Four Ways the Eagles Can Redeem Themselves
Now that the Eagles have thrilled their beleaguered fan base by winning their final four games of the season to put a cap on an 8-8 season–the epitome of mediocrity–they can go about the business of trying to become an elite NFL team again.
It won’t be easy. The Birds’ 4-8 start was more emblematic of their personality than was the 4-0 finish, which was accomplished after the pressure of real playoff competition evaporated and required little of the heart necessary to push into the post-season. This was a team that lacked talent at several key positions and enters the next eight months in need of significant improvements both from within and without.
The Eagles have to find new players, and they must convince many of their holdovers to improve their play and attitudes. Even then, this is not a team that can make the jump up to the level of the Packers, Saints, Patriots, Ravens and even Niners, simply because it won a few games at the end of the season. If the Eagles were the Browns or Titans, their strong finish would be a good thing, since it represented progress from the bottom of the NFL heap. But they are not a floundering franchise looking for some reason to believe. They purport themselves to be Super Bowl contenders and as such should not be happy with moral victories.
The unfortunate by-product of the big finish is that the gang will all be back. Head coach/chief personnel director Andy Reid will most certainly return. So, too, will defensive coordinator Juan Castillo and wide-nine maven Jim Washburn. The bulk of the 2011 starters are back, as well, with the possible exceptions of wideout DeSean Jackson (more on him later) and cornerback Asante Samuel. Since those are givens and a housecleaning won’t happen, the Eagles have to figure out a way to improve–really improve–without tearing down the whole building. Here are some suggestions.
Physician, Heal Thyself: Contrary to the prevailing opinions of some in this city, Reid is not a full-fledged buffoon, incapable of teaching a football team how to huddle up correctly. He has had some tremendous successes during his tenure in Philadelphia, so his methods are not entirely ridiculous. But he must understand that his unwillingness to do certain things has hindered him in recent years, and he must change.
First, Reid has to understand that though the NFL is a passing league, it is important to have an ability to stop the run. The defensive line he assembled put great pressure on enemy quarterbacks in 2011 but had some games–San Francisco, Seattle–during which it was so poor against the run that it hurt the team. It’s time to get a real, fire-breathing monster in the middle of the line, one who occupies two blockers and takes some pressure off the linebackers. Further, Reid must understand that good teams have great linebackers, even those like Green Bay (Clay Matthews) and New England (Jerod Mayo), which try to outscore their rivals.
Reid must commit to the run when his team gets ahead, the better to take some pressure off his defense and work the clock to get wins. Reid may think it’s fun to show how much he knows about NFL offense, but winning games is more important than making highlights. So, be smart, coach.
Finally, Reid must improve his drafting. Say what you want about this year’s draft, which produced O-line starters Danny Watkins and Jason Kelce, kicker Alex Henery and linebacker Brian Rolle but the overall performance of the Eagles’ 11-man group was not great. The 2010 crop, highlighted by linebacker Jamar Chaney and safeties Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman, was even worse. Reid needs to find some standouts. Now.
Attitude Adjustment: The Eagles can crow all they want that Michael Vick closed the season with three consecutive games in which he posted a QB rating of 100 or higher, but the fact remains that Vick was inconsistent, committed too many turnovers and continued to freelance way too much. If he ever wants to become a top-tier NFL quarterback, instead of an inaccurate risk-reward passer who can thrill or kill, Vick must commit to making smarter decisions and ceasing his infuriating desire to work off the grid and “make plays.” Say what you want about Reid, but his offense can be highly effective, provided the man triggering it decides to follow the plan, rather than ad-libbing.
Vick must start today deciding that it’s more important to win football games than to create excitement. He must protect the football. He must get rid of it before he gets hit. He must run out of bounds and slide. In other words, he must become a quarterback capable of winning big in the NFL.
Sign Him! The drama created by DeSean Jackson throughout the 2011 season was a huge distraction and part of the reason for the Eagles’ average performance. But that doesn’t mean the Birds should jettison him. He’s too valuable and puts too much pressure on opposing defenses. Yes, the two sides are angry at each other, but you’d be amazed how happy everyone can be when a player signs on the line which is dotted.
If the Eagles get rid of Jackson, they must find a front-line wideout from a free agent crop that is thin and a draft class that doesn’t have more than two or three first-round difference-makers. Starting the 2012 campaign with a starting wideout contingent of Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant and Riley Cooper may be better than some of the groups the team foisted upon fans in the last decade, but it isn’t championship caliber; that’s for sure.
Find Some Leaders: The last suggestion may be the most important. The Eagles have to add some veterans capable of providing the grit and leadership great teams possess. Even if said players aren’t standouts, their ability to show the rest of the team what it takes to win will be invaluable and could well be the difference between another season of great discontent and grand success.
- The Sixers’ 2-2 start may not be overwhelming but playing .500 ball on the road to start the season is just fine. The team appears to be exciting and capable of hanging with most of the other second-tier clubs in the league, and continuing that behavior should lead to another playoff appearance and some–although not a whole lot–more progress.
- Saint Joseph’s Dec. 31 loss to Harvard looks bad on the surface, but the Crimson has played well this year, and the young Hawks are still a work in progress. Although St. Joe’s has talent and considerable athletic ability, it could be year away from real contention in the Atlantic 10.
- The Flyers handled the Legends Game perfectly. By welcoming Eric Lindros back into the family, they showed class and allowed fans to salute a former great player. The rest of the game was just plain fun, from Bernie Parent’s turn in goal to the 3-1 victory.