Monday, October 22, 2007

Ten Games Left? That Many?

With four losses in the bank- and really hard trips to New England and Dallas remaining- the Eagles season is probably over. There are still ten games left- and in the NFC, until you lose that eighth game, you’re in the wild card hunt- but really, there isn’t much evidence that the Eagles are anything better than the undistinguished morass of NFL teams slogging toward seven, eight, nine wins. Maybe even less, certainly closer to seven, given their bad start.

There is ire in the papers today- but really, the Bears played a very tight road game: zero turnovers, solid defense, a composed quarterbacking performance. And the Eagles weren’t bad exactly: no turnovers, they ran it well, allowed one TD (albeit a crippling one). But they are just so passive, so easy to play against. The Eagles don’t challenge anyone; they’re so cool about everything. There are too many positions, way too many snaps where Philadelphia is blasé about mediocrity- a sort of crippling ennui.

Look at the safeties. In any accurate ranking of the 22 starters the Eagles presented yesterday, the 21st and 22nd players unfortunately play the same position: safety. Quintin Mikell on a good day is an adequate replacement- playing regularly he’s a problem. And Sean Considine is as close to an outright bust as you can get for a first day draft pick. He’s played here three years and has one career non-garbage time INT, zero big hits, zero big plays, zero sit up and take notice moments. He’s just out there game after game after game: floating around, missing one tackle badly a game, every game- passive, unthreatening. There is no sense something good, something aggressive, something winning will happen when the play goes his way. Anyway, there is no doubt who has the worst safety combo in the NFC right now- and ouch, did it cost as Griese made them look bad again and again. Not just the last drive, but every third and seven all afternoon long.

Can Andy Reid run his stupid punting school on his own damn time? Please? And speaking of the worst duos in the NFL, how about the deadly mixture of Buckhalter and Mahe returning kicks/punts? Right now, put you hand in the air if you’d agree the result of all kicking plays would be Eagles assuming possession on their own 20, with no fumbles? Pretty fair deal. The return game is the single biggest intangible in the NFL- and the Eagles bring nothing scary- they’re again blasé about the utterly unchallenging nature of their return game and punter. It is a dozen plays a game where they just hope nothing bad happens.

But the ultimate in passivity is the quarterback. Donavan’s numbers aren’t “bad”. He’s completing 60% of his passes- seven TDs versus 2 interceptions. Fine.

But Donovan was never a plus as a pocket quarterback generating plays down field or in the red zone. So much of his big play, score the damn ball capacity was based on his lateral mobility- and that is just gone. And if you can’t pass proficiently downfield, in the red zone, or generate unorthodox big plays... well then, the team cannot generate the “routine” red zone touchdowns or bolts of lightening scores in the passing game- which is why the Eagles haven’t scored the ball passing outside of the Lions’ explosion.

Other than getting the ball to Westbrook 20-25 times a game, the Eagles just aren’t dangerous. That old 30-40 snaps a game where Donovan was potentially dynamite does not exist right now. Plus- roll eyes- add in even more Buckhalter!- because Westbrook can’t handle 20 carries- means another half dozen passive, hope nothing bad happens snaps a game. It adds up. There are like 130 total plays in an NFL game- and the Eagles approach something like 80% of them simply hoping something kinda okay will happen.

The quarterback and coach have simply not figured out to get to a productive post-injury version of McNabb- which is particularly galling because with any sort of positive quarterback play- Garcia! Feeley!- they’d seriously probably be something like 4-2.

Is all lost? Not quite- but getting close. The first must-win of the season is on tap for next Sunday- up at Minnesota. And Vegas still thinks there is a wild card quality team struggling to get out- as the Eagles are a narrow road favorite. McNabb is making a sort of incremental progress, the defense is young and increasingly good (not great- you can move it on them outside the red zone) for long stretches. But pulling the plug on the status quo isn’t in the cards yet.