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I yearned for the Eagles to be focused, play smart, and put forth a dominating effort against the Lions, but they did not oblige. Instead, they excreted 60+ minutes of sloppy, uninspired football, punctuated by a collapse that harkened back to the nightmarish 2011 season.
It was the kind of game that leaves you wondering why you even bother with this team. No, seriously, I had four friends text me asking that. Here was my answer to them, in GIF form. Are we sure it wasn't 2011 yesterday? Because with the way the Eagles played, it felt like last season. In a game that doubled as a contest between two teams trying to outdisgrace one another, the Eagles took charge at the end. I wrote in last week's game recap article that the Lions were like a hyperactive version of the Eagles when it came to mixing talent with self-sabotage, and for nearly 55 minutes that held true. Then the home team decided to show the Lions how it's done.
1. Jeremy Maclin. He went for six receptions, 130 yards and a touchdown, which came on a 70-yard catch and run. Maclin, who's been battling the effects of a painful hip injury for a month, finally looked back to form. He would have had another long catch and run to perhaps ice the game late in the fourth quarter had Ndamukong Suh not deflected Michael Vick's pass.
2. Riley Cooper. Made a key block on the kickoff return after the Lions took a 3-0 lead that allowed Brandon Boykin to go for, gasp, 30 yards! On that ensuing drive, Cooper made a nice 8-yard reception on 3rd and 6. Of course, two plays later, at the Detroit 29, Dallas Reynolds snapped the ball before Michael Vick was ready and the Lions recovered the fumble. Sigh. Whatever, I hope Riley, now that he's healthy, is more involved in the offense because he's the only real big target in that wide receiver corps.
3. Defense during the first three quarters. The Eagles didn't record any sacks, but Matthew Stafford was 6 of 21 for just 91 yards and an interception. If that's what the quarterback's stat line looks like, I could care less about getting sacks. Then again, some scribes in the press box declared the Lions' problems on offense weren't so much about what the Eagles did, but rather what the Lions didn't do and that Stafford missed a bunch of opportunities. Either way, during their first nine drives, the Lions managed a mere six points and looked out of sorts a majority of the time.
4. Nnamdi Asomugha. After a rough few weeks and increasing criticism directed his way, Asomugha played his best game of the season. He was matched up on Calvin Johnson almost exclusively the first three quarters, with Nate Allen helping over the top instead of Kurt Coleman (finally), and held Megatron to one catch for 28 yards. He also had an interception on a deep pass into the end zone. Then in the fourth quarter, for reasons known only to Juan Castillo, Nnamdi was relieved of his responsibility to cover Johnson. Why did Castillo want to give Johnson and Stafford different looks in the fourth quarter when they couldn't get anything done against the previous coverages? I just... I don't know. Nnamdi didn't, either. Great sign.
Naturally, this morning, Andy Reid refuted Asomugha's assertion and said the Eagles didn't change up their defensive scheme in the fourth quarter. Ok, then. Please, by all means, continue to treat us like idiots.
Edit: 5. DeMeco Ryans. Well, at least the middle linebacker position has been solved. Ryans continues to look like the player he was for the Texans pre-Achilles injury. Recorded a season-high in tackles (13) and tackles for loss (three).
1. Turnovers. Another game, another negative turnover differential for the Eagles, who now lead the NFC at -9 (they also lead the NFC with 17 turnovers, which is five more than the runner-up Cowboys). The good news: Vick didn't lose a fumble. The bad news: He threw two awful interceptions. Pick your poison, I guess.
2. Offensive line. Bad, bad, bad. Collectively, Demetress Bell, Evan Mathis, Dallas Reynolds, Danny Watkins, and Todd Herremans couldn't move the Lions' front four off the line of scrimmage, and the run game was rendered useless -- detrimental, in fact. In pass protection, the unit's performance was barely any better. I really have no idea how Michael Vick hasn't suffered a concussion or season-ending injury yet with the kind of beating he takes each game. It's definitely one of the marvels of the season to this point. The official scorer recorded just 11 hits on Vick inside the pocket, but there had to be more. To everyone calling for Nick Foles: He'd get murdered playing behind this line. Remember that Vick had nine scrambles in this game -- for 59 yards -- to elude pressure and pick up positive yards. Nick Foles wouldn't be able to save himself that way. Now, in fairness, Foles wouldn't hold onto the ball as long, but he would still be a sitting duck back there -- a sacrificial lamb with little chance of achieving success.
3. Brent Celek at the goal line. You know things are bad when Brent Celek is responsible for taking two touchdowns off the board. The first instance came in the third quarter, when Michael Vick stared down a blitz and fired a perfect pass with a defender flying at his head. Unfortunately, Celek wasn't able to hold up his end of the bargain. The ball hit him in the worst spot -- the hands -- and he simply dropped it. Yeah, there was a defender draped on his back, but Celek himself will tell you that's a catch he needs to make. The Eagles settled for, you guessed it, a field goal. Then on the very next drive, with the Eagles in the red zone and looking to go up 17-6, Celek redeemed himself with a touchdown catch. Except he didn't. In a call that we'll label as highly questionable, the referee determined that Celek pushed off his man and whistled him for offensive pass interference. It was ticky-tack, at best, and the replay was anything but convincing. Still, it happened, and the call went against Celek. The Eagles were forced to settle for another field goal. So, if you're counting at home, that's two plays directly involving Celek that cost the Eagles eight points.
4. Special teams. All week, media members made jokes about the Lions' putrid special teams, and how if there was one team out there worse than the Eagles in that phase, it was Detroit. Oops. Looks like Bobby April's group doesn't want to give up the fight for that ignominious mantle. It all started with Mat McBriar's first punt, which traveled 47 yards but recorded a hangtime of... did the ball even stay in the air three seconds? Stefan Logan fielded the punt at his own 18, but without a defender near him and nothing but green grass ahead, was able to break a long 48-yard return all the way down to the Eagles' 34. That led to the first of Jason Hanson's four field goals on the day. Oh, and so much for putting DeSean Jackson back to return punts, as he had one attempt for -3 yards. The Eagles return units as a whole did nothing, so par for the course there.
5. Run defense. For the second week in a row, the Eagles run defense was exposed. This time the front seven let the league's oldest offensive line push them around and gave up 108 yards on 22 carries to the formidable running back tandem of Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell.
6. Discipline. There are plenty of examples from which to choose, but Fletcher Cox's ejection headlines this section. The precocious rookie made the biggest mistake of his young career by punching a Lions player during the PAT attempt that made the score 16-13. Can't do that, dude. With Cox out of the game, the Lions marched down the field with ease on their last two drives. But there's more. Earlier, in the second quarter, and despite a ref standing right there, DeSean Jackson somehow wasn't flagged nor ejected when he jabbed a defender right under the chin strap.
1. The pass rush. What was an uneasy cause for concern has now become a full-blown panic. The Eagles can no longer get to the opposing quarterback. Like, not even close. The pass rush was supposed to be one of the team's foremost strengths coming into season, and in the preseason appeared it would live up to that billing. The first two games, everything was in order. Against the Cardinals, however, it started to change. What we've seen over the past four games is an erosion of stupefying proportions. I don't even know what to say. Jason Babin and Trent Cole have been almost non-existent, and the only defensive lineman consistently getting even a little bit of pressure on the quarterback is Brandon Graham.
2. Preparation. This is confined mainly to the offense, which has come out of the gate the last four games looking anything but ready to play. Here's a summary of the Eagles' first scripted 15 plays from each of those games (not including penalties):
@ Cardinals: 66 yards, lost fumble, no points
vs. Giants: 51 yards, no points
@ Steelers: 90 yards (Vick's lost fumble at the goal line came on 16th play), no points
vs. Lions: 29 yards, lost fumble, no points
If there's one thing you can count on with the Eagles, it's for the team to be mired in a general malaise for the initial 15-20 minutes of game time.
3. Fourth quarter defense. Maybe last week's failure to stop the Steelers at the end of the game wasn't just a blip, but rather a sign that the defense is reverting to 2011 form. Spotted a 10-point lead twice in the final quarter, the defense went into Swiss cheese mode. After the Eagles stalled again in the red zone and kicked a third field goal to make the score 16-6, the defense immediately gave up a seven-play, 79-yard touchdown drive. A Vick interception and Detroit punt followed. Then came the 70-yard scoring strike to Maclin. Up 23-13 with 5:18 left, it looked like the Eagles would hold on for their fourth win of the season, and the entire team seemed to take a deep breath and relax. Except no one told the Lions the game was over. I'd go through what happened during the final five minutes of regulation, but something tells me you don't want to relieve it. Instead, I present you with the following:
Lions offense over the first 46.5 minutes of the game: 163 total yards, 6 points
Lions offense over the final 17.5 minutes of the game: 286 yards, 20 points
Matthew Stafford during the first three quarters: 6-21, 91 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT
Matthew Stafford during the fourth quarter and overtime: 16-25, 220 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
Calvin Johnson during the first three quarters: 1 catch, 28 yards
Calvin Johnson during the fourth quarter and overtime: 5 catches, 107 yards
Eagles' total yards on offense in the fourth quarter and overtime, not including Maclin's 70-yard touchdown: 5. That's not a misprint. Five total fucking yards.
4. Juan Castillo's play-calling meltdown. Juan, if it ain't broke, please don't try to fix it. Schematically or otherwise. I'm really not trying to be disrespectful here, and I'm going to put this politely, but Castillo's ability to design blitzes and understanding of when to deploy them leaves a lot to be desired. There's no creativity with this defense, it's like watching a vanilla preseason gameplan. At least that's how it seems. Has an Eagles blitz gotten to the quarterback even one time this season? That's a serious question. And when your own players are questioning why you changed the defensive philosophy in the final quarter after stifling the opposing offense the first three, well, odds are you screwed up big time. The Eagles front four hadn't sacked Stafford up to that point, but the defense as a whole was still playing well. It was not until Castillo decided to dial up some extra pressure and switched to zone coverage* that the Lions were able to get Calvin Johnson the ball and started humming offensively. Coincidence? Unlikely.
*(Edit: and dime package, with the burnt crispy Brandon Hughes, to make up for Nate Allen's absence after he suffered a hamstring injury)
5. The run game. The Eagles' offensive line got owned at the point of attack all afternoon. There was nary an opening for LeSean McCoy to run through, and he finished with 14 carries for 22 yards. Early on, the Lions were putting one and sometimes even two extra defenders in the box, thoroughly unconcerned with the Eagles' ability to beat them with the big play. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Teams no longer fear the Eagles. It's been that way for the defense since the passing of Jim Johnson, but now that statement is proving true for the offense.
6. Sack (-7 yards), sack (-14 yards), incompletion, punt. This doesn't need more elaboration, but the Eagles' abortion of an overtime possession encapsulates the totality of failure that was the entire afternoon.
7. The crowd. All game, the fans in attendance were relatively lifeless. You barely heard anything on TV, yet the feeling of angst was palpable. It was almost as if the Eagles faithful could sense the inevitable and were bracing themselves for disappointment. I can't blame them. Hell, the stadium was more than half empty for overtime. Is apathy starting to settle in? Anger is one thing because at least that shows people still care. Indifference, on the other hand, is the kiss of death.
Do I even have to invoke the "same shit, different season" refrain? Sunday's performance was a carbon copy of 2011, and one that fuels my pessimism going forward. Just a total collapse by both the offense and defense. For everyone who maintains hope that whatever current season will be different, the Eagles shit out these kinds of performances to snap you back to reality. It's exasperating, it's distressing, and it's depressing. Oh, and the best part? We, and the Eagles, get to stew on this loss for two weeks! I sarcastically tweeted early in Sunday's game that the Eagles resembled a team looking past the Lions and ahead to a tough matchup against the bye week. If not for the Lions' own ineptitude that included committing a litany of penalties, the score would've been at least 17-0 in the second quarter. The Eagles finally got it together a bit and looked like they might wake up and throttle the Lions, but they could never quite get fully untracked.
It's been a common theme all season, the inability to put together a complete effort, and over the last two games the Eagles' luck has subsided. Whereas the optimists wanted to overlook the process in favor of the results when the Eagles were 3-1, the deficiencies in that process are now coming back to haunt this team. The way the Eagles escaped with their three victories was not sustainable, and a regression to the mean has begun. You can't turn the ball over, leave points on the field, and consistently shoot yourself in the foot if you expect to win. The Eagles say they understand that but appear powerless to rectify the issue. Sloppiness, carelessness, and self-sabotage have become part and parcel of this team's identity. The Eagles will not finish the season with a winning record, much less make the playoffs, if the trend continues.
Say what you will about Andy Reid, but you cannot knock the man's record when he has two weeks to prepare for an opponent. In the regular season, his teams are an immaculate 13-0 after the bye week (and 3-0 in the playoffs). I'd like to think this means the Eagles will be ready to go against the undefeated Falcons the weekend before Halloween. Then again, that game could end up being a damning indication Reid has lost his touch and is nearing the end of his tenure as head coach here in Philadelphia. After more than 13 years, it all comes down to this. Andy Reid now has 10 games left to save his job.