Oof. Just when you hope the Eagles might be ready to put it all together and cement their standing as one of the league's elite teams, they take a steaming dump in the middle of the desert and remind you there's still a lot left that needs to be fixed. That's to take nothing away from the Cardinals, who looked and played like the better team. But the Eagles... oh, the Eagles. Dennis Green's infamous "They are who we thought they were" tirade comes to mind. One of those games, I suppose.
Wednesday edit: Do yourself a favor and read Derek's All-22 breakdown over at Iggles Blog. Awesome, awesome stuff. Sunday's game was truly a debacle of epic proportions. Want more? Sheil Kapadia's got you covered.
1. So, uh, we're trending down in turnovers. Only three this week! No interceptions thrown by Vick, but he did cough up two of the three fumbles. At this pace, the Eagles will finally commit zero turnovers in their game against the Lions in Week 6, right before the bye. Slow and steady wins the race, my friends. For now, the total sits at 12, with Vick accounting for nine of them. That's more than every other team in the league, aside from the Chiefs. Suboptimal.
2. Brandon Graham. He'd earned more snaps, he got (a few) more snaps, and he delivered (again). Tremendous energy and tenacity from Graham seemingly every time he was on the field. He finished the game with four tackles, three tackles for loss, half a sack, and a quarterback hit. Yeah, Graham needs to be a regular in the rotation.
3. Jason Babin. I thought Babin had a really strong game. He generated consistent pressure and made hustle plays, including chasing Kolb down from behind on a third-down scramble and tackling him a yard short of the sticks.
4. Mychal Kendricks. I fall in love with him more and more each week.* Speaking of linebackers, Daryl Washington is a monster. He was all over the field, and then some. I mean, I knew Washington was good, but holy shit. I imagine he'll be appearing in Michael Vick's nightmares.
*Edit: I watched NFL Game Rewind and All-22 today (Tuesday). Let's just say that upon further examination Kendricks did NOT have a good game. Didn't look confident in zone, blew some coverages, missed some tackles. He's a rookie, these things will happen. Still, Kendricks' talent level is off the charts. To be honest, the play I'm referencing that earned my love was when he exploded into the backfield and, with the help of Darryl Tapp, dropped LaRod Stephens-Howling for a four-yard loss in the third quarter. Speaking of Tapp, I should have dedicated Kendricks' spot in "The Good" to him instead. Definitely one of his best games as an Eagle.
5. The defense. While there were some communication and coverage breakdowns, to go along with less pressure on Kevin Kolb than desired, I actually thought the defense had a pretty solid showing. Juan Castillo's unit, at the very least, made sure things didn't get out of hand and allotted the offense multiple chances to get back in the game. Was the Fitzgerald touchdown bad? Yes. Were there a few too many easy third down conversions in the first half? Yes. But on the whole, the defense played well enough to win. It would've been nice to force a turnover or two, however.
6. Damaris Johnson, the receiver. Anyone who reads my work or follows me on Twitter knows I'm a big Damaris Johnson fan and want to see him get more involved in the offense. With Maclin sidelined, he got his chance. Damaris had an effective game as a receiver, leading the team with five catches for 84 yards. He's got moves on top of moves and can make guys miss in the open field.
1. Pre-game preparation. The Eagles came out flat, on both sides of the ball. I felt like I was watching a replay of the 2008 NFC Championship Game. One team was fired up and ready to attack its opponent. The other looked like it thought merely showing up would be enough to win. Andy Reid admitted after the game that he did not have his team ready to play. Cool. So what then, exactly, did you do all week? I thought the Eagles would respect the Cardinals after their upset of the Patriots. I thought the Eagles would come to Arizona focused, hungry, and ready to prove their 2-0 start was no mirage. I couldn't have been more wrong. It was a disheartening, we've-seen-this-way-too-many-times-before performance.
2. The discrepancy in physicality between the two teams. The Cardinals came out and punched the Eagles in the mouth. Over and over. It was apparent from the beginning that their machismo was in full swing. This was a team determined to prove to all the doubters that it was for real. Instead of standing up the challenge and responding in kind like they did against the Ravens, the Eagles wilted. That was a curb-stomping.
3. Offensive line. There were times when Vick had all day to throw, but more often than not he was running for his life. Demetress Bell, who got abused by Calais Campbell all afternoon, said the line wasn't in sync. His fellow replacement, Dallas Reynolds, also had a rough game. Ray Horton, the Cardinals Defensive Coordinator, correctly targeted the virgin starting center. He channeled his inner Jim Johnson by calling for relentless pressure up the middle and deployed a number of Double A-Gap blitzes. Reynolds was overwhelmed, Vick was flushed, and plays were thrown out of whack immediately. Also, let's call a spade a spade. How many blatant holds did the Eagles get away with? Ten? A hundred?
4. DeSean Jackson. Just when we were starting to think he'd put 2011 behind him, DeSean submitted an infuriating head-up-his-ass effort. He left TWO touchdowns on the field, the second of which will be detailed in "The Ugly" section. The first came with the score 10-0 Cardinals and the Eagles pinned at their own nine-yard line. Vick heaved a beautiful touch pass down the sideline for DeSean in single coverage. Jackson felt the cornerback tug at his jersey and, instead of playing through, appealed to the
ref scab for a pass interference call while the ball was still in the air. If DeSean keeps running instead of bitching and slowing down, he makes the catch in stride and saunters the next 60 yards unimpeded for a touchdown to make the score 10-7. That's an immature and petulant display from a receiver who, unfortunately, has sullied his reputation with such behavior. You got your money, DeSean. It's time to grow up.
5. Michael Vick. I'm putting Vick here because he indeed had a poor game, but there was way too much hate for him exploding on Twitter. Listen, he was far from good, but he was also far from the main reason the Eagles lost. Vick's issues remain the same. He has minimal pocket awareness, makes slow reads, displays terrible blitz recognition, holds onto the ball too long, leaves himself susceptible to taking big hits, and is an erratic player in general. That's what he is. (Edit: The All-22 was not kind to Vick; he's thinking too much and now seems extra hesitant to make throws, even open ones, for fear of them getting intercepted.) What's worse, Vick's deficiencies are exacerbated by coaches who have no interest in helping him out. There is literally a 0% chance Vick remains healthy for much longer, especially if Andy/Marty insist on constructing ridiculously one-sided game plans. How do you think it's appropriate to devise a pass-heavy attack when the offensive line has has two new starters and the top three wide receivers are DeSean Jackson, Damaris Johnson, and Jason Avant? Square peg, meet round hole.
Also, what's the deal with not having Vick in shotgun? Were Andy/Marty afraid Dallas Reynolds couldn't snap the ball a few yards?
6. Damaris Johnson, the punt returner. Johnson fumbled while trying to fight for extra yards on his initial return, which resulted in a Cardinals touchdown and 10-0 deficit for the Eagles. Then, after the defense forced Arizona to punt on their first possession of the second half, he made a fair catch at his own five-yard line. Dude, what the hell? Do you not know where you are on the field? Damaris has done this far too much already, and it's unacceptable. As a punt returner, you never catch the ball inside your own ten-yard line. Period. This is day one stuff. Signal for a fair catch and then get out of the way at the last moment -- make the other team down the ball. It could always bounce away and into the end zone, you know.
7. Brian Billick. I'd rather have been listening to Dan Dierdorf. That's all I'm going to say.
1. Offensive play-calling. Simply atrocious. Andy and Marty were up to their old tricks again. You knew that commitment to the run couldn't last more than one game. What insufferable teases! It all started on the very first possession with three straight pass plays and a three-and-out. Right then, I knew we were in for a loooooong game. At halftime, the totals were 25 pass plays and only five -- FIVE! -- run plays.* That includes a preposterous four carries for LeSean McCoy. Why... how... WHAT the fuck is that?! If I'm a defensive player on the other team, I go up to Andy/Marty at the end of the game and thank them for making my job infinitely easier. Seriously, how is this offense not built around Shady? It's beyond baffling, and it's not even close to being funny anymore. Is there any other team in the NFL that actively keeps the ball out of the hands of its best player?
*Edit: The Cardinals secondary did an exemplary job of blanketing Eagles receivers. Call me crazy, but I don't think the best remedy for that was to call MORE pass plays. Same shit, different... ah, forget it.
Here's another gripe of mine. When Andy and Marty see a game speeding up and getting out of control, they rarely attempt to slow it down. Instead, they just keep calling pass after pass. Even when their quarterback is getting beaten to a pulp. Michael Vick, as usual, was getting clobbered in and out of the pocket every other drop. The solution? Obviously it's to tell him to keep firing. Right, Andy/Marty? I mean, why give the ball to Shady and trust him to make something happen? It's not like he's the best player on your team or anything. I guess it makes more sense to wait until you're down 24-0 before running the ball. Certainly that wouldn't have been a prudent idea before the game was essentially over. I never have understood this bullshit, and I never will. I'm convinced Andy and Marty just have sick, twisted senses of humor. They must love tormenting us. Nothing drives me to the edge of my sanity quite like the Eagles trying play action when they A) haven't been running the ball at all or B) are down by three touchdowns in the second half. News flash, the defense isn't buying it. Ever.
Oh, and one last thing: Andy/Marty added insult to what-could've-been-injury by calling for a meaningless run play with 30 seconds left in the game... and for the handoff to go to LeSean McCoy. WHAT?! WHY?!?!!?!?! Take a knee, you dicks. Where's the payoff in putting your All-Pro running back at unnecessary risk like that? Unconscionable idiocy, pure and simple. Even if Shady breaks free for a touchdown, it won't erase the 21-point deficit. So, again, what's the point? If I didn't know any better, I'd say Andy and Marty decided, Hey, how can we make this game even worse? Oh, let's be irresponsibly negligent and try to get Shady hurt! Wouldn't him tearing his ACL on an inconsequential play be HILARIOUS?!
2. End of the first half. Down 17-0 and with a chance to seize some momentum going into halftime, the Eagles methodically drove down the field. DeSean Jackson caught a pass over the middle at the two-yard line, and instead of lunging for the end zone, he cowered at the thought of getting hit, ducked his head, went limp, and got tackled. Instead of a 17-7 score with under 20 seconds left in the half, the Eagles were faced with a 1st and goal from the Cardinals' one-yard line. Let's be real, what Eagles fan out there didn't expect catastrophe to ensue as karmic retribution for DeSean's turtling? Naturally, the timeout Andy burned before the first play of the second quarter came back to haunt the Eagles here. With just 16 seconds left on the clock and no timeouts remaining, the Eagles, predictably, called three straight passing plays (besides, field goals are for pussies). It was a worst-case scenario situation through and through, with the dagger coming on third down. Vick didn't identify blitzer Kerry Rhodes inching toward the line of scrimmage pre-snap, despite it occuring on his non-blind side. What followed happened in slow motion. Vick, for whatever reason, never even looked that way and just kept his eyes to the right side of the field. One second later, Rhodes annihilated him with a thunderous hit. The ball popped loose and bounced right to James Sanders, who had a convoy of blockers down the sideline. Ninety-three yards later, it was 24-0. Game, set, match. A classic Eagles moment. Just classic.
3. Body language on offense. I'm sorry, but you can't convince me the Eagles offense didn't look scared of the Cardinals defense. Moreover, the players were not mentally in tune with the game. Like, at all. To nitpick one of the numerous examples, let's highlight the Eagles' drive right after the Cardinals took a 17-0 lead. It's 2nd and 20. Vick lofts a pass deep down the middle for Brent Celek, who couldn't make the catch and took a devastating hit for the second straight play (one of the three times I think Vick was trying to get his most dependable receiver decapitated). The dejected offense started to head off the field. Except, uh, it wasn't fourth down. Just 3rd and 20. The next play? A handoff to LeSean McCoy that went for no gain. Might as well have just let the offense come off the field and punted on 3rd down.
4. Covering Larry Fitzgerald. He kills us every single time, and with astonishing ease. It's almost like the game plan on defense is to leave him open, with the hope that he might just drop the ball out of shock. Fitzgerald was targeted nine times yesterday and made nine catches. Easy pickings. (Edit: Take it away, Brian Westbrook. Double-cover, or at least shadow, Larry Fitzgerald? Nah, dude, he's no Torrey Smith!)
Mama said there'd be days like this. Listen, sometimes you just get your ass kicked by a team that wants it more. That's what happened to the Eagles in Arizona. The errors they made during the first two games that didn't cost them victories doomed them this time. You play with fire that much, you're going to get burned. That's a disciplined and fierce Cardinals team, one that wasn't going to beat itself or let the Eagles get away with turning the ball over. What it comes down to is this: The Eagles aren't as good as we thought, and the Cardinals are better than we thought. Give a tip of the hat to your opponent, accept the beating, briefly lick your wounds, and forget it. Come home, regroup, and remember that you're still 2-1, tied for first in the NFC East. Sunday Night Football awaits, and it's now time to focus on those revitalized Giants. How much do you want to bet that Andy/Marty go into survival mode, come out with a balanced attack on offense, Shady gets 25 carries, and the Eagles grind out a gutsy win?