For the Philadelphia Eagles, this wasn’t the way the season was supposed to start.
After the Eagles went all in during the offseason—acquiring high-profile players such as Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie—the team was supposed to be an instant Super Bowl contender, cruising to a division title and finally bringing home the first Lombardi trophy in the history of the franchise.
When newly acquired backup quarterback Vince Young had the audacity to proclaim the Eagles as the “Dream Team,” it only added pressure to an Eagles team that has already fallen short over and over again in 12 years under current head coach Andy Reid.
At 1-3, the Eagles aren’t dead yet, but they’re certainly on the outside looking in after losing three straight games for the first time in a season since 2007. And they’re not just losing games; they’re embarrassing themselves, as seen in the last three fourth-quarter collapses, during which the Eagles have been outscored 36-0.
Saving the season at this point isn’t easy but it isn’t impossible either. Here are four things that can be done for the Eagles to bounce back from their treacherous 1-3 start.
The defensive line has been world-class this year, with Trent Cole, Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins leading a unit that leads the NFL with 15 sacks (although Cole’s injury won’t help), and the cornerbacks have all the talent in the world in Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
It’s the linebackers and the safeties that are costing the team. Andy Reid apparently felt he could enter the season with a slew of inexperienced linebackers and still win ballgames, but it’s not working. Casey Matthews has been an utter failure and was benched after just three games.
Akeem Jordan, Moise Fokou and Jamar Chaney haven’t been the answer so far at linebacker while Nate Allen, Jarrad Page and Kurt Coleman have struggled immensely at safety.
The Eagles need some outside help in the form of an experienced veteran. The Seattle Seahawks have made it known they are shopping outside linebacker Aaron Curry, the fourth overall pick in the 2009 draft.
Curry ran a 4.56 40 coming out of college, and he has the physical intangibles to be a successful football player in this league, but he isn’t fitting well in the Seahawks defensive system. He would almost assuredly do better than anyone on the Eagles, should the Eagles be able to acquire Curry via a draft pick.
Julian Peterson had a fine year as a starter for the Detroit Lions last year, but remains unsigned as of now. He is no longer the All-Pro player he once was but he brings experience and veteran leadership more than anything else, and at this point in the season, it absolutely can’t make things worse for the Eagles by giving Peterson a shot.
At safety, the team never should have let go of Brian Dawkins and hasn’t found a suitable replacement since. Darren Sharper, a star on the 2009 New Orleans Saints team that won the Super Bowl, is without a team right now.
He is (was) a big playmaker, and may be able to mentor the Eagles younger safeties, notably Nate Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett. Sharper missed most of last season recovering from micro-fracture arthroscopic knee surgery on his left knee, so he certainly isn’t an every-down safety at this point in his career, but a little veteran leadership and big play potential never hurt a team.
The defense has never been the same since 2008. That year, the Eagles had All-Pro safety and emotional leader Brian Dawkins roaming the defensive backfield and legendary defensive coordinator Jim Johnson running the show.
Tragedy struck that offseason when Johnson passed away, and the Eagles’ decision to let Dawkins go certainly hasn’t paid off as of now. The team lacks heart on defense. It lacks a leader. It lacks a guy like Dawkins who brings a Ray Lewis type intensity to the team, a guy who would gather the team around and tell them to bear down and hit anyone who comes near.
When the Eagles went to the Super Bowl in the ’04 season, Dawkins was the leader, but there was also Jeremiah Trotter, the vocal axe man, and there was Hollis Thomas and Ike Reese and a slew of guys who could get their teammates pumped up for 60 minutes of intensity.
The Eagles have plenty of talent but just not a genuine leader. Nnamdi Asomugha is a quiet player with as much talent as anyone at his position but he’s not a rah-rah type of leader. Jason Babin seemed like he might have emerged as the leader back in training camp, but he hasn’t taken over the role yet.
To make matters worse, the players don’t respect defensive coordinator Juan Castillo—much the way Sean McDermott wasn’t respected—and don’t buy into his system. Someone from the defensive side of the football needs to emerge as the leader.
It may be Cullen Jenkins, after his recent comments about how he thought the team lacked focus in the locker room at halftime. Whoever it is, he needs to step up.
This is a pass-happy league, and the Eagles have a talented quarterback with a rocket arm to go with arguably the most talented receiving corps in the game. But too many passes is never good, and last week showed that.
Andy Reid called 56 passes against just 12 runs in the loss to the Niners, perplexing when one considers that LeSean McCoy is among the best running backs in the game and is averaging 5.5 yards per carry this season.
An unbalanced pass-run ratio like that rarely wins football games, and Reid should have learned this from the Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots (56 passes, 16 rushes).
In the fourth quarter of this past Sunday’s loss, Reid called 18 passes to three runs, and one of the runs was nullified by a penalty. McCoy ranks fifth in the NFL in rushing yards by running backs, and the Eagles as a team are second in the league in rushing offense and third in yards per carry.
Running the football on a more balanced ratio would certainly be a positive for an Eagles team that is vastly underachieving.
This one shouldn’t even have to be said, but unfortunately at this point in the season for the Eagles, it may be the only thing that could truly save their season. Football teams need to get 100 percent out of each person on the team, and the Eagles aren’t getting it.
Ronnie Brown’s goal line lateral was one of the most idiotic plays I have ever seen an NFL player do. Jeremy Maclin—an immensely talented football player—has cost the team twice this year late in the game, first by dropping a fourth down pass against the Atlanta Falcons and then by fumbling the ball away against the 49ers.
Alex Henery is a much better kicker than he showed the world on Sunday, and any kicker in the NFL should be virtually automatic under 40 yards.
After the game, DeSean Jackson said the Eagles are much better on paper than they are playing, and you know what? He’s right. It’s incredibly unfortunate that the record doesn’t reflect it, but it’s true. The Eagles have a point differential of exactly zero, which indicates they should be 2-2.
They are a chip shot field goal away from being 2-2. Give Maclin his catch against the Falcons, and the Eagles very well could be 3-1. And if they don’t blow a fourth quarter lead to the Giants, they’re 4-0.
Excuses won’t win games and they don’t disguise the fact that the Eagles at 1-3 have some serious work to be done if they want to make the playoffs. But they’re not dead yet. Finishing 10-6 should put them in the playoffs, and a 9-3 finish isn’t out of the question.
The NFC East is up for grabs. Personally, I don’t think the Washington Redskins are good enough to win it, and the Eagles still play the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys twice each (plus the Redskins twice still), so Philly can easily resurrect its season.
It won’t be easy, not with gaping holes at linebacker, safety, the three interior offensive line spots and a defensive coordinator who is frighteningly in over his head, but it can be done.