The Eagles have had more than a few problems so far this year. What are some possible solutions that can help this team right the ship?
The Eagles are off to a painful 1-3 start. Rather than just complain endlessly, I decided to put all of my years of football watching and study to good use. I wanted some brilliant solutions to the Eagles problems. Unfortunately I came up empty. I then drank a few PBRs and lowered my expectations and that led me to these pearls of wisdom. I'm no King Solomon, but then again...what does he know about football anyway?
Be more aggressive on defense - I'm not talking about blitzing. The Eagles have blitzed some, but have had mixed success. I'm talking about being more aggressive in coverage. Run defense has been an issue so far this year. One idea is to play more man coverage. That frees up a safety to come down in the box and play the run. You have the cornerbacks play press coverage on their wide receivers. You put one safety deep as the centerfielder. You then have the other safety act as the eighth man in the box. The risk with this is that the offense can burn you with a play-action pass for a big gain. My response is that the Eagles already give up too many big plays. The risk is worth the reward.
This does require Asante Samuel to be careful. He loves to jump routes. This can get him beaten for big plays. Pittsburgh did that to him in the preseason. If Samuel can't adjust his game a bit, you start mixing in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at that spot. You want Samuel to do his thing because he's so good at it, but right now the defense is struggling and players need to adjust accordingly.
Get creative at safety - The Eagles don't have a safety that is playing well right now. None. There are some breakdowns against the run and some in coverage. I think it would be an interesting idea to mix in Clayton as a safety on some run downs. Clayton is fast and athletic enough to cover tight ends and backs if the offense does go with a play-action pass. While Clayton will never be mistaken for Ray Lewis, he should be a better run defender than Jarrad Page or Nate Allen. I am not suggesting a full time move to safety. Clayton is a linebacker. I'm simply talking about a hybrid role to mix in on some running downs.
Why not mix him in more at linebacker? Moise Fokou and Brian Rolle were solid as the outside linebackers on Sunday. Let's see if they can get better. That unit could use some stability. Clayton does play in some sub-packages.
Back to safety. I think the team should consider trying to mix in Joselio Hanson on some passing downs. He is good at covering players in the middle of the field. Hanson is a solid tackler. He's not as big as Allen or Page, but that size isn't helping those guys right now.
Platooning players is far from ideal. You normally want to have a couple of starters who do the job, play after play. Right now Page and Allen are inconsistent. I think they should still be the primary players, but I don't see anything wrong with mixing in other guys on a situational basis.
Use Vince Young inside the 10-yard line - Back in 2009 Donovan McNabb was the starting quarterback. When the Eagles got near the goal line Mike Vick came in at times to run some Wildcat plays. That was smart. Well, now the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak. Vick is the starter. Vince Young is the talented backup. The team struggled in the red zone back then, just like it is now. Put Young in the game and have him run the ball. He can take the hits. Also, Young is a big guy. He has a chance to be more effective on quarterback sneaks. I'd even consider having him run the option. Tampa Bay had their backup quarterback run the option on Monday night and he got a first down on the play. Find a way to take advantage of the fact Young is your backup quarterback.
Stop with the trick plays inside the 10-yard line - Okay, this may sound funny coming after what I just wrote. Let me explain that there is a difference. Using Young near the goal line isn't a trick play. You're putting him in to take advantage of his size. I don't consider running the option to be a trick play. The quarterback takes the ball, reads the defense, and then makes the decision to pitch the ball or keep it.
I'm referring to trick plays as ones that require the defense to make a mistake or get fooled. The Eagles have been miserable with using offensive linemen to pull near the goal line. The hope is that ball fakes executed by Vick will confuse the defense and help the play. Defenders aren't paying attention to fakes. They are attacking Vick and the ball. Last week the Eagles ran a throwback pass play to Brent Celek, hoping he would fool the defense and be open. Quit trying to fool the defense. Beat them straight up. You can be creative, but quit trying to outsmart them with mis-direction and/or elaborate fakes. Three of the four red zone turnovers came on plays where the Eagles used a play-fake or tried to confuse the defense. No one is buying the fakes.
Get the ball to Clay Harbor - Back in 2009 Celek looked like a star on the rise. He was very productive and his level of play matched the stats. It seemed the Eagles had their stud tight end. Then 2010 came along and things changed. The primary issue was a porous offensive line that caused Celek to have to stay in and block on a regular basis. The other issue, which is more of an opinion, is that Celek and Vick didn't seem to have great chemistry. They connected for some big plays. Celek's long touchdown against the Giants started the amazing comeback last December. I just didn't think the two were always on the same page. The quarterback has to know what a receiver will do. The receiver has to know when he's open and if he's in a spot where the quarterback is likely to throw him the ball. Celek and Kevin Kolb worked together really well. McNabb and Chad Lewis worked together really well. Vick and Celek just didn't show the same chemistry.
On Sunday Harbor played the best game of his young career, catching three passes for 55 yards and a touchdown. He and Vick worked well together. Harbor showed speed, athleticism, and good hands. He looked like a threat in the middle of the field. Celek is still a talented player, but he's not the same guy he was. I'd love to see Harbor more aggressively worked into future gameplans. Get him the ball on a tight end screen. Let's see what he can do.
Go with size inside the red zone - The Eagles have a lot of speedy players. That great between the 20's, but it isn't nearly as effective in the red zone. That's a compressed part of the field. You need bigger guys to win one-on-one matchups. Use Riley Cooper on inside passing routes. He could be very effective on slants in the red zone. Or throw a fade pass his way. Cooper has always shown good chemistry with Vick. Let's see what they can do.
Put Harbor out as a receiver and throw a slant to him. Is a cornerback going to out-muscle him for the ball? I already talked about mixing in Young as a runner. Previously I would have said to give the ball to Ronnie Brown more. I'll have to amend that. Give Brown the ball, but only to run. Forget the trick plays with him from the half-yard line. Talking about Brown leads me to the next point.
Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg are great at creating favorable matchups in most of the field. They know how to get players open using speed and space. The red zone requires using size to create mismatches. You've got to mix in Cooper and Harbor. Trying Young and Brown is a good idea as well. Bigger is better in this case.
Start benching players who are careless with the ball - Players live and die for reps and touches. They want to get on the field. They want to get as many catches or runs as possible. That's fine, but not if they fumble. Players need to be aware that future fumbles due to carelessness are unacceptable and that they will lose snaps and touches because of them. Ball security should be a natural priority for players, but it just doesn't seem to be the case. That must change immediately.