Yeah, I suppose this past week qualified as a tumultuous one for the Eagles, all set in motion by a humiliating late collapse and loss to the Lions. A seventh blown fourth quarter lead in 22 games was, apparently, critical mass for the ill-fated Juan Castillo experiment. Andy Reid decided to hold himself responsible for the mess by going into terminator mode and firing the good soldier he'd put in position to fail. To the surprise of no one, reaction to the Castillo firing was a cesspool of drama, hysterics and negativity. It was so Philadelphia. The doomsday media vultures circled, wondering with their pens -- and mouths -- about Reid's honor and integrity, not to mention his job security. Bloviations aside, they had every right to hurl nasty rhetoric his way. The incident was cringeworthy and borderline disgraceful. I know Juan's shit-canning had to happen, but I still felt icky about how it all went down. So you can imagine how relieved I was to sit back Sunday and veg out on football, especially knowing the Eagles couldn't ruin my mood and make me hate the world by derping like bumbling nincompoops. Watching the rest of the league slug it out -- and other teams manufacture ways to lose -- was like going through Eagles detox. Bye week detox.
I was talking to roommate, guest post pioneer, and resident Steelers fan Ben Keegan, who conveyed that the victory over the Bengals was the first time all season he felt good about his team. That's when it hit me. Truth of the matter is, I haven't much enjoyed the Eagles this season. On the whole, the experiene has been fucking brutal. I watch sports to be entertained. The 2012 Eagles have essentially done the exact opposite. Even the wins have been excruciating and resulted in a relative emptiness that should not accompany triumph. Just once, I've wanted to come out of a game feeling satisfied with the way the team performed. Is that so much to ask? Yes, showing fight and resolve in coming back to beat the Browns, Ravens, and Giants was encouraging to see. But be honest with me, did you ever do anything more than exhale and count your lucky stars at the end of those wins? I didn't. I just wrote something to the effect of, "Getting this win is great and all, but there won't be many more if the Eagles keep playing this way." Yet when I take a step back and assess the situation, I try to exercise some perspective. The Eagles could be 5-1, 1-5, or 0-6, but they are 3-3 and in the hunt with two-plus months remaining in the regular season. That's the reality. Another reality: It's about getting hot and playing your best football in December, not at the end of October.
So, what did I decide during the bye week? If this is it for Andy Reid, then I'm not going to spend the last 10 games rooting for his demise like so many other fed up fans. I want my team to win. Only one time in my life have I rooted against the Eagles, and that was last season. The collective effort of that "team" fell so bar below an acceptable threshold, I didn't feel they deserved my support. Hell, I was so disgusted and turned off, I protested by not even bothering to watch the last four games. Here's the difference between last season and this one: I don't see a glaring lack of heart and dedication with these Eagles (though they can be exasperatingly dumb). Sure, it hasn't always been pretty, but at least the players appear to care (for the most part). That's why last season was so inexcusable and despicable, why I felt fine abandoning the team and washing my hands of the entire debacle.
I know the fan base is at wits' end with the Andy Reid era and views the rest of 2012 as little more than a formality. I've been vocal in my displeasure with him, but as I think back on the totality of the 13-plus seasons under Andy, I appreciate that more often than not my football team has been relevant. I don't take pleasure in Andy's failures, and I want him to finally break through. Being bitter and hateful is so exhausting, maybe I'll try the glass half-full approach. As far as I'm concerned, the Eagles are coming off the bye week with a clean slate. Let's see if the offense can tighten up and play smart football, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Let's see what Todd (Smokin') Bowles -- supposedly the object of Andy's desire during the original search for a defensive coordinator before he settled on Juan Castillo -- can do with this defense (one suggestion: blitz Mychal Kendricks, he was superb at it in college). I have it on rock solid authority that letting Nnamdi Asomugha play freely and do his thing was a mandate communicated during the defense's first post-bye week meeting (despite Bowles' promise to mix man and zone coverage). Glad to hear it, since obviously Castillo's attempts to hem him into a specific scheme were counter productive. While this will be Bowles' first time calling plays, his playing and coaching pedigree has me feeling optimistic. I also have to believe the players themselves trust and respect Bowles' defensive acumen more than Castillo's, which is something that should be manifested on the field.
First test: The Falcons, also coming off a bye and, before that, three narrow wins against inferior opponents. As far as 6-0 teams go, this one does not strike fear in my heart. They're good, but not THAT good. I just can't bring myself to respect the Falcons, ever, and these dirty birds are due for a reality check, a beatdown that brings them back to earth. Besides, maybe there's not a lot to believe in with Andy Reid anymore, but his immaculate post-bye week record speaks for itself. If LeSean McCoy doesn't get 25 carries against the Falcons' porous run defense (143.8 yards per game allowed, 28th in the league), Marty Mornhinweg should be stripped of his play-calling duties and/or fired on the spot. Then again, how many times have I said that before? Another reason to commit to the ground game and feed Shady, besides him being awesome? The Falcons' strength on defense, forcing turnovers (10 interceptions and 7 fumble recoveries), is the Eagles' Kryptonite on offense. Succumbing to his greatest vice and putting an inordinate amount of the burden on Michael Vick to win the game as a passer is exactly what the Falcons hope Mornhinweg does. So, Marty, please, build the game plan around Shady. Run the ball to Asante Samuel's side, too. Thanks. (Edit: Take a note from the Steelers and have a drive where you run the ball seven straight times with a mixture of McCoy, Bryce Brown, and DeSean Jackson on an end-around. This actually is a perfect lead into the following quote.)
"They played a lot of two high shell in the secondary, a lot of two high safeties, to take away the passing game. When they do that, we HAVE to be able to run the ball." - Ben Roethlisberger, at his locker after the Steelers' 24-17 win over the Bengals
Cool. Someone print out a thousand copies of this quote -- from a two-time Super Bowl champion and proven WINNER -- and affix it to every inch of Mornhinweg's office. At least while he's still calling the plays.
I know I said I'm not ready to give up on Andy, but I'm also programmed to always look toward the future. Some ideas to kick around....
1) Coaching candidates
College: Chip Kelly, Bill O'Brien (departure seems unlikely given his contract buyout stipulations), David Shaw
Dark horse: Dan Mullen. Here's a guy whose candidacy has piqued my interest, and not only because of the job he's doing as head coach of the currently undefeated #11 Mississippi State Bulldogs. Mullen, in addition to having served on Urban Meyers' staff at Utah (QB Coach) and Florida (QB Coach/Offensive Coordinator), was born in Drexel Hill -- though his bio lists Manchester, NH, where he attended high school, as his hometown -- and matriculated at Ursinus College, where he played tight end. He's young (born in 1972), energetic, lauded as a brilliant offensive mind, and has revitalized the Mississippi State program. Now, I don't know anything about how he might interact with grown men as opposed to college kids, but what I do know is that I like what I've read. Oh, and would you look at that, Mullen and Mississippi State have a chance Saturday night -- as 22-point (!) underdogs -- to shock the nation against top-ranked Alabama and rise to unlikely status of national title contender.
Post-game edit, after Mullen's Bulldogs got murdered by Alabama:
A better dark horse candidate is Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M. I should have chosen him to begin with.
If as the season progresses it becomes apparent that the end of Andy is imminent, I'll start to focus more on possible successors.
2) Changing the karma
A growing sentiment within the fan base has been to reinstate the old uniform color scheme. I'm thinking circa late 80's/early 90's (action shot). The 50th anniversary threads would suffice, but a darker green is preferable. I know, part of Jeffrey Lurie putting his stamp on the franchise was changing the logo and colors. I also surmise it's likely possible he'd rather die than ever go back to the retro look. That's why I'd suggest a potential solution that involves, among other things, keeping the updated wing insignia on either side of a kelly green helmet. Overall, I think a (modified) vintage look with a modern slant could help establish the next step in Eagles' football and go a long way in mollifying an alienated and disillusioned fan base. That merchandise would fly off the shelves, too. I just get the sneaking suspicion that midnight green will forever be associated with the frustration and ultimately unfulfilled promise of the Andy Reid era. A fresh start, if it happens, should also extend to aesthetics.
1) Oh, so Danny Watkins is refusing to speak to the media because he didn't like what was written about him? QUICK EVERYONE JOKE ABOUT HOW THIS IS THE FIRST SUCCESSFUL BLOCK HE'S MADE ALL SEASON!
2) Not that I wasn't expecting this, but Robert Griffin III is very, very for real. For the first time in 20 years, the Redskins no longer have to worry about the quarterback position. Provided that front office can overcome the hefty cap penalty and draft well despite not having first round picks the next two years (Alfred Morris is a nice start), the Redskins will ascend to legitimate contender status in short order. I know the popular opinion is to champion RG3 as a better, more cerebral (and right-handed) version of Michael Vick. But that comparison doesn't take into account how gifted RG3 is as a traditional quarterback and how well he grasps the game. Like I wrote last year while RG3 was tearing up college football, he reminds me of Aaron Rodgers with the way he throws the ball. We're talking about a player who combines Rodgers' arm talent with Vick's pure athleticism. There's not a more exciting PLAYER in the league, and, unlike last year's rookie sensation Cam Newton, who's not a natural passer, RG3 should be able to sustain his current level of performance -- injury notwithstanding -- because he's more than just an athlete playing quarterback. Robert Griffin III, not Cam Newton, is the new prototype to revolutionize the position.
3) Speaking of Cam Newton, I've been asked when I'm going to write a follwup mea culpa to my original mea cupla. We're not quite there yet, even if the deficiencies he showed as a passer in college -- see: sloppy mechanics and inability to quickly process coverages and navigate the intermediate area of the field -- are now crippling him in the pros. Just as it's becoming clear to me that I overreacted to Newton's incredible rookie season, I'm not going to make the same mistake and jump at the chance to reassert my original opinion. There is no denying Newton's raw talent, and it's fair to point out he's beset by a subpar supporting cast of talent and coaching staff. The thing is, last year presented a similar situation. Unfortunately for Cam, the element of surprise no longer exists, and the accumulation of game tape has enabled defensive coordinators to devise strategies to limit his effectiveness (see: take away deep ball and make him beat you underneath, minimize space in the pocket, pressure him instead of sitting back and respecting running ability). Newton hasn't experienced this kind of on-field tribulation before -- the acute media scrutiny is nothing new -- and is still trying to figure out how to overcome it. In the meantime, he's mired in a classic sophomore slump and regressing each week. Oh, and before I forget, cool sweater, dude, totally diverts the focus away from your performance. (Edit: Wait, Newton also called a female sportswriter "sweetheart"? Maybe he thought he was being playful and cute, I don't know. Astonishingly poor form either way and a totally out-of-touch dick move. Why stop there, Cam? Complete the circle of fusty condescension and tell her to get back in the kitchen!)
4) My introduction to Randall Cobb came when he almost single-handedly defeated Auburn -- by accounting for all four of Kentucky's touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving, one passing) in a 37-34 loss -- during the Tigers' National Championship season in 2010. I was smitten. We've seen flashes of immense potential ever since he first stepped on the field as a pro, but his big game against the Rams on Sunday (and two before that against the Texans and Colts, making it a trend) is only the beginning of a breakout stretch for this Percy Harvin clone. If Cobb is part of your fantasy team, start him every week from here on out. I am.
5) Lots of Eagles fans, including yours truly, have touched upon the apathy supposedly pervading the fan base. Pro tip: If you continuously refer to your apathy towards a specific topic, you either aren't apathetic or don't know what it means.
6) "Anonymous sources" are gutless cowards and rumor-mongering maggots. Get fucked, assholes.
I'll leave you with this enduring image, in honor of the upcoming matchup with Atlanta: