Then and Now: Andy Reid and the Decay of the Eagles

Then and Now: Andy Reid and the Decay of the Eagles

We could reasonably divide Andy Reid’s 14-year tenure in
Philadelphia into four distinct periods. First the early years, when the Eagles ascended from bottom
feeder to legitimate threat in a matter of two seasons. Then came a stretch of
conference dominance that was marked by four consecutive trips to the NFC Title
game and a Super Bowl. That in turn was followed by the post-T.O. plateau, an
era where a veteran-Birds team was still considered a perennial contender for another four or five seasons.

Finally we reached the decline, which began in earnest once
the front office started dumping those veterans that had helped bring the
franchise so much success, choosing instead to retool on the fly.

Some say the decline began after the Eagles reached the
Super Bowl. True, they missed the playoffs in two of the next three seasons.
However, they followed both of those campaigns with deep tournament runs, making
it to the Divisional Round of the playoffs with Jeff Garcia in 2006, and most
notably, their fifth NFC Championship in 2008. They were 11-5 in ’09 as well,
so an injury-riddled ’05 and a .500 finish in ’07 look like the real outliers in that bunch.

That was always the thing about Andy’s teams. He had plenty
of faults, several of which seemed to rear their ugly head at the most
inopportune moments. Yet somehow, his teams had a chance to win it all every
year.

Until suddenly they didn’t anymore, of course.

Reid oversaw the decline every step of the way, which can be
traced back to the offseason immediately following that most recent conference
championship loss. Brian Dawkins, Jon Runyan, and Tra Thomas all left via free
agency, Lito Sheppard was traded, and Jim Johnson passed later that summer.
That was only the beginning – the following year saw the purging of any
remaining big-name veterans who had become synonymous with the achievements of the
previous decade.

In some cases, Reid found viable replacements. As great as
Tra was, Jason Peters is probably an upgrade. LeSean McCoy is certainly an
adequate replacement for Brian Westbrook to say the least.

In most situations however, he was unable to locate a player’s
equal or superior. Time eroded the once-sound structure the Eagles had under
Andy, and the many-patch jobs were not only incapable of restoring it – they couldn't hold his system together. Take a good, long look at the drop-off in performance at
these seven positions, and it isn’t hard to see why Reid’s success quickly evaporated.

From Donovan McNabb
to Michael Vick

When the Birds shipped an aging McNabb to Washington, we
thought it was in favor of Kevin Kolb, who looked like he might turn into a
decent system quarterback. That lasted all of two quarters of one game. In
comes Vick, who flashed immense talent, but much like he was in Atlanta, is
incapable of sustaining success for any length of time. Say what you want to
about McNabb, but he brought stability to the most
important position on the field for 11 years, while Vick has lacked any consistency at all
whatsoever.

From Jon Runyan to
Todd Herremans

One of the trends you’ll see in several of these examples
is the Eagles actually ran through multiple people. Initially they wanted to
replace Runyan with right guard Shawn Andrews, even though he only played two
games in ’08. When Andrews never saw another down in midnight green again, former
second-round pick Winston Justice stepped up for a couple seasons. Injuries
slowed him at the end of ’10, and he didn’t translate to offensive line
coach Howard Mudd’s scheme, which led to Herremans’ move outside. Herremans was
okay last season, but struggled when he had to be the unit's cornerstone in Peters’ absence.
Runyan was a always rock out there though, a warrior who played at a high level through anything.

From Shawn Andrews to
Danny Watkins

This is more an example of Reid’s drafting ability failing him,
because as is noted above, Andrews only played twice in ‘08. The Eagles landed
Andrews in the first round of ’04, and while thanks to various injuries and
other strangeness he only appeared in 50 games for Philly, he was absolutely
dominant when he was able to get on the field. Fast forward to ’11 when the
front office grabs 26-year-old Watkins in the first round. He doesn’t break the
starting lineup right away, and one season later develops a mysterious “injury”
that keeps him out – although seldom inactive. Same end result, but big difference in
talent and production.

From Sheldon Brown
and Asante Samuel to Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

Philadelphia has had great cornerbacks for as long as Reid has
been here. He inherited Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor, drafted Lito Sheppard
and Sheldon, then signed Samuel while he was at the top of his game. Both Brown
and Samuel were eventually moved in trades, but what’s the big deal? They
signed Asomugha and traded for Rodgers-Cromartie! Of course, neither has been
anywhere near the model of consistency fans had come to expect along the edges, nor even very good for that matter.

From Brian Dawkins to
Kurt Coleman

Dawk was one of the few veterans the front office let get away while there
was still something in the tank. Weapon X didn’t appreciate the open-ended
negotiation of his contract, so as soon as free agency started, he hopped on a
plane and inked a big-money deal in Denver. The Eagles tried home-grown
fifth-rounder Quintin Demps and free agent Sean Jones. They drafted Nate Allen
a season later, and eventually flip-flopped him with Coleman, an undersized,
under-skilled seventh-round pick. Not one of those players had the talent,
intensity, leadership, or instinct Dawkins brought to the table. To be fair,
few players in NFL history have – then again, not one of those players was
able to adequately replace a single one of those qualities, either.

From Jim Johnson to
Todd Bowles

Actually, that’s from Jim Johnson to Sean McDermott to Juan
Castillo to Todd Bowles. The defense has never been the same since we lost
Johnson, who if coordinators made the Hall of Fame would be a first-ballot
entry. Part of that is coaches like Johnson are literally irreplaceable – he was
an amazing innovator who had a knack for squeezing every ounce of ability out
of players. His line of successors has been completely forgettable though, and
while each has been limited in some sense by bad personnel and/or other issues out of their control, not one of them
distinguished themselves in any way. It might as well have been the same anonymous
person under that headset every season for the last four.

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Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

MONTREAL -- Eric Fehr and Jake Guentzel scored in the second period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins past the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 on Wednesday night.

Defensemen Ian Cole and Olli Maatta also scored for Pittsburgh, which won its second game in a row after a three-game skid.

Sven Andrighetto scored for Montreal, which lost its second straight and has only two wins in its last six games. The Canadiens' offense remained in a rut coming off a 1-0 loss Monday in Detroit.

Penguins goalie Matt Murray was back in form after Monday's wild 8-7 win over Washington, making 19 saves. But Carey Price's woes continued as Pittsburgh outshot Montreal 26-20. Price allowed three or more goals for the eighth time in 10 games (see full recap).

Vanek, Nielsen lead Wings over Bruins
DETROIT -- Thomas Vanek and Frans Nielsen scored in a shootout, lifting the Detroit Red Wings to a comeback 6-5 win over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night.

The Red Wings rallied from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits in the first period, and with 3:04 remaining in regulation, Gustav Nyquist scored to pull them into a tie.

In the shootout, Tuukka Rask and Petr Mrazek stopped the first shots they faced before Vanek scored for the Red Wings and Brad Marchand countered with a goal for the Bruins. Nielsen, who like Vanek joined the team last summer as a free agent, scored on the team's third attempt and Vatrano missed the net with a chance to extend the 1-on-1 duels.

The Bruins were dominant early before blowing a chance to keep Detroit at a distance in the Atlantic Division standings (see full recap).

Burns, Pavelski push Sharks past Kings
LOS ANGELES -- Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels scored in the San Jose Sharks' seventh win at Staples Center in their last eight trips, 3-2 over the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night.

Joe Thornton had two assists and Martin Jones made 22 saves for the defending Western Conference champion Sharks, who wrapped up their regular-season series against their biggest rivals with three victories in five games.

After Burns scored his 19th goal in the opening minutes, San Jose hung on through a scoreless third period to continue its recent domination in downtown Los Angeles, including three victories in last season's first-round playoff series.

Tanner Pearson and Marian Gaborik scored for the Kings, who ended a seven-game homestand with four defeats (see full recap).

McDavid scores in OT, Oilers edge Panthers
EDMONTON, Alberta -- Connor McDavid scored the winning goal in overtime as the Edmonton Oilers won their fourth game in a row, 4-3 over the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night.

McDavid, who also had two assists in the game, got a breakaway late in overtime and got the puck away with 2.6 seconds left. Florida's James Reimer made the glove save, but the puck was ruled to be across the line via video review.

Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu and Jordan Eberle also scored for the Oilers, who have their longest winning streak since December 2015.

Vincent Trocheck, Michael Sgarbossa and Greg McKegg had goals for the Panthers, who have lost two straight (see full recap).

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

BOX SCORE

The Sixers weren’t supposed to beat the Raptors, were they? This was going to be an “easy” game for the visiting team, which was coming to Philadelphia on a back-to-back that started in Brooklyn. The Raptors are a playoff team, and second in the Eastern Conference at that. Not to mention, they had defeated the Sixers in their last 14 meetings.

Maybe easy would have been the case the last time the two teams played back in mid-December. For the Sixers, though, things have changed since then and a 94-89 win over the Raptors on Wednesday proved this recent success is not fleeting (see Instant Replay).

“I don’t think it’s a fluke,” Joel Embiid said. “We’re competing. We’re winning games. We’re playing great defense. We finally found what we’ve been looking for.”

The Sixers had been missing clearly-defined roles and a defensive identity (see story). Now that Brett Brown has whittled down his roster to 10 players and laid out a starting five and second unit, the team has been gelling in those two aspects. The Sixers have won seven out of their last nine games, with the Raptors being the highest caliber of competition.

The Raptors entered the game averaging 111.5 points per game, first in the East and third in the NBA behind only the Warriors and Rockets. They had scored less than 100 points in just seven games this season. Additionally, the Raptors had been held to under 90 points by a single opponent: the Spurs. Not bad company to be in. 

Embiid led all players with 26 points (including 12 for 14 from the free throw line) to go with nine rebounds (see highlights). The Sixers staved off 25 points (11 for 21 from the field), six assists and three rebounds from DeMar DeRozan and 24 points (11 for 16 from the line), four rebounds, four assists and five steals from Kyle Lowry, who fouled out. The Raptors shot 25 percent from three and 65.2 percent at the free throw line.  

“We’re playing with a spirit, we’re playing with a defensive mindset,” Brown said. “There is a belief within each other amongst the team that is the best that it’s been since I’ve been here.”

The Sixers' winning stretch began against subpar teams, opponents who earlier in the season some would look at the schedule and say, the Sixers could probably take that one, as they tried to project a batch of victories. The Sixers turned those wins over the Nuggets, Timberwolves and Nets into momentum and carried it into a matchup against the Knicks.

Even though the Knicks are looking lost this season, they still have veteran offensive firepower that can take over a game against a struggling opponent. The Sixers made noise by beating them at the buzzer, then escalated their performance against the postseason-hungry Hornets and Bucks. 

The Raptors are different, though. There is no questioning their success and potential to make a deep playoff run … again. Nonetheless, the Sixers handled this well-seasoned opponent with composure and confidence down the stretch. 

They stayed together when DeRozan hit a jumper with 1:53 to play to give the Raptors their first lead since the second quarter. The Sixers responded to the one-point deficit with a 7-0 run to push the edge up to six points with 20.7 seconds to go.

“I think it says we’re for real. It shows our consistency that we’ve built throughout the year,” Nerlens Noel said. “We’re relentless. We have a young group of guys that know how to play the game and play it the right way and will come out there and compete against anybody in this league. I think the perception should be a whole different one now.”

The Sixers showed they can compete with top talent. Their wins aren't just coming from teams at the bottom of the standings. 

"That gives us a lot of confidence," Embiid said. "Coming into the game, we had a lot of confidence. Winning against the second-best team in the East is just amazing. We’re going to keep on working."