By Brandon Pemberton
Catch me on Twitter @Bashir28
Angry, shocked, bewildered, and befuddled are a few words to explain how I felt after I watched the Philadelphia Eagles blow a 20-point, 3rd quarter lead, and lose 24-23 to the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. Yes I admit, I am a full-bred, Philadelphia-raised, 4-for-4 sports fan. But as an aspiring sports radio host and sportswriter, I am also a non-homer and I break things down objectively.
When the Eagles assembled this current team during the lockout-shortened off season, I was excited about the pieces they added, especially on the defensive side of the ball. On paper, bringing in corners Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, along with defensive lineman Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins, made this Eagles defense look like world beaters. They also signed quarterback Vince Young as the backup to Mike Vick and late in training camp, former Giants wide receiver Steve Smith as well. Young coined the phrase “Dream Team” in an interview with the Philly media and the whole city ran with it. Even before the team had played a down of football.
I had thought there were positions that were left unaddressed before the preseason and after watching preseason games 2 and 3, it was obvious to me that the offensive line, linebackers, and safeties were going to be a problem. When I let it be known on Twitter, Facebook, and in this article http://brandononsports.wordpress.com/2011/08/21/eagles-brutal-performance-onthursday-is-it-reason-to-worry/ , people told me “calm down, it’s only preseason”. Well the only eye test I had was the Eagles’ starters against the opposite team’s starters. I thought to myself, “the Eagles really need to do something about these linebackers with the scheme they are attempting to play”, but this is Andy Reid we are talking about folks. He feels as though linebackers don’t matter and aren’t a factor in winning a title.
So here we are, after this first 4 weeks of the season and the Eagles stand at 1-3 and last in the NFC East. Unable to hold 4th quarter leads, horrible play in the red zone on both sides of the ball, along with putrid coaching and philosophy are the main reasons why. Oh, don’t let me leave out the protection issues with the O-line, Vick’s problems coughing up the ball, and the inconsistent play of DeSean Jackson.
I and everyone else have had it with Reid’s excuses right after games in press conferences and the day after. The same “I have to do a better job” statements along with his pompous and smug answers to the reporters’ questions the day after a bad loss or when he has made mind-blowing mistakes in a game, just tick me off. His inability to adjust on game day and his refusal to take value in certain positions is the reason why he hasn’t yet won a Super Bowl, and why this team has fallen flat on their faces after 4 games.
Early in his career, Reid refused to acquire any big-time wide receivers, even when it was obvious it would help Donovan McNabb and take the team to another level. He finally came to his senses and in 2004, Terrell Owens was added to the team and the Eagles had its best offensive season in franchise history while making a trip to the Super Bowl and eventually losing to the New England Patriots. He then drafted DeSean Jackson in the 2nd round in ’08 and Jeremy Maclin in the 1st round of the 2009 draft. It took him a while, but he eventually figured out if he was going to be a pass heavy team, he needed stud receivers.
During Andy Reid’s tenure here in Philadelphia, he has refused to put value into the linebacker position. When he came here in 1999, he inherited stud middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter and in 2000 while Tom Modrak was the General Manager, they signed outside linebacker Carlos Emmons as well. Trotter and Emmons played together for two years (2000-01) and when “Trot” was allowed to walk after the 01′ season, this is when I realized the Eagles and the front office undervalued the linebacker position. Reid has gone year after year refusing to address this problem. Gardner, Simoneau, Kirkland, Jones, Wayne, Bradley, Gocong, and recently Ernie Sims are some of the names of the mediocre players that have played here since Trotter and Emmons. They also have never found a proper replacement for Eagles’ legend and future Hall of Famer Brian Dawkins.
So when I saw the Birds send out a starting linebacker core of Moise Fokou, Casey Matthews, and Jamar Chaney on opening day, I wasn’t surprised. You would think since the team is using Jim Washburn’s “Wide Nine” set for the defensive line, which leaves the linebackers vulnerable to offensive linemen, the team would acquire bigger, more violent linebackers via free agency or the draft. Instead they move Jamar Chaney from his natural position of middle linebacker and hand the job to a 4th round pick out of Oregon who can’t play. The eye test doesn’t lie. Anyone with football acumen would have told you that Matthews isn’t a NFL middle linebacker, let alone a starter. How Moise Fokou owns a starting spot on an NFL roster, I have no bleeping idea. The guy is nothing more than a special teams player. I liked what I saw from Chaney last season, but the current scheme doesn’t fit his abilities.
There are two other teams in the NFL that currently use the “Wide Nine” scheme with its front four, the Detroit Lions and the Tennessee Titans. The Titans are in the top 10 in 3 key defensive categories in the NFL: 7th in yards per game (299.8), 8th in rushing yards allowed per game (87.8), and they have the number 1 scoring defense in all of football (14.0 pts per game). Their trio of linebackers include: Will Witherspoon (6’1′ 240), Barrett Ruud (6’2′ 241), and first round draft pick Akeem Ayers (6’3′ 254). They all are players who attack the line of scrimmage violently and are big enough to take on and defeat blocks at the point of attack. Will Witherspoon, who played in eleven games for the Eagles in 2009, is also excellent in pass coverage, especially against tight ends.
The Lions rank 11th in the NFL in yards allowed (334.3) per game, 20th in rushing yards allowed per game (113.0), and 8th in points allowed per game (19.0). Of course any defense with a player like Ndamukong Suh is going to make it easier on linebackers to play because he draws so many double-teams. But there’s no way you can tell me that Stephen Tulloch (5’11′ 240), DeAndre Levy (6’1′ 238), and Bobby Carpenter (6’2′ 249) aren’t a more credible linebacker crew than the crap the Eagles have. Stephen Tulloch has played his whole career in the “Wide Nine” scheme and was a free agent during the offseason. It would have made sense to take a look at Tulloch and sign him since he is a proven veteran playmaker, but no, this is Andy Reid’s regime we are talking about here folks. By the way, Tulloch is having a Pro Bowl caliber season through four games.
Before I finish, let me address the safety position as well. As I said earlier in this article, Brian Dawkins still hasn’t been properly replaced since leaving via free agency in 2009. Nate Allen was having a good rookie campaign before rupturing his patella tendon towards the end of last season, and it wasn’t certain if he would be 100% coming into this season. Kurt Coleman is a 7th round draft pick who outplayed his expectations last season, but that didn’t mean he was a NFL starter. The Eagles drafted Jaiquawn Jarrett out of Temple in the 2nd round, which was a reach and he has dressed for one game so far. When the Eagles realized they were in trouble during the preseason, they signed 6-year veteran Jarrad Page, who has started on some bad Kansas City Chiefs teams in the past and played sparingly for the Patriots last season. To start the season, it was Coleman at free safety and Page at strong safety, but the both of them were exposed during the first 4 games. Whether it was blown coverage or just plain missing tackles, they both proved that they shouldn’t be starting in this league. Nate Allen was given a shot at starting this past Sunday against the 49ers and he was a non-factor.
What more can I say? It’s the same sad love song with Andy Reid at the helm and running things around here. The Eagles haven’t been back to the Super Bowl since the 2004 season and they damn sure aren’t [going back] this year or any with Reid as coach. His message, coaching style, philosophy, drafting, and antics are all old and it’s time for new blood for this franchise.
Brandon Pemberton of Brandon on Sports, for War Room Sports