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2011 Philadelphia Eagles: The Dagger

Thank God it's over. The Eagles were no match for Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the New England Patriots and got blown at home, essentially bringing to an end a disastrous 2011 season. It was ugly, it was final, and it was merciful. All that's left is to salvage whatever is possible and see if the way the team plays out the string has any bearing on Andy Reid's future.

Well, that finally, indelibly, and mercifully confirms it: They are who we thought they were. This "team" put on a cute charade for one game against the Giants, but the real 2011 Philadelphia Eagles came to the forefront late Sunday afternoon and into the evening. This is a bad football team. "Team" being the operative word. The individual talent populating the roster is overrated, too, and numerous players have put their own agenda ahead of the team concept.

Now, for the first order of business, I'd like to thank the Patriots for putting us out of our misery. It would have been a truly cruel punch to the nuts to watch the Eagles pull out a win against a very good football team, only to choke like the losers they are four days later in Seattle to the freaking Seahawks. Now at least we know the season is over and can turn our full attention to more worthwhile endeavors. One of them will be spending my Sundays watching other teams -- competent, committed, and cohesive teams -- not play like pussies. It's funny, you hear the same refrain from the players in the locker room after each loss. This isn't Andy's fault. He's not out there committing stupid penalties, blowing coverages, missing tackles, giving far less than 100% effort. So on and so forth. Well then pray tell, dear players, what's the problem? That you can't execute? Great, so you suck at your job. Just remember who made the final decision to bring you here. Shouldn't he be held responsible for that?

Andy Reid won't win a Super Bowl. Not here, not anywhere. Not unless one of two things happens: 1) He inherits/drafts/signs a quarterback who can mask and make up for his persistent deficiencies as an in-game saboteur. I'm talking about an Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning (pre-death), Ben Roethlisberger type. 2) He admits there just might be a flaw in how he is so convinced you win in this league. I keep wanting to know why he can't just try something else for a change after twelve years of coming up short. All Andy has to do is look around the league and emulate what coaches who have actually, you know, WON THE SUPER BOWL did to achieve that goal. Balance, consistency, adaptation. Again, as I mentioned before the season even started, we've seen glimpses of this from Reid, but he never sticks with it. I swear, he's averse to sustained winning through any method other than his own. Whether it's because he's arrogant, stubborn, foolish, or all three, I don't really even care anymore. Just stop subjecting me to this torture.

People always say you fire the coach because you can't fire the players. Nonsense. To listen to the players tell it, this is the furthest thing from Andy Reid's fault. And, you know something, maybe they're right. As such, I am going to go through the roster and mark down each player I think is worth keeping. Get whatever you can for the rest of the bunch and give Andy players who won't go out on the field and shit themselves repeatedly. Though it's not like that will ultimately make a difference because he will shit himself repeatedly instead just to make up for it.

The best quarterback in the history of the Philadelphia Eagles is Donovan McNabb, and the best head coach is Andy Reid. They started here together and are inextricably linked, which is to say I've come to the conclusion that Andy Reid is Donovan McNabb in the form of a head coach. But, hey, at least his players like him! They just aren't willing to play hard for him. Worse, they don't even look prepared. And when you're not prepared, how are you supposed to have any confidence in your ability or the calls coming from the sidelines? Actions > words, YOU LOSERS.

The Good

1. The first six minutes. The Eagles looked so good for six minutes. Were you foolish enough to let yourself believe they could keep it up for another 54? For your sake, I hope not.

2. Vince Young. I actually feel bad for Vince. Yes, he made his fair share of mistakes, threw lame duck passes that prompted degrading comments from Eagles fans everywhere about the effeminate nature of his right arm, and most of his 400 yards came in garbage time once the outcome was decided. While I wouldn't exactly say Young had a "good" game, the truth of the matter is he played well enough -- in my opinion -- to at least keep his team competitive, if not win. It's just a shame that few others (see: DeSean Jackson, Marty Morn-HIN-weg, etc.) bothered to help him out. However, Vince is going to get one of his teammates killed with all these dangerous throws that invite receivers to get blown up by defenders.

Young himself thinks he did "ok." I bet plenty of other Eagles players in that locker room think they played "ok" too, as individuals. And that right there is the precise problem with this team. Which reminds me...

Today in delusional groupthink at the NovaCare Complex: Trevor Laws gave his input about Thursday night's game against Seattle. You'd think that a putrid 4-7 record and getting stomped out at home by a clearly superior team might instill some humility and perspective. Not so for the Dream Team! You know what this reminds me of? Listening to interviews with last year's Cowboys, most of whom were incredulous and in denial about their struggles. So not only have the 2011 Eagles excreted perhaps the most disappointing season in franchise history, but they are now also reminiscent of the overpaid, overhyped, and overrated Cowboys. My team has become everything I've ever hated. Wow, I hope the Seahawks crush these pompous, good-for-nothing douchebags. That's why this is a bad team -- you have all these losers who talk a big game but can't back it up, "a lot guys with opinions but not enough true leaders." After what went down between Jim Washburn and Marty Morn-HIN-weg for all the world to see, I'd say that characterization applies to the coaches and not just the players.

The Bad

1. Offensive philosophy/gameplan. Let's beat that dead, rotting corpse of a horse one last time. IT WAS A TRAP! The Patriots came into the game ranked last in pass defense; it's like Bill Belichick played a subtle Jedi mind trick on Andy Reid and Marty Morn-HIN-weg. He's smarter and more shrewd than both, so I'm not ruling anything out. In the end, there was just way too much temptation for two passaholics who can't help themselves. Was there really ever any doubt that Andy and Marty were going to pass, pass, pass, and then pass some more? It was a dream matchup for them, and they predictability played right into the Patriots defense's hands. Hook, line, sinker. Hmmm, I wonder... regardless of what the stats might indicate, would Belichick prefer the Eagles to give LeSean McCoy 30 touches or let Vince Young air it out nearly 50 times? Tough call.

Now, the players will tell you that the gameplan was perfect and they just didn't get it done. Sorry, but any gameplan that dictates your best offensive player only gets 10 carries and 14 total touches is far from perfect. The most discouraging part is that Andy/Marty started the game with a healthy dose of Shady! Seven of the team's first fourteen offensive plays were called for him (three rushes and four passes, only one of which was completed). I guess that method wasn't working EXACTLY how Andy/Marty wanted, so they abandoned it. Per usual.

And while we're still on the topic of offensive philosophy/gameplan, what the hell ever happened to the screen pass? I thought the Eagles were one of the best screen teams in the league, and now I can hardly even remember a single instance this season where it has been employed at all, much less executed effectively. For an offense that steadfastly refuses to commit to the run for more than two games at a time, how is there not a more concentrated effort to get the ball to Shady in space via the screen pass? That said, I think those two passes that he dropped early were on possible attempted screens, but I can't recall for sure.

Also, what's the deal with Shady? I know he says he loves Reid and never challenges the plays that are called (because...?), but he can't love not getting the ball consistently. It's like every player on this team has Stockholm Syndrome. IT IS OK TO THINK FOR YOURSELF AND QUESTION THE PLAY-CALLS! Jesus, Shady, barge into Andy's office and tell him to put the fucking ball in your hands. Or do you not want it?

Did anybody listen to the Bill Simmons podcast yesterday? He couldn't have been happier that Marty Morn-HIN-weg elected not to give the ball to McCoy, who merely happens to be, oh, the Eagles' best offensive player. Just ask any Patriots fan who follows and understands football -- Shady is the only player who truly scared them. How does he only get six carries in the first half and ten for the entire game? I do not care if the Patriots defense was geared specifically to stop McCoy, he still MUST get the ball. We're talking about one of the league's elite players who is, among other things, preternaturally gifted at making something out of nothing. I also love the "Well, we got down early and had to pass" excuse. It's a personal favorite of mine. It's also a load of horse shit. I'm about to show you the difference between a team/franchise that gets it, and one that doesn't.

2. Adjustments. Let's broadly examine the first two drives for the Patriots, followed by their next two. It's just one of myriad textbook examples as to why the Patriots are the Patriots and the Eagles are further away from winning a Super Bowl than they think. What follows is a lesson in understanding what your opponent is doing and adjusting your plan of attack to counteract their initial success.

Remember those first six minutes? Well, here's what happened over just the next 24. The Patriots made some adjustments, especially on offense (see: establishing the run to set up play action and going no-huddle), and the Eagles immediately found themselves in trouble on defense. Why? Because it was Brady against Castillo.

The problem is the entire coaching staff, starting with the head honcho, hasn't the faintest clue what an adjustment is, much less how to make one in the heat of battle.

At the start of the game, Brady -- who, for those of you keeping track at home, is now 4-0 against the Eagles with 1200+ passing yards, nine touchdowns, and zero interceptions -- was taking deep drops and appeared flummoxed and flustered by the Eagles' zone defense look. That left him susceptible to the pass rush, and he was hit on what seemed like each of his pass attempts through the first two drives. Brady and the Patriots' coaches realized this wasn't working, so they switched things up and on the third drive came out running the ball. Nine runs, three passes, 80 yards, touchdown (the Eagles offense would have been wise to follow this example). And it was absurdly easy. From that point on, most of Brady's drops were of the three-step variety, and he was getting the ball out quickly so as to mitigate the pass rush. What did the Eagles do to try and combat the Patriots' adjustments? Absolutely nothing. As such, the final result wasn't a surprise. Juan Castillo had his defensive backs continue to play zone, giving the receivers a free release off the line of scrimmage and all the room in the world. BRILLIANT! You have to disrupt Brady's timing with his receivers if you want any shot of slowing him down. Does anybody still not know this? I can't believe I'm actually asking, but what tape did the Eagles' defensive coaches watch during the week? Because it couldn't possibly have been that of the Cowboys, Steelers, or Giants and how those defenses played the Patriots offense. Maybe they did watch those tapes and just decided they knew better and would do things their own way. That's how it goes around here anyway.

With the Patriots down 10-7, it happened -- the play that pretty much set the wheels in motion. On 3rd and 13 from the Patriots' own 36, the Eagles defense had a chance to force a punt and get the ball back with all the momentum. Instead, Brady nimbly avoided the pressure, got into some space, and pointed to Deion Branch where he wanted him to go. Poor Brandon Hughes was caught in a one-on-one battle with Tom fucking Brady. Oh, SHIT. I swear, though, that ball was thisclose to be being deflected away and incomplete. But the pass whizzed by Hughes' outstretched fingertips and right to Branch, who had nothing but green in front of him. Sixty-three yards later he should have scored but was tackled at the 1. On the next play, the Law Firm punched it in for an easy touchdown against the stunned Eagles defense. 14-10.

On the very next play from scrimmage, Vince Young threw a weak interception to Antuwan Molden. Of course, had his arm been up for the challenge, said interception could have been a touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson (pre-dropsies) instead because he had blown by the cornerback. Castillo's weary defense valiantly held Brady and friends on the ensuing possession, while Stephen Gostkowski was nice enough to miss a 39-yard field goal. Then the Eagles went three and out, which they haven't done much at all this season. One of the plays featured a hand-off to Chad Hall and made me want to kill myself.

Anyway, Brady got the ball back and carved up the overmatched side of Eagles' secondary. No huddle offense, five passes, 76 yards, including a 41-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Wes Welker because Nate Allen bit hard on a play fake to Danny Woodhead (COME ON!). 21-10.

It was the middle of the second quarter with the Patriots still up 21-10, and you had a pretty ominous feeling about where things were headed. Then the Eagles put together one last stand, an impressive 10-play drive. But DeSean Jackson short-armed a pass in the end zone on third down because he was afraid of being hit by Tracy White -- yes, that Tracy White, the former Eagles special teams linebacker and bit player. DeSean cheated his teammates on the field and the Eagles had to settle for a field goal. All that was missing was "For who, for what?" The score stood at 21-13 instead of 21-17, and things only got worse.

3. Defense. Juan Castillo trying to match wits with Tom Brady? Was there any doubt this was going to be child's play for Mr. Bündchen? It was polite and sporting of Belichick and Brady to praise the talent on the Eagles as the best they had faced all season, but in private the two of them had to look at film and giggle in a holy-shit-this-is-going-to-be-easy kind of way. I wonder if they targeted Nate Allen in particular because he was exposed time after time in what had to be his most miserable day as a pro.

Blown coverages/receivers running free in the secondary, missed tackles, lackluster effort, playing scared. You look over at the Patriots defense, which is so depleted that they're literally signing guys off the street to play in the secondary... but at least those guys play hard and give it their all. You simply cannot say the same about Castillo's troops. Also, Julian Edelman would be the best tackler on this Eagles defense. I'm only half kidding. At least he comprehends and employs proper technique.

As for the red zone defense that was historically atrocious last season? Well, it's dead last in the NFL again in 2011. HOORAY! I don't know about you, but I blame Sean McDermott.

4. Penalties. Ten of them for 60 yards, and what seemed like half came on third down. Six were of the false start/offsides variety. AT HOME! This is a dumb football team, there's not much more you can say. It's indicative of a total lack of discipline and respect for the game on the players' part. They are either stupid or just don't care. Likely both. On that note, I have to think the Eagles are the runaway league-leaders in DERPS (hip, new-age football blog slang for the stupid mistakes -- such as turnovers, penalties that result in first downs, etc. -- that impede a team's ability to win football games).

Oh, and Jason Babin, who is only concerned with getting to the quarterback, now has as many penalties (ten) as he does sacks for the season. More specifically:

Defensive end Jason Babin was flagged for the sixth time this season for defensive offside/encroachment /neutral zone infractions. The four players ahead of him in the sack race (DeMarcus Ware, Jared Allen, Von Miller and Jason Pierre-Paul) have eight such penalties combined. Babin has been flagged for a team-high 10 penalties this season.

An undisciplined, me-first player only concerned with his own stats? On this team? WELL I NEVER! Isn't he supposed to be looking at the ball? How do you fucking go offsides if you're only looking at the ball and waiting for it to be snapped?! In eleven games, Babin has 19 tackles that aren't sacks. Could he at least try to make a play that doesn't involve going after the quarterback, or is that just too much to ask of one of the team's marquee free agent signings? I mean, he certainly has more than enough opportunities because all opposing offenses do is run to his side.

5. DeSean Jackson. This week in DeSean Jackson's pouty final act as a Philadelphia Eagle, we were treated to a cowardly, pathetic display of alligator arms and dropped touchdown passes. Here's a guy who tells the world he's worth top-five wide receiver money and then proceeds to single-handedly cost his team 14 points and a chance to stay in the game with the season on the line. I found it quite amusing, honestly. No, really, I was actually laughing. Is anybody associated with this franchise not completely delusional?

Jackson, who was benched in the fourth quarter, has only torpedoed his value this season and cost himself millions of dollars in the process. Instead of giving his all and performing at a Pro Bowl level and ensuring a major payday in the offseason (if not in Philadelphia, then surely somewhere else), he's moped around like a butt-hurt bitch and engaged in perhaps the most incredible example of self-sabotage I've ever witnessed. Smart business move, DeSean. Hey, at least he's staying healthy!

6. Home record over the last calendar year. It currently sits at an unconscionable 1-8. That's the same number of wins that Real fucking Madrid has at the Linc over the same time period. Temple football has five. The Eagles currently have a distinct home-field disadvantage and routinely put on deplorable performances in front of their own fans. The only team in the league with a worse home record this season is the winless, Peyton-less Colts. These Eagles might as well play all their games on the road -- that's really the only time they put up a fight and show some heart. Let's just move on.

The Ugly

1. 4th and 1 from the 2 with the Patriots leading 31-13.

Courtesy of Les Bowen:

Watch that infamous fourth-and-1 play again and note the Pats' defensive alignment. They weren't loaded up against the run; they knew the Eagles were going to pass. In fact, it looked like they knew the exact play that was coming. Young had a guy in his face as he rolled out, Brent Celek was well-covered, nothing there.

You know who else knew it was coming? Everybody. That said, I noticed Todd Herremans, who reported as an eligible receiver, was open at the goal line right in front of Young. I couldn't help but follow Herremans on the play, it's what I'm compelled to do when an offensive lineman ephemerally morphs into a potential pass-catcher. Vince just threw it to the guy (Celek) who had absolutely no chance of making a play. A floater to the back of the endzone... really, Vince? REALLY?!

And that play is what led to the first "Fire Andy" chants and mass exodus from the stadium barely halfway through the third quarter. Ouch. The populous has finally turned, and it's not a pretty sight. Things have been bad before, but never has the crowd serenaded the stadium with those two definitive words. I told Ray Didinger the only thing that would make Jeff Lurie even consider canning Reid is a full-scale fan mutiny. I never actually expected it to happen, but I think the fan base is starting to understand it has the ultimate power here and can, in fact, force change. Pissing off and alienating your customers into abandoning your product in protest is a death sentence for any business, and the Philadelphia Eagles are no different. But go ahead, Jeff, just try us.

Also courtesy of Les Bowen (from the same article):

The thing about the Patriots is, other than Tom Brady, they really don't beat you with superstar talent. They're just smarter, better coached, sounder, more professional. And that's something Joe Banner and Jeffrey Lurie really need to ponder.

Sure, that's something Banner and Lurie need to ponder. But will they? I doubt it. This franchise in Philadelphia is so wholly up its own ass that it still puts itself on the same level as the Patriots. Might as well just call them the Jonestown Jeffstown Golden (Standard) Eagles.

2. Apathy. It has set in for the fans, and I think the same goes for the players. For the most part they seem so nonchalant and complacent about losing -- it's like they are comfortable with it. Few things rub fans the wrong way quite like feeling as though the players don't care as much about winning as they do themselves.

Honorable mention: Dan Dierdorf. If I never have to hear that boob attempt to color commentate on a game I watch ever again, it will be too soon. What a bumbling doofus.

The Awesome

Jim Washburn vs. Marty Morn-HIN-weg, Round One. I'll take passion out of my football team any way I can get it, even if it means coaches going at each other. Hell, we know most of the players don't give a shit. I pray there's a round two to this. My money -- all of it -- is on the guy who hasn't before in his life elected to kick off after winning the coin toss in overtime. What do you think the combustible Washburn was so pissed about that he verbally eviscerated the offensive coordinator in plain sight on the sideline for everyone to see right before the Pats took over on offense and scored the touchdown to put them up 21-10? Probably what the rest of us were pissed about, and this all happened before the game got out of hand. While yesterday's newest report says the tiff started because Washburn and Morn-HIN-weg bumped into each other on the sideline, I'm still inclined to believe the original leak that came before the attempted damage control and cover-up. You know, the one that intimated Washburn wasn't particularly pleased with Andy Reid minion numero uno's play-calling. I believe the confrontation happened on the three-and-out (the one that featured a hand-off to Chad Hall) five minutes into the second quarter, immediately after the beleaguered defense had stopped the Patriots offense following a Vince Young interception. Listen, Jim, why don't you stick to the defensive line and let the geniuses handle the offense? It's obvious that you, like the fans, are just some dumb mouth breather who has no idea how to win in the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE. Not like Andy Reid and Marty Morn-HIN-weg do. You win in this league by keeping the ball out of the hands of your best player and making sure the opposing quarterback, one of the best ever, has every opportunity to get on the field and pick apart your wretched defense. DUH, WINNING! This is day one stuff, dude.

In all seriousness, though, I'm perversely overjoyed about this spat. Is this thing finally crumbling from the inside? It's no surprise that the guy to start the process is someone who hasn't been part of the groupthink and lemming culture that has pervaded this franchise for over a decade. Hell, I'd hire Jim Washburn to be the fucking offensive coordinator. Andy already set a precedent by promoting his offensive line coach to run the defense. I, admittedly, wasn't up in arms about the Castillo hiring at first, but I've seen all I need to see. Besides, if you're going to go full retard (copyright Tropic Thunder) irresponsibly rogue, don't half-ass it. Then again, half-assing it is pretty much the only thing the Eagles have done well this season.

I want to see rookies and other depth players featured prominently for the rest of the season. These last five games should be treated as preseason and everyone on the roster and within the organization should be subject to an objective and thorough evaluation. Give Dion Lewis and Clay Harbor a chance to do more on offense, and for the love of God, just start Curtis Marsh at one of the cornerback spots. He's legit and will only get better with playing time and experience, trust me on this. How about getting an extended look at Jaiquawn Jarrett, too? Time to see which players should be a part of the future and which should be kicked to the curb.

Lastly, I leave you with a little anecdote. It comes courtesy of a close friend's father, with whom I watched the game on Sunday. He's almost 60 now and has been watching the Eagles since 1961. After I told him that he's obviously at fault for the past 50 years because the last season the Eagles won anything was the year before he started following the team, he let loose with two statements that I think sum things up pretty well.

First, he said there was a time when at least you knew the Eagles had no chance and there weren't these extravagant expectations. You went to the games to get drunk or smoke pot -- hey, it was the 70's -- in the 700 level at the Vet. Fans didn't love the team any less, but at least they didn't have to suffer the indignation of self-righteous ownership and management feeding them bullshit and calling it filet mignon. "They (ownership and management) can say what they want," he lamented, "but they treat the fans like idiots and really couldn't care less about us. They're just happy to take our money." I think the final part is more a bitter and sinister notion that has taken on a life of its own, but it says something that a fair portion of the fan base shares a similar sentiment.

Second, in his 50 years as a fan, this is easily the most disappointing "team" and season he's witnessed. He went on to say that he can accept losing, but he can't accept complete and utter incompetence, especially when it's compounded by indifference. He said Sunday is the last game he watches until there is a seismic change in both the roster and hierarchical structure of the team -- though really he just means the head coach because he knows Lurie, Banner, and Roseman won't be going anywhere. But far be it for them to admit that there are significant, glaring flaws with the construction of this roster (which, of course, is also the fault of Andy, who has final say on all personnel decisions.)

And thus concludes my game recaps for the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles. I too have no desire to watch the rest of the season, much less spend my time and energy writing about it. It's humiliating to be a fan. This "team" and franchise have already lost my patronage and now no longer even deserve my attention nor courtesy. But I also want to take this moment to thank everybody who has read my articles and inspired me to perhaps pursue this avenue of work as something more than just a hobby.

Now, just watch, I'll be back a month from now with the Eagles at 8-7 and somehow, miraculously, in position to clinch a playoff spot with a win against the Redskins. Those very Redskins, by the way, currently have an identical 4-7 record to this shit heap of a "team" festering in South Philadelphia. At this point, tell me truthfully, you'd rather they just lose and get it over with. Right? You should.

Alright, fine, gotta beat Dallas. That will make losing every other game much easier to deal with.

PS - As an appreciator and frequent user of sarcasm, I feel Bob Ford's eulogy for the 2011 season is a pretty appropriate follow-up read.