So it seems the third time is not the charm for the Philadelphia Eagles. Their 2009 season ended at approximately 11:35 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2010, after a second straight embarrassment on national television at the hands of the rival Dallas Cowboys.
The Eagles were out-coached, exposed, and out-played for consecutive weeks following a six-game winning streak.
So Eagles fans will once again be subjected to Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid claiming responsibility for the team's failure in the playoffs.
Many Eagles fans will call for McNabb to be traded, Reid to be fired, or both. However before fans light their torches, grab their pitchforks and march on down to the Linc, they need to consider something.
Yes, Donovan McNabb did not make the big plays, and yes Andy Reid and his staff were out-coached, but most importantly the Eagles were exposed as a team in multiple places.
Yes, the injury bug played a role in the exploitation of the Birds, but the team's lack of depth in multiple positions was on full display against the Cowboys.
The Eagles' offensive line and defense were the victims of the Cowboys' attacks. These two units used to be the Eagles' strongest components earlier in this decade.
So what happened to the once league-best Eagles defense and All-Pro offensive line? Well, as is the case with all NFL teams: it all goes back to the draft.
Donovan McNabb was drafted second overall in the 1999 NFL Draft. Over the following ten drafts, the Eagles utilized their first round picks on offensive players a total of three times, twice on offensive skill position players.
They selected WR Freddie Mitchell out of UCLA 25th overall in 2001, Guard Shawn Andrews out of Arkansas 16th overall in 2004, and WR Jeremy Maclin out of Missouri in 2009.
Mitchell turned into a large bust, Andrews had a few great years but has fallen prey to a constantly ailing back, and the jury is still out on Maclin. The Eagles utilized first round picks every year except for 2007 and 2008.
The other Philadelphia first round picks after 1999 were as follows: DT Corey Simon, DB Lito Sheppard, DE Jerome McDougle, DT Mike Patterson, and DT Broderick Bunkley.
The emphasis on defensive players, especially linemen, in the Eagles' picks this decade is evident and lead to the building of the dominant Eagle defense that was revered for the majority of the decade.
However, while the Birds' defense dominated, their offense struggled. With the lack of skill infusion into the offense after 1999 (with the exception of the 2009 draft), it shows that the Eagles' ownership had the belief that Donovan McNabb was enough to take the team to and win a Super Bowl.
For the better part of the decade, McNabb threw to receivers like Todd Pinkston, Freddie Mitchell, and James Thrash. McNabb stood behind a wall of an offensive line composed of the likes of Hank Fraley, Jermaine Mayberry, Tra Thomas, and Jon Runyan.
Against the Cowboys, the once dominant defense was torn to shreds. The former great wall of an offensive line looked more porous than the average sponge.
The receiving corps is much improved, with DeSean Jackson, Maclin, Jason Avant, and Brent Celek. So what happened in between?
The fact that it took Philadelphia eight years to use a first round pick on a skill position player after they chose Freddie Mitchell is telling. McNabb's weapons on offense were non-existent until the addition of Brian Westbrook in 2002.
But during those years between 2002 and 2009, those dominant defenses and that offensive line aged along with McNabb.
When the ownership recognized that McNabb needed more offensive weapons, as evidenced by the 2009 draft, the defense was a shadow of its former self, the offensive line was rapidly aging and experiencing widespread health problems.
Now, the Cowboys exploited the Eagles' offensive line, and took advantage of a weak defense. These things are not the fault of Donovan McNabb, and Andy Reid does not possess a fountain of youth to keep these players in their prime.
What went wrong was that while the organization waited for McNabb to play Superman, the once strong components deteriorated and now they need fixing. The Eagles have several holes in their team, the most major ones are listed below.
Fantasies of "The Great Wall" with the acquisitions of Jason Peters and Stacy Andrews, and the presence of Todd Herremans, Jamaal Jackson, and Shawn Andrews ran rampant in the preseason.
However, only Herremans and Peters played in the games against the Cowboys and did not play well. They saw Winston Justice mature and gave him a contract extension, with him in mind as the right tackle of the future.
With Jamaal Jackson tearing his ACL in week 16, this offensive line heads into the offseason as a large to do on the long list of Andy Reid and the front office.
Trent Cole is an absolute animal on the pass rush. However, with Juqua Parker and Victor Abiamiri opposite him on the line, he does not get much help from the rest of the pass rush and can frequently receive a double team.
The Cowboys took advantage of the Eagles' need to blitz to create pressure and took advantage of the man-to-man match-ups with their wide receivers. The dominant defenses of the past utilized excellent four-man pass rushes.
Yes, the loss of Stewart Bradley killed the Eagles early. But the Eagles have had a revolving door at the middle linebacker spot all season, and experienced a large amount of uncertainty at the other two slots.
Now with Bradley recovering from knee surgery, the Eagles could stand to upgrade all three slots in case Bradley cannot return to form.
The loss of Brian Dawkins resonated with the defense throughout the season. One safety spot belongs to Quentin Mikell, and the other one needs a large upgrade over the trio of Macho Harris, Sean Jones, and Quintin Demps.
After the duo of Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown, Ellis Hobbs will most likely explore free agency, and they could stand to upgrade depth-wise over Joselio Hansen and Dmitri Patterson.
Michael Vick will likely not be back next season. There are rumors that Kevin Kolb is disgruntled and not happy that he has been given an adequate chance to prove he is worthy of being a starter and that he wants to go somewhere that he can start.
Finally, McNabb's contract and Kolb's expire the same year. Depth will be a concern for the Eagles, and if they do not feel Kolb is the future then they need to invest in another quarterback in the draft to fill that slot.
There is quite the laundry list of improvements to be made by this Philadelphia Eagles football team, especially if the team wishes to continue its dominance over the NFC and return to the NFC Championship game, let alone the Super Bowl.
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