A humiliating loss to the Saints on national television -- thanks to spectacular red zone failures, disinterested defensive play, and general brain farts galore -- has the Eagles at 3-5 and on the brink. Nothing new to see here, folks, just a lot of the same old you-know-what. But if there's one silver lining, at least if this season ends in disaster -- which appears destined -- it will bring about much-needed change. Finally.
As I drove home from work Monday night, the radio host mentioned the Saints hadn't lost a game in November since 2008. That seemed like a bad omen. Sure enough, it was. Honestly, I don't feel like wasting a lot of time with a lede for this game recap. I'm exasperated and fatigued, an utterly defeated man begging for mercy. What more can I say that I haven't already for years?
This game sucked, the Eagles are bad, and they now have the worst point differential in the NFC. The offense showed its true colors tonight and scored 13 points against the worst defense in NFL history. A defense that this offense made look ferocious and opportunistic. A defense that registered 21 fantasy points, after accumulating a total of 31 through the first seven games (with a high of 9).
1. LeSean McCoy. Ran hard, as usual, and busted chunks of yardage on seemingly every first-half carry. But, as has happened more than a few times this season, Shady's lack of long speed got him caught from behind (see: 34-yard gain down to the New Orleans 4). The inability to hit that final gear and finish these breakout runs has cost the Eagles touchdowns, especially since their red zone offense is beyond pitiful and produces either a field goal or turnover.
2. First half rushing. Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg must have been disgusted at halftime to see the Eagles had racked up 156 yards rushing. I'm very much looking forward to the day we have a coach who builds the offense around a rushing attack featuring LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown (who flashed against the Saints). Apparently, a lot of the big runs came courtesy of Michael Vick audibling at the line. Andy and Marty, clearly displeased with such tomfoolery, set out to make sure the run game would do no more damage in the second half. They succeeded in their efforts. I don't want to hear people hide behind the "we were down double-digit points" horse shit. It's another empty excuse in a long line of them. Teams have erased three-possession deficits by running the ball, so it's not unprecedented. But God forbid the Eagles get back in the game by pounding the rock even when it's working, right?
3. Special teams. More than a few times on Twitter it was mentioned that Chris Polk had been useless on special teams this season, accounting for zero points based on Bobby April's scoring system. Not anymore. Polk punched the ball out on the kickoff immediately following DeSean's 77-yard touchdown, and Brandon Hughes fell on the fumble.
Of course I loved the ingenuity on the Music City Miracle-esque throwback to Riley Cooper, who evaded detection by lying down and camouflaging himself in the painted Saints' "S" in the end zone. It was a wonderful, brilliant design -- right out of the Annexation of Puerto Rico family. Too bad Brandon Boykin threw a forward pass instead of a lateral. Oh well. Good job. Good effort.
4. David Sims. Yeah, he took a bad angle and whiffed on the Chris Ivory touchdown run, but I actually think Sims played a damn impressive game overall. He, at 5'9", was matched up against Jimmy Graham, who stands 6'6", in a no-win situation way too many times. To Sims' credit, he immediately tackled the gifted tight end after each catch and once made a nice play to swat the ball away. I liked what I saw and think Sims belongs. At least he's one guy on defense who can tackle.
1. Defense. Drew Brees didn't even have to dazzle in this game yet still finished with an efficient 8.9 yards per attempt. He did it from a clean pocket most of the time as the Eagles once again failed to generate consistent pressure, although in the second half they graduated to generating sporadic pressure. While the pass defense didn't offer much in the way of resistance, neither did the run defense, which the Saints, with their dead last-ranked rushing attack (72 yards per game), gashed repeatedly for 139 yards on 24 carries. Now imagine how things could've gone had Darren Sproles been healthy.
2. Tackling. I didn't see the necessary effort. Plenty of weak arm tackle attempts, not properly wrapping up the ball-carrier, getting dragged for extra yards. It's an epidemic again, just like it was last season. Looks like the Eagles are getting burned by the miscalculated scapegoating of Juan Castillo. Oops.
1. Pass protection. It was a free-for-all whenever Michael Vick dropped back to pass in the first half, prompting Jimmy Kempski to quip that the embattled quarterback was safer in jail. Don't mind Jimmy, he's just spitting truth. Dallas Reynolds appeared to botch a number of pre-snap blocking calls, Dennis Kelly looked completely lost, and both King Dunlap and Todd Herremans (who sustained a serious ankle injury and appears to be starting offensive lineman number three lost for the season) struggled with whatever defensive end came at them. Demetress Bell replaced Herremans and was exponentially worse. Evan Mathis didn't suck, so there's that. Vick never even had a chance most of the time. When he did, he underwhelmed. Per usual. By the way, for those of you who want to give Andy Reid a pass because of the injury-plagued offensive line, I direct you to the Steelers, a team that has encountered a similar problem but seems to be getting by okay. Edit: Like they always do.
Officially, Vick was hit on 18 of 53 dropbacks, but it felt like more than that. Here's a hint, Marty/Andy: Stop dropping him back, if only for his health. It's not like anything positive had consistently happened in the passing game anyway. In fact, aside from DeSean Jackson's 77-yard touchdown, the only positive things that happened on offense came on run plays. I wasn't being facetious when I went on an in-game Twitter rampage and wrote that every offensive snap should've been a run.
2. Scoring points. Stop me if this sounds familiar: 447 yards gained (actually 28 less than the Saints were giving up per game), just 13 points scored. Could there be a better stat to capture the true essence of all-style-no-substance? These are your Eagles in a nut shell, and the futility is record-setting. Lather, rinse, repeat. This team scored 13 points against the worst defense in NFL history, one that was giving up 31 points per game on the season. I'm not even mad anymore; if anything, I think I'm kind of impressed.
The problems with the Eagles are deep-seated, they are foundational, and they are NOT fixable in-season. If they were fixable, the same mistakes wouldn't be repeated ad nauseum each and every game. Sorry, Andy, time's almost up. Wish it didn't have to be this way, but you're leaving no other choice.
2. Red zone offense. Red zone incompetence, it's a staple of the Andy Reid era. This season is par for the course. On 20 red zone plays, Marty/Andy called 17 passes and three runs. On 20 red zone plays, the Eagles gained -24 yards (-123 if you count the interception return for a touchdown). Five times the Eagles had the ball inside the 15-yard line and didn't score a SINGLE touchdown. Only the Eagles could do this. No, for real, ONLY the Eagles. The Eagles' red zone offense actually netted -1 points total. The entire debacle is nearly unconscionable. But we're talking about the Eagles, so I guess nothing should be unconscionable. Congratulations, boys, you managed to outdo yourselves this time.
The Eagles had 1st and Goal four separate times. Here's how each drive ended:
Drive #1, 2nd & Goal from NO 6: After three straight running plays that went for 8, 40, and -1 yards, Marty/Andy thought it would be a prudent idea to call a pass play, despite the disastrous state of the offensive line. What followed was classic Eagles. We saw it at the end of the half against Arizona on a fumble return for touchdown, and this time we were treated to the same result via interception. Here's the ESPN.com box score play-by-play: "M.Vick pass short left intended for B.Celek INTERCEPTED by P.Robinson at NO 1. P.Robinson for 99 yards, TOUCHDOWN. PENALTY on PHI-M.Vick, Low Block, 15 yards, enforced between downs. The penalty for a low block during the interception return will be assessed on the ensuing kickoff." Vick made a poor throw, Celek reached out and deflected the ball with his fingertips right into the waiting hands of Patrick Robinson.
Drive #2, 1st & Goal at NO 4: LeSean McCoy had just ripped off a 34-yard gain and was summarily taken out of the game to catch his breath, I guess. Here's how the next three plays went: Handoff to Bryce Brown for no gain, shovel pass to Shady for no gain (courtesy of a Dennis Kelly missed block), pass incomplete to DeSean Jackson (who sure looked like he should have caught the ball), Alex Henery 22-yard field goal.
Drive #3, 1st & Goal at NO 8: Michael Vick pass incomplete, Michael Vick sacked at NO 19 for -11 yards, Michael Vick pass incomplete. Not handing the ball off to LeSean McCoy on 1st and Goal from the 8 should be a fireable offense. I mean it.
Drive #4, 1st & Goal at NO 5: Michael Vick pass complete to Clay Harbor for no gain but a penalty for illegal man downfield on Demetress Bell pushes ball back to NO 10, Michael Vick pass incomplete to LeSean McCoy but penalty on -- guess who! -- Demetress Bell for a false start, Michael Vick sacked for -7 yards, Michael Vick passes complete to Brent Celek who fumbles at the NO 8 and, after momentarily falling on the ball, has it squirt out. Saints recover.
3. Second half play-calling. Seven touches for LeSean McCoy in the second half, including ONE in the third quarter. Totally unacceptable, especially given what Shady did in the first half. Listen, the DeSean touchdown was nice, but why did Andy/Marty call for three straight passes inside the Saints' 20-yard line after the ensuing kick return fumble recovery? How does Shady not get even a single touch on that series? Andy's smug answer to that same question during his post-game press conference was so arrogant and aggravating, it made me want to destroy my TV. And wouldn't you know it, that recovered fumble, which presented a chance to build on the budding momentum, resulted in a meek field goal. As far as I was concerned, that's when the Eagles' chances of winning ceased to exist.
I don't know how many times I yelled, "WHY THE FUCK ARE WE IN FUCKING SHOTGUN GODDAMMIT FUCK ALL OF YOU ASSHOLES!!!!!!" in the second half, but it happened a lot. Then again, my (irrational?) reaction was predicated on a deep desire to see the Eagles continue to run the ball no matter what. Also, can someone explain to me the rationale in running empty backfield sets when the offensive line can't block anyone? To compound it, Vick somehow appeared surprised when a free Saints blitzer was in his face as soon as he received the snap.
Overall, aside from the indefensible decision not to give Shady the ball in the second half, the coaching actually wasn't to blame. Schemes and designs were fine, the execution was not. Ho hum. Trent Dilfer on the post-game show said the Eagles simply didn't have the players to get the job done. He and Steve Young both called the Eagles' situation "catastrophic." An undermanned squad, ravaged by injury but without enough talent at the backup positions to persevere... yeah, sounds pretty catastrophic to me.
4. Hugh Douglas. Uh oh, even Big Hugh has turned on these Eagles. I thought last year was ugly, but I'm not sure I've ever seen Philadelphia fans plain HATE a team more than this one. "Unlikeable" is by far the most frequently used adjective when Eagles fans talk about this team.
Same shit, different season. And just in case you were wondering, the Eagles haven't hit rock bottom yet. That loss to the Saints was dreadful, no doubt, but the opportunity to truly hit rock bottom will present itself Sunday at home against the Cowboys. If the Eagles perform as they have all season, it'll happen. Jason Babin thought he heard appalling stuff from the enraged fans before? Get your earmuffs ready, dude, because you ain't heard nothin' yet. The rancor will be even more venomous,
perhaps likely with the accompaniment of hard projectiles. Although I guess if there's one team that could outdo the Eagles, it's these hilariously inept Cowboys. I'm not counting on it, though. This situation is a Molotov cocktail ready to explode, let's see if the Eagles finish the job and light it on fire.