Everybody loves a gritty player who gets slammed and hops up right away for the next down. I love it, you love it, Chip Kelly loves it. And the Eagles have a ton of tough guys:
- Brent Celek, taking two preseason hits that literally knocked his helmet off, and coming back for more.
- Nick Foles, nearly suplexed on Chris Baker's cheap hit, staggering up to finish the game against Washington.
- Shady, flattened by a helmet to helmet spear-tackle in the Washington game, shaking it off to come right back in.
- Rookie Josh Huff, scoring a touchdown by flying recklessly through the pile on a kickoff return.
This team plays as tough as anybody in the NFL. But I'm starting to wonder if playing tough is why this team is playing so poorly. They look like they've taken too many shots to the head.
Foles plays confused, unable to see open receivers or accurately judge the distance of his throws. Celek hasn’t been the same since those two hits; in the games that count, he’s 3 for 11 for a total of 15 yards. (He averaged more than 15 yards per catch last year.) And even his famously solid blocking is falling apart.
Shady has 29 yards total -- on 27 carries -- since that hat-on-hat hit. Huff ran another kick back from deep in the end zone after his TD, and suffered a severe AC sprain injury (basically a separated shoulder) that has kept him off the field since.
I didn't notice Riley Cooper taking a hard hit, but he's sure playing like it, and he only got better in the last game against San Francisco. (Coop was 6 for 8, despite that horrible drop in the end zone.) That's the pattern of a recovery from injury.
Maybe we should stop cheering every quick return to the game after a brutal hit. Stop celebrating the stoic, macho behavior. Encourage Foles to throw it away more, Shady to dodge rather than put his head down, Huff to chill a bit and let the game come to him.
Because the danger isn't injury. it's playing foggy because you're "a tough guy," and continuing to take shots, and getting worse.
We know football players get brain damage from concussions. We know that recently slammed brains are more vulnerable to additional damage from hard hits. And we can all see these players performing below their potential. People are starting to look like zombies.
Obviously, the NFL needs to crack down on teams like Washington, whose defenders were blatantly leading with their helmets against the Birds. But we can't wait for them to do their jobs. They've failed to protect players' brains for 94 years, and it's not going to change in week five of this season. The Eagles (and every other team) need to take care of themselves first.
I'm concerned about these players as people. I've talked to them, they're cool guys. But even if you would willingly feed their bodies into the boiler of the Eagles victory machine, that's a stupid strategy. Because it's not working. I don't want to see players out injured. But I also don't want this season to turn into an episode of "The Walking Dead."