Done: After Loss to Carolina, Eagles Need to Look Ahead to Next Year

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Running back Bryce Brown was one of the few bright spots in the Eagles loss to the Panthers on Monday night. He gained 178 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns. Photo by Webster Riddick.

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.

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton makes sure the ball crosses the plane of the end zone for a Panthers touchdown. The former Auburn star threw two touchdown passes and scored two rushing touchdowns in the Panthers win over the Eagles Monday Night. Photo by Webster Riddick.

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.

At 3-7, Eagles Players Try to Make the Best of A Bad Situation

Drowning in a sea of six straight loss, Eagles players like defensive lineman Mike Patterson (left) and Trent Cole (right) are trying to get the team back into the win column. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

After six straight weeks of losing games, your starting quarterback, your starting running back and most of your offensive line, and continuing speculation your  head coach is on his way out, the Eagles are desperate for a win.

Coming into this Monday night’s game against the Carolina Panthers, the 3-7 Eagles are looking for something to hang their hats on as their chances for the postseason are receding into the evening shadows, if it hasn’t faded to black already.

“You still have to do your job, you still got games to play,” said defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said. “You’ve to get wins for ourselves, the coaches, and for the fans. That’s what you’ve got to do. You’re paid to go win games. Just because you’re in a rough situation it doesn’t change anything.”

The Eagles came into the 2012 season believing that last season’s 8-8 record was a fluke because they didn’t have the benefit working together during off-season minicamps. This season they had organized team activities and a full training camp. Suffice it to say, the Birds expected to be better than their current record.

“After last year, we had a lot to prove coming in, we came out winning some games this year,” Jenkins said. “We carried that momentum from last year and stuff just kind of stalled. It’s pretty disappointing.”

In a season that has gotten progressively worse, the Eagles are trying to find a way to make sense out of what has been a lost season for a team that once had Super Bowl aspirations. While keeping a stiff upper lip in the face of a losing streak is easier said than done, some of the Birds players feel they have no choice.

“We haven’t had a win in two months, it’s definitely is getting old, the same story, the same reasons why we aren’t getting the job done,” said Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. “It’s definitely getting old, but the only way to fix it is to get a win.”

While they’ve tried to put a happy face on their situation, wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who’s never in his football career ever experienced anything like a like a six-game losing streak, said the frustration of losing is definitely there.

“It’s a tough situation being 3-7 and losing six games in a row  is definitely not any happy times,” Jackson said. “Throughout the course of the game when adversity hits, it might be quick for that frustration to settle in because it presents itself. That’s the difficult thing is trying to find a way not to get down and go here we go again…Just be positive and lift spirits.”

Perhaps the easiest situation for players to internalize the difficult times is during the course of the game when the mistakes can have a snow-ball effect on a team’s ability to fight their way out of it.

“Throughout the game, turnovers and penalties are things that break some guys as far as getting mad and frustrated if something doesn’t go right,” Jackson said. “It’s just an energy and a persona that I feel we kinda have to shake. When something does go wrong, I don’t think everybody has to be in a rush to panic, just be professional.”

Jackson was a rookie when leaders like Brian Dawkins, Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook were the faces of the Eagles back in 2008. He said the current locker room lacks the vocal personality of those veteran players to keep the team upbeat during tough times.

“As far as anybody being that vocal guy there’s really not no one on this team like a Brian Dawkins to pump up the team,” Jackson said.

“We don’t have that going on with this team. When I was a young guy coming up through the organization, that’s who we counted on. Brian Dawkins, Westbrook, guys like that’s been here eight or 10 years. With the guys here now, we just have to mold together and find a way to get it done.”

Do the players believe that there is still hope to somehow save this season? Playoffs?

“We got to win first and not worry about anything else” Jenkins said. “That win has been eluding us, we’ve got to find it. We gotta get it.”

RGIII Burns Eagles Secondary for Career-High 4 Touchdown Passes; Nick Foles Struggles in First Start

Rookie Nick Foles had a tough day in his first start for the Eagles against the Washington Redskins. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Sunday Sun

LANDOVER, Md.–The Nick Foles era as the Eagles starting quarterback began with the same old story for the Birds. A pair of interceptions on the first two drives, drive-killing penalties and a defensive secondary that can’t cover anybody deep.

And for the sixth straight week, the Birds shortcomings resulted in a loss as the Washington Redskins came away with a 31-6 victory over the hapless Eagles in front of a sellout crowd of 79,327 fans at Fed-Ex Field.

“You can’t put your finger on one thing,” said strong safety Nate Allen. “It’s not area in particular. I don’t know, we just have to keep working.”

The Eagles can change quarterbacks, coordinators and bring in journeyman offensive lineman and they still can’t win. The 2012 season has spiraled into an abyss from which it will not recover from anytime soon. Like the little old lady in that emergency phone-call commercial, the Eagles have fallen down and they can’t get up.

“I just feel like it’s just a lack of execution, whether you want to call it mental or physical, we have not been able to get our jobs done,” said a visibly despondent wide receiver Jeremy Maclin.

Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III lit up the Eagles secondary by throwing a career-high four touchdown passes. He completed 14-of-his-15 passes for 200 yards. The 2011 Heisman Trophy winner also ran through the Eagles defense for 84 yards on the ground on 11 carries. He finished with a perfect passer rating of 158.3.

“He put his team in position to win the game,” said Eagles cornerback Dominique Rogers Cromartie. “He made it with feet. On a couple of first downs, he kept the play alive. We got to him a lot, but he made a lot of plays with his feet.”

Meanwhile, Foles, the other rookie quarterback starting today, threw a pair of interceptions on the Eagles first possessions. The first one set up a score and the second ended a promising drive. For the game, the former Arizona star completed 21-of-46 passes for 204 yards, two picks no touchdowns and he was sacked four times.

“He made a few young guy mistakes that he’ll learn from,” said Eagle head coach Andy Reid during a short, terse post-game press conference. “He is being given the opportunity to correct those.”

And no one was more down about his performance than Foles whose two interceptions set the tone for what turned about to be an otherwise bad day for both him and his Eagles teammates.

“I took it one play at a time; I guess you could say I never got into a rhythm,” Foles said. “It comes down to execution and I made too many mistakes.”

Since the firing of former defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, the Eagles defense, the secondary in particular, has gotten progressively worse under Todd Bowles. Against the Redskins, it got burned early and often.

Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha was badly beaten on a Griffin 49-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Aldrick Robinson that gave the Redskins a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter. In Asomugha’s defense, he had no safety help on the play.

“What happened was on the other side of the field, there was a route that made us jump instead of staying high,” Asomugha said. “It was a play that we had run in practice all the time this week, so it was just weird that that happened at that time. There definitely should have been a high guy on the other side of the field.”

The Redskins pretty much put the game away in the third quarter on a 61-yard touchdown pass from Griffin to Santana Moss. On that play, Griffin escaped the Eagles pass rush and found Moss at the goal line between two Eagles defenders-cornerback Brandon Boykin and free safety Kurt Coleman.

“I was in perfect position to make the play and I fell backwards all of sudden,” Coleman said. “I got to be able to make the play. I know I can make that play. It’s not like I had Andre Johnson (Houston Texans) on top of me.”

With their playoff hopes somewhere between slim and are-you-kidding-me, the Eagles simply have to find a way just to get a win.

“At the end of the day, you’ve got to look at yourself individually and when you watch the film, be critical of yourself,” Rogers-Cromartie said. “In your heart, you know if you can do better or you know if you’re given your all. You look at the problem and fix the problem within yourself and bring it together collectively.”

Notes–Eagles running back LeSean McCoy left the game with 1:44 left  in the fourth quarter with a concussion after a helmet-to-helmet hit.

RGIII hopes to Bring the Glory Days Back to D.C.

A Redskins fan at the NFL Draft outside of Radio City Musical last April. Can he take Washington to the next level. Photo by Chris Murray.

By Chris Murray

For the Sunday Sun and the Chris Murray Report

A couple of hours after the Washington Redskins made Robert Griffin III their No.1 pick in the NFL Draft last April, a Redskins fans stood outside of Radio City Music Hall in New York City with a large burgundy and gold illustration of Griffin with the word, “Hope,” underneath the picture.

It was similar to the illustration of President Barack Obama from  2008 Presidential campaign that had the same word under his picture.

Nine games in to his rookie season, Griffin is undergoing the ups and downs of being a rookie quarterback in the NFL. While he has shown plenty of flashes of brilliance throughout the season, it’s doubtful that he’s going to be that savior to instantly turn the Redskins fortunes around in a single season.

Nevertheless, Griffin is having a solid year for a rookie quarterback and is a candidate for the Rookie-of-the-Year award.

“I see myself as a quarterback that these players, this coaching staff and the fans have been wanting for a long time,” Griffin said in a conference call with the Philadelphia media on Wednesday. “I don’t put myself up as a savior or anything like that because I don’t think anybody should look at themselves in that way.  I look myself as a quarterback for this team that they need and I’ll make sure I’ m there for them.”

RGIII will be leading a 3-6 Redskins squad against the Philadelphia Eagles (3-6) who will be invading Fed Ex Field in Landover, Md. Sunday in a game that both teams need to somehow jumpstart their seasons and make the second half of the mean something for at least one more week.

So far this season, Griffin is ninth in the league in quarterback rating at 93.9, the highest among rookies (over 200 passing attempts) and eighth in completion percentage. Only Cleveland’s Brandon Weedon and Indianapolis Colts rookie signal caller Andrew Luck have passed for more yardage among rookies than Griffin.

Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan said he has been pleased with Griffin’s progress in the first nine games of the season despite the team’s won-loss record.

“I think Robert has done a great job where he’s getting a great feel for our system and we’re getting a great feel for him,” Shanahan said. “I like his production in how’s handled himself and how he works. He’s got all the intangibles that you look for in a quarterback. As he experiences defenses in the NFL, he’ll get better and better.”

If the Eagles had been higher up on the draft board, Griffin might be wearing midnight green. Head coach Andy Reid said he was impressed by the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner.

“I love talking to quarterbacks and he was one of them,” Reid said. “We weren’t in position where we were going to pick him, but I wanted to see what he was all about and I liked what I saw, yeah.”

It is often said that playing quarterback in Washington is the second hardest job next to being the President of the United States. Griffin said he can handle the pressure of playing in D.C. but also realizes that he can’t do everything by himself.

“I know everybody looks to me, good or bad, to make things happen, so it’s responsibility that I know is going to be on the shoulders of the quarterback,” Griffin said. “Whether it’s the coaches or the players, everyone is looking to me to make things happen.

“What I echo to the players, it’s not just me out there …We’re all in this together.”

Griffin has completed 65 percent of his passes, thrown eight touchdown passes and just three interceptions. The fact that he’s a mobile quarterback that runs out of the Redskins college style spread option makes him difficult to figure out.

“It’s the speed and the athleticism,” said Eagles defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins. “When he gets you in that run and gun with the option, you’ve got to be sound because you can’t take him for granted. A lot of quarterbacks you’re not scared of their legs and their mobility. With him you fear that mobility, you have to respect it and makes sure you contain it.”

Because Griffin can run with the football, especially in the Redskins version of the spread offense, he has gained 529 yards rushing on 81 carries. He’s tied for 20th in the NFL in rushing yards and leads all quarterbacks in yards gained on the ground.

Griffin’s style of running the football has come with a price. He was knocked out of a game against the Atlanta Falcons and was diagnosed with a mild concussion.

After seeing players like Michael Vick and Jay Cutler go down to injury because of concussions, Griffin is starting to realize that he has to do such things as sliding and do his best to avoid those type of hard hits.

“I told my teammates that I would play safer and make sure I was out there with them every time,” Griffin said. “Consciously I’ll make an effort to play smarter, get out of bounds, slide and things like that. But it’s something I’ll drill myself on in practice so that when gameday comes around I’m not having to think about it, I just go out there and react.”

As one of several African-American quarterbacks in the league, Griffin said he got some valuable advice about dealing with the stereotypes of Black quarterback from former players like Doug Williams that has guided throughout his rookie season.

“The one thing many of them told me was that you can’t fight that battle as an African-American quarterback by yourself,” Griffin said. “You have to go out and let your play do the talking from there.”

A New Era in Philly? Foles Fills in for Injured Vick in Eagles loss to Dallas

Vick Leaves the Game with  a Concussion as Eagles lose their fifth straight

Rookie Nick Foles completed 22-of-32 passes for one touchdown, an interception and a fumble in place of the injured Michael Vick. Will he be the starter for a floundering Eagles team going nowhere fast.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

When he came onto the field, Eagles backup quarterback rookie Nick Foles received a standing ovation from the fans. Later in the game, he received in an even bigger cheer when he hit a wide open Jeremy Maclin for a 44-yard touchdown pass that gave the Birds a 14-10 lead early in the third quarter.

With Michael Vick out for the game with a concussion midway through the second quarter, it was the dawning of a new era in Eagles football-at least among the pundits and beat writers that cover the team.

But the way this game turned out, you might be seeing more of the former Arizona star because the sun is slowly setting on the Birds 2012 season and possibly Andy Reid’s career as a head coach in Philadelphia.

A punt return and a pick six by Foles sank the Eagles battleship and possibly their season as the Cowboys came away with a 38-23 win in front of a sellout crowd at Lincoln Financial Field who saw their team lose their fifth straight game.

“It’s hard to lose a game like that, “ said running back LeSean McCoy, gained 82 yards on just 16 carries. “We were in it and real fast we were down a couple of scores. That was really frustrating.”

Of course, the big question after the game was whether Foles, who completed 22-of-32 passes for 219 yards with one touchdown and one interception, would be the Eagles permanent starting quarterback? Reid said it would be Vick depending on his health.

“He’s the quarterback, yeah. But he’s hurt right now, so I just have to just see how’s he doing,” said a visibly annoyed Reid. “Let’s take a little consideration for Michael here.”

Vick left the game having completed six of his first nine passes for 70 yards with a touchdown pass to Riley Cooper on the Eagles first drive of the game. It was the first time all season the Eagles have scored on their initial series of the game.

Foles didn’t play badly and led the Eagles to a 17-10 lead midway through the third quarter. He threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin and led the Eagles to a 40-yard field goal by Alex Henery. But two of Foles turnovers resulted in Dallas scores.

“For having not practiced at all with the first group, I thought he came in and did some good things,” Reid said. “You saw he kept his eyes downfield and there were some positives there but again the turnovers.”

But late in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter, the wheels came flying off the cart for the Eagles. First, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo hit wide receiver Dez Bryant for a 30-yard touchdown pass.

Fans express their frustration after the Eagles lose their fifth straight, something that’s never happened in Reid’s 14 years in Philadelphia. Photo by Webster Riddick.

After the Eagles went three and out on their first possession of the four quarter, it took the Cowboys less than a minute to put the game out of reach. Cowboys punt returner Dwayne Harris took a Matt McBriar kick 78 yards for the touchdown that put Dallas up 24-17.

Two plays into the Eagles next possession, Foles threw ball slightly behind DeSean Jackson and it was tipped into the hands of Brandon Carr, who took it 47 yards for the touchdown to give Dallas a 31-17 lead. Game, set and match. Both teams scored touchdowns late in the waning seconds, but it was already done.

The Eagles defense didn’t play poorly as they had in the last two weeks. They allowed 294 yards of total offense. They sacked Romo three times, but they did not force any turnovers.  On two Cowboys scoring drives, the Eagles did a poor job tackling.

On Dallas first touchdown of the game-an 11-yard touchdown pass from Romo to running back Felix Jones-four Eagles defenders just missed him and did not wrap him up.  Late in the third quarter on a third and five  from the Dallas 39, Romo escaped the grasp of Mike Patterson and Fletcher Cox and hit wide receiver Miles Austin for a 25-yard gain to prolong the drive.

Three plays later, Romo hits Bryant with a touchdown pass to give Dallas their first lead of the game.

With a 3-6 record, the stunned Eagles believe that they still have a chance to make a run for the postseason.  Considering that the New York Giants (6-4) only have a one-game lead in the NFC over the Cowboys (4-5)  in the loss column and a two and a half game over the Birds, it is within the realm of possibility.

But the way they’ve played on both sides of the football, it’s a faraway from being a sure thing.

“We’re a confident bunch. We just need to get that first win and we’ll be alright,” Maclin said. “We’re pressing right now and we really have to get it done and go out there and get a “W” next week.”

Free Falling: The Eagles Can’t Block Anybody or Tackle Anybody

In Monday’s loss to the New Orleans Saints, LeSean McCoy gained 119 yards rushing on 19 carries and touched the ball just once during the Eagles five trips inside the red zone.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

The problem for the Eagles in their 28-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints had little to do with swag, mojo or even their je ne sais quoi as much as they are need of an offensive line that can block people, the ability score in the red zone and a defense that can actually stop somebody.

When they start doing these things effectively and actually start winning games, the swagger might come back. For now the Eagles (3-5) have to face the reality that their season is in the midst of a free fall and quite frankly they are not a good enough football team, at this point, to recover from it.

For everyone who has been insisting the Eagles offensive woes are the sole fault of quarterback Michael Vick, you have Monday night’s game as evidence that the Birds issues are a lot deeper than their starting signal caller.

On offense, Vick was running for his life even before they lost right tackle Todd Herremans because of strained ligaments in his ankle. The former Virginia Tech star, playing behind a patchwork offensive line, was sacked seven times by one of the league’s worst defenses.

Oddly enough, the Eagles rolled up 447 yards of total offense, including 221 yards rushing. LeSean McCoy gained 119 yards by himself.  All those numbers are meaningless because the Birds were inside the New Orleans 20-yard line five times and ended up with just two field goals.

More importantly, they didn’t win the game, which renders those stats to be as useless a three-legged mule.

You can blame that on the goofy play-calling and also lack of execution in those situations. Two plays after Bryce Brown broke off a 40-yard run to get the Eagles to the Saints 6-yard line, Vick threw a pick-six on a pass that tipped off the hands of Brent Celek into the hands of Patrick Robinson who took it 99 yards for a touchdown.

On that play, you can argue there should have been a defensive holding or an illegal contact penalty called on the guy defending Celek, but the ball was in the receiver’s hands.  What bothers me about that particular sequence is why not run the ball, especially when they had been killing the Saints in the running game. For all of the Eagles trips to the redzone, McCoy had just one carry for minus-one yard and Brown carried it once for no gain.  Really? C’mon, man.

In the third quarter, the Eagles recover a fumble on the kickoff after Vick’s 77-yard touchdown pass DeSean Jackson brought the Eagles to 21-10. They eventually move the ball to inside the Saints 10. Given how hot the Eagles rushers had been you would think, they would have run the ball  at least once in that sequence.

But as usual, you saw an empty backfield set and New Orleans blitzed past the Eagles injury-riddled offensive line, forcing a sack and a couple of incomplete passes. The Eagles got the second of their two field goals and that was the last score of the night.

The Eagles last foray into to red zone resulted in a fumble at the seven-yard-line  by Celek. It was another opportunity to make it a game and the Birds blew it.

The defense complicated things on their end by not tackling and letting a team came into the game ranked 30th in rushing offense to run for 140 yards. The Eagles did get a sack and they got a turnover.

Meanwhile, Drew Brees was efficient enough to put the Eagles in a hole as he completing 21 of 27 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns.

In these last two weeks, the Eagles haven’t given folks any reason to believe that they are going to recover from a snowball that is about to consume the Birds season. The Eagles are a terrible football team on both sides of the ball.

The offensive line can’t protect the quarterback and it has the coaches to the point to where they are reluctant to run the ball in the red zone. Meanwhile, the defense since the firing of Juan Castillo has been a joke and hasn’t come close to stopping anybody.

The good news for Eagles fans is that the 3-5 Dallas Cowboys and the 3-6 Washington Redskins are on the schedule. But don’t even think about the playoffs (Jim Mora’s voice), the Eagles need to be happy to win a game, any game, another game.

Eagles Hope to Get their Groove Back Against the Saints

Michael Vick  said he wants to get his swagger back as the dual threat quarterback that can make things happen with his arm and his legs. But he has to take care of the football. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Eagles quarterback Michael Vick has always prided himself on playing with a certain level of swag. In last Sunday’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons, the Birds had their mojo beaten out of them on both sides of the ball.

At the rate this season going, the Eagles are in need of every form of self-help, positive thinking book to salvage a season that is rapidly deteriorating into a disaster.  In Monday’s road game against the New Orleans Saints, the 3-4 Birds are in another must-win situation.

“It’s very important to get back on the winning side and start to turn things around and just go from there,” said cornerback Dominique Rogers-Cromartie. “The main thing is to just get wins.”

After a week of speculation about his starting job, Vick said he wants to go back to his free-wheeling style of his days as the “Michael Vick Experience” or better yet back to 2010 when his resurgence took the league by storm with his strong arm and ability to run. But can he do it without turning over the football?

“That’s not what I’m talking about. It’s just, I think I’ve got to play my style of football [and] at the same time, still take care of the football and not be reckless with it,” Vick said on Saturday.  “Be aggressive; the way we played last week, we’ve got to be us.   We’ve got a personality as a football team and we’ve got to let it show.”

That also seems to be the mindset of offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.  He said the offense while mistake free  last week, it was a bit of tentative the Falcons.

“Now, we’re always aggressive. I’m just talking about that aggressive mentality and that makes you just a little bit more dynamic,” Mornhinweg said. “I know what you’re saying; however, the last ballgame, I thought we were just a little bit too careful with our mentality and it’s just that simple. We’ve got to play loose and free and we’ve talked about that. Just simply unafraid to make a mistake; if we make one, we correct it.”

Even in the midst of a very loud Louisiana Superdome, Vick and the offense will be going up against a Saints defense that ranks dead last in total defense, giving up a whopping 474.7 per game. New Orleans is 31st against pass and dead last in the league in giving up rushing yardage.

If the offense is going to be as aggressive as Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg say it’s going to be, this is the perfect defense for Vick and company to carve up, especially in the running game with LeSean McCoy.

It’s going to be important that the Eagles offense score and stay on the field often because if they don’t, Drew Brees is going pick the Eagles defense apart in the same fashion as Matt Ryan did last week.

Brees, who recently broke Johnny Unitas’ streak for consecutive games throwing touchdown passes, is the NFL’s 10th rated passer and when he’s on he is difficult to stop. The Saints have the league’s top-rated passing offense.

“They attack you with the running backs, the tight ends, and the wide receivers. You got to have a good overall game plan against them, and you have to hope that he is off a little bit,” said defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.  “You have to hope they are a little bit worn down. He’s been tough for years now. It’s not just this game. He’s been tough against everybody. They are the number one pass offense in the league for a reason.”

The Eagles are hoping to have another defensive lineman back in their rotation with the return of defensive tackle Mike Patterson, who was activated  after missing most of this year because of his brain surgery that was triggered by a seizure last season at the Eagles training camp at Lehigh University.

“He did a good job. He moved around well and there were no symptoms [from the] surgery he had with his head and brain. He’s felt good. He’s felt good all the way through workouts and then once he came out here he felt good, “Reid said

Patterson is hoping to be part of line of defenders that can ill afford to allow Brees to play pitch and catch with wide receiver Marques Colston and tight end Jimmy Graham. The mission for the defense is to figure out a way to disrupt Brees.

For this defense, it’s a mission that is a lot easier said than done.

“You’ve got to try to get there as fast as you can and try to put some form of pressure on him. Listen, he gets the ball out very fast,” Reid said.  “He’s one of the best in the business against the blitz, against the straight pressure, and [a] great timing quarterback. He does a great job with that.”

Stop Blaming Michael Vick: Benching Him Would be a Mistake

Former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb tells NFL Network  Birds should consider benching  the defense and the  offensive line

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Commentary

Michael Vick’s days as the Eagles starting quarterback might be numbered if they can’t turn things around.  Is Nick Foles ready? Photo by Webster Riddick

If the reports that have been circulating around on several websites are true that  Eagles head coach Andy Reid is about to bench quarterback Michael Vick in favor of untested rookie Nick Foles, you might has well consider the 2012 season over.

The benching of Vick would also be a sure sign that Reid is in lame duck mode which means the clock is ticking on his tenure in Philadelphia. It is nothing but a desperation move on the part of a coach who’s looking to cover his own rear end.

It’s nothing more than a public relations spin move to let angry Birds fans that he’s on top of what ails the Eagles—sort of like the firing of former defensive coordinator Juan Castillo. On Sunday, you saw how well that worked out as the defense gave up scores on Atlanta’s first six possessions. Vick did not turn the ball over, but his offense wasn’t on the field that often.

Don’t get it twisted, Vick has had his issues with turning the ball over, but it’s not all his fault given the number of times he’s been hit because of a porous offensive line that is starting two rookies and a third string left tackle  He has been sacked 20 times in seven games.

Even in the games where Vick has coughed up the football, he has managed to win three games and if the defense could have made a stop in the fourth quarter against Pittsburgh and against the Detroit Lions on at least one of their last three possessions, we are not having this conversation because Vick put them in position to win those games.

“If the defense of the Eagles were playing better, we wouldn’t be talking about Michael Vick so much, we’d be talking about what the Eagles can do to turn things around,” said former Eagles quarterback and NFL Network analyst Donovan McNabb.

McNabb, who knows a thing or two about being the brunt of criticism in Philly, told the NFL Network Tuesday instead of focusing on benching Vick, the team should look to bench some of the guys on defense.

“What if the offense goes out and scores 24 points, but the defense gives up 42 points, do we  talk about benching (Vick) and talk about Foles again?,” McNabb said. “Or do we start mentioning some of the defensive guys who need to be benched? Or do we say the offensive line needs to be benched? They’re other people in this situation besides Michael Vick.”

At the end of the day, all the Eagles struggles points back to Reid.  He, along with offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, has not helped the offense with their playcalling. They under utilize their talented running back LeSean McCoy.

But then again this is nothing new during Reid’s tenure as coach of the team. During the McNabb years, Reid’s stubborn, oft-times arrogant refusal to give the running game a stronger role in the offense has been a thorn in this team’s side over the last 14 years.

In the first quarter of the loss to the Steelers, Vick drove the Eagles offense to the Steelers three-yard line. Earlier in the drive, Vick fumbled while running the ball, but the play was overturned by the replay officials.

But instead of utilizing McCoy or even backup Bryce Brown on a first and goal from the three, you allow your turnover-prone quarterback who came close to fumbling a few plays earlier to try an ill-fated quarterback draw. The ball was jarred loose and the headlines the next day in Philly said Vick’s fumble cost them game.

After further review, it was also another example of bad play-calling by Reid and Mornhinweg. Vick, as the starting quarterback, took responsibility for his own miscues.

Like a pitcher who has a couple of bad innings, Vick kept firing and eventually threw the touchdown pass that gave his team the lead with six minutes left. If the defense makes a stop late in the game that first-quarter fumble is a moot point.

When Vick walked off the field after hitting Jeremy Maclin with the TD pass in the fourth quarter against the Lions, the Birds had a 10-point lead with a little over five minutes left. But that became a moot point as the defense allowed Detroit to score on their final three possessions including overtime.

With the poor performance by the defense and the erratic play of his injury-depleted offensive line, Vick has not thrown anyone under the bus or yell at his teammates like Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler did earlier this season. When the subject of his benching came up during Sunday’s postgame press conference, he didn’t get angry and point fingers at his coach or his teammates,  he said he would support his coach’s decision.

Through all his horrific mistakes, Vick has had the heart to fight through them and give his team a fighting chance to win, something they won’t have if he is replaced by Foles.

Eagles are in Must-Win Mode Against Unbeaten Atlanta

Although Michael Vick needs to cut down his turnovers, his offensive line has to do a better job of protecting him.

By Chris Murray

For the CM Report

After losing two straight games in heartbreaking fashion, the Philadelphia Eagles come off the bye week into the fire of a must-win game against the unbeaten Atlanta Falcons Sunday (1:00 p.m.) at Lincoln Financial Field.

“It’s a big game for us,” said Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. “The last two games, we were in position to win the games and we didn’t close it out.  We’ve got to put it all together as a team and the teams that do that are the teams that are sitting on top right now.”

While the Eagles are unbeaten (13-0) after a bye week during head coach Andy Reid’s tenure as head coach, they will be facing an explosive Falcons team that averages 28.5 points per game. Quarterback Matt Ryan is the NFC’s third-rated passer and has weapons at his disposal like running back Michael Turner, who gained 114 yards against Birds in last year’s game in Atlanta.

Ryan, a product of Penn Charter High in Philadelphia, also has wide receivers like Julio Jones (30 reception, 376 yards and four  TDs)  and Roddy White (37 receptions, 576 yards, four TDs) and veteran tight end tight end Tony Gonzalez, who burned the Eagles defense with seven receptions for 83 yards and two touchdowns in last year’s 35-31 win.

Meanwhile, the Eagles are coming off a tumultuous week in which they fired their defensive coordinator Juan Castillo and put everyone on notice that their jobs are not safe.  At 3-3, the Eagles are fighting to save their season.

“It’s not the offense or the defense, it’s everybody doing their job better,” Reid said Wednesday during his weekly press conference. “You know the obvious. You can’t have the turnovers and you can’t have the big plays and you’ve got to have field position in order to win the game.”

On offense, the Eagles have to figure out a way to protect Vick. The Eagles will be getting left tackle King Dunlap back from injury. The good news for the Eagles line on the injury front is that they could be getting Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters back in about three weeks.

Peters has been on the reserve non-football injured last since August after rupturing his Achilles tendon. Reid said Peters has been moving around and is making progress.

Nnamdi Asomugha intercepts Matthew Sfafford in the end zone for a rare forced turnover by the defense. The Eagles are hoping to get more turnovers in Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons.

The next biggest subject of scrutiny during this bye week was whether or not Vick was going to lose his starting job because of his 13 turnovers. While some of those miscues aren’t his fault, Vick told reporters that it’s just a matter of him protecting the football.

“It’s not hard, It’s not a science to it, just protect the football at all times,” Vick said. “Despite the circumstances, I still sit back there and try to make the plays that I know I can make and that’s just me and my confidence in myself and confidence in the guys.”

And speaking of confidence, Reid said he still trusts Vick to get the job done. He said that his quarterback has gotten better at recognizing and beating blitzes, something he’s had some trouble with earlier in the season. This week, Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan will dial up a number of different blitzes to stop Vick and the Eagles offense.

“He’s done fairly well against the blitz, he’s been sharp there,” Reid said. “You saw that against Detroit and you saw it against Pittsburgh who throws a lot of things at you. It’s different scheme than (Atlanta), but he’s done a respectable job in that area.”

For all of Vick’s turnovers, the good thing for the Eagles is that Vick has been responsible for the Eagles three wins and has put them in position to win two more.

With new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles at the helm, the defense, which hasn’t had a sack in the last three weeks, is looking to redeem itself after coming up in the short in the fourth quarter of the last two games.

“The main thing is we have to finish,” said rookie defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. “That’s the biggest thing. This week we’re going to come out and just play hard, but at the end of the day, we just have to finish.”

 

After Castillo Firing, Will the Eagles Bench Michael Vick?

After the defense blow a pair of late leads, the Eagles fire defensive coordinator Juan Castillo. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Sunday Sunday and the Chris Murray Report

 

On the surface, Andy Reid’s firing of now former defensive coordinator Juan Castillo is a move to let fans know that he is willing to do anything to right the Eagles 3-3 ship that seems to be on a collision course with last year’s 8-8 effort which kept them out of the playoffs.

And to quite a few fans it will probably seen as a panic move for a coach who will be fired this year if the Eagles don’t make the playoffs.  Some folks will see it as a warning shot to Reid’s players that say this could be YOU if you don’t deliver on the field.

What you’re really wondering if Reid’s next move is to bench his turnover-prone starting quarterback Michael Vick.

“As I sit here today, he’s the starting quarterback,” Reid said 24 hours after saying the same thing about Castillo as his defensive coordinator. “Right now Michael Vick is the starting quarterback. I’ve told you that I’m going through and I’m evaluating.”

If you’re thinking or even hoping that Vick is going to get benched, it’s not going to happen and nor should it happen at a point in the season while the Eagles are a long way from being mathematically eliminated playoff race.

More than anything else, the firing of Castillo is Reid’s way of detracting attention from him facing that question publicly. One would even say that the change in defensive coordinators was a passive aggressive endorsement of Vick and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.

As frustrating as Vick’s 13 turnovers has been in terms of preventing the team from putting more than 24 points per game on the board, the Eagles, who ranked 31st in points per game, have won three games and could have won two more.

In the Eagles three wins, Vick somehow overcame his foibles and helped win the game in the end for his team. After committing some costly early turnovers in losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions, it was Vick who brought the Birds off the mat and put them in position to win.

If the Eagles were 1-5 or 0-6 at this point, Vick would be on the bench faster than Usain Bolt running the 100-meter dash. But at 3-3 and knowing they could be 5-1 if the defense could have made stops in the fourth quarter of games, Reid has an interesting dilemma on his hands when it comes to the idea of benching Vick.

Another complication is the Eagles injury-riddled offensive line which is missing an All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters and a rising star at center in Jason Kelce. Vick has spent much of the season getting beat up and knocked down more times than former heavyweight boxing contender Chuck Wepner.  It’s a wonder that he hasn’t been down for a 10-count in some of these games.

How long will Andy Reid stick with Michael Vick? Photo by Webster Riddick.

Of  course, Reid and Morhinweg’s play-calling hasn’t helped Vick’s situation. Early in games this season, the Eagles have tried to pass the ball on virtually every down and the offense has struggled.

When they decide to balance the offense with the running LeSean McCoy, Vick is a lot more comfortable in the pocket because defensive linemen aren’t expecting pass on every play. Vick has managed to move the team down field and tends avoid turnovers for the most part.

In a real sense, I don’t think the Eagles are going to bench Vick because if for nothing else that line is not going to be able to protect backup rookie quarterback Nick Foles. Outside of a couple of preseason games, the Eagles really don’t know how the former Arizona star is going to perform under regular-season conditions. With that patchwork offensive line, I wouldn’t put a rookie back there to get beat up like that.

Since the Eagles are still legitimately in the playoff race, benching Vick would be a signal to fans that the Birds are waving the white flag for the season. It hasn’t come to that point, at least not yet.  That’s up to Vick on the field.

If Vick can cut down on his interceptions and fumbles, the Eagles will score points and win games by huge margins where they don’t put it on their defense to make a big stop late in the game. The Birds will be in the playoff chase.  If he doesn’t, Vick days as a starting quarterback and Reid’s days as a head coach in Philadelphia will be numbered.