We’re stumbling into our last “State of the Eagles” post before the end of the season, and things have taken a much gloomier turn since the last time I checked in on them. Considering how the Eagles have been producing an unofficial sequel to Edge of Tomorrow with their highly repetitive and uninspiring performances, I’m not going to beat a dead horse with narratives. Instead, I’m going beyond the dead horse (yes, I actually typed that) to try and get to the true cause of the Eagles’ problems.
In this article:
· Discussing the fallout - or lack thereof - from the devastating loss to the Dolphins
· Taking a shot at an RCA for the Eagles’ woes
· Looking ahead to the end of the regular season
So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish
That was a phrase famously uttered in Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by - you may have guessed - dolphins, right before they abandoned an Earth that was facing impending destruction. I imagine something similar was said to the Eagles by the Dolphins as they more or less destroyed the Eagles’ playoff hopes, much in the same way the Vogons destroyed Earth to make way for a hyperspace bypass in Adams’ novel. (Yes, I know the Eagles still control their destiny. They’re not going anywhere, nor do they deserve to.)
What’s perhaps more frustrating than losing to THE DOLPHINS is the complete lack of ramifications afterwards. I had a whole outline set up for this post to discuss the hammer that Doug would surely bring down on his own coaching staff, and who should be brought in when the dust settles. I half-jokingly told coworkers I don’t want the Eagles to win again until they start firing assistants. And yet, we receive news that nobody is getting fired. Everyone keeps their jobs and makes the same boilerplate statements accepting responsibility for a horrendous loss. Everything’s peachy. Oh sure, we get a report that heads will roll after the season ends, pending a miraculous playoff run. And if the Eagles improbably fall backwards into the playoffs, and somehow manage to make the NFC Championship Game, is anyone really getting fired? No. Are they drinking the Kool-Aid and conveniently ignoring the festering problems that has led to this embarrassment of a season? Yes. And this is why coaches need to get fired now, because any unlikely, odds-defying playoff run does not vindicate the horrible product the Eagles’ leadership has vomited onto the field. It just hides it behind a glossy veneer that has trapped this team in mediocrity since the Super Bowl. And when you’ve just handed your quarterback $128,000,000, mediocrity is unacceptable.
There is one - exactly one - argument for making the playoffs, and that is to get Carson Wentz experience playing in January. If Pederson signs an affidavit that Groh, Walch, and Taylor are all goners regardless, then I am all in on that. If not, I’m tempted to say that replacing those assistants with competent offensive minds on the heels of a failed season is more important for Carson’s long-term development than getting downright trounced at the Linc by the 13-3 49ers (who will hilariously be a wild card team) while freezing his ass off in January. Nothing like a playoff beatdown and the predictable circling wagons of the Foles Truthers for the next eight months to boost the confidence of your young single-caller, am I right?
But I digress.
IT’S THE WHOLE TEAM!
Kelce’s famous Super Bowl victory speech featured the “team effort” vibe of the 2017 Eagles, but his mantra can apply to the failures of the 2019 Eagles as well. And I’m not talking about Carson, or the receivers, or the secondary - we all know about those things. I’m going straight to the top with Eagles brass, as it is a combination of their failures that has produced this latest crushing loss to the hapless Miami Dolphins.
In engineering, there is a problem-solving process called a root cause analysis (RCA) that is essentially designed to follow the bread crumbs of cause-and-effect until you can’t go any farther (hence the term “root cause”). Obviously as outsiders we can’t do a formal RCA with the Eagles, but we can be lazy and connect some dots and call it one to make ourselves feel smart.
I want to begin with the interesting report by Chris Mortensen (linked earlier in this post) about how “significant” coaching staff changes are coming because Lurie holds people accountable when the team is “underperforming.” But the frustrating thing is, can we really say this team is underperforming, as currently constructed? Check out this roster management:
- Second-oldest team in the league (the Patriots are the oldest and are also dealing with a slew of injuries - funny how that works, huh?)
- Spent a second round pick on Jeffery’s replacement, and then reworked Jeffery’s contract to make it next to impossible to move on from him in 2020
- That second round pick notably did not go to a speed receiver, making their only viable deep threat a guy who is 33 and hadn’t played anything close to a full season in 3 years
- The defensive line, a position in need of depth, was all but ignored in a draft that was considered historically deep for defensive linemen (the one lineman they did take on Day 3 is a project who was going to be little more than a wasted roster spot on a supposedly championship-caliber team)
- Instead of drafting cheap, young talent, another guy on the wrong side of 30 was signed, who had been previously benched by the Jaguars, for $30 million
Now, things have obviously not been all bad with Howie this year - the Dillard pick was genius, and the Jordan Howard trade was an obvious win, even with his mysterious “stinger” injury that has kept him sidelined for the last month. And if you look at the above moves in a vacuum, there is solid logic behind them - DeSean was still the league’s top deep threat, Malik Jackson had never missed a game, and Arcega-Whiteside brought a jump ball element to an offense that couldn’t punch it in last season.
The issue is that football does not occur in a vacuum. Look over that list as a summation of offseason moves. Does that look like a coherent plan? Does that look like an efficient use of team resources? To me, it appears that for 2019, Howie missed the forest for the trees, preferring to address each of the team’s issues in their own separate silos instead of working to make the team better than the sum of its parts. And yeah, we can complain with the benefit of hindsight, but this isn’t our job either. When you are allegedly one of the best in the world at your job, you aren’t supposed to make these kinds of mistakes.
Adding in the Eagles’ abysmal coaching staff was like tossing water onto a grease fire. The offensive coordinator - a critical position in Doug’s collaborative environment - had been relieved of that same title in the past by his own father. The defensive coordinator systematically sells out to stop the run in a league that wins by passing the ball. The Eagles’ weakest positional coaches are their secondary, wide receiver, and quarterback coaches. These coincidentally are the positions most critical to a successful passing offense and defense in a passing league. Two of the three - secondary and wide receiver - coincide with the positions where the Eagles have the shallowest depth. The third has depth, but the starter is young and very clearly in need of strong coaching, and you’re not going to get that in the form of a first-year, 31-year-old position coach that most likely projects the authority of a wet carrot. This entire roster and coaching setup was a disaster waiting to happen - a bomb planted by Doug with his inexcusable hiring tactics and a fuse lit by Howie with his disjointed personnel decisions. And as far as I’m concerned, from an outsider’s perspective that’s as close to a root cause of this mess as you’re going to get. This wasn’t just some bad play-calling, or a broken Carson Wentz, or a poor secondary, or an incompetent medical staff.
IT’S THE WHOLE TEAM.
Win-Loss Predictions: Games 13-16
Week 14, vs New York Giants: It’s hard to pick the Eagles to win any of their remaining games after their implosion against Miami, but I think they get a win here. Daniel Jones is not Fitzmagic and the Giants’ defense is horrifically bad. I do think this game is closer than we would have guessed going into the season, but Doug still manages to pull one out – and put out some fires in the process, if only temporarily. Eagles win, 26-24
Week 15, at Washington Redskins: The Skins have won 2 in a row, with one of the wins coming on the road where they were 10 point underdogs. They’re starting to find their footing and are hanging tough against mediocre-to-bad teams, which is what the Eagles are. In an echo of the frustrating 2014 season, the Eagles drop this game – and any remaining playoff hopes along with it – in Landover. Eagles lose, 27-20
Week 16, vs Dallas Cowboys: With the season all but over, older veterans start mailing it in. This won’t be quite the embarrassment it was earlier in the season, but the Cowboys have had the Eagles’ number in the Doug Pederson era, and it’s hard to imagine things changing now. Eagles lose, 31-21
Week 17, at New York Giants: In a meaningless Week 17 game, the Eagles sack Daniel Jones 6 times en route to a hollow victory that hurts their draft position. Eagles win, 20-14
If you’re keeping score at home, we’re looking at a 7-9 season for the Birds, which feels right given how they’ve performed this system. So what’s the silver lining to this? Is there one? As our wannabe RCA above showed, their largest problems are institutional: uncoordinated roster building and poor hiring practices. The good news with institutional problems is that when they are fixed a team can bounce back quickly and in a big way. The bad news with institutional problems is that they are the hardest ones to face, since they imply a fundamental flaw in the methodologies utilized by team leadership. It takes a lot of maturity to admit that your tactics were not only bad, but actively detrimental to your team’s success. With Lurie’s watchful eye bearing down on them, the onus is on Pederson and Howie to face these realities and act quickly and decisively to rectify them – or they might find themselves without jobs in 2021, if not sooner.
What will the Eagles final record be?
This poll is closed
Give me that sweet, sweet draft positioning