Evaluating Andy Reid (Part 2): The 15 Best Decisions of Reid's Coaching Career
I posted Part One of this article about two weeks ago, stating the 15 worst decisions of Andy Reid's coaching career.
This one focuses on the best of Andy Reid: his 15 best coaching decisions of his career.
15. Picking Garcia over Feeley in 2006
Remember when Donovan McNabb went down with that season-ending injury in November of 2006, the third such of his career?
Andy Reid had two quarterbacks on his roster. One of them was a former Pro Bowler, Jeff Garcia, coming off back-to-back dreadful seasons as the starter for the Cleveland Browns and the Detroit Lions. Garcia seemed to be on the tail end of his career.
The other choice was popular fan favorite A.J. Feeley, who had won four of five starts when McNabb went down in 2002. Feeley had tried his stint as a starter in Miami, and although he had failed miserably, he was a young and athletic passer who knew the Eagles' system from his previous experience.
Logic seemed to point to Feeley. He had a much stronger arm than the aging Garcia, who had been noted for his weak arm that seemed to indicate he was on the decline of his quarterbacking days.
I wanted Feeley to start. Most people did.
So what did Reid do? He picked Garcia.
Garcia lost his first start—a 45-24 shellacking to the Indianapolis Colts noted more for the defense's inability to stop rookie running back Joseph Addai (121 rushing yards, four touchdowns). Garcia actually played very well, throwing for two touchdowns against no interceptions while posting a 121.0 passer rating.
From there on out, Garcia proceeded to win four consecutive games, the final three all road divisional games. Garcia's 10 touchdowns and two picks for the season helped the Eagles capture the NFC East title and even a playoff game over the Giants.
14. Resting starters for the final two games of 2004
With a 13-1 record and home field advantage already clinched throughout the playoffs, Reid had a difficult decision at hand: rest his starters, most likely lose the final two games, and go into the Divisional Round of the Playoffs having not played a competitive game in a month, or play his starters and risk injury.
Reid chose wisely, and rested his starters.
McNabb & Co. played just one series in Week 16 against St. Louis, driving down the field for a touchdown, before turning it over to Koy Detmer and the backups.
The subs ended up losing, 20-7, but there's no doubt in my mind that the Eagles' starters would have dominated the 8-8 Rams. Same with the following week, a 38-10 loss to the Bengals, a game in which the starters didn't even play at all.
When the Eagles headed into the NFC Divisional Round of the playoffs—a game against the high-powered Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss-led Vikings—experts wondered whether the rest would hurt the play of the Eagles.
McNabb threw for two touchdowns, and the defense came up big in an easy 27-14 win. The following week, the Eagles secured the franchise's first Super Bowl berth in 24 seasons with a 27-10 win over Michael Vick and the Falcons.
13. Bringing back Chad Lewis in 2000
Chad Lewis played for the Eagles from 1997-99, mostly as a backup tight end. He was released from the team halfway through the '99 season and was subsequently picked up by the St. Louis Rams. Lewis proceeded to win a Super Bowl with the Rams as a little-used player for The Greatest Show on Turf.
Reid brought Lewis back to the Eagles for the 2000 season, and it paid off. In Donovan McNabb's first full season as a starter, he turned Chad Lewis into his top receiving target. Lewis caught 69 passes for 735 yards and three touchdowns, earning an invitation to the NFC Pro Bowl squad.
Lewis would make three straight Pro Bowls for the Eagles and will forever be remembered for his two touchdown catches in the 2004 NFC Championship victory, a game that sent the Eagles to the franchise's first Super Bowl in 24 years.
12. Three-headed back in 2003
Sometimes I can't believe pass-happy Andy Reid was our coach during this very successful three-headed back system.
This backfield rivaled that of the '08 Baltimore Ravens (Le'Ron McClain, Ray Rice, and Willis McGahee) as the most successful running back trio of this decade.
Duce Staley was our veteran leader on the tail end of his career, Correll Buckhalter was the workhorse (receiving the most carries of any of the three), and Brian Westbrook was the up-and-coming superstar runner, receiver, and return specialist (13 total touchdowns).
Using this system helped the Eagles to a 12-4 season, taking pressure off McNabb, who suffered a broken thumb early in the year and a rough two-month stretch (three touchdowns compared to seven picks in September and October combined).
11. Signing Terrell Owens for the 2004 season
Notice I said for 2004. That season, Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens were arguably the two best players in the NFC. Owens caught 14 touchdowns in just 14 games, a single-season franchise record for an Eagles wide receiver.
The Eagles rolled through the playoffs without their star wideout (who had suffered an injury in Week 15) before Owens returned for a heroic Super Bowl performance. He wasn't at 100 percent, but T.O. caught nine passes for 122 yards in the game.
The move backfired that offseason and all throughout the 2005 season, but for one year, things were perfect in Philadelphia.
10. Drafting Quintin Demps and DeSean Jackson to solidify the returning duties
The Eagles struggled for several seasons in the punt and kick return units, filling in numerous potential candidates—Reno Mahe, J.R. Reed, Correll Buckhalter, Greg Lewis, Dexter Wynn, and Rod Hood—as returners.
None of those players was the answer.
In fact, they managed to cost our team several games over the years. For instance, in the 2007 season opener against the Packers, both Greg Lewis and J.R. Reed muffed punts in the same game.
So coming off a disappointing 2007 season in which the Eagles failed to make the playoffs, while finishing near the bottom of the pack in both punt and kick return average, the Birds made a big splash in the draft.
The team landed game-breaking, electrifying receiver and return man DeSean Jackson in the second round and speedy safety Quintin Demps in the fourth round out of Texas-El Paso.
Jackson was an All-American returner at the University of Cal-Berkeley and one of the fastest players in the draft, topping out at a 4.29 40-yard dash. Demps was a playmaking kick returner who was timed at 4.39 in the NFL Scouting Combine.
Those two players were immediately penciled in to be the starting returners in the punt and kick game, and they didn't disappoint. The Eagles were one of just five NFL teams in 2008 with a kick return AND a punt return touchdown.
Together, these two combined to give the Eagles great field position in 2008, helping the offense of McNabb & Co. set a franchise record with 416 points scored.
More importantly, Demps and Jackson locked up what has been a constant weakness for the Eagles and turned it into a strength.
It sure seems that Eagles fans can pencil in these two as the returners for the next five-plus years. Neither will turn into Devin Hester and score five or six return touchdowns per season, but both Jackson and Demps have Pro Bowl potential and should continue to shine in the return game.
9. Allowing McNabb to sit and learn as a rookie
I feel too many good quarterbacks are ruined by being forced to start their rookie season. Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco sure did fine this past year for their respective teams, but I think there is no point in taking a rookie QB and throwing him to the dogs.
Most first-round quarterbacks are picked by poor teams and thus not put into a winning situation. McNabb was no exception for the Eagles. The Birds were coming off a miserable 3-13 season in which the offense scored a league-low 161 points off the strength of quarterback Bobby Hoying's zero touchdown passes.
The receivers were weak, the running game was fair, and the offensive line was a big work in progress. Putting McNabb in too early probably wouldn't have paid off much.
Wisely, Reid chose to sit McNabb for the first half of the season before giving his quarterback limited action. McNabb ended up winning just two of his six starts, but his experience from watching Doug Pederson—every young quarterback's dream mentor—taught him well and thus began the start of a five-time Pro Bowl career.
8. The onside kick vs. Dallas in 2000
This wasn't just an onside kick. It was more than that. It set the tone for the Eagles' reign of dominance over the Cowboys this decade.
The Eagles won that game, 41-14, behind Duce Staley's 201 rushing yards and went on to win 11 games, capturing a wild card berth for the year. They swept the Cowboys for the season, the first time the Eagles had done so in years.
Over the next five years, the Eagles owned the Cowboys, winning eight of 10 games, including scores of 41-14, 36-3, 44-13, 49-21, and 40-18. It wasn't until the Eagles suffered through the injury season of 2005 and the Cowboys began to start Tony Romo at quarterback did the rivalry get some of its flair and competitiveness back.
7. Drafting Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley in back-to-back first rounds in 2005 and 2006
I love Patterson and Bunkley. They're two of the most underrated guys on the team and a big reason why the Eagles advanced to the NFC Championship Game this season.
Football games are won and lost in the trenches, and the selections of Patterson and Bunkley to restore the team's defensive line have had a major impact on the defense as a complete unit.
The Eagles ranked seventh in the league in run defense in 2007 and up to fourth in the NFL in 2008.
In fact, the Eagles as a team last year finished third in the NFL in total sacks (48). The defense's ability to apply constant pressure on the opposing quarterbacks helped the secondary finish third in the league in total passing yards allowed (182.1 per game).
Hopefully these two players can continue to anchor this defensive line for years to come.
6. Benching McNabb in 2008
I never would have imagined that I would be putting this on a list of Andy Reid's best decisions as a head coach.
I remember my reaction when this happened. I was furious. I was outraged. I was stunned.
It was a late-season game against the Baltimore Ravens, and McNabb was playing poorly, having turned the ball over three times already in the first half after four the previous week in a 13-13 tie against the hapless Cincinnati Bengals.
Seven turnovers in six quarters was very un-McNabb-like.
So Reid benched his franchise quarterback. Taking the snaps for the Eagles in the second half was Kevin Kolb, a waste of a draft pick if there ever was one.
It was just a three-point game, a must-win, and Reid essentially threw Kolb to the dogs. Kolb turned in the game of his life, throwing two interceptions, including one that Ed Reed took back 108 yards for a touchdown, the longest return in NFL history.
Reid threw the game away. The Eagles lost, 36-7, and dug themselves a deeper hole in the playoff race.
And it paid off.
A motivated and determined McNabb took the field just four days later in a prime time Thanksgiving Night game against the NFC West-leading Arizona Cardinals. McNabb was not just playing for his job, but his pride and reputation in Philly.
He proceeded to toss four touchdowns in a huge 48-20 win. He led the Eagles to wins in four of their final five games to clinch a wild card berth at 9-6-1, including a huge 44-6 win over the Dallas Cowboys in Week 17.
5. Picking up David Akers
Everyone knows about Kurt Warner's success story, from grocery boy to Super Bowl champion. What about David Akers?
Akers was a substitute teacher, struggling to make a living. He was released from three NFL teams and played in NFL Europe in hopes a team would contact him.
The Eagles gave him a shot during the 1999 season, when he served primarily as the team's long-range field goal kicker.
By 2000, Akers was the Eagles' full-time starter. He hit 29 of 33 field goals (87.5 percent), including two game-winning field goals in overtime, while setting a team record with 121 points. Since then, Akers is a three-time Pro Bowler and the franchise's career leader in points scored.
4. The 2002 draft
Sometimes a coach just has a draft to remember. Steelers fans still recall Chuck Noll's draft in '74, in which he selected four Hall of Famers instrumental in building the Steelers dynasty that would go on to win four Super Bowls.
Reid's draft wasn't quite as good, but check out the names from the first three rounds. Lito Sheppard. Michael Lewis. Sheldon Brown. And Brian Westbrook.
That provided the team with three-fourths of its Super Bowl secondary and the most dynamic running back in the NFL over the past five seasons.
3. Letting Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor go after the 2003 season
This was pure genius by Reid.
Vincent and Taylor were both over 30 and pushing the twilight of their career. Although Vincent was coming off his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl season and Taylor a fabulous season of his own, Reid allowed both players to walk.
Credit this to the '02 draft. Reid knew he had two playmakers in the making—Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown—who were perfectly capable of stepping in to fill the void left by these two.
Reid was correct. The two combined to give the Eagles one of the top secondary units in the NFL (third in the league in fewest touchdown passes allowed and 12th in passing yards, figures that would be much more impressive had Reid not rested his starters for the final two games of the season) and helped the team to the Super Bowl.
Sheppard picked off five passes, including two returned for touchdowns, and earned an invitation to the Pro Bowl. Meanwhile, Brown picked off two of his own and led the team with 16 passes defensed.
Sheppard made two Pro Bowls in his four seasons as a starter in Philadelphia before leaving for the Jets, while Brown has been one of the most underrated defensive backs during his tenure with the Eagles.
2. Hiring Jim Johnson as defensive coordinator
All the great coaches have great assistants. Tony Dungy in Indianapolis had Tom Moore. Bill Belichick had a pile of them, particularly Eric Mangini, Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, and Josh McDaniels.
And Andy Reid has Jim Johnson.
Reid hired Johnson to be the team's defensive coordinator prior to the '99 season. Johnson has since revolutionized the blitz in the NFL, using it in a variety of ways to throw off the offense. Johnson's units have always ranked among the best in the business.
The first year with the Eagles, Johnson helped the defense lead the NFL with 46 turnovers. The 2001 squad became only the fourth team in league history to go a full season without yielding more than 21 points in any game.
Johnson has sent 10 separate players to a total of 26 Pro Bowl selections during his career.
Since the 2000 season, the Eagles' defense ranks first in the NFL in sacks, second in third down efficiency and red zone touchdown percentage, and fourth in points allowed per game.
1. Picking McNabb with his first-ever draft pick
Reid's first move as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles was the best decision of his career. With his pick of McNabb, Reid made sure the Eagles would remain a competitive franchise for McNabb's entire career.
The last 10 seasons have brought five trips to the conference championship game, a Super Bowl appearance, and seven trips to the playoffs.
Say what you want about his lack of rings, but McNabb is the best quarterback in Eagles history and still one of the top five or six in the NFL. He's been to five Pro Bowls and currently ranks first all-time in career interception percentage.
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