Vick handed it off Sunday. That would open up some play-action opportunities and perhaps give Vick a little more time. Rollouts and bootlegs might help, too. Whatever the solution, it’s clear the Eagles must do something differently, because rival defenses have adjusted to Vick.
It would help if the QB had some more open receivers at his disposal. That’s a function of two things. First, by keeping in one or sometimes two targets to help with protection, the Eagles provide an edge for defenses, which must cover fewer people. Second, the inability to use DeSean Jackson on crossing patterns makes him easier to control. Jackson’s alligator-armed attempt at a play on the goal line showed he is either still gun-shy after the concussion-inducing hit he incurred from Atlanta’s Dunta Robinson or plain unwilling mix it up. His reaction to Reid’s sharp post-game comments to and about him could become a huge distraction or an opportunity for growth within the offense. Whatever the case, Jackson has caught just eight passes since the 88-yard game-starter against the Redskins. That’s not enough. Teams are starting to assign a safety over the top of a cornerback on Jackson, making it considerably more difficult for him to get loose. If Jackson responds positively from Reid’s scolding, the Eagles should put him in motion and work him out of bunch formations in an effort to clear some space for him. If he continues to pout, the offense will be compromised further.
And then there’s the defense. After the loss, plenty of people were saying that the healthy return of Asante Samuel will make a huge difference, and it should — in terms of coverage. But Samuel’s presence in the lineup is no antidote to the shoddy tackling that prevailed throughout the game. Too often, Bears receivers and backs were allowed to frolic upfield with little or no resistance. The Eagles linebackers have been extremely erratic, and the defensive backfield seems so intent on “making big plays” that it forgets the value of handling the small details that win football games.
There are other things to be addressed, like the continued shoddy kick coverage, the repeated blown assignments along the line and the team’s inability to handle adversity, as shown in the head-hanging that took place in Tennessee and Chicago after serious gaffes. The bottom line is that the Eagles have a chance to prove their character in the days leading up to Houston’s visit. To stay out of the abyss. Whether they can do that will depend on their attitude and work ethic over the next three days. Rebound and stomp the Texans, and all will be fine. Struggle or — worse — lose, and the season could be lost.
Another week, another question.
What’s it going to be?
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