After firing defensive coordinator Juan Castillo and with
two weeks to prepare for the undefeated, and arguably the NFL-best, Atlanta
Falcons, the Philadelphia Eagles were expected to return to the football field
in a blaze of glory. Instead, their star is falling faster than Felix
Baumgartner — an overused reference, yes, but also fitting.
The Eagles lost their third consecutive game and fourth in
the last five on Sunday, and something needs to be done to right the
fast-sinking ship. But benching Michael Vick in favor of rookie Nick Foles, as
is being speculated,
isn’t the answer.
It’s not even a question that Vick hasn’t been near worthy
of his hefty $100 million contract — $12.5 million in 2012 — so far this
season. He’s turned the ball over at an alarming rate, leading the NFL
with nine fumbles (losing five) and coming in second with a
gruesome 14 turnovers. But even that doesn’t mean he’s the problem in
The Eagles offensive line has been abysmal from the get-go
this season, so let’s start there.
Simply put, Vick’s offensive line has been nothing short of
dreadful this season. Decimated by the season-ending injuries of left tackle
Jason Peters and starting center Jason Kelce — and don’t forget the retirement
of Tra Thomas — the Eagles have been forced to rely on some young no-names and a
few overmatched veterans to protect Vick up front. It’s been a disaster.
Vick has been sacked 20 times through seven games, good for
fifth-most in the NFL, which is rough for such a fragile athlete. But what’s
even more appalling is that he’s probably been hit more than any other
quarterback in the league, too.
Opposing defenses have registered 58 hits on Vick already
this season, averaging out to a little more than eight per game. With all those
hits, no wonder Vick is turning the ball over at such an alarming rate. For a
little comparison, the Eagles defense has hit opposing quarterbacks just 21
times this season. That brings about an even bigger issue: defense.
When looking at Philadelphia’s defense, at least on the
surface, things don’t seem all that bad. Ranked 12th in the NFL, allowing just
339 yards per game, and just above the league median in about every other
category, makes the defense look more than capable. But do a little less stat-crunching and a little more digging, and you’ll find the problems lie well
beyond the numbers.
Most glaring is that the Eagles simply lack any semblance of a
pass rush. They’ve sacked opposing quarterbacks just nine times through seven
games, good enough for 31st-best — or second-worst — in the NFL. Just
for good measure, both J.J. Watt and Clay Matthews have more than nine sacks
this season. And seven other guys have at least seven, which is where the
Eagles stood heading into Sunday.
The Eagles, although as stingy as nearly any defense in the
league at times, also don’t seem capable of maintaining consistency throughout
games. There are spells when opposing offense can barely scrape together two
straight positive plays, then there are others when they’ve got free reign to
find success running just about any play they want. The Lions’ comeback overtime
win a few weeks ago is a prime example of that.
After holding Detroit’s offense to just six points through
the first three quarters, Philly’s defense broke down late in the game. The
Lions gained 266 of their 449 total yards and scored 20 points on their final
five possessions (less than 15 minutes), including overtime, to
pull out the 26-23 win.
This weekend was just more of the same inconsistency.
After replacing Castillo with new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and claiming
a swift turnaround on the horizon, the Eagles decided to put up a stinker.
Matt Ryan was almost unstoppable, completing 22 of 29 passes
and throwing three touchdowns. He led the Falcons to scores on
each of their first six possessions to take an insurmountable 20-point
lead in the 30-17 victory.
Sure, Atlanta is the class of the NFC and probably the NFL
right now, but that doesn’t justify such a ghastly showing — or the fact that
it’s been a chronic issue this entire season.
Clearly, Vick’s turnovers have become an issue, and his decision-making has been questionable at times. Simply put, he’s been a
problem. But he’s by no means the Eagles’ biggest problem, and they’ve got no
Vick actually played well Sunday, especially against a
loaded Falcons defense, completing 21 of 35 passes with a touchdown and, more
importantly, protected the football all afternoon. So, he wasn’t the reason for
the Eagles’ loss, nor for them dropping to 3-4. Actually, he might have been one
of the lone bright — although still fairly dim — spots.
So, Andy Reid, you’re telling me that Nick Foles is better
equipped to overcome a horrid offensive line and an incoherent defense? Foles might have looked good in the preseason, but they are called exhibition games
for a reason. If you want to bet your season, and probably your job, on the
promise of an unproven rookie quarterback, then go for it. But if you’ve got
any common sense at all, you’ll stand behind Vick and exhaust every possibility
before making such a drastic move.
Vick may not deserve the $40-plus million he was guaranteed two years ago, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve to be the Eagles’