On a 1-3 Start for Andy Reid's Eagles

On a 1-3 Start for Andy Reid's Eagles

These are trying times for a so-called Eagles apologist. Does one simply swallow their pride, admit they were wrong about this organization, and join the "Fire Andy Reid" mob?

For the first time since I began contributing to T7L, I am speechless. This team truly defies explanation. The defense blows fourth quarter leads, but is fairly solid in the second and third. The offense gains tons of yards, but couldn't find the end zone with a GPS and a bus to carry them there. Special teams giveth, and special teams taketh away.

Their deficiencies are numerable and plain to see, but even supposed areas of strength look suspiciously like weaknesses. Pro Bowl-caliber players come up small in clutch situations. Expensive free agent additions are exposed. The quarterback can't stay healthy, and the coaching staff doesn't have a clue.

The result: the Birds are 1-3. The club has lost six of its last seven games that counted. They've dropped fourth quarter leads for three consecutive weeks. Philadelphia resides in last place in a weak NFC East.

By and large, people are fed up. A few of us are racking our brains for answers, while others are content to bury their heads in the sand. There isn't a soul sticking up for Andy Reid though -- as there shouldn't be -- and a quick poll would undoubtedly reveal the overwhelming majority no longer expect the Eagles to make the playoffs.

It's hard to blame anyone for losing faith. The first four weeks of the season have deteriorated past the point of the wildest worst case scenarios, and it's difficult to pinpoint exactly what the head coach needs to do to get his squad ready to play.

And yet, are we to believe this season is already over?

***

A lot of our readers probably don't realize or remember (or care) I haven't always been one to give Andy Reid a pass. For the most part, I've remained a fan of his work, but between the 07-08 seasons, I too flirted with the idea he was no longer the right head coach for the job.

Donovan McNabb was recovering from a torn ACL, and Andy seemingly had him dropping back to pass 100 plays per game. Clearly rusty and his athleticism diminished, McNabb was incapable of executing the offense at that volume. It appeared Reid was trying to get his quarterback killed, perhaps to make the impending decision about Donovan's future easier.

Not that there is any truth to that, but the front office could have sold Kevin Kolb to even his most jaded detractors if Donovan had his legs sheered off by Osi Umenyiora.

Of course, he survived, and the team even went on a little winning streak to close out their 8-8 season. It was just enough to keep the dogs at bay.

Then 2008 picked up where Bad Andy left off, with the Eagles digging the grave where play-calling balance was almost laid to rest. The slow start culminated in an epic three-game winless streak that included a tie against the lowly Cincinnati Bengals, and finally resulted in McNabb being benched for the second half of a blowout at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens.

Their record 5-5-1, the playoffs were a remote possibility... which naturally was when they suddenly figured some things out. The Birds won four out of their last five, and enough crap broke the right way for them to sneak into the postseason. They nearly made it all the way to the Super Bowl, long after most folks had given up on in November.

I admit, up until minutes before the 44-6 thrashing of the Cowboys to propel the Eagles into the dance, I half wished it would all shake out so that game meant nothing, and win or lose, we might see the last of Andy.

***

But those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.

'08 was my first season "covering" the Eagles, and I learned a lot about not writing off teams or individuals too soon. We left that group for dead, then they appeared in the NFC Championship game, a destination that was in line with our expectations. Andy Reid was a buffoon who was accused of losing the locker room, but he made some adjustments and turned their season around.

If the Birds fail to reach the playoffs, by all means, Jeffrey Lurie should fire Reid. If they are eliminated in the first round, or don't make an otherwise convincing run, the front office most certainly should explore other options. The only excuse that's left is individual players and possibly coaches have been at the heart of many of this club's damning mistakes, but since Andy chose the roster and his staff, that dog won't hunt.

Having said that, we would all do well to be reminded the date today is October 4, and the Eagles have 12 games to go. Realistically, they probably need to finish 9-3 to earn a spot in the playoffs -- give or take a win -- and as outlandish as that has to sound in light of what we witnessed through the first four weeks, it's not statistically impossible.

If they somehow make it into the bye at 3-3, how bad is the situation really? None of their rivals appear poised to run away with the division, or look incapable of falling into a three-game skid themselves. 10-6 or 9-7 could be enough to take the NFC East this year, and once a team is in the playoffs, there's no telling how far they can go.

Which is why the "Fire Reid" camp might as well take a break. Nobody is getting canned after four weeks, and after waiting 12 and a half years, you can surely wait the extra three months, since everybody is so thoroughly convinced there is no reversing the tailspin.

Without much physical evidence to the contrary, there is little choice but to agree with the doubters that this time Andy Reid may not be able to correct course enough to save this season, or his job. But what do the Eagles have left to lose in 2011 besides more games?

Other RBs thriving, but Ryan Mathews (ankle) still 'the guy' when healthy

Other RBs thriving, but Ryan Mathews (ankle) still 'the guy' when healthy

Kenjon Barner has the third-most runs in the NFL of 14-plus yards despite having just 14 carries all year.
 
Wendell Smallwood ran for 79 yards and a touchdown Sunday in the first extended playing time of his career.
 
Despite their gaudy stats, Ryan Mathews will be the Eagles’ featured running back when he’s healthy, head coach Doug Pederson said Monday.
 
“I think we just continue the same way, really,” Pederson said. “When Ryan is healthy, he’s the guy, and then we’ll mix Darren (Sproles) in there and you saw what Wendell can do and we know what Kenjon’s all about.”
 
Mathews, who has been injury prone throughout his career, did not play after two early carries Sunday in the Eagles’ 34-3 win over the Steelers at the Linc.
 
Pederson said Mathews’ left ankle — originally injured in July, before training camp even began and then aggravated in the season opener against the Browns — is still bothering him.
 
“With that thing, that ankle, it’s something that for him it never loosened up (Sunday) and was stiff and so again (we) just opted on the side of caution more than anything else,” Pederson said.
 
Mathews gained minus-five yards on two carries in the first quarter and didn’t play again.
 
He's rushed for three touchdowns this year but is averaging only 3.2 yards per carry — 36th out of 40 backs with 20 or more carries this year.
 
Meanwhile, Smallwood is averaging 4.8 yards per carry, eighth-highest in the NFL, and Barner, with just 14 carries, has four runs of 14 yards. He’s averaging 6.1 yards per carry but doesn’t have enough to qualify for the league leaders.

Although Barner has the 58th-most carries in the NFL, only LeSean McCoy and Isaiah Crowell have more runs of 14 or more yards.
 
Sproles has been his usual electriyfing self in the receiving game and returning punts, but he’s averaging just 2.7 yards per carry.
 
Since opening day last year, Sproles is at 3.6 per carry — 50th of 52 backs with at least 100 carries over the last two seasons.
 
Pederson said despite Mathews’ injury history — he started more than nine games twice in his first six seasons — he has no problem with the workload he gave him in Cleveland. Mathews had 22 carries against the Browns, his second-most since 2013.
 
“I think that’s a good number for him, honestly, and then for everyone else to get a few touches after that we’re on track,” Pederson said.
 
“It’s kind of with Carson (Wentz), I don’t think you ever want to go into a game thinking you want to throw it 50 times. If you manage it and keep it around 30 and have a successful running game, I think that’s a good balance.”
 
How much Barner and Smallwood will work in once Mathews returns remains to be seen.
 
But it’s hard to argue with their production.
 
“Everybody’s a little different runner,” Pederson said Monday, a day after the Eagles improved to 3-0.
 
“Wendell did an excellent job between the tackles last night, sort of downhill, Kenjon sort of off-tackle, and of course Darren can do everything.
 
“So we’ll still keep the rotation the same, we’re not going to change much that way, and just want to get everybody in the football game.”
 
It’s tough to put together a running back depth chart for this team. Mathews had the most carries against the Browns, Sproles had the most against the Bears and Smallwood the most against the Steelers.
 
Last time the Eagles opened a season with three different backs leading the team in attempts was 1989, when Mark Higgs had 13 carries in the opener vs. Seattle, Anthony Toney led the way a week later with nine carries against the Redskins (that was the huge comeback win from a 20-0 deficit) and then Heath Sherman had a team-high 16 carries a week later against the 49ers (when Joe Montana threw four touchdown passes in the fourth quarter).
 
How similar this year turns out to 2003 and the original Three-Head Monster of Duce Staley — now the Eagles’ running backs coach — Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter will sort itself out after the bye.
 
“It’s good to have that kind of depth at that position with as many touches collectively as a group that we’re going to get each game and the wear and tear on that position,” Pederson said. “It’s great to get that many guys in the game.”
 
The Eagles certainly do seem high on Smallwood, the only back in the group that Pederson didn’t inherit from Chip Kelly.
 
Smallwood missed most of training camp with a quad injury and concussion but has been very good since he’s been healthy.
 
“He’s much like Carson in how he prepares during the week,” Pederson said.
 
“We’ve been fortunate with our young players ... and how they work and how they handle themselves on and off the football field, and he’s done a great job in practice, he’s put himself in a position to help us, and it’s great to see him.
 
“We saw it early in the spring, we saw it in training camp before the injury.”

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson says Carson Wentz’s prep is ‘Peyton Manning-ish’

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson says Carson Wentz’s prep is ‘Peyton Manning-ish’

At 8 a.m. on Sunday, eight and a half hours before game time, Jordan Matthews was in the team hotel, going to get breakfast when he ran into Carson Wentz.

But the 23-year-old quarterback wasn’t interested in food at that particular time. He was going to watch film.

“Everybody thinks that’s like a crazy thing,” Matthews said on Sunday night. “That’s his standard.”

This is just the latest example of Wentz’s obsession with football and film study. Since the No. 2 overall pick arrived in Philadelphia, and especially since he was named the Week 1 starter, we’ve been regaled with stories of his preparation and drive. The anecdotes of Wentz’s arrival before the sun to watch film have flowed.

“It’s Peyton Manning-ish,” Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday, as the team heads into its bye week with a 3-0 record.

“And you hate to label, you don’t want to put labels on guys. But that’s how Peyton prepared and that’s how these top quarterbacks prepare each week. And he has that now as a young quarterback and that will just carry him throughout his career.”

When asked if Wentz’s film study habits reach obsessive levels, Pederson said that notion was “accurate.”

“He loves watching tape,” Pederson said. “I know I’ve mentioned he and the quarterbacks, Chase [Daniel] and Aaron [Murray], are in here at 5:30 in the morning and they’re exhausting the tape. He’s constantly, I hear him in the building talking about plays and routes and protections.”

Aside from Wentz’s just putting in the time during film study, his unique ability to recall plays quickly has given him a huge advantage during his first three games.

When asked if Wentz’s memory is photographic, Pederson said he thinks it is.

In between series, Wentz and the coaching staff are able to go over plays on their Surface tablets. They go over plays and then when he’s on the field, he recognizes a defensive front or coverage and can get the offense in a different play.

Through three games, Wentz’s preparation and memory have helped the Eagles get off to a quick 3-0 start.

“He’s a different player that way,” Pederson said. “He’s much like our last quarterback, Alex Smith, in Kansas City. It’s the same type of memory. For a young kid to do that, it’s pretty special.”