(Ed. Note: This article was submitted BEFORE last night's preseason game/abomination against the Steelers)
I need someone to talk me into it. This isn't me being pessimistic -- although that's my standard mindset -- or wanting to piss all over everyone's (premature) parade, but rather the result of a defense mechanism I've constructed during the last decade of watching the team play football. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
I am long past twice being fooled by Andy Reid and his Eagles. If Reid himself hasn't changed as a play-caller (I know, I know, Marty Mornhinweg calls the plays now -- right? -- but come on, you know Andy runs the show) or in-game manager, then this free agency spending spree and all the resulting hype and hope will be for naught. I'd say something like 80% of Eagles fans are drinking the Kool-Aid right now. Heavily. I wonder if those same 80% recall that talent hasn't been the problem with this team so much as shitting the bed in the playoffs.
At the end of last season, I vowed I wouldn't let Andy Reid and the Eagles fool me again. Nothing that has happened since then has changed my mind. The flashy signings are sexy and exciting, but I require substance over style. I need to see a change on the field more than a change to the roster -- I need something that makes me believe this team and this coaching staff are different. And, if we're being honest, I have serious doubts about that happening.
Why? Because, as far as I can tell, Andy Reid still thinks his formula for winning is infallible. It's not. I think the last 12 years have made that pretty clear. No matter, THE FORMULA CANNOT BE COMPROMISED NOR ALTERED. Besides, what fun is winning if you're not doing it your way?
If anything, I'm expecting Reid to remain zealous as ever in his quest to prove he's been right all along and further indulge in his vices as a coach. Watch the pass/run ratio be comically skewed, which, in turn, will increase the likelihood of Michael Vick getting injured to something like 99.9% (all guesses approximate). We now have a wide receiver corps consisting of DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant (he's a stud and poised to have a breakout season), Steve Smith, and Riley Cooper (who looks really good and could be a major weapon, by the way).
Combine that stable of talented wide receivers with Reid's patented stubbornness and steadfast devotion to the passing game, and, well, why wouldn't he put at least four of those five guys on the field regularly? Big Red must be happier than a pig rolling around in its own shit. If anything, he now has even more of a reason to call a pass on every down. Yeah, nothing's going to change. Sure, the weekly aerial displays will make for some breathtaking highlights and enthralling regular season games, but, inevitably, it's a philosophy that's going to fizzle in the playoffs.
A good team with an elite defense and a smart coaching staff is going to figure out a way to neutralize the Eagles' bread and butter on offense, at which point Reid and his coaches are going to have to adjust their gameplan on the fly. Except that they'll refuse to do so and consequently lose. It's a staple of the Andy Reid era, and a major reason why his Eagles haven't been able to get over that proverbial hump. Remember, we're talking about a coach who would rather lose with the pass than win with the run. While that's (hopefully) a hyperbolic assertion, how disheartening is it that you could easily convince yourself it's true? Holy shit, HAND THE FUCKING BALL OFF TO LESEAN MCCOY 18-20 TIMES PER GAME, MINIMUM (and sprinkle in some Ronnie Brown).
Quarterback is somewhat of an important position, so hopefully whoever is calling the plays helps protect Michael Vick from being subject to an inordinate amount of physical punishment and/or getting decapitated. Especially because our offensive line is currently somewhere between bad and unsettled. As for Vick himself, will he get better at blitz pickup -- which was his undoing last season -- and continue evolving into the black Steve Young? Or will he revert to the bad habits that made him into a turnover machine in the final weeks of the season? Vick must be smarter about when to run and, most importantly, HOW he runs. And, dude, when you do tuck the ball and scramble, get out of bounds instead of taking vicious hits to pick up an extra yard or two. It's not worth it (depends on the circumstance, of course).
There are also external forces conspiring against letting the Eagles waltz to the Super Bowl. You know, like other teams; for my money, both the Packers and Saints are superior already, especially in the coaching department. Winning the NFC East isn't going to be a cakewalk, either. I almost feel as though people are casting the Cowboys and Giants aside as afterthoughts, which is naive and idiotic (dismissing the Redskins is perfectly acceptable; they should be in full Suck for Luck mode anyway).
The Cowboys are still loaded at the skill positions and, for the first time in forever, are going into a season without a nauseating amount of hype and the typical orgy of media publicity. It might turn out to be the best thing that's happened to them in recent memory. This was a team that played some damn good football once Jason Garrett took over mid-season. I see last year as an aberration, unfortunately. With Tony Romo, Felix Jones (this is the year he takes that next step), Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten leading the offense, and DeMarcus Ware highlighting a once-proud defense with something to prove, expect the Cowboys to challenge for the NFC East title in 2011. There's still not a team I loathe more in the entire universe.
The Giants definitely lost good players in Kevin Boss and Steve Smith, but they still have Eli Manning throwing to Hakeem Nicks (he'll cement himself as one of the five best wide receivers in football this season) and Mario Manningham (underrated), to go along with the two-headed monster of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs at running back (and former Pitt fullback/behemoth Henry Hynoski blocking for them). Once upon a time, Travis Beckum, Boss's replacement, was one of the country's best tight ends. But that was back in 2006 and 2007 when he played at Wisconsin, before nagging injuries derailed his career. Now fully healthy, can he recapture some of that old form?
On defense, that front four scares the living shit out of me. Justin Tuck is still Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora is still an elite pass rusher, and Jason Pierre-Paul is a total freak of nature who's going to explode onto the scene and put up double-digit sacks. At defensive tackle, Chris Canty is an effective player, the mammoth Linval Joseph is going to get his shot as a starter, and rookie Marvin Austin was at one point considered an elite prospect before the UNC scandal torpedoed his draft stock. The linebacker situation isn't anything to write home about, although I do like Jonathan Goff in the middle.
It's the Giants' secondary, however, that doesn't get the recognition it deserves. Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle comprise a formidable safety tandem, while Corey Webster and Terrell Thomas (2010 stats: 101 TT, 5 INT, 4 FF) is the best cornerback duo no one talks about. For further Giants knob slobbing, I'll direct you to KC Joyner's article on ESPN.com (this link is for those of you without Insider). Note: The linked article was not meant to be presented as evidence... just further Giants knob slobbing. While Joyner does have a propensity for talking out of his ass, he also makes some points I feel are valid (i.e. the likelihood of Eli Manning's interception total decreasing, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham being better than -- or at least on par with -- DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, Jason Pierre-Paul improving an already dangerous pass rush, and a healthy Kenny Phillips providing a significant upgrade in the secondary).
Meanwhile, for all the celebrating of the Eagles' additions on defense, the following five players are slated to start at the linebacker and safety positions: Moise Fokou, Casey Matthews, Jamar Chaney, Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman/Jaiquawn Jarrett. If you're not an Eagles fan, could you even tell me which of those players are the linebackers and which are the safeties? How many of those names do you honestly recognize? One? And it's Casey Matthews, right?
Speaking of the younger Matthews, don't even get me started on the farce that is simply handing the starting middle linebacker job to a fourth-round rookie without so much as giving him any competition for the role. It's not about whether the Eagles will ultimately be right or wrong about Matthews, but that it's a completely unnecessary risk to be taking. I just don't understand not signing a veteran linebacker (Kirk Morrison and Lofa Tatupu, for example, are still out there), if only for depth/insurance purposes.
It's here that I should mention the front office did sign a veteran safety, Jarrad Page, and it wouldn't surprise me if he takes over one of the starting spots at some point. Of the players listed above (not including Page), only Fokou has more than ONE season of NFL experience. I'm not saying they can't/won't be good (I've been a Nate Allen fan since his days at South Florida), but none of them are striking even the slightest bit of fear into opposing offenses. If I'm an opponent, I challenge the middle of the Eagles' defense by lining up and running the ball right down its throat. At least Chaney is the real deal and has the speed and athleticism to excel as a coverage linebacker.
It's perfectly fine to have confidence in your young players (that's why you draft them), but this whole situation just reeks of the pigheadedness and arrogance within the organization that has been the target of so much ridicule over the years. The most aggravating and infuriating part is that ownership/management/coaching HAS NOT EARNED THE RIGHT to be this arrogant.
Speaking of said arrogance, the Eagles fancy themselves a Super Bowl contender but have two rookies at kicker and punter. At least a few games are going to come down to a field goal kick, and you have to think one of those will be in the playoffs. Not to disparage Alex Henery -- because if ever there's candidate to succeed in the pros based on collegiate accomplishments, it's him -- but wouldn't it be nice to have a guy who's done it before at the NFL level? This reminds me of 2007, when Andy Reid and the front office poo-pooed the kick and punt returner positions as a trivial part of the roster. Remember what happened in the first game of that season against Green Bay? I do. On the flip side, I like to think that humiliating debacle played a part in drafting DeSean Jackson in 2008.
For all the uncertainty at linebacker and safety, at least the Eagles boast a front four and cornerback trio as talented as any in the league. This season is going to hinge on the play of the defense and how quickly Juan Castillo adapts to his role as a coordinator. Jim Washburn has already made his presence felt along the defensive line and instilled a pugnacious, bloodthirsty attitude -- his charges are to refer to themselves as "guard killers" -- that's been missing since Tommy Brasher retired.
The pass rush should be vastly improved, and, as we know, it's the pressure up front that typically dictates how a defense is going to perform. Add that to Nnamdi Asomugha and Asante Samuel locking down the outside receivers and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie patrolling the slot (or whatever Castillo decides to do with them), and the potential for something special is brewing. But that potential for greatness could easily turn into disaster if the middle of the defense isn't up to snuff. A tenacious, attacking, and ELITE defense used to be part of the Eagles' identity. It's time to get back to that. Castillo is one intense hombre, and hopefully the unit reflects his mentality.
Trust me, I want to believe, but I'm not going to let myself fall into that trap again. The Eagles are still the same old Eagles until they prove to me otherwise. Same goes for Andy Reid. Why should I believe he is going to suddenly fix his glaring faults as a coach? At some point, the man is what he is, right? We've seen moments where Reid does something that makes you think he's starting to get it, but he never progresses beyond that. I'd love for him to prove me wrong, but I have 12 years of evidence suggesting he won't. Some people will think I'm being an overly negative asshole who hates happiness, sunshine, babies, puppies, and freedom. I think I'm just being pragmatic.