10-6 last week, 107-73-1 overall
Polling across ESPN, NFL.com, and Sports Illustrated, 24 out of 27 season prognosticators picked the Eagles to win the NFC East in 2011. The Luriemobile stockpiled on free agent after free agent, loaded the roster with talent, and after 27 games with an 11-16 record, this entire team has fallen apart. If you can remember the last time a team was this loaded on paper and not only failed to meet expectations, but set the team so far back that it looks 3-4 years behind competing from where it was. The franchise that went to the NFC Championship game 5 times in a decade couldn’t finish off a 2-8 team at home last night. It wasn’t that long ago that I was commending Andy Reid on a monthly basis for his game planning. Now I’m wondering if his career, the careers of the core players in this disaster, or really the franchise as a whole, will ever heal from this.
At least not until they’re able to answer how this all went so horribly wrong that they’re a far worse team than the 9-6-1 scrappers that were a Larry Fitzgerald tour-de-force away from making the Super Bowl 4 years ago?
Let’s start behind center.
2009 – The usurping of Donovan McNabb begins. A restructuring of Donovan McNabb’s contract without an extension to give him more money appeased the surprise achievement of coming within a few plays of Super Bowl XLIII. McNabb was already on his way out. The Eagles had enough. McNabb’s lack of professionalism and polarization of the locker room were seen as an obstacle to a return to the title game, but where do you find a significantly greater talent without turning the salary structure upside down? Enter Michael Vick, fresh off the SS Dungy and out of prison, and needing both a fresh start and a quarterback guru. Who better than the guy who resurrected Jeff Garcia in McNabb’s absence on a franchise with a long history of successful scrambling quarterbacks. Philly goes 11-5, McNabb no-shows in the playoff game at Cowboys Stadium, Vick throws a touchdown. Stage set.
2010 – The renaissance of Michael Vick. Because they lost a hard-fought playoff game to Aaron Rodgers and an essentially unstoppable Packers team that year, it’s discounted even just two years later just how powerful a force in the NFL Vick’s resurgence was. It literally turned the league upside down. It got players in trouble for tweeting “even dogs are rooting for Vick right now”. It induced the greatest 12 minutes of sports radio history. It set up one of the defining NFL plays of the last 40 years. The undercurrent of this pleasant surprise was how well the Eagles had drafted in the past three seasons. DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy, and Brent Celek were all for real, and Andy Reid had been using them to a tee. This team was so close. Time to start buying.
2011 – The role confusion begins. The Eagles had brought so many new faces into the team that quite literally didn’t know what to do with all of them. Worse than that, they replaced a defenisve coordinator with an offensive line coach. If you look back at the great corners in the modern era: Deion, Revis, etc., they were schematic loners. They weren’t integrated into the defensive game plan on a sophisticated level. They were given a guy to take care of, and they were taken care of. That’s what made them great. They allowed you to focus ten men primarily on one side of the field, which is truly a tremendous advantage. Nnamdi Asomugha, while a phenomenal athlete, is not versatile. He does one thing, he does it at a world class level. He locks receivers down. This was deconstructed for him in his time in Philly, and his confidence was deconstructed soon thereafter. It’s a shame.
…and really, alot of those Philly signings went down that path. Steve Smith was totally unnecessary because Vick never needed route-runners to be succesful on the outside, just speedsters and athletes. Ronnie Brown wasn’t getting you tough yards because their offensive line wasn’t that good (hey, it didn’t have to be, and you can’t plan your O-line around scrambling AND power running. It takes two different kinds of athletes). Jason Babin had alot of sacks last year, but he only had 40 total tackles. If he wasn’t successfully rushing, he was basically invisible. Babin was never a complete player, and shouldn’t have been treated like one. DRC would have been great as a second corner with appropriate safety help and Nnamdi manning up on the other side, but the franchise put too much on Asante Samuel, who plays a totally different style of cornerback and could never coexist with Nnamdi since DAY ONE and yet the front office never realized this. They’re all great names, but if you completely ignore the extrinsic factors upon their greatness: the systems that made their talents visible, the situations in which they thrive, the coaching that diminishes their weaknesses, then you don’t get what you pay for. Free agent signings work when you realize both what the players talents are and how they will mesh with your scheme and coaching. The Eagles ignored the latter, and have gotten burned badly.
Thursday Night Football
Broncos at Raiders – That being said, very few players have the intrinsic greatness of Peyton Manning, who overcame a change in scenery, range of motion, receivers, coaches, division, and culture to lead a 9-3 Broncos team into the black hole. With certain teams playing bad out loud like the Jets and Eagles, it’s kind of been easier to ignore just how futile the 2012 Raiders have been. Last year this team would have had a shot, but unfortunately the coaching and front office moves that made them a borderline playoff contender last year were blown off by impatient firings. The Raiders’ stars have been taken away from what made them better, and it’s time we buried them for good. Broncos 30, Raiders 10.