Michael Vick chucked four interceptions on Sunday, but spent a good portion of the afternoon running for his life. LeSean McCoy lost a fumble, although 54 yards from scrimmage were called back on penalties. Jeremy Maclin piled up 96 yards receiving and a touchdown, yet he too drew the hanky and later dropped the potential game winner. The offensive line struggled to keep an aggressive Browns pass rush out of the backfield, and still Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg opted for a run-pass ratio close to 3:1.
No one individual can shoulder all of the blame for the pitiful offensive effort that hangs over the Eagles' 17-16 win over Cleveland. Almost every player in the huddle had a hand in this stinker, with the coaching staff sharing plenty of responsibility in what became a proverbial perfect storm. The complete lack of play-calling balance, inability to consistently keep the quarterback clean, and constant shooting themselves in the foot very nearly, perhaps should have cost Philadelphia a game on Sunday.
The worst part is, there were few signs of it turning around any time soon, especially with the defensive-minded Baltimore Ravens opening the Linc next week.
The problems began up front for the Eagles, as they often will. On the heels of a strong training camp to earn the job over free agent acquisition Demetress Bell, King Dunlap looked lost at left tackle. A measurable drop-off from Jason Peters was anticipated, but not only did Dunlap fail to assert himself in the running game (the second level is a mystery to this guy), his pass blocking was suspect as well while working across from journeyman defensive end Frostee Rucker for much of the day.
While Dunlap certainly didn't do a thing to win over skeptics, the returning linemen weren't a whole heckuva lot better. Pass protection was generally poor, particularly in the first half, and literally the only guy whose name was not called for at least one holding penalty was Todd Herremans. The unit improved as the game wore on, but it's tough to suggest with any confidence that we've seen the last of these problems.
Naturally the instability in front of Vick contributed to a subpar outing under center. No. 7 was sharp in fleeting moments, completing 29 of 56 passes for 317 yards and two scores, including the game winner with 1:18 remaining. He also made plays with his feet when he had to, buying precious seconds and scrambling four times for 28 yards. Those numbers along with the majority of his big plays were overshadowed by the four picks though, one of which was returned for the six points that handed the Browns a fourth-quarter lead in the first place.
That interception, and another that preceded it, had absolutely nothing to do with the pass rush. Vick twice had a comfortable pocket, made a bad read, and proceeded to throw right into coverage. Can't put those on anybody but the quarterback. It's hard to give him a pass for the pair he coughed up on the run, either -- once slinging across his body, another side-armed out of the intended target's reach. What's more, the Browns left others on the field, including just one play prior to Harbor's clutch grab.
Vick's seeming regression was more difficult to comprehend given that Cleveland was able to create much of the confusion by employing some of the same old tricks that have proven to rattle the erratic passer in the past. The Browns brought additional pressure by blitzing, often from a familiar area too -- the secondary. The hope was with his first full offseason as the starter in Reid's system, Vick might learn to cope when the defense sends extra rushers, but it still appeared to be a blind spot on Sunday.
Some of Vick's issues quite honestly may stem from missing so much action during the preseason. He participated in all of 12 snaps thanks to injuries, so there was concern in advance of kickoff that he might not be ready to hit the ground running. Afterwards Reid admitted Vick was probably rusty, and he eventually led the team on 16-play, 91-yard march to victory, so as a fan you can only hope everything else about his performance blows over.
As awful as both Vick and the offensive line were for stretches, the game plan was easily most confusing of all. The Eagles called 60 passes compared to 23 runs (minus three kneel downs) against a defense that ranked second versus the pass compared to 30th versus the run in 2011.
The previous season's trends aside, the flow of the action dictated an adjustment, yet it only happened once the Eagles lost the lead late. When they went into the locker room for halftime, Philly was ahead 10-3, with McCoy carrying seven times for 50 yards. After Cleveland pulled within four following a pick Vick during the third quarter, the offense went three consecutive series without calling a designed run, resulting in two consecutive three-and-outs and the pick six. Suddenly trailing 16-10, McCoy was reinstated into the offense, finishing with 20 carries for 110 yards.
It could be that Reid and Mornhinweg lost faith in the running game as big gain after big gain was trailed by yellow flags, but that wasn't the official explanation. The head coach said they believed they could exploit their opponent through the air. Even if that were the case, his reasoning flies in the face of the fact that Birds' offense lacked the ability to execute a crisp passing attack on this occasion, when at least they were experiencing some success on the ground.
Not to mention the Browns could barely move the ball themselves. Cleveland's offense managed 210 yards of total offense, 12 first downs, no TDs. They couldn't find paydirt from their best starting field position of the day, at the Philadelphia 22. Not so sure there was any need to "exploit" their defense as much as there was an incentive not to turn the ball over and give the opponent extra chances.
On a positive note, play-calling balance is something that likely corrects itself. While the Eagles under Reid have been known to be pass heavy to their detriment, and will rear its ugly head from time to time, it's a problem that's become less prominent in recent years.
The state of the offensive line and Vick's progression as a pocket passer on the other hand are things that won't change merely on a whim -- bad news with the NFL's third-ranked defense from a year ago heading to town. Maybe Vick and the men charged with keeping him upright can turn it around before then, but based on what we saw in Cleveland, there are not many reasons to feel positive about that great of a transformation taking place over the course of week.