The 5 Problems the Eagles Need to Fix

In happier news: Only 34 days until pitchers and catchers

Eagles fans are no doubt used to waiting by now. Waiting for next year. Waiting for a Super Bowl championship. Waiting for the “gold standard” to pay off. Sunday’s disappointing playoff loss to the Packers triggered another test of their patience, only this time the delay could be much longer. With a work stoppage looming and the prospect of an off-season without beloved mini-camps and OTAs, not to mention a shortened training camp and truncated exhibition campaign, the waiting could extend months longer than usual.

Thank God for the Phillies -– unless you are Jeffrey Lurie, of course.

While we count down the days (34) until pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater, and we can commence our dreaming of warm days and winning nights, we’ll have to stew over the Eagles’ loss to Green Bay and come to the unsettling realization that the former quarterback was not responsible for this team’s many inadequacies. The weak offensive line, shaky defense and unreliable special teams characterized the 2010 Eagles just as much as Michael Vick’s exciting play did. In short, this was not a great football team, and its first-round playoff exit was an appropriate ending. [SIGNUP]

In some ways, Sunday’s loss was necessary, if only to stop people from believing the Eagles were better than they proved to be. Against the Packers, they couldn’t stop the run, even though Green Bay hadn’t had much success in that area for most of the season. They couldn’t -– make that wouldn’t –- exploit the one weakness in the Pack’s defense, stopping the run, choosing instead to expose Vick to a game-long barrage of blitzes and furious pass rushers. They couldn’t convert on third down and had trouble getting off the field when the Packers had to do the same. And don’t even get me started about the offensive line, which was so shaky this season that fans were substantially upset when guard Max Jean-Gilles was deactivated before the game.

The Eagles were good enough to win 10 games and the NFC East, but they weren’t ready for the post-season and its demands. Penalties, key breakdowns and an inability to get the job done in the last two minutes are not the hallmarks of a championship team. Unlike previous seasons, when myopic fans and media howlers placed the blame on just two people (Andy Reid and Number Five), this was a team-wide condition. Even Vick, who enjoyed a tremendous renaissance, has a big hand in the trouble and must devote himself to continued improvement.

Even though everybody in Midnight Green owns some responsibility, the onus on improvement lies with one man: Reid. Say what you want about how injuries made his job tougher this year (the Packers had the same amount, if not more) and give him credit for making the switch to Vick, but the Eagles roster has many holes, and it is up to Reid (and Howie Roseman, of course) to fill them. If Leonard Weaver, Jamaal Jackson, Nate Allen, Brandon Graham and Stewart Bradley recover completely from their injuries, the Eagles must upgrade several areas in order to become championship contenders.

This has been the case in many other seasons, although the noise surrounding a Donovan McNabb quotation or low pass has drowned out the calls for team-wide improvement. Now that Eagles fans have pledged allegiance to Vick, despite his key gaffe at the end of Sunday’s game, they might just want to look around the roster and see where the necessary fortifications must be made. From this vantage point, it’s easy to locate five areas. Here they are, in order of importance:

1. Offensive line: Even though Jason Peters made the Pro Bowl (How?!), and Todd Herremans was solid, this unit needs considerable help. The right guard spot is a good place to begin, but right tackle isn’t so sturdy, either, as evidenced by Reid’s decision to bench Winston Justice Sunday after a flabbergasting three penalties on two third-quarter plays. If Jackson comes back, the center spot is strong, and Herremans and Peters could be parts of a successful line. But Reid needs to make some strong moves here.

2. Defensive line: This might be an even bigger need than its offensive counterpart. The Packers ran through the Eagle front four Sunday, and the Birds could muster no real pass rush without blitz help. Graham’s return will help, but he wasn’t exactly Deacon Jones before his injury. Reid needs to find tackles who can stuff the run and collapse the pocket and another pass rusher to take pressure off Trent Cole.

3. Secondary: Another area of big need, starting with cornerback. The loss of Ellis Hobbs was big, but he wasn’t exactly human stick-um before going down, and the troika of Dmitri Patterson, Joselio Hanson and Trevard Lindley didn’t quite get it done. The Eagles need a physical corner and must decide whether the tandem of Allen and Quintin Mikell is title-worthy or merely good enough to get through next season. My gut says it’s somewhere in between.

4. Linebackers: This area has never been a big concern of Reid’s, but it needs to become one. When your top linebacker at the end of the season is a rookie seventh-round pick, you have problems. Jamar Chaney may unseat Bradley in the middle, because Bradley wasn’t playing so well before his injury, but Ernie Sims and Moise Fokou are not starters on a championship team, and Sims shouldn’t even be a backup on a good club. It’s time for some serious upgrading.

5. Wide receiver: We all love DeSean Jackson’s big-play ability, and Jeremy Maclin had a very good season. But the Eagles lack a big receiver who can go over the middle, handle the heat and make something happen after the catch. Some may look this at as a luxury, but when defenses blitz Vick, having a sizeable target to hit on a hot read is quite important.

It would be nice if the Eagles got better play from the tight end position, and some depth at running back would be nice, too, but let’s not get too greedy. If the Eagles want to be more than a fun team that can’t handle the post-season pressure, they need to get better –- a lot better. It’s fortunate that they might have a whole lot of time to do just that.

Meanwhile, it’s just 34 days and counting until the Phillies take over the town.

* The Sixers are better, no doubt about it. But they need more consistent play and better end-game performances to become a playoff team, even in the shaky East.

* Villanova has looked pretty darn good in winning nine straight, but the next three weeks will tell us plenty about the Wildcats. Their next six opponents include Louisville, Maryland, Connecticut, Syracuse and Georgetown. Go 4-1 against that lot, and ‘Nova becomes a legit Final Four threat.

* What a crushing defeat for Delaware’s football team down in Frisco, TX. It looked like the Blue Hens had Eastern Washington dead but couldn’t hang on Now Delaware must try to hang on to coach K.C. Keeler, who’s in the running for the job at Connecticut.