The snowball has begun to roll. Can anyone in the Eagles organization stop it?
Before yesterday, every loss this season by the Eagles could be explained away. The Cardinals? That was one of those games where it got out of hand quick, and the team couldn't recover. The Steelers? Not many teams go into Heinz Field and walk away with a win.
But yesterday? Yesterday was bad. Really bad. Eye opening bad.
In the standings, the loss drops the Eagles to 3-3 and just a game out of the division lead. Is the season over? Absolutely not. They have plenty of time to make up for yesterday's loss. To say that yesterday ended the season and a fire sale should start is just plain wrong.
No, the damage done by yesterday's 4th quarter collapse against the Lions was strictly emotional. For really the first time since the Eagles loss to the Cardinals last season, the players in the locker room have legitimate reason to look in the mirror and wonder if they can be a winning team.
For all of the talk about how much talent is on the team- and how much the players themselves like to talk about it- the fact is that they are 11-11 over the last 22 games. You are what your record says you are.
And after yesterday, Eagles players really have to start wondering if they are good enough.
The snow ball is rolling. Who is going to be the player to step up and stop it?
Here is What I Liked and What I Didn't Like from yesterday's game:
What I Liked:
Nnamdi Asomugha: Earlier this week I wrote that if there was ever going to be a game where Nnamdi Asomugha would succeed, this would be it. Asomugha had the size to deal with Calvin Johnson, and the Lions running Johnson on primarily short routes player to Asomugha's strength. How did he respond? With perhaps his best game since he was signed with the Eagles. Asomugha was great from the beginning, and let it be known early that he was here to play when he knocked away a pass intended for Johnson on the first drive. You knew it was Asomugha's day when he stuck with Johnson on a deep route, made a great play on the ball, and came away with the pick. I don't think he has done those 3 things this entire season, let alone on the same play. We will get into later how Juan Castillo decided to take him off of Johnson, but Asomugha earned his money yesterday.
Big Play From The Offense: With just under 7 minutes to go in the 4th quarter, the Eagles offense took the field after their last drive ended in an interception. The team needed a big play badly- and for the first time this season, the offense delivered a long scoring play. Michael Vick's 70 yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin was the team's longest play of the season, and at the time, felt like it put the game away. To make things even sweeter, it came against the blitz. Great play all around.
DeSean Jackson: DeSean Jackson's maturity into an all-around receiver this season continued yesterday. Jackson hauled in 5 catches for 74 yards yesterday, but it was his 30 yard catch down the sideline in the 3rd quarter that really stuck out to me. Jackson did a great job of bracing for contact but also making sure he kept his feet in bounds- something he has not always been great at. This was the year we all thought Jeremy Maclin would step up and take the next step, but in my opinion, it has been Jackson who took the leap.
Vick's Toughness: How Vick get hits the way he does and stays in the game is a minor miracle. He took shot after shot yesterday, and got right up after each one. How he has not missed even just one play this year is maybe the most unexpected story of this season so far.
Team Unity: In the 2nd half, after an Eagles punt, Colt Anderson and a member of the Lions started to jaw at each other after the play. When it started to get a little more heated, about 5 Eagles stepped in and got Anderson's back. How many Lions jumped in? None. At the time, I wrote in my notes that the unity the team showed on that play- and the lack thereof by the Lions- was the exact reason the Eagles are 4-2 and the Lions are 1-4. Whoops. The Eagles didn't get the win yesterday, but I still liked seeing one team sticking up for each other while the other team didn't. They went through a tough year last year and have faced some criticisms early on. They stick by- and stick up- for each other. Win or lose, that should be noted.
What I Didn't Like:
Juan Castillo: For the first time this season, Juan Castillo cost this team a game. The defense was absolutely rolling, holding the Lions to only 6 points through 3 quarters. The Lions had yet to convert a 3rd down, and Calvin Johnson had only 28 yards receiving. Then suddenly, it all fell apart. Castillo's decision to take Asomugha off of Johnson and put Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on him in the 4th quarter was needless to say a horrendously dumb decision. Why take a player who has having his best game of the year in Asomugha off of the game plan, and put a player who had not really dealt with Johnson all day on him? Especially when it mattered most! In addition, Castillo's decision to start blitzing late showed a weakness in him- it showed that he is listening to the fans. Fans screamed and screamed for him to blitz late last week, and this week he listened despite up until that point having a brilliant game plan. You know the saying- if you listen to the fans, you'll end up sitting with them. Many people will call for Castillo's firing today, but despite his horrible job on Sunday, it simply isn't fair to even talk about firing him. The defense has been very good in 4 of the 6 games, and is still in the top half of the league in points allowed.
Yesterday was the first game the defense cost the Eagles. In fact, considering they carried the offense to wins in the Cleveland and New York Giants game, the defense has carried the Eagles to more wins this season than it has cost them. Yesterday's loss reminded fans of last year, but Castillo's unit has not blown a 4th quarter lead in 13 games prior to Sunday. Don't say the Steelers game- because all they did was allow a field goal late. They still held the Steelers to 16 points. Castillo has to improve off of yesterday's performance and deserves to be criticized- but it's not time for him to go.
Marty Mornhinweg: If there is an assistant coach that needs to be on the hot seat, it is the offensive coordinator, not the defensive one. Morhinweg's play calling after the Lions pulled within 3 in the 4th quarter was awful. For the Eagles to burn roughly a minute off the clock in that situation is unacceptable. The defense was reeling, and they needed the offense to bail them out like they done for them multiple times this season- and they couldn't get the job done.
For the Eagles to be 30th in the league in points per game after 6 weeks is just not acceptable. If Castillo's unit was 31st in the league in points allowed right now, he would be gone. But Morhinweg has taken a unit that has maybe the most talent in the league on offense and done nothing with them. Have the turnovers hurt? Absolutely. But the Eagles offense has looked lost this year. For all of the flaws in Vick's game, isn't it the offensive coordinators job to mask them? Morhinweg has not done a good job this year. Point, blank, period.
Mardy Gilyard: The Eagles finally decided to give Damaris Johnson a break from punt returns, as he was inactive yesterday for the first time this season. Johnson's decision making has been poor, and hopefully a game off will let him step back and (in my Andy Reid voice) take a step forward when he returns. But with Johnson in street clothes, the decision to have Gilyard return punts instead of DeSean Jackson is a puzzling one. At this point, you have wonder if Jackson has told the coaches behind closed doors if he won't return punts consistently. Because that is the only reason I can think off to have Gilyard in there over Jackson yesterday.
Michael Vick: Following yesterday's loss, Michael Vick took the podium and was asked about what went wrong in the game. When asked about the fumbled snaps, he said he wasn't going to throw his teammates under the bus- then mentioned Dallas Reynolds by name. He was asked about the interceptions- and said the wind got one of the balls. I have defended Vick this year, and overall yesterday he did not have a horrible game. He was great in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, and was very sharp following his 1st interception. But yesterday at the podium, I didn't like Vick's attitude. I didn't like that he threw a teammate under the bus after saying he wouldn't, and I didn't like hearing another excuse about how the turnovers aren't his fault. I have said multiple times that Vick is the heart beat of this team- his confidence and toughness make his teammates love him. For the first time this season, Vick looked frustrated up at the podium. He looked like he had a problem on his hands he didn't think he could fix. I did not like what I saw from Vick yesterday. At all.
Defensive Line: Leading up to this week's game, Jason Babin tweeted that all items at his store were 20% off until he gets a sack. If he keeps this up, he might run the store out of business. I don't care what kind of blocking or play calling the opposing offense is doing- for the Eagles defensive line to not have a sack in 3 games is flat out unacceptable. Only 2 teams in the NFL have less than the 7 sacks the defensive unit has totaled in the first 6 games. The Eagles are in major trouble if the defensive line doesn't step it up, because this unit was built to create pressure generically. We saw yesterday that Castillo is not capable of dialing up blitzes at the right time. The defensive line is on track for 18 total sacks this year. That's how many Babin had by himself last year. The Eagles were afraid of a couple things going wrong coming into this season- the linebackers, the secondary, the offensive line. But after 6 games, it is the defensive line that has been the most disappointing unit on the team. That's something the Eagles likely never prepared for.
The Locker Room: I was in the locker room last week after the Steelers loss, and I was in there yesterday following the Lions game. The difference in attitude following the losses was remarkable. As Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer perfectly put it yesterday, there was no "false optimism". After the Steelers game, the players were proud of how they played and knew they would turn it around- whether we believed it or not. Yesterday the feeling in the locker room was that of a funeral. Is it was dead quite. No players talked for the first few minutes of media availability. Nnamdi Asomugha sat at his locker in full uniform for about a half hour with his head down. The feeling I got yesterday was that the player's didn't have an answer to what happened. They felt like it was last year, and they were scared to admit it. I won't pretend to be an amazing X's and O's guy, but I have been around this team since day 1 of training camp. I've seen the confidence in this team, the promise they will fix it, and the belief so deep in their core that they are a winning team. Yesterday was the first time I didn't sense that. This loss was a significant blow to this team's psyche. And for the first time all season, it seemed like a blow that even the players weren't sure they could recover from.
Follow Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks