By Chris Murray
For the CM Report (column)
Analyzing the accident scene that was scene that was the Eagles 16-14 road loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers is like that famous all-of-the above answer you might have gotten on some multiple-choice test in high school.
The question would probably say the Eagles lost Sunday’s game because: A. Michael Vick’s turnover in the end zone in the first quarter. B. The defense didn’t put much a pass rush on Ben Roethlisberger or stop the Steelers running game. C. The Eagles defense failed to stop the Steelers on the game’s final drive after the Eagles had taken a one-point lead. D. All of the above.
If your answer was A, you would be right. In a game where trips to the red zone would come at a premium, Vick’s fumble at the three-yard line on their second possession of the game in the first quarter was indeed a game-changer if not a killer the way it turned out.
As much as I think Vick is a dynamic player when he’s on, he has to figure out a way this side of using stickum and Crazy Glue to stop fumbling the football. After not throwing interceptions for the last three games, Vick screws that up by his inability to hang onto the football. Granted, that was a solid hit by Steelers defensive back Ryan Clark to jar the ball, but Vick has to hang on to the ball. He fumbled it three times, losing it twice.
On the drive in which Vick fumbled the ball into end zone, you could ask why would Andy Reid let Vick run the football again after his near fumble earlier in that drive (which was overturned by replay)? You have LeSean McCoy in your backfield, why not give it to him? The worse thing that could have happened other than turning the ball over is that you get a chip-shot field goal. Instead, they got nothing.
Answer B—the defense got some token pressure on Roethlisberger, but they couldn’t really bring him down and they couldn’t stop Rashard Mendenhall, especially late in the game when they needed to do so. The Birds defense played well enough to keep the Eagles in the game and that’s what they’re supposed to do. But Roethlisberger’s mobility sidestepped the Eagles defense throughout the game and the Eagles could not force a turnover or get a sack.
It didn’t help that Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown was torching Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, supposedly one of the better shutdown corners in the NFL. It’s not the first time that’s happened to Asomugha this season where he‘s been beaten consistently by the other team’s wide out.
All of that brings us to answer C … The Eagles defense failed to come up with a big stop on the Steelers final drive of the game after Vick’s touchdown pass to Brent Celek, put the Birds up 14-13 with 6:33 left .
The big play of that drive was Roethlisberger’s 20-yard pass to Brown on third and 12 from the Pittsburgh 18. From there, Roethlisberger methodically carved up the Eagles defense to get to Shawn Suisham’s 34-yard game-winning field goal and that was “all she wrote” to quote the late great Marquette University basketball coach Al McGuire.
All of these things should tell you that the underlying issue with your Eagles is that they have to establish some consistency on both sides of the football. On offense, Vick simply cannot afford to turn the ball over at any point of the game. As much as you admire Vick’s heart and refuse- to-lose attitude, he’s got play with that mindset for all four quarters of the game.
With the same determination that he has brought the Eagles back to win games, Vick needs to take care of the football. Reid needs to continue to lead with McCoy and the running game and not try to pass the football on every down. You notice that Vick plays a lot better when the team utilizes Shady in the running game.
While the defense has done a good job of carrying the team, they also have to turn their game up a notch and start getting to the quarterback and forcing turnovers. If this defense wants to be the best in the NFL the way you hear Juan Castillo and his players talk about it, they have to enforce their will on the opposing offenses.
At 3-2 are the Eagles a Super Bowl team? They can be, but they have to get out-of-the-way of themselves first.