The Cowboys removed their playoff monkey from their back—their first playoff win since 1996—by running the ball with effectiveness, some timely passing, and by smacking the Eagles offense—third in the NFL in scoring coming into the game—in the mouth again and again.
Eagles’ receivers were unable to get off the line of the scrimmage, and their rebuilt offensive line looked like they had not played together at all. I could go on and on, but I know in the end, Eagles QB Donovan McNabb will receive the brunt of the playoff loss. McNabb was not at his best, which is being kind. He was harassed in the pocket and when he did throw the ball he was often times inaccurate. The 33-year-old quarterback finished with numbers 19 of 37 for 230 yards, with a touchdown and an interception plus a fumble lost.
In watching McNabb, I had the same feeling that I had watching former Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham struggle in his final game with the team, also a playoff loss to the Cowboys. The much maligned quarterback was already on a very hot seat entering the season, and his playoff performance will only add fuel to the fire of his doubters.
McNabb has said, “I want to be here and don’t want to be anywhere else.” We will see after a season where the Eagles set a scoring record of 429 points if they believe that indeed that McNabb is the leader to take youngsters DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek, LeSean McCoy, and others to the next level. My feeling is that the Eagles have already made their bed by conceivably letting McNabb enter the 2010 season in the last year of his contract.
Of course McNabb is the focal figure on the hot seat after the Cowboys’ playoff bludgeoning, but he is not alone. Eagles head coach and VP of everything Andy Reid is right next to his struggling quarterback. After the game, Reid tried to over and over tip his cap to the Cowboys.
But the real story was the Eagles' inability to keep up with a Cowboys team that has now passed them—outscored 78-30 in three losses to Dallas. Yes, the Eagles won over 100 games last decade, but past success doesn’t mean anything to loyal fans that have not seen a Super Bowl trophy during Reid’s tenure that started in 1999.
Some fans and evaluators may point to the team’s woes against Dallas of being McNabb, turnovers, non in-game adjustments, failing to run the football, poor coverage by the safeties and linebackers, plus other excuses. But I believe that personnel is the largest problem for the Eagles. Defenders of the team will point to overcoming injuries and an 11-win regular season, but in the end the Birds only beat one winning team in 2009—Atlanta Falcons (9-7)—and were 0-5 against 2009 playoff teams.
Over and over in his press conference, Reid said the Cowboys kicked his team’s butt, and he was right. Though the Eagles have some young studs, there are some glaring holes and Reid, who makes all of the personnel calls, has to take a hard look in the mirror to move this team back to the NFL’s elite.
Throughout the 2000’s, no one ever thought that the Eagles could match-up with any opponent, but Dallas had a game plan (run the ball, look for turnovers, harass McNabb, and attack the Eagles’ smallish defense) and executed it to perfection based on positive personnel battles.
Will year twelve of the Andy Reid regime bring a championship? We will have to wait and see, now it is on to the 2010 draft in trying to catch the Cowboys and the rest of the teams that will be playing next week.
The Eagles’ 2010 Draft List should include:
- LB - The season-ending injury to MLB Stewart Bradley (knee) in the pre-season hurt, but this unit had too many coverage lapses and missed tackles. Sure veteran Jeremiah Trotter came out of retirement, but this group needed so much more. The entire linebacking unit only had 4.5 sacks and 4 interceptions. The NFL is now built on hybrid players and schemes at the LB area—see Cowboys LB’s Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware. 4-3 teams often incorporate 3-4 schemes and pass rushing based on the talent at LB. The Eagles biggest problem is the aforementioned game-changing plays, but coverage is also a concern as teams like to run play action and screens on them.
- Safety - Sean Jones and Macho Harris were not the answer to replace Brian Dawkins (35-year old made the Pro Bowl for the Broncos). Too many missed tackles and blown coverage assignments. Also SS Quinton Mikell struggled without Dawkins.
- O-line - The guys upfront were influx all year, and it looked like they never got on the same page. From the Andrews brothers fiasco to Jason Peters struggling to center Jamal Jackson’s season-ending knee injury. The Eagles could not run in some key short yardage situations and McNabb was sacked too often.
- DE - The Eagles got heat from a variety of players (44 sacks), but other than Pro Bowl player Trent Cole (12.5) no one had double digits. Another young two way DE that can rush the passer is needed.
- RB – Brian Westbrook after missing eight games and at age 30, just doesn’t look like he has much left in the tank. LeSean McCoy is a good young back, but a partner better than Eldra Buckley is needed.
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)