Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie made it abundantly clear this offseason that Andy Reid needed to deliver a good season. Lurie didn't lay out specific goals, but let everyone know that 8-8 wasn't good enough. He wants the Eagles to get back to winning the division and being a force in the postseason. Missing the playoffs is unacceptable. Heck, getting in as the fifth or sixth seed might not be good enough.
Reid didn't back away from the expectations. He embraced them. He's said several times that his goal is to go win the Super Bowl. That's true for all coaches, but most back away from saying it aloud since fans and the media can then use that against them if things go wrong, which is what happens to most NFL teams in a given year. Only one wins it all. Some are happy with how things went, even without winning it all. Most teams are disappointed.
The Eagles record is 3-2 heading into the Detroit game. That's not great, but the Eagles have played a tough schedule so I don't think 3-2 is anything to be ashamed of. Reid's teams are known for starting slow and finishing fast. His record in the second half of the year is better than in the first half. Winning streaks are a big part of that. Last year the Eagles won the final four games of the year. In 2010 the Eagles won six out of seven down the stretch. The team had a 6-game winning streak in 2009. If you go back to 2000, the Eagles have had at least a 3-game winning streak in every year, with most of them coming later in the season.
While a 3-2 start doesn't blow anyone's doors off, it would be just fine if followed up by a hot streak. The Eagles play Detroit on Sunday and then have the bye week. Beating the Lions would push the team to 4-2. Then Reid would have extra time to go back and self-scout. He's very good at this during the bye week and it is one reason his teams have done so well after the bye. Reid and his staff identify problems and make adjustments. Sometimes those are schematic changes. Other times he tweaks the lineup or adjusts the way personnel are used. It does help Reid that as of right now, the Eagles are pretty healthy. It is much easier to adjust and get on a hot streak when the key players are healthy and able to make plays.
One of the reasons that Reid's teams get better is because he's so stable and process oriented. He doesn't live and die with each play or with each game. Players feed off his stability. If he doesn't panic, they won't panic. You can argue that this has hurt the team on occasion, but overall I think it is the way to go. Just for comparison's sake, look at Rex Ryan.
The Jets ownership didn't put Ryan on notice of "win big or else", but he is under pressure this year. A lot of that is self-inflicted. Ryan loves to tell everyone that he's a great coach, has great players, and the Jets are a great team. That bravado worked well in a couple of situations in the past, but relying on it too much seems to have backfired. The Jets lost the final three games of 2011. They were dreadful in the preseason. They are off to a 2-3 start this year and were blown out in two of the losses. Now some key players are injured and the team needs stability and leadership more than ever.
It feels like the Jets could really fall apart. The Jets relied on great defense to win games in the past few years. The defense isn't getting the job done this season. All five opponents have scored at least 20 points. All have gained at least 331 yards. The offense is also a mess, having only scored four touchdowns in the last four weeks. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie got snaps at wide receiver. Tim Tebow is on and off the field in his odd role. Maybe Ryan will be able to bring his team together and right the ship. From the outside, it doesn't seem very likely.
Compare that to Reid. He is under pressure to deliver this year, but hasn't acted like a desperate man at all. He's got one of the youngest teams in the league. He's not been afraid to play rookies over veterans. He isn't making short-sighted moves. Reid has built the Eagles so that no matter who the coach is, there will be a ton of talent in place in 2013. I think Lurie has to be impressed with Reid's actions this year.
We have no idea what Lurie thinks of the results to this point. He has seen enough football over the years to know you really can't judge results until the season is over. Would it be better for the Eagles to go 13-3 and lose in the first round or to go 10-6 and then advance to the NFC title game? What if the Eagles only finish 8-8, but Nick Foles was the starter for half the year due to a Michael Vick injury? You really need to see how everything played out to judge your team and also put that in context.
Lurie's goal is to win a Super Bowl. I know some fans doubt that, but they shouldn't. He's seen the impact that the Phillies World Series title had for them. He was the Cowboys win a Super Bowl early in his tenure and the Giants win a pair in recent years. Winning a title has a tremendous impact on an organization and fanbase. Jon Gruden didn't have great success in Tampa, but he won them a title. Trent Dilfer had an unimpressive career, but he won a title. That's on your resume forever.
The question Lurie must then ask himself is whether keeping Reid makes the Eagles more or less likely to win a Super Bowl. The Reid haters are jumping up and down, "LESS!!!" They might be right. But they could also be wrong. Reid hasn't gotten the job done yet, but we need to see how this season plays out. This team has scored the go-ahead points inside the two-minute mark of all three wins. That is a level of clutch play we haven't seen from the Eagles in recent years. This group doesn't seem bothered by pressure. Maybe that will change as the season moves along. Maybe not. The reason this is important is that you must be able to handle the pressure of the playoffs in order to win in the postseason. It isn't about just talent, coaching, and that type stuff. Players and coaches must be able to deal with the intensity of the playoffs. This Eagles squad looks very different than others from recent seasons.
The flip side of that is that this team must start playing better football and not letting every game come down to the final possession. There is too much talent for this trend to continue. The Detroit game will be a good test. The Eagles appear to be the better team. Can they go play like it and avoid turning the ball over? If so, they'll win by more than a couple of points late in the game.
The biggest knock against Reid so far this year are the offensive turnovers and the failure to score points. After all, Reid is supposed to be an offensive guru. Losing Jason Peters hurts. Losing Jason Kelce hurts. Having Jeremy Maclin banged up for a few games hurts. Still, there is too much firepower for the Eagles to be near the bottom of the league in points scored. If that doesn't change, you can bet that will hurt Reid in Lurie's evaluation. I don't expect the offense to continue to struggle like this, but there are no guarantees in the NFL.
If Lurie were to make a change, I would tell him to give Stanford coach David Shaw a call. Shaw actually was an offensive assistant for the Eagles back in the Ray Rhodes era. Shaw worked for Gruden and played his college ball for Bill Walsh so he knows the West Coast offense. Shaw learned power football from Jim Harbaugh. He has done a good job as the head coach at Stanford and has enough NFL experience that he should be able to make the transition pretty well.
I'm pretty ambivalent about Reid's future. I'd love to see Big Red in a Super Bowl with the Eagles since he has been here so long, but there are definitely some games (Arizona for instance) when I am ready for a change.
Lurie won't fire his longtime coach and friend unless he truly believes it needs to happen. Still, Reid understands this isn't about loyalty and friendship. The NFL is about results. The Eagles need to deliver the right kind of results for Reid to remain on the job in 2013. So far things are okay, but Reid needs better than that to feel comfortable about his future.