Even if it ended my freezing at Ice Station Lurie, Vick’s next-to-last play interception was a tough way to go out. Still, it is always a question of expectations. I never was sold that the Eagles were very good. My pre-season prediction of nine wins, wild card still feels right- as the end win total and expectations were goosed by the Eagles abandoning the rebuilding aspect of the season for a total “win now with Vick” approach, plus a weak NFC East. Someone had to win it.
In all fairness, the Packers dominated. The Eagles could not do much on offense or defense. It really wasn’t even to their credit that they hung around to the end. Long time readers of this blog know exactly why the Eagles had a chance to steal it in the end.
Green Bay simply ran the ball too much. Intoxicated by Stark’s 23 carry, 123 yard performance, they committed to a run pass mix of 27 pass-32 rushes. The Eagles were in no mood to force Green Bay to forestall that sort of "success" by cheating the run- allowing the Packers to rush the football, cheating the big pass play instead. The Packers consistently took the ball out of the hands of the second best QB in the NFC. In the previous seven games, Aaron Rodgers had completed 71% of his passes, 19 TDs versus 2 INTs, a 122.0 passer rating- and Green Bay was content to pound Starks? against this Eagles' lousy defensive secondary?
That was just dumb. And, as always happens, Green Bay played great on offense, completely executed their game plan at a high level, and scored a mere 21 points. Frankly, in the NFL, if you play great on offense, you need to score more than 21- because a passing offense, even playing sort of incoherently, can threaten that number. As the Eagles, in fact did.
Vick kept chucking- because a pro offense with good skill players generates consistent field position flipping plays sort of accident, simple occurrence, in the passing game. Add in zero turnovers until the last pass, denying Green Bay any free points, and you have a script for an opportunity to steal a game you deserved to lose by two scores.
There are two major areas of disconnect between the Eagles and the elite. First, there is a real talent deficiency on defense. It is hard to point to any single player that took the field Sunday evening and say said player is better than average. I suppose Trent Cole and Asante Samuel would be the closest. One could fairly say that had above average seasons- but both clearly slowed down in the second half. On the actual game Sunday, that very day, not one Eagles player would clearly rate “above average”.
The Eagles' decade or so of quality professionalism has been driven by a good understanding of managing the salary cap, associated roster manipulation and the passing nature of the league- plus good, not great, drafting. But the current lack of defensive talent is driven by totaling blowing the last two drafts.
The Eagles last two drafts are here and here. Note in 2010 the Eagles took FIVE defensive players in the first four rounds- not one started Sunday. I raged about them at the time- and I stand by it now. Not one guy in the last two drafts was on the field as a plus NFL defensive player. And it is hard to be good if you miss that much. 7th rounder Lamar Chaney might be the only guy who even started- as an emergency fill in for MLB Stewart Bradley.
The second disconnect is the lack of consistent quarterback production. Vick’s production continued to spiral down again Sunday- second straight sub-80 quarterback rating. Teams have figured Vick out- and you can’t devote as many snaps as the Eagles do to the passing game, and be rewarded with 20 completions, three sacks and a bad pick. It simply isn’t enough. Goose that completion total to 28, and the Eagles win Sunday despite all their other woes.
Mind you, it isn’t all Vick’s fault. Vick is not a miracle worker. As a merely okay passer susceptible to pressure, he isn’t the kind of quarterback who papers over faults, but rather a mediocre quarterback who needs the real trappings of real offense to paper over his flaws: a good line, good receiving options, a running game. One positive about this play-off failure is that my great in-season fear is negated: no one is talking about yoking the Eagles to a long term deal with Vick any longer.
Later in the week I’ll post the fix-it column. But as a quick aside for Philadelphia fans, today is the 35th anniversary of one of the great days in Philadelphia sports- the crushing of the Red Army. As a sign of this blog’s longevity, my posting of the 30th anniversary is recorded here.