This was the first week of Thursday night football and was a reminder that if/when we move from Halifax, we’ll need to find a more NFL friendly time-zone (I think Central would be best). The 9:30pm start times are tough on someone who likes his 8 hours of sleep. First things first, let me get my Eagles rant out of my system…
It took an amazing plate of chicken nachos and guacamole to make me feel better and rouse me from a stupor after watching the Eagles lay a complete egg against Arizona. They’ve now fallen to 3-6 with almost no chance of making the playoffs. In order of frustration, here’s what I saw in this game and what it means for the rest of the season:
1. The Eagles were playing a team with a mediocre backup QB and one bona fide wide receiver. Why on earth they continued to allow Fitzgerald to be covered by a rookie safety or a 4th string DB is beyond me. For stretches of the game (including the last 2 drives of the 4th quarter), the Eagles did not have Asomugha covering Fitzgerald (according to play charts, he only had coverage on him for 20 of 46 passing plays). This is football 101 stuff that my team continues to get wrong every week – completely inexcusable.
2. Vick (and his $100M contract) is now 7-9 with 18 interceptions in his last 16 games. Although spectacularly brilliant at times, he’s an inaccurate passer who plays loose with the ball. On Sunday, he looked terrible (on Monday it was announced that he played the game with two broken ribs, so that may have had influenced his performance) – missing wide open receivers and was throwing into the wrong places with 4 passes picked off (1 overturned by penalty, 1 overturned by video review). Yes, he was missing his top 2 WRs for most of the game, but there are still other weapons to use. Which takes me to…
3. Play calling – The Eagles were the top running team in the league going into the game yet McCoy only touched the ball 14 times (and only 6 times after the break, even though the Eagles led for most of the half). This is turning borderline insane with this coaching staff continuing to make the same dumb tactical mistakes week after week. When your top 2 WRs are banged up, how about calling a shorter passing game, mixing in runs, trying end-arounds and reverses to loosen up the defence?
4. Coaching – The Eagles are probably the first professional football team to take an offensive sub-specialty assistant coach and promote him to defensive coordinator. The result: this defence for most of the season has looked lost with guys out of place at key times. I can accept a team without talent not performing well, but it’s frustrating to watch a relatively well stocked team look this aimless on one side of the ball. Not to beat a dead horse, but what possible explanation is there for not having Asomugha defend Fitzgerald all game long? Asomugha’s strength is lining up on one guy and taking him out of the game. You can’t let the only guy on the other team that scares you beat you.
5. Overall personnel and mentality – I hate to say it, but this team is far too much of finesse team (my nice way of saying they’re soft). There’s not a killer instinct in the bunch. The offense has a wealth of individual talent, but lacks the glue players that can win a game when the other team (or weather, or luck) takes away your skill positions. Right now, the Eagles can’t win games in multiple ways as evidenced by…
6. …. how can 5 of the 6 losses be after holding 4th quarter leads? Right now the defence can’t win a game. The offence can’t come from behind on the final drive to win a game or get that extra score to put a game out of reach. There’s nothing exciting on special teams that can turn the tide the Eagles’ way. Their game plans aren’t innovative or surprising. This team can’t win a game when a few things don’t go their way. Last year when the Steelers were without their starting QB, they managed to win 3 of 4 games with an altered offensive approach. On Sunday, the Broncos won a game with only 2 pass completions all day, tailoring their approach to the talent at hand. The Eagles for the past decade have largely been a team that doesn’t do well when there are a few hiccups in game plans, situations, injuries/personnel etc. (with the notable exceptions of the 6 game stretch after McNabb broke his ankle in 2002 or when Garcia took the Eagles to the playoffs after a McNabb injury in 2006).
To date, this has been one of the more frustrating seasons I’ve watched. I’m not sure that wholesale changes are in the future given the organization’s preference for measured moves, but Reid and his coaching staff are starting to feel like Jeff Fisher with the Titans last year – at some point, you wear out your welcome if you can’t deliver. I understand you can’t get to a Superbowl every year, but to have the same chronic weaknesses keep you from that goal for 12 of 13 years is something that can’t be ignored.
Enough of that, here’s what else I saw this week:
Chargers-Raiders: If ever there was an example of an offence going south after an injury on the offensive line, this was it. McNeil (LT, Chargers) goes down, and the rest of the game saw Rivers scrambling with no time to throw. This game wasn’t as close as the score and has helped set up a really interesting second half of the year in the AFC West. It’s a lousy division, and I have no idea who’s going to win it which will make for some interesting games down the stretch.
Saints-Falcons: The talking heads are all criticizing Mike Smith for going for it in OT on 4th an inches from the Falcons 29. They didn’t make it, and a few plays later they lose the game. Who knows what happens if he elected to punt, but challenging his team to go win a game on offence is in line with his overall coaching philosophy.
Ravens: Their performance against the Seahawks is the reason I don’t have them as an elite AFC team. They’ll likely make the playoffs, but will flame out somewhere before the Super Bowl.
Lions-Bears: The Lions were dominated, but why did they punt to Hester? First punt to him – 29 yard return that he almost broke for a TD. Any reasonable coaching staff orders the remaining punts to be kicked into the 4th row of the stands. What do the Lions do? Second punt kicked in bounds to Hester who returns it for a TD. Mind boggling.
49ers: I love that they win playing smart, old fashioned football. The onside kick was a great call in this game and shows good film study of the Giants tendency of their “up men” to leave early on kicks.
Texans: A bit of a prediction – I don’t see all of the doom and gloom for them now that Schaub is lost for the year. I think Leinart can be a reliable QB and he’ll have the benefit of an excellent running game and a very solid defence. It’s always devastating to lose a starting QB for the year, but I can’t think of another team that would be better prepared than the Texans for this situation. That being said, this doesn’t help their Superbowl hopes.