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2011 Philadelphia Eagles: The Best 3-5 Team Ever

Welcome back, Eagles. It's the first week of November... is the season really already over for the dreamiest of Dream Teams? Well, no, but saying that making the playoffs is an uphill battle would be an understatement. The Eagles pooped themselves on Monday Night Football and came crashing back to Earth. The mission to salvage the season again begins anew against the Cardinals.

Ah, here we go. That's more like our beloved Eagles, outclassed by a tougher, more physical football team that just wanted it more. They are who we thought they were. GET OUT YOUR PITCHFORKS AND GRAMMATICALLY EMBARRASSING SIGNS! Now, let the disjointed ranting and raving commence.

Before I go any further, here's all you need to know about where the Eagles stack up against the better squads in the league...

Number of teams with a winning record whom the Eagles have defeated: 0

Number of teams with a winning record to whom the Eagles have lost: 5

That's been a common theme during the Andy Reid era, not beating the good teams and instead feasting on the little sisters of the poor.

Anyway, yeah, that was a stinker. Really the only word that comes to mind. It was the 1-4 Eagles that showed up last night, the team that blew three fourth quarter leads in the first five games of the season. Well, let's make that four in eight games. Oh, and at 3-5, the outlook for the playoffs is grim, especially because the Falcons (5-3) and now Bears (5-3) hold the tiebreakers. Speaking of the Bears, all week the overwhelming narrative revolved around fellating the Eagles and singing their praises as a team that had finally righted the ship and was on the upswing. Nary a mention of the fact that the Eagles were, you know, playing another team. Specifically a Chicago Bears team that, at 4-3, got absolutely zero respect from the national media, Vegas, and the general betting public. They played pissed off and punched the Eagles in the mouth over and over again. And while the Eagles responded for a little bit, they ultimately folded. Per usual.

So, did you allow yourself any flicker of hope that Vick might lead the team down the field at the end for a game-winning touchdown? Of course you didn't. Right now, off the top of your head, tell me a game in which an Andy Reid team came back in the final minutes to score a touchdown for the win. You can't because it hasn't occurred. No, I'm serious, that has never happened during Andy's 12-year tenure as head coach. Not once has his team or his quarterback driven down the field to win the game in that fashion (down by more than three and needing a touchdown to win). Pretty amazing. Then again, it's no secret that Andy's teams have generally always lacked the intangible quality -- whether it be mental toughness, testicular fortitude, grit, confidence, poise, whatever -- needed to win close, grind-it-out games, especially when trailing in the final minutes.* It's not a coincidence anymore, either, and Michael Vick is doing his best Donovan McNabb impression in crunch time. At no point during that final drive did I feel anything bordering on confidence... and, honestly, I don't even know what it feels like to have confidence in my quarterback with the game on the line. It's fucking awful.

*Edit: In fact, this has been the elephant in the room for a while and something that could (should?) end up defining Andy's legacy as much as his successes.

The reality is not encouraging, and this doesn't look like a team that will make the playoffs, let alone a run at the Super Bowl. Sad but true. Also sad but true is that the Eagles have the same record as the following teams: Redskins, Browns, Broncos. Teams that are one game behind the Eagles: Arizona, Seattle, Minnesota, Jacksonville, Carolina. This is bad, people. Real bad. Now, is the season over and should you hope for the Eagles to lose every game except against Dallas? We're not quite there yet. Win next week against Arizona (losing is a fireable offense) and go into the Meadowlands at 4-5 with a chance to get to .500 against a Giants team that will be either 6-3 or 7-2. The next opponent is a Patriots team that looks very beatable and no longer exudes an aura of invincibility and intimidation. As we've seen, Andy Reid's Eagles have a knack for responding when their backs are against the wall, but it's not exactly a sustainable nor prudent habit. The Eagles just made a difficult road exponentially more daunting.*

*Edit: I'm sure they'll tease us some more along the way just for fun. Ugh, I can see it now. This team will rally and go 7-1 to end the season, snatching either the NFC East crown or a Wild Card berth... only to abandon all semblance of a balanced attack on offense and have the defense come up microscopic in a first round playoff loss.

It's a pretty familiar feeling, but it never gets any less disheartening, right? The Eagles went limp on offense and defense with the game on the line, and your heart sank. Though in all fairness, Jay Cutler made some absolutely jaw-dropping plays that few other quarterbacks can. That drive to take a 27-24 lead had three such plays that left you speechless, shaking your head, and, if you're me, feeling like a doltish jackass for calling Cutler a chinless (still true) fraud (not so true).

The Good

1. Howard Mudd might end up being the best thing that's happened to Jason Peters' career. Peters is thriving in this system and consistently flashes his rare athleticism for such a large human being when he gets to the second level. When the Eagles needed a big run last night, the play call was to the left side. There's no denying Peters as a Pro Bowl-level talent, but it seems like during his time with the Eagles he's gotten to Honolulu based more on his name than play. Not the case right now.

2. Brian Rolle. We've got ourselves a good one in Brian Rolle. All he does is make plays on the ball and was even fortunate enough to record his first career forced fumble, fumble recovery, and touchdown all in one fell swoop. Why Rolle didn't start from the beginning of the season is beyond me (he clearly outplayed Casey Matthews in the preseason), but let's remember that I'm a stupid fan with no idea what I'm talking about. Now, for something a little less snarky and pontificating-y. I may give the Eagles front office grief for not placing a high priority on linebacker, but that's two years in a row Howie Roseman and his staff have found a quality player at the position in the final rounds of the draft. Gotta give credit where it's due.

3. Special teams coverage. Uh, hey, at least Devin Hester didn't burn us in the return game. Not so good: Hester was a non-factor, Matt Forte lost two fumbles for the first time in his career, and the Eagles still lost. Naturally.

4. The highlight reel touchdown run by LeSean McCoy. Shady, Barry Sanders called, he says you can keep his moves.

The Bad

1. Toughness. Still lacking. When the game got down to the end, only one team dug deep and found the resolve to pull through. It wasn't the Eagles. Again, toughness isn't something that can be cultivated in a few weeks. It's an identity that must be developed over time, and one the Eagles have not exactly been known for under Andy Reid. At its core, this is still a finesse football team that can get pushed around the field and bullied for four quarters. That's not how you win Super Bowls.

2. The entire defense. Juan Castillo and his players worked in tandem to blow this game. Soft against the run and way too many easy conversions allowed, especially in long-yardage situations. The defense, which simply is just not that good, couldn't get a stop to save its life. After two and a half impressive games, Castillo once again looked like the overmatched defensive coordinator we saw through the season's first five weeks. The schemes were laughably ineffective, and not a single blitz got to Jay Cutler. Sure, he made some ridiculous plays to avoid pressure, but there were plenty of times when the Eagles brought extra pass rushers -- typically on third down -- and were easily stymied by that much-maligned Bears offensive line. Max protect or not, the pressure needs to find a way to get there. Overall, though, the entire Eagles defense was a disappointment. It's really unacceptable for the unit to be so impotent during the most critical junctures. When the game is close in the final 15 minutes, this defense has wilted and relented. It gives up points without much resistance, and, worse, seemingly helps the opposing offense by taking undisciplined penalties.*

*Edit: Granted, the roughing the passer call on Jason Babin near the end of the first half to give the Bears a new set of downs and the chance to score a touchdown (which they did) was pure horse manure.

3. Third down defense. I guess this is more 2b than its own bullet point, but whatever. The defense had little trouble stopping the Bears on first and second down, but on third down? Pathetic. The Bears, a team that had converted a paltry 30% of its third downs going into the game (fourth-worst in the league), converted seven of 14 opportunities. Is there anything more frustrating than the inability to get off the field on third down? NOPE. Side note: I don't know about you, but when I looked back at the box score, I was shocked to see that the Eagles offense went eight of 14 on third down. Because it sure didn't seem that way.

4. Red zone defense. The Bears went three for four scoring touchdowns in the red zone. Once again, this defense can't stop opposing offenses once they get inside the 20. Soft.

5. Cornerbacks. I have to hand it to the Eagles' trio of Pro Bowl cornerbacks -- it's hard to make Earl Bennet and Roy E. Williams look like elite wide receivers, but that's exactly what transpired. A week after shutting down Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten, the cornerbacks come out and play like that? Are you kidding me with this shit? What a joke. Jay Cutler only passed for 208 yards, but he might as well have put up 400. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie sucks and is completely lost playing the slot. Asante Samuel (what the hell was he doing on that touchdown pass to Earl Bennet?), who can't be cut soon enough, is probably my most-hated Philadelphia athlete since... ever? Nnamdi Asomugha looked, um, bad and got abused more than a few times; worst of all was that obvious pass interference on 3rd and 11* that gave the Bears a new set of downs near the goal line during the drive that resulted in the Robbie Gould field goal to make it 30-24. An all-around horrendous night for the secondary, regardless of the fact that the pressure from the front four was putrid and Jay Cutler managed to pull some ridiculous plays out of his ass.

*Edit: That play happened around 11:36 PM. At 11:35, this is the text I sent out in the iMessage thread that includes three other friends: "I'd be willing to bet any amount of money the Bears convert this."

I was going to rip on Asante some more and bring up this specific play, but a user with the handle joe9alt commented on a Philadelphia Daily News piece and already covered it:

In watching the debacle that is the Eagles this season there are different guys you can key on that all personify it. Last night, the guy that I happened to key on was Asante Samuel. I'm not going to bring up the touchdown that he looked like an idiot on. Instead I'm going to talk about a run play that happened early in the game. I wish I had a clip I could link because this was truly one of the most pathetic, cowardly acts I've ever seen on a football field. Cutler handed off to Forte early. No play action. No trickery. Forte made some cuts and got past the defensive line, the linebackers were nowhere as usual, and I swear to God Asante Samuel ran TO the wide receiver he was covering and started dancing with him -- playing like he was getting blocked just so he didn't have to try to make the tackle -- as soon as Forte blew by him, Samuel stopped dancing with the WR and then stood there and watched as somebody else made the tackle. It was horrible.

I guess I wasn't the only one who saw that, even though for a split second when it happened I couldn't believe what I had witnessed. Asante is such a fraud. Yeah, but, uh, he isn't paid to make tackles!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Again, I cannot wait until this pussy clown is cut or otherwise jettisoned out of town. What a disgrace. An expensive one, too.

6. Offensive line. A week after putting forth their best performance of the season, Howard Mudd's gang of Mudders got owned by the Bears' ferocious front four. Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije were a terror throughout the night and were constantly hitting Vick, much like they did in last season's game between these two teams.

7. Michael Vick. This was a bad game for Michael Vick, no question about it. There's also no question that he's uncomfortable and skittish against a Bears defense that clearly understands how to play against him. That athletic front seven consistently collapses the pocket, applies intense pressure, swarms to the football, and never skimps on an opportunity to physically punish Vick. That accumulation of hits takes its toll over the course of the game, and Vick's hesitation to run and expose himself further was certainly a factor on some of his ugly throws. He probably should have been picked off three times on the night, instead of just once, which was the result of a terrible decision and even worse throw. Actually, what perturbed me most about that play was that the Eagles had just picked up a first down running the ball and then immediately went away from it. Typical. Also typical: The final fourth down play. I mean, really? This team just finds ways to lose in hilarious fashion. Vick threw high to Maclin, who lost his balance after stretching to make the catch (at least he caught the ball this time), stumbled briefly, and then fell down a few yards short of the first down. My reaction? Laughter.

8. DeSean Jackson. Hubris. It's what makes him such a breathtaking game-breaker, but it's also what makes him a gigantic liability. That punt return fumble with a little over a minute left in the first half was beyond unacceptable. Seriously, what the fuck? Your team has all the momentum after a defensive touchdown and ensuing three-and-out, and the offense is about to get the ball with a chance to take the lead before the half. Just call for a fair catch. Especially call for it when you're running toward the sideline to make a high-risk catch and have the gunners on the coverage team bearing down on you. To do otherwise is totally selfish and idiotic. But what do you expect from DeSean? That's how the guy rolls. He's angling for a new contract and wants to make the big plays that'll bolster his argument for deserving a lucrative pay day. What's worse, that desire is only exacerbated when DeSean is frustrated at not getting touches on offense, and it translates into trying to do too much (and, whether he realizes it or not, putting himself before the team). Also don't underestimate how badly he wanted to show up Hester and stake his claim as the most dangerous kick returner in the game. I really do think that factors in with a player whose ego is as bloated as Jackson's. It was an unforgivably dumb, self-centered decision to try and make a play on that punt return. Period. His 16 yards on two catches didn't help matters, either. Again, as explosive as DeSean is, he's just as likely to be completely taken out of a game. That's the reason he's not an elite wide receiver and shouldn't be paid like one over the course of a long-term contract. It's one electric performance followed by four lackluster ones with DeSean, as consistency continues to be his Achilles heel. He's boom or bust, with too much bust. If we're being perfectly honest, I'd slap the franchise tag on Jackson in the offseason and then explore a trade.

9. Offensive play-calling. The Bears called 32 passes and 34 runs, while the Eagles called 39 passes and 23 runs (only 19 of which were designed runs, and, worse, only 16 carries for Shady). The Bears won the game. After two games leaning on the run, Marty/Andy went away from it and returned to their pass-heavy ways. Again, a lack of balance on offense. Again, a crippling loss. What, you were expecting different? Foolishly, I sorta was and thought Marty/Andy would stick with the run for another game just to get to .500 before going back to the 70/30 pass/run split. Silly me.

The Ugly: This portion of the game recap is new, long-overdue, obviously obvious given the titles of the two preceding segments, and a special honor reserved for those who truly earned it.

1. Fourth quarter defense -- and offense. In four of the Eagles' losses this season, they've been outscored 46-0 in the fourth quarter. Hold on a second, I'm going to go stick my head in the microwave.

2. The Eagles pass rush. Zero sacks against an offensive line that came into the game ranked 27th in adjusted sack rate. Truly stunning and unbelievable. Granted, the Bears regularly called for seven or eight-man protection schemes, but still. Of course it's the defense's biggest strength that fails them in a crucial game against a team that's among the league leaders in sacks allowed. It's not like the front four didn't get any pressure, but the defensive linemen just couldn't corral the sneakily slippery Jay Cutler and bring him down when they got the chance.

3. Chas Henry. Sweet arm, guy. Way to fire that bad boy in there. I mean, I expected the kicking situation to cost the Eagles a game or two during the season (which it did against San Francisco), but never did I expect it would happen like that. Perfect play-call (revealed to be an audible), not-so-perfect execution. Which is to say it looked like a 12-year old girl made that throw. Classic Eagles.

"Have you ever wanted something so bad in your life, and you get that moment and you just throw up on yourself? That's what [Henry] did." - Trent Dilfer

This is why I vowed not to let the Eagles fool me again after the end of last season and reaffirmed that pledge in the preseason. I hope you can understand. You were all ready to forget about that 1-4 start and embrace this team, weren't you? You were ready to forget about the problems that had presented themselves over the first five weeks, or at least convince yourself said problems had been fixed. You were ready to believe the Eagles had turned that proverbial corner. Nope, same old Eagles. They did it to you again, just ripped out your heart and crapped all over it. At this point it truly seems like that is our ultimate destiny as football fans.

It's a shitty loss, but give the Bears credit for being the tougher team. The defense played like it was sick and tired of hearing about how awesome and explosive and unstoppable the Eagles offense is. That unit was able to stifle Vick last year, and they did it again last night. While the national media was busy hopping back on the Eagles' collective nuts, they seldom mentioned this ominous tidbit: Michael Vick has had difficulty against the Bears' athletic, pressure defense and its Cover 2 scheme his entire career. Going into the game he was 0-3 against them as a starter. He's now 0-4 (0-2 with the Falcons and 0-2 with the Eagles). When the Bears are getting nine points against a Michael Vick-led team, you'd be wise to put your money on them. Beyond that, this specific Bears regime has always had teams that give Andy Reid's Eagles fits. It features a fast, aggressive defense with linebackers who can take away the middle of the field and restrict Vick's room to run at the same time. That's something very few defenses can do, but having players like Urlacher and Briggs allows for Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli to run their scheme to perfection and masterfully contain Vick.

All I hear with this Eagles team is a whole bunch of "ifs." If we had executed better. If we hadn't turned the ball over. If we had just made a few more plays. Listen, assholes, if my aunt had a dick, she'd be my uncle. Stop making lame excuses and recognize that maybe you're just not quite the juggernaut you thought. Just shut up. Last night's game against the Bears was a chance for the Eagles to make a statement about who they are as a football team. They made a statement, alright, loud and clear. I maintain that if the Eagles were actually good, they'd have been 5-4 going into the Week 11 tilt at the Meadowlands against the Giants. I'm sticking by that statement. This team just can't seem to get out of its own way.

Edit: There's a lot of delusional groupthink emanating from that locker room, lots of guys who can talk the talk but not walk the walk. All the "we beat ourselves" horseshit is indicative of this team's warped mentality and haughty disposition. The Eagles did NOT beat themselves Monday night. The BEARS beat them because they were tougher, more determined, and dug deep to make the clutch plays when necessary. Period, end of story. How about giving the other team a little credit and acknowledging that there are other REAL problems aside from merely "beating ourselves"? The arrogance and obliviousness never cease to astonish and infuriate me. The players and head coach seem to tell the media they accept the blame just to say it, then they immediately undermine those words and render their meaning hollow with ensuing statements.

How many times did you find yourself shaking your head in disbelief and uttering the oh-so-common phrase of, "That would only happen to us"? Sure, that's a pretty regular feeling for any fan whose team has historically terrible luck and made it a yearly rite to devastate its followers. Just a classic Eagles loss; an entire team failure sprinkled with boneheaded you've-got-to-be-fucking-kidding me moments. What's that? Oh yeah, same shit, different season. Realistically, this team now has to go 7-1 the rest of the way make the playoffs. With games against the Giants, Patriots, Jets, and Cowboys (in Dallas) still to come, such a streak doesn't look promising.

I've become somewhat desensitized to the Eagles over the years. Don't get me wrong, being perpetual underachievers and falling short still boils my blood, but... I expect it. I'm numb to the disappointment. Still, after this particular game, I needed to do something to get my mind off the fact that my football team remains a bunch of losers, from top to bottom. Luckily, the series premier of AMC's Hell on Wheels had been recorded to the DVR. Thank God. So I sat back and permitted my mind to get absorbed in one hour of enthralling television -- an hour during which I didn't have to think about the Eagles choking like dogs for the umpteenth time and looking soft in the process. In related news, Hell on Wheels is, in hip terms, dope. Highly recommended. But I digress.

Back to the topic at hand. So... uh... tell me again why I should believe in the Philadelphia Eagles, and why is this season different from the others? Oh, right, it's not.

Edit: PS - I forgot to add this originally, but did everyone else hear Jon Gruden call the late Jim Johnson the "ex" Eagles defensive coordinator early in the first quarter? He's dead, you jerk, the Eagles didn't fucking fire him, and there wasn't an acrimonious parting. I'm sure Gruden didn't mean for it to come out like that, but he needs to show some respect and choose his words a little more carefully. Or just exercise a modicum of common sense and consideration.