With Clock Ticking On Their Season The Eagles Have Gone Soft by Matt Lombardo

With the Eagles issues and losses mounting, national voices are now questioning the heart and character of Andy Reid’s football team. With the clock ticking on Philadelphia’s season, it appears that Reid’s house of cards may very well be collapsing. 

Some time ago Andy Reid built football teams had the hallmarks of toughness, aggressiveness, attention to detail and of being some of the most fundamentally sound in the National Football League. Those days, like the ones where the Eagles actually earned the reputation of contenders instead of having the label slapped on them before the season began, are long gone. Don’t look now, but the Eagles have gone woefully soft in the span of five regular season games.

On the field, the Eagles defense is one that continues to employ a scheme that puts the most pressure on its weakest positions. It has mightily struggled in the most fundamental area of tackling. Worse yet, after reviewing the game tapes of the last two weeks its clear there are now players that are walking around on the field. Offensively the Eagles don’t protect the ball, they carry it with abandon and Michael Vick has become a turnover machine with ten in the first five weeks.

Bills linebacker Nick Barnett, who had two interceptions and a touchdown on Sunday, spelled out the key to their success over the Birds.

“We knew several Eagles have been very loose with the ball,” Barnett said.

There’s really no need to even review the tapes in search of signs that this team may be on the verge of rolling over. The Eagles opponents have spelled it out clear as day in back to back weeks.

“I think playing that second half and the way we came out, the Eagles didn’t want to play no more,” Frank Gore said last week. “We just kept pounding and making plays and we kind of knocked the fight out of them.”

After being taken to the woodshed by a fellow NFL player, you would think the players in this locker room would stand up and a show stronger effort produced on Sunday against the Bills. Obviously that hasn’t occurred.

“Some Eagles flat-out give up if things aren’t going their way,” Said one unnamed Bills player to Yahoo! Sports on Sunday.

After two games, two different opponents have now taken this veteran laden roster to ask for not showing effort.

The adage that a team is a direct reflection of its head coach is a very accurate one, and this team looks as clueless on Sunday as its coach does on a weekly basis discussing those Sunday failures. Reid has never been forthcoming, cordial or open in his weekly press briefings. But, this season, the mood is even more cantankerous than it’s been for the previous 12 and it’s written all over his face that he is in over his head this time.

“You keep working and working and working, teaching and teaching and teaching, and the more reps the players get the better.”

“There’s a couple things, but we’ve got to keep working Is what we need to do, and then make sure that we’re putting the guys in the right position where they can make tackles.”

“I’ve said it before. It’s important from my seat to make sure I evaluate if we’re putting the players in the right positions to make plays, and then if the players put in the right positions aren’t making the plays, why, if they are there, that’s not taking place.”

Believe it or not, those were the answers to three different questions probing the Head Coach for specific ways to fix this mess that’s quickly spiraling out of control. More damning than the coach non-speak that Reid shovels towards the media and loyal fanbase on a weekly basis is that the issues he is being questioned about are the same on a game by game basis with no changes or noticeable improvement taking place.

The Eagles turnover ratio is now at -10, earning that by racking up 15 takeaways through five games, they only had four through that amount of games last year.  The Eagles defense allows an average of 25 points per game, a far cry from the 17 or less mandate of the late Jim Johnson. Finally, the offense that was supposed to be so high powered averages a little more than 23 points per game.

The search for answers for this team and its coach continues now that they’re off to the worst start for this franchise since 1999, the coach’s first season. Now multiple sources say that high ranking members of the front office are discussing the possibility of hiring a defensive consultant or going above Reid’s head and forcing his hand to restructure the defensive coaching staff.

The bottom line is, Reid promoted his 13- year offensive line coach to defensive coordinator this season and the results, be it due to lack of talent or scheme, have been catastrophic. There’s nowhere to point the blame but on Reid. Teams have converted 11 of 14 trips to the Red Zone this season for touchdowns. The tackling has been abysmal. And perhaps worst of all, despite what they say to the contrary, the signs are there that the players have at best lost faith in their coordinator and at worst begun to quit on him.

As much as the Eagles want you to believe that they’re still a viable competitor to win the mediocre NFC East, the simple facts are these: only 5 teams out of 100 to have started 1-4 since the current playoff format began in 1990 have made the playoffs and no team has fought back from 1-5 to reach the postseason.

In order to claw their way back to a 10-6 season, the Eagles would need to finish 9-2 the rest of the way. It isn’t impossible given the propensity of Reid coached teams to turn around slow starts. However, this team doesn’t have the character or the fundamental skills to withstand that sort of pressure week after week.

For example, take Jeremy Maclin’s exchange with a reporter on Sunday when asked simply about how to eliminate turnovers.

“It just happens,” Maclin said. “There’s no pinpoint reason why you’re turning the ball over. Don’t ask dumb questions like that. It’s not the coach that’s turning the ball over. It’s us out there playing. Period. Watch out, get out of my face.”

The third year receiver couldn’t stand up to the pressure of a post game questioner, let alone the anvil of a season about to quickly crash on an overhyped but immensely talented football team. Minutes before Maclin’s outburst, his head coach threatened to walk off the podium of his post game press conference when reporters failed to ask a single question within the first five seconds.

The traits of Eagles teams a long time ago in an era that is now nothing but a memory have now been replaced by traits such as mental weakness, disinterest and sloppiness.

Perhaps with the Eagles season nearly over less than a third of the way into the schedule, perhaps this era that slipped away almost as quickly may be on its way to being over as well.

Matt Lombardo is the Philadelphia Eagles beat  reporter and host for 97.3 ESPN in Atlantic City, NJ. Matt can be reached on Twitter @MattLombardoPHL or by Email at MDLombardo@yahoo.com


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