Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bah Humbug

There has probably been no Eagles’ fan more pessimistic than me this year. And after Tuesday’s shellacking at the Linc by the Vikings, more and more observers are getting on board. How do you think this blurb made my heart skip?
It seemed fair to ponder, after the details of the quad injury were revealed, whether Reid might have been wise to sit a hobbled Vick in favor of Kevin Kolb. Kolb hasn't played since October, but he has been NFC Offensive Player of the Week twice in six career starts; it's not like Reid has Koy Detmer standing there beside him.
People and press are catching on. But first, give Minnesota proper credit. They were a lot of people’s chic NFC pick until quarterback and coaching woes, coupled with general drama (along with Washington, the NFC’s biggest circus), did them in. Given decent quarterback play and good effort, they are a pretty good outfit.

But the Eagles have real problems- and are really starting to stink like the 11-5 fraud from last year. They haven’t played a great game- one that could not have gone either way- since destroying the Redskins back in mid-November.

Philadelphia is a solid organization- so there is almost always a route to ten wins in a division routinely littered with frauds. They manage depth and the roster like the other elite teams in the League, so they survive catastrophic injury situations (like the five, six starters out on defense) with aplomb against teams like the Redskins and Giants. They can rebuild on the fly- put a credible division wining product out even while experimenting with the quarterback position and rolling out many young guys.

But ultimately, it doesn’t mean Philadelphia is “good”. Good enough to beat the League’s many mediocre outfits (Giants, Texans, Jags), even shock someone at home (Colts, Falcons)- but not truly elite.

It starts with the quarterback- who teams are increasingly figuring out. Hard to argue that Vick has not been pretty bad lately, with only one 100 rating since the Redskins rout versus the terrible Texans secondary. In fact, that probably is what Vick ultimately is- a guy who once a month can generate a 100 rating game. Frankly, with the exceptional exception of a seven minute stretch against a Giants team in full collapse, he has been terrible the past two games.

Teams are figuring out how to deal with the big play, but low consistency, low completion total quarterback.
They are coming with more pressure, more blitzers than the Eagles can block, forcing Vick in to a dump off, hit the hot receiver(s), style of play. Defenses are not going to sit passively and give Vick time to generate the giant plays downfield that have defined the Eagles approach this year.

Those extra rushers change the equation that has served the Eagles well. No longer can Jackson, Maclin and Celek run deep routes with impunity. Vick cannot extend plays with that many people careening around. And it isn’t a problem with the offensive line either- you can simply send more people than teams can block. Sure, the line isn’t a great unit- but it is healthy and intact and serviceable. No one can consistently block the amount of pressure they’re seeing anyway.

Instead, Vick has to mature- to check down, dump off. Those throws are absolutely there when six, seven guys are coming after Vick. And big plays are possible burning the blitz- but the quarterback has to make simple throws again and again and again to the right guy, run the raw completion totals up. And that ain’t Vick. And so, right now, they’ve been bad on offense more often than not.

Sure, Vick might escape the blitz a few times, generate a couple of big runs. But a pair of 30-yard runs does not sway matters in a passing, big play League. Then, add in the turnovers that have sprouted as Vick is forced to play a disciplined dink and dunk game, plus the many fumbles that he had gotten away with finally coming home to roost (he had fumbled nine times but only lost one coming into the Vikes game)- and you have a brutal three turnover day from the quarterback.

And the Eagles can’t survive that against a good play-off team- or it will be the Chicago loss again and again: turnovers, quarter after quarter of stagnant offense.

The defense is young and banged up. Productive contributors are out at defensive end (Graham), linebacker (Bradley), safety (Allen) and starting corner- plus Samuel is in and out. The safety and corner situation is particularly horrendous.

So the Eagles need to score consistently. But it is hard to game plan repeated bombs to Jackson or giant catch and runs to Celek. And the alternative, the traditional eight-play, sixty-yard scoring drive, just has not been Vick’s forte ever.

So Minnesota exposed the Eagles- the rookie quarterback got a mere modest two scores but without a mistake or turnover. Vick generated many mistakes and a third score. And the offense can’t do anything much if Vick is forced to play like Kevin Kolb. And folks like me, pointing out that there is a quarterback on the roster who absolutely can dink and dunk (two NFC player of the week awards in six starts) with the best of them, watches the season evaporate under the shaky, yet very expected, existing quarterback play.