It's easy to blame the head coach for the woes of our team. It's easy to point to an organization falling apart at the seams and place the blame on the man who has been pulling the strings for the last 13 years. It's easy to ignore 9 playoff appearances, 5 NFC Championship appearances (winning one of them), and 6 NFC East Division Titles when all of those seasons led to the same result: zero Superbowl Rings.
But what we can't ignore is that this season is in shambles-the "dream team" has become a nightmare, to reiterate the ubiquitous platitude that has followed our team through the majority of this season. The Eagles have only one more win than the Jacksonville Jaguars, who recently fired head coach Jack Del Rio in response to another underwhelming and playoff-less season; and Philadelphia would likely erupt in celebration if Jeff Lurie were also to announce the dismissal of his long-time head coach.
Such celebration, however, would ultimately prove short-lived, because we are not the perpetually mediocre Jaguars. We are the Philadelphia Eagles, and we expect nothing less than a Superbowl with every season. And a new head coach does not necessarily guarantee that.
Continuity wins championships. The Packers, the Saints, the Steelers, the Patriots. These Superbowl-winning teams and consistent contenders have one thing that the Eagles have not since their loss to the Patriots in Superbowl XXXIX: a consistent core of players and team identity.
The Packers are so hot this year because they are the same team that won last year's Superbowl, with the addition of a few key players that have returned from injury. The other three aforementioned teams have had similar cores of players throughout their success. The Eagles, however, have been experiencing a carousal of personnel for the last three years (or more), and yet we expect them to compete with groups that have been together for all that time?
Even the Niners, who were consistently mediocre under Mike Singletary-a coach whom players all but openly admitted their disapproval of-have bee so successful this year not simply because of the new coach, but because they are also not too different from the team they were in years past. A new coach was the obvious necessary change in uniting a roster that had been together for quite some time. Current and former players have consistently voiced their support for Andy, and though a great portion of the blame undoubtedly falls on his shoulders, his firing could lead to an even more excruciating period of rebuilding.
Clearly the Eagles must change something, however, and these last five games will be a chance to try different things and see what works. The first will be to address the issues of defense. Although the players will naturally improve next year as they have a full offseason to gel as a unit and the youngsters have time to develop, the Juan Castillo experiment has clearly failed, and its time to start looking for his successor; and what better place to turn than the recently available Jack Del Rio?
Jack Del Rio? You mean the lousy head coach recently fired from Jacksonville.
No. I mean Jack Del Rio, the spectacular defensive coordinator who in his first (and only) season with Carolina in 2002 turned a 1-15 team into the second best defense in the NFL.
Del Rio would be an exceptional hiring if possible-though I believe it's legal, you rarely see coaches outside the organization coming in mid-season (or, in this case, much later than that), and he may want to hold out to see if he can get another head coaching job. There are some obvious other pieces that can be fixed, but replacing Castillo with Del Rio is a good start. In fact, any defensive change would seem warranted at this point, and perhaps we should follow the Colts' lead and fire Castillo now simply for the sake of trying out some internal personnel in the interim.
As for the players, Asante Samuel and DeSean Jackson will not be in Philadelphia next season. Their augmented egos were amusing at first and, when their play on the field matched their grandiose talk off of it, we welcomed their antics. But they have proved continuously problematic throughout this season, and while we should salvage whatever value we can for them (in the form of draft picks), they should feel free to take their "big play" ability elsewhere. DeSean's demise is particularly hard to swallow given his outstanding athletic potential, but he hasn't been the same ever since that devastating hit delivered by Dunta Robinson last year-in all fairness, I'd likely be more timid after that as well.
What Vick and this offense truly needs is not an exceptionally speedy but one-dimensional receiver. We need the next A.J. Green, and in this year's draft, that's Alshon Jeffery of South Carolina. A big possession receiver with stellar hands who enjoys catching the ball over the middle and taking the big hit is the kind of playmaker this flaccid red-zone offense so desperately needs. He's the type of player that could truly turn this sputtering offense around and aid Michael Vick's resurgence into an elite QB next year-just look at what Green has done for rookie Andy Dalton, for example.
As for the defense, we already have so many pieces to accompany an often-exceptional d-line, but the leadership of Del Rio will help put those pieces together. With Asante out, we'll need a younger CB to start to develop, and we could always use some more LBs if they're available. But whereas Alshon Jeffery is the kind of rookie who will make an instant impact on this team, it seems that LB is a position best addressed through potential free agents-a solid veteran who can help shape our group of youngsters into legit playmakers. We've drafted five linebackers through the last two drafts (admittedly, none of them earlier than the fourth round). Do we really need another rookie in the mix, or is it time to bring in that instant-impact veteran (like Babin has been for us this year)?
These next five games will give us a chance to evaluate the individual pieces a little more closely; but since we know that Juan will be gone next year, why not start looking for his successor right away? If we can bench DeSean in the fourth quarter for underperforming, we should at least do the same to Castillo as we approach the fourth quarter of the season.
This is a team that we know has potential-even the Redskins were never considered the "dream team" following their big free-agency splashes-and if we want the chance to contend in future years, we need to retain as much of it as possible. The key is finding the pieces that work and the ones that don't, and it would appear that now is as good a time as any.