As the Philadelphia Eagles spin in a seemingly unstoppable downward spiral, observers debate who deserves the blame for this disastrous season.
No one argues about the facts.
The Eagles are eight games down. Two coaches have been fired. The starting quarterback is out with a concussion, perhaps for the rest of the season, perhaps for the duration of his contract.
Not since 1968 has Philadelphia lost eight consecutive games. The Eagles' 2012 season will go down in the history books of Philadelphia sports as one of the worst on record. Few disagree on its meaning—the end of an era has come to the City of Brotherly Love.
While the era may be nearly over, the arguments about what went wrong are just beginning. Experts are destined to dispute how the preseason media shower of accolades turned into such a muddy mess of losses.
At the heart of the dispute is a single question that analysts strive to answer and Eagles fans shout to the open sky over The Linc: Who killed the Eagles' chances for a championship year?
Philadelphia Daily News staffer Les Bowen blames team owner Jeffrey Lurie for creating a climate of insecurity for head coach Andy Reid. The doubt that Lurie cast over the season and over Reid’s performance caused the coach to react hesitantly to team issues.
A coach covered in the confidence of his chairman moves quickly and decisively. Per Bowen:
Lurie was just needlessly postponing the inevitable last January, setting up a wasted year.
The ceaseless finger-pointing will abate only when a winning year forces this head-hanger to recede into Eagles history.
In the meantime, general manager Howie Roseman remains one of the prime culprits of the 2012 fiasco.
At the same time, Roseman had influence and authority to impact the creation of the present Eagles team and persuade its head coach.
Ford went on to say the following:
Their roster is not good enough. And the bottom half of that roster, where they get the special teams units, which have been horrendous, was put together by Howie Roseman. The Eagles are $20 million under salary cap right now. They brought in a nice cheap product, and when somebody gets hurt and they have to go down to the bottom of that roster and bring in a reserve player, guess what? They’re awful.
Every Eagles fan and media representative can recite the Reid postgame refrain: I take responsibility for that. (Followed closely by: We’ve got to do a better job with that.)
After the recent Monday-night loss to the Carolina Panthers, a reporter pointedly asked Reid if his players just were not understanding their assignments. In the November 27 postgame conference, Reid emphatically denied it was the players’ fault:
I'm going to take full responsibility. There's a way to get through and I'm not doing that right now.
Most would argue that Reid has precious few minutes left to communicate with his players. During a recent discussion on the potential dismissal of Reid this season, football analysts on the NFL Network made the case for Reid to finish the season.
There was no question among the panel that this season would be Reid’s last in Philadelphia.
At the center of Eagles controversy is the core of Philly's offense, Michael Vick. When he arrived in Philadelphia, freshly back in the NFL after nearly two years in prison, fans hoped for and skeptics waited to see proof of his value on the field.
In 2010, Vick’s first year as a starter, he made his case to lead the Eagles offense. His 103.6 passer rating was third best in the league that season. The No. 1 and No. 2 spots were held by Tom Brady and Phillip Rivers.
Regrettably, those numbers would not be repeated.
As of now, rookie quarterback Nick Foles has averaged 5.6 yards per play. Michael Vick has averaged 5.3 yards per play.
CSN Philly.com columnist Reuben Frank wrote a comprehensive piece on Vick for the sports news website:
In the span of 40 months, Vick has gone from the biggest story in the country to a sidebar on his own team.
Would things have been different if Vick had a more consistent offensive line, a respectable defense, and an offensive coordinator who made more of a commitment to the running game?
Maybe. But it’s too late to wonder what if.
It may be too late to scrutinize what could have been done differently in Philadelphia, but that will not stop the CSI-like examination of this team.
Among the many numbers attributed to the Eagles offense this year, one figure hits a sore spot among Eagles fandom: They are tied for 30th in turnovers.
No matter that the same Eagles offense in Week 14 is ranked 12th in the league. Those stats only add to the sting of what could have been.
With all of the unused talent on the Philadelphia bench, Sports Illustrated's Peter King called the Eagles offense “a disgrace.”
“Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg have failed to harness Michael Vick's ability and train him to be a very good all-around quarterback.”
First it was defensive coordinator Juan Castillo. Then it was defensive line coach Jim Washburn. A discussion between ESPN’s First Take hosts and former Eagles defensive captain Brian Dawkins illustrates the frustrations regarding the defense.
Co-host Skip Bayless summed up the Eagles in Week 14:
I have never seen a team picked to go so far by so many experts and media members in the preseason fall so far, so quickly.
Bayless added that the “star-studded” defense with no significant injuries ranks 28th in sacks. Last year the Eagles tied for the league lead in sacks.
The former Pro Bowler Dawkins blamed the Eagles’ struggles on accountability and communication.
Co-host Stephen A. Smith pushed Dawkins to answer a pointed question:
This Philadelphia Eagles defense may be the softest Philadelphia Eagles defense I have seen in 20 years…Number one: Can that be explained? Number two: Am I lying?
Dawkins offered a subdued but plain response: “I can’t explain it…As a unit, I want more.”
Eagles Nation would agree.