The Philadelphia Eagles emerge from the bye week with a 3-3 record on the heels of the figurative sacrifice of the oft criticized and frequently over matched “offensive-line coach turned defensive coordinator” Juan Castillo. Although most around the league (and fan base) knew the Castillo experiment was destined for failure, it regrettably took Andrew Reid and the rest of the Eagles brain trust 22 games to reach that conclusion – a frightening realization. However, despite the maddening mediocrity that has dominated the narrative of the 2012 Philadelphia Eagles – there still is reason to believe that the next 10 games may prove successful – and the requisite success needed to save Michael Vick and Reid’s jobs in Philadelphia may still be attainable. Many will say that the Eagles are one defensive stop against the Pittsburgh Steelers and a tighter fourth-quarter performance versus Detroit away from being 5-1 and among the elite in the NFC. However, that same “could be 5-1 team” is an easy dropped interception by a Cleveland Brown rookie, [extremely] questionable offensive pass interference call on a Ravens wide-out, and oh-so-close Lawrence Tynes field goal miss from being 0-6. Somewhere within those three iterations (5-1, 3-3, and 0-6) is the true identity of the current Eagles – however, this week’s match up against the Atlanta Falcons very well be the crystallizing moment of the 2012 campaign.
In his career with the Eagles, Reid is an otherworldly 13-0 after the bye in the regular season [somehow, his two-week preparation success could not extend to postseason victory in the 2004/05 Super Bowl]. Now, Reid’s fourteenth post-bye opportunity may be the most critical of his career. A win over the 6-0 Falcons will alleviate some of the pressure mounting in South Philadelphia – it would serve as justification for replacing Castillo with first-year secondary coach turned interim d-coordinator Todd Bowles [TEMPLE-TOUGH!], may help restore the team’s swagger, and would stand as a victory over a quality NFC opponent. A loss [at home], would be devastating. A loss to the Falcons would be a third consecutive loss before the team embarks on a difficult two-game stretch against a desperate New Orleans team on the road and an emotional match up against the Dallas Cowboys. A loss to Atlanta may send the Eagles on an irreversible downward spiral that would claim both Vick and Reid in the process. As such, the writing on the wall is painstakingly clear – victory against Atlanta on Sunday is necessary.
While the Delaware Valley and greater Northeast United States will be hoping that Hurricane Sandy reverses track, spins itself out to sea, and spares the region potential catastrophe – the presence of the effects of the dreaded Frankenstorm may work to the Eagles’ benefit. As such, I am one of the few Philadelphians who prefers the storm hit the Delaware Valley – if only for the effects on the Eagles’ playbook. The gale-force winds and driving rain predicted for South Philadelphia on Sunday will likely force Reid to scale-down his playbook. Rather than throw the ball an asinine 45, 50 or 55 times against the Falcons on Sunday as would be his typical preference (despite the team’s below average run-defense), Reid may be forced to alter his approach and, dare I say, run the ball – and the run the ball repeatedly. If on-field performance is not sufficient to prove to Reid the inherent value of a more balanced offensive approach (see 19-17 Week 4 victory over the NY Giants), perhaps Mother Nature will force even her most stubborn son into [a much needed] adjustment. At this point, one can only hope that some positive emerges from the most recent storm of the century, if that positive is a 25 carry, 150-yard day from LeSean McCoy, so be it.
As has already been made abundantly clear, this week serves as Waterloo for Andy [Reid] Bonaparte and his Philadelphia Eagles. In order to achieve a superior fate than that of the Lilliputian Frenchmen banned to Elba following defeat at Waterloo, the Eagles must finally put together a complete performance. Bobby April’s special teams unit can no longer be dreadful. Bowles’ defense must find a way to get to Falcon quarterback, and do so consistently. And Vick, Reid, and the rest of the offense must find a way to protect the football and find the end zone – often. Through six games, the Eagles have mustered the 31st ranked scoring offense in football, better than only the dreadful Jacksonville Jaguars [a team whose owner has spent the better part of a month trying to market his franchise to European fans out of necessity]. Against Atlanta, this inept offensive unit must find a way to synthesize two weeks of preparation into a dominant performance on Sunday in South Philadelphia.
Although 6-0, the Falcons have had the benefit of the easiest schedule in football thus far in 2012. As such, the Eagles do not necessarily face a Goliath-like juggernaut this week, but instead face a team that has been opportunistic against poor opponents. To be effective Sunday, the Eagles need to assert themselves – rather than allow Atlanta to follow their preferred script. To this point, the Falcons have masked a porous run defense by scoring early and forcing opponents to throw on an above-average secondary led by old-friend [and personal enemy] Asante Samuel and stud free-safety Thomas DeCoud. If Reid tries to beat the Falcons on the strength of Vick’s arm and wizardry concocted in conjunction with clone Marty Mornhinweg, he will fail and likely earn his walking papers in the process. However, should Reid look to McCoy [and the other 3 running backs who he deems worthy of roster spots] to take some of the pressure off Vick and manage the flow of the game, he may make significant strides in saving both his job and the 2012 season.
To beat Atlanta, the Eagles must make to significant improvements: they must run the ball effectively and they must apply consistent pressure against Matt Ryan. Effective running will require both 1) intelligent play-calling and 2) improved play by the offensive line. Although the Eagles failed to find any real personnel upgrades along the offensive line during the bye-week [despite calling in former first-round pick and Chicago Bear Chris Williams for a work-out], I believe that Howard Mudd will be able to find a way to get consistent, improved play out of the mass up front. With that, the onus falls on Reid to give Shady the rock – and stick by running the football throughout four quarters. On the defensive side of the football, the presence of Bowles rather than Castillo should eradicate much of the painful predictability the Gang Green defense has featured since September. Perhaps Bowles intuition will enable the greenhorn coordinator to channel his inner Jim Johnson and confuse Ryan and the Atlanta offense with a variety of different defensive looks. Expect blitz combinations involving Mychal Kendricks, Kurt Coleman, and Nnamdi Asomugha to augment the pressure applied by the front-four to knock Ryan off his game and help the Eagles register its first sack in nearly a month. Similarly, a consistent pass-rush will reduce the explosiveness of an Atlanta receiving corps that features dynamic weapons in the form of Roddy White, Julio Jones and first-ballot Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez.
The formula is simple – a balanced attack and protecting the football, combined with a less predictable defensive scheme should translate into an Eagles victory on Sunday. However, nothing is ever so simple with Reid and the Eagles. This game hinges upon the Eagles’ ability to address the flaws that enabled the 3 maddening losses [2 in very winnable games] prior to the bye week. Reid feels the hangman’s [Lurie, Jeffrey] noose tightening around his neck and knows the Eagles must win if the postseason is to be anything other than another irrelevant noun in the collective vocabulary of the Delaware Valley. The desperate are rarely predictable, expect the unexpected.
Eagles 31, Falcons 17.Tags: Andy Reid, Asante Samuel, Bobby April, Browns, Eagles, Falcons, Giants, Howard Mudd, Jeffrey Lurie, Jim Johnson, Juan Castillo, Julio Jones, Kurt Coleman, LeSean McCoy, Marty Mornhinweg, Matt Ryan, Michael Vick, Mychal Kendricks, Nnamdi Asomugha, Roddy White, Steelers, Thomas DeCloud, Todd Bowles, Tony Gonzalez