By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
If you’re still watching, you might as well look at the last five games of the Eagles 2012 campaign as an exhibition season where the team will be evaluating younger talent and older players will be playing for jobs either here or elsewhere.
With the Eagles seventh straight loss to the Carolina Panthers at Lincoln Financial Field, the playoff contending portion of the season is officially over. Actually, the Eagles hunt for the postseason may have been over last week in Washington or even the week before against the Dallas Cowboys.
We’re marking this as the “official” end to the year because Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said earlier this year that an 8-8 record or worse was not acceptable and that Andy Reid would be fired if things didn’t improve. The way this season is going, the Birds will be lucky to finish at .500. Suffice it to say, Reid’s days are numbered in Philly.
The 30-22 loss to the Panthers Monday night was a microcosm of the Eagles awful season. Defensively, the Birds were just plain clueless as Cam Newton picked apart the Eagles for 306 yards and four total touchdowns—two passing and two on the ground. Since the firing of former defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, the defense has gotten progressively worse with each week under Todd Bowles stewardship as the defensive coordinator.
“It’s stressing because every possible way that we could lose a game, we’ve done it,” said defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins.
On Newton’s first two touchdown passes, a 24-yarder to tight end Gary Barnidge and a 43-yard strike to wide receiver Brandon LaFell, the defensive backfield was nowhere to be found. During this seven-game losing streak there have been some bizarre breakdowns in coverage where receivers have waltzed into the end zone all alone and untouched.
“It’s miscommunication, missed assignments and that leads to what happened tonight, they just have a clear shot,” said strong safety Nate Allen. “It’s unfortunate, mistakes happen. But there’s no excuse.”
If it wasn’t for a couple of overthrown balls by Newton there might have been more touchdown passes against the Eagles defense.
When the Eagles bring in a new coach for next year, overhauling the defensive backfield has to be one of the priorities for the defense, especially at the safety position. The players they have—Allen and free safety Kurt Coleman are somewhere between below average and just downright terrible.
On offense, there was a bright side and a downside with the negative trumping all the good things that happened. Running back Bryce Brown, who hadn’t played much football since his high school days in Wichita, Kan. had a huge game for the Birds, gaining 178 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns—including a big 65-yard run for a score.
The downside for the Birds was Brown’s two fumbles killed drives and ultimately any chance the Eagles had for a victory. You also had a sub-par performance by rookie quarterback Nick Foles, who completed 16-of-21 for 119 yards and came close to being intercepted not once, but twice.
If you’re looking at a player the Eagles ought to keep for next season, Brown is a definite keeper. With him and LeSean McCoy in the backfield, the Eagles will have something special.
At the same time, it has to make Eagles fans wonder would have happened if this team had put a greater emphasis on the running game with McCoy and Brown. Quarterback Michael Vick would have taken a few less shots to the head if Reid and Marty Mornhinweg would have utilized the running game more.
Even a patchwork, injury-riddle offensive line like the Birds can run-block when they are called on to do it. But during the Reid era, the running game, even when they have been good at moving the ball on the ground, is something they have been reluctant to utilize as the lead weapon in their offensive attack.
The next coach of the Eagles should understand that you need talent on both sides of the football. On offense, you need a balanced attack. You can’t throw the ball over 30-40 games and have the running game as an after that thought, something that happened quite frequently during Reid’s tenure in Philadelphia.
Defensively, you can’t just draw up a scheme and think you can win with a bunch of mediocre players. In his 14 years, Reid didn’t pay much attention to finding talent on defense. By the time guys like former defensive end Jevon Kearse and their so-called shutdown corner Nnamdi Asomugha got here, their skills were in decline.
The only thing for the Eagles to do for the remainder of this season is evaluate the talent they already have and search the collegiate ranks for players to address the spots where they are weak.
Brace yourselves Eagles fans because it’s going to be a while before your Birds can call themselves a playoff contender again.