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 NFL: Redskins notch 1st win vs. Giants; Cowboys rout Bears

Best of NFL: Redskins notch 1st win vs. Giants; Cowboys rout Bears

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.  -- Dustin Hopkins kicked a 37-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter for his fifth of the game and the Washington Redskins avoid a near-disastrous 0-3 start with a 29-27 win over the penalty- and error-prone New York Giants on Sunday.

Kirk Cousins threw touchdown passes of 44 yards to DeSean Jackson and 55 to Jamison Crowder as the banged-up Redskins (1-2) handed new coach Ben McAdoo his first loss with the Giants (2-1).

Su'a Cravens ended the Giants' final drive with an interception in New York territory. It was Eli Manning's second pick of the quarter, with the other coming in the end zone by Quinton Dunbar after New York got to the Redskins 15 on a big play by Odell Beckham Jr.

This was a wild NFC East matchup that see-sawed the entire second half after Washington rallied from a 21-9 deficit (see full recap).

Prescott, Cowboys rout Bears on SNF
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Dak Prescott led scoring drives on all four Dallas possessions in the first half before throwing his first career touchdown pass, and the Cowboys beat the Chicago Bears 31-17 on Sunday night to snap an eight-game home losing streak.

With his second straight win, Prescott doubled the number of victories the Cowboys (2-1) had in 14 games without injured quarterback Tony Romo over three seasons before the rookie fourth-round pick showed up.

Prescott's first TD pass was a 17-yarder to Dez Bryant for a 31-10 lead in the fourth quarter, and he's up to 99 throws without an interception to start his career. Philadelphia rookie Carson Wentz has 102, and those are the two highest career-opening totals in NFL history.

Brian Hoyer had trouble moving the Chicago offense early with Jay Cutler sidelined by a sprained right thumb as the Bears fell behind 24-3 at halftime and dropped to 0-3 for the second time in two seasons under coach John Fox (see full recap).

Vikings stop Newton, snap Panthers' home win streak
CHARLOTTE, N.C.  -- The Minnesota Vikings keep finding ways to overcome injuries --and keep finding ways to win football games.

Sam Bradford threw a touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph, Marcus Sherels returned a punt for a score and the Vikings snapped the Carolina Panthers' 14-game home winning streak 22-10 on Sunday.

The Vikings put the clamps on Cam Newton, intercepting the league's reigning MVP three times and getting eight sacks, one of those resulting in a safety by Danielle Hunter. The eight sacks were the second-most ever against Newton.

"We have a great team -- the best team I have been a part of," said Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen, who had three sacks. "We come from every area on the field and we get sacks."

Said Newton: "They were dictating to us after they got the momentum."

The Vikings improved 3-0 despite losing running back Adrian Peterson and offensive tackle Matt Kalil to injuries last week. They lost starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the preseason (see full recap).

Bills bounce back with win over Cardinals
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y.  -- LeSean McCoy scored twice and safety Aaron Williams returned a botched field-goal snap 53 yards for a touchdown in leading the Buffalo Bills to a 33-18 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

Quarterback Tyrod Taylor also scored on a 20-yard run at a time the Rex Ryan-coached Bills spent the past week taking the brunt of criticism after opening the season 0-2.

The win also came on the heels of Ryan firing offensive coordinator Greg Roman and replacing him with running backs coach Anthony Lynn.

McCoy scored on 24- and 5-yard runs, and finished with 110 yards rushing after combining for just 117 in his first two games. Taylor had 76 yards rushing, including a 49-yarder, the longest by a quarterback in team history (see full recap).

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Doug Pederson: For the Eagles, 'this was a good benchmark'

Doug Pederson: For the Eagles, 'this was a good benchmark'

On his way to the locker room following his team's stunning 34-3 victory over the Steelers, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson reacted, well, like you probably did.

Pederson had to be surprised by what had just transpired. After all, this wasn't the Browns or the Bears. This was the Steelers, who entered the game with the second-best odds behind New England, per Bovada, of winning the Super Bowl (the Patriots were first). 

And the Eagles didn't just beat them. They clobbered them.

But minutes later, when Pederson met the media for his postgame press conference, he tried his best to act like it was no big thing.

“I told the team way back in OTAs that it just takes a little bit of belief," Pederson said. "Belief in themselves. Trust the process. Believe in the coaches and the coaches believe in one another. That’s what they did tonight. 

"Am I surprised? A little. But at the same time, I know that locker room, I know those guys and I know what they are building. By no means have we accomplished anything yet. The season is still extremely young. But what they did tonight just proves that they are coming together as a football team.”

Yeah, yeah. Sorry, Doug. It's OK to be surprised. Scratch that. Make that stunned. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year. But now? Forget that. 

At least for the next two weeks. The Eagles are on their bye week and don't play again until Oct. 9 at Detroit. 

“It is still a young season, only three games. This was a good benchmark," Pederson said. "That’s a good football team, the Steelers are a great football team. They are going to be there at the end, they always are. Coach (Mike) Tomlin always has those guys ready to play. 

"But for our guys, it is just a little glimpse of that belief that I have been saying since the spring and summer. If they just do their jobs, I just feel that good things can happen. We just protect each other in that dressing room in there and keep coming to work everyday.”

Pederson is the only head coach in team history to win each of his first three games. It's only the ninth time the Eagles have started 3-0.

And of course, a big reason they've done so is their prodigy quarterback Carson Wentz, who became only the second rookie in team history to record a 300-yard passing game (Nick Foles is the other).

More impressively, Wentz now has attempted 102 straight passes without an interception, the longest streak ever begin an NFL career (per ESPN). Dallas'  Dak Prescott is at 99 after the Cowboys beat up the Bears.

But don't ask Pederson to admit he's amazed by Wentz or the fact he had the presence of mind to make plays like the riveting 73-yard TD pass to Darren Sproles (much more on that here).

“You know, you just put on his college film. Just watch him," Pederson said. "We exhausted his college tape and those were the plays that he made at North Dakota State. That play tonight was just a tremendous play by both he and Darren Sproles. Those are the types of things that we know he can do. He just keeps gaining confidence every single week.”

As does the defense, which kept one of the league's most potent offenses out of the end zone

"They just weren’t going to be denied," Pederson said. "They just weren’t going to bow their necks. They weren’t going to let them in the endzone. It just came down to our will versus theirs and I was just so happy with the way the guys played. Just a great team effort.”