The Two-Year Plan: Andy Reid's Game of Risk

The Two-Year Plan: Andy Reid's Game of Risk

A local columnist, somebody who covers the team regularly, once confided to me his belief that Andy Reid is here for as long as he wants, sensing no dissatisfaction in the coach's performance within the organization. The admission was surprising in that it mirrored the laments of many fans who find it increasingly difficult to envision the day when a head coaching change will be made.

Reid's most recent contract extension runs through 2013, so he certainly isn't in danger of being fired and replaced by, say, Jon Gruden, or anything outlandish like that in the immediate future. However, his job security is constantly open to outside scrutiny, and if we were to speculate when his contract might be up for renewal again, one would surmise it's before he reaches the final year on the current deal.

Except there is no certainty he will receive another, or even last that long.

Not now, not after consecutive first round playoff exits. His first two extensions came in '00 and '04, when the Eagles were clearly ascending as an NFL powerhouse. The most recent lengthening came in '09, on the heels of the Eagles' fifth conference championship appearance under Reid, and in the midst of an 11-win season. Like it or not, the organization could justify the decisions then.

It's highly irregular for an NFL head coach to enter a season as a "lame duck," even moreso when you're talking about the most tenured guy in the league. Essentially it leaves Reid with the next two seasons to make an impression on the higher-ups, unless you believe the franchise views their coach as infallable.

What's different this time is the way the table is set. Apart from the sheer length of time the Eagles have given Reid to complete his primary task, and some circumstances largely out of the coach's control, he already has or soon will make a series of decisions that could easily lead to the fall of the Eagles. Most prevelant is the quarterback situation, which by itself could make or break the head coach's reign.

Most observers see Mike Vick as the obvious choice to lead this team. Kevin Kolb is still sort of an unknown quantity. Vick is one of the most dynamic players in the league, able to flick the ball 70-yards downfield with ease, or maneuver past defenders as if they were standing still. Plus, he's a marketing machine. The Eagles will rake with this guy.

But it's not that easy. Vick is all of those things, but he's also going to be 31-years-old—fine for a conventional pocket passer, but worrisome for a smallish runner. There's also the fact that Vick has yet to prove he is consistent enough to win three or four consecutive games in the post-season, which is significant at his age. Look no further than 7-9-22, or the number of interceptions, fumbles, and sacks he accumulated over his last seven games this season.

Which of course is not to say he can't win. This would be the first season with the Eagles where Vick entered as the starting quarterback. He'll have the full attention of the coaching staff and put in work with the first stringers. Vick already proved he has, and therefore can continue to improve.

There is an inherent risk no matter which direction they go, but it will ultimately fall on Reid. If the Eagles are still spinning their wheels with Vick two seasons from now, and Kolb goes on to begin a promising career elsewhere, it will be hard to reconcile with the front office.

That's just the beginning. Andy can maybe be forgiven for choosing the wrong quarterback when both are very talented. Tabbing an offensive line coach as the Eagles' new defensive coordinator, particularly somebody who hasn't coached on that side of the ball in 20 years, will be a little harder to explain when it doesn't pan out.

What's so strange about Juan Castillo's promotion is how tenuous the situation is on defense. There isn't any one fault with this unit. The entire group requires something between a tune-up and an overhaul. The abundance of young players enterting their second seasons as professionals need a coach who will figure out what they do best and be able to utilize them in that capacity.

Obviously we haven't got the faintest clue whether or not Castillo can do those things, but it invites the head man to increased criticism. Many felt Sean McDermott's firing was in part due to his lack of experience, yet he was replaced by somebody with none. Castillo suddenly is the person charged with shaping and molding young players, putting a system in place, oh and he better do it soon, because the offense is ready to win now.

As if Reid didn't have enough issues to sort out internally, this tiny disagreement between players and owners only complicates matters. If a lockout steals the off-season, the Eagles will feel the negative consequences in more ways than one. The time to spend a full spring and summer focusing on coaching up Vick? Gone. The opportunity to teach new techniques and install new schemes on defense? Wasted.

Forget about improving the personnel, too. Some speak as if free agency would be bypassed entirely after an extended lockout. Even if it's not, good luck indoctrinating signees into a new system in time for the regular season when they only came aboard in August. Don't worry about the quarterback situation, either. It's not like they will be able to trade Kolb or Vick for picks this season.

What do you think the Eagles are going to be in the next two seasons, while labor strife limits their ability to improve the roster, a total newbie calls the defense, and a quarterback whose ceiling is unknown takes snaps from center? There really are only three options.

The first is the Eagles do what they frequently seem to do: answer doubts and become contenders. You can see how, with just a few minor tweaks—a cornerback here, a right tackle there—and the development of their own young players, they could jump into back into the mix of elites.

The second is the quarterback and defensive coordinator situations completely backfire, and management is left with zero choice but to start over. Is it such a stretch to believe those moves could result in the spawning of the post-appocalyptic Birds?

The third is the Eagles continue winning between eight and 10 games per season, just enough to sneak into the playoffs most of the time, but not enough to ever do any real damage.

Most people will probably go on believing the third scenario would be enough for Andy to earn an extension, despite any assurances to the contrary. After what would amount to four straight seasons running in place, and 14 without winning the ultimate prize, it might be time to finally rethink that position. We will know within the next two years whether Reid's gambles paid off, and if they haven't, you can bet it will cost him his job.

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Carson Wentz takes pride in not letting plays die easily. 

In Sunday’s 34-3 win over the Steelers, one play he didn’t let die ended up being the back-breaker in the blowout. 

We’re, of course, talking about the 73-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles at the 13:08 mark in the third quarter. Coming into the second half, the Eagles had a 10-point lead, but this touchdown pushed it to a 20-3 advantage and the rout was on. This play was a tone-setter (see story)

“That’s something that we talk about a lot,” Wentz said after the game. “We always say that a play is never dead. I like to make plays when we need to and everyone just does a great job of getting open in those situations.”

This was the first big off-schedule play Wentz has hit during his three weeks as the team’s starter, but the signs were there. In the Chicago game, there were several times where he showed his ability to extend plays. We broke them down in a film review last week (see story).

Throughout the week, Wentz had been compared to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. One of the reasons was their shared ability to extend plays and make something happen. Big Ben showed his ability in the first quarter and almost connected on a huge touchdown pass to Markus Wheaton in the back of the end zone, but the receiver couldn’t pull it in. 

When Wentz got his shot later in the game, Sproles was able to pull it in, then make something happen with his feet. 

“I saw Carson scrambling this way,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “Darren was literally right in front of me and when I saw him wheel, my first reaction was to find the sideline to see if he stepped out to be quite honest.  He hadn’t, and Carson just — it was like in slow motion — floated that ball up the sideline and Darren did the rest from there. It was a tremendous play from those two individuals. I guess the last thing I did is I always look back to make sure there are no flags on the ground on those long plays.”

There were no flags. Touchdown. Game. 

Let’s take a closer look at the play: 

Wentz is in shotgun with Sproles in the backfield with him. The Eagles come out with three-wide on the far side of the field and a lot of space on the near side. 

Stephon Tuitt, who actually had a pretty good game against the Eagles, takes this route to the quarterback. When he gets to left guard Allen Barbre, Barbre either didn’t see him or didn’t react quickly enough. 

While Sproles is still running his short out, Wentz feels the pressure and is able to step up through the hole created by Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks. As soon as he makes it through, Wentz still has his eyes downfield. 

Now Wentz is through the hole and sees Sproles finishing his out-route. This is when Wentz, on the run, motions to Sproles to take off. This is something we’ve seen Wentz do a few times during his three weeks as Eagles quarterback. 

Wentz was left with a tough decision here. He could have run for 10, maybe even 15 yards. It was wide open, but he decided to try to make a play with his arm instead. 

“I always want to be a thrower first,” he said. “Even when a play breaks down, I’m always looking [to throw] because that’s where the big plays are happening. If I scramble I might get 5, 10, 15, 20 yards, but I’m not that fast. I always want to get it to the guys that can make plays. We always want to make plays when they’re there, and that’s what happened.”

With the line of scrimmage at the 27, Wentz has enough awareness to run horizontally to make sure he didn’t cross. And as soon as Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell takes that first step toward him, Wentz sees how much room Sproles has to work with. 

Ryan Shazier, who was covering Sproles on the play, froze and then started to step toward Wentz too. He said he thought the quarterback crossed the line of scrimmage, but Wentz was aware enough to stay behind.  

Once Sproles catches the ball in open space, he begins to do Sproles things. Defensive back Sean Davis took a bad angle on him and once he gets close, the veteran turns it inside. Davis said he was trying to buy time for the rest of his defense to get there and stop Sproles. It didn’t work. 

“Man, it’s Sproles!” receiver Nelson Agholor said. “Did you think he was going to get tackled?”

While he’s blocking downfield, Dorial Green-Beckham actually trips himself up and does a somersault. But it didn’t matter — Sproles didn’t need a great block. He pretty much did it himself. 

“Anytime that you can put it in the hands of [Sproles] something special can happen on any play, and he did the rest of it,” Wentz said. 

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Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Michael Raffl had just finished playing alongside Travis Konecny, the 19-year-old kid that has Flyers fans abuzz about the now and future.

Yet for Raffl, he wasn’t thinking forward. Instead, he was looking back.

“Yeah, well, I couldn’t do that when I was 19, that’s for sure,” the 27-year-old said smiling, eyes wide open. “No, it’s impressive, he’s a really, really good hockey player.”

Konecny had that resounding affect Wednesday night at the PPL Center, recording a goal and an assist while leading the Flyers to a 2-0 preseason win over the Devils (see 10 observations).

He dazzled with speed and shiftiness.

He showed off vision and smarts.

When he touched the puck, he had everyone’s attention.

Paired with Raffl and Brayden Schenn in a game featuring mostly prospects, the 2015 first-round pick made the molding of Ron Hextall’s roster that much more difficult. With the general manager looking on, the highly touted winger started fast before making his imprint during a span of just four minutes and 34 seconds in the second period.

First, he redirected a blast by Andrew MacDonald to hand the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Not long after, the 5-foot-10, 184-pounder deceived the defense to find Raffl right in front off a backdoor pass for a 2-0 advantage.

“We had a cycle play going and he had a nice fake up top there and I was just going to the net,” Raffl said. “Somehow I was all by myself and he saw me, put a perfect pass on my tape and I just went around the goalie and put it in.”

Following his first goal, Konecny nearly tacked on another less than a minute later when he appeared to hit the crossbar on a shot. He also flirted with a few more assists.

“I think I just played relaxed,” Konecny said. “I came into the game tonight trying not to do too much and just keep things simple. The main thing for me was getting pucks out of the zone, so I think I did that well tonight and hopefully I can keep building on it.”

Relieving pucks from the zone isn’t a real problem when you possess the speed and skill of Konecny, who racked up 101 points last season at the junior level.

At just 19, that’s where he’ll have to return if he doesn’t crack the Flyers’ roster.

With cuts already made and more coming, that sometimes is on Konecny’s mind.

“It weighs on you a little bit. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it and it’s definitely the time I need to step up and make sure I’m playing good hockey,” Konecny said. “And just earning another day — that’s just the way I’m looking at it. Every day I wake up and just work hard and move forward from there.

“I think everyone comes into camp and tries to give them (management) a reason not to send you back and make it hard on them.”

Wednesday night didn’t hurt his chances.

“He played a good hockey game,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Had an impact offensively. He did a pretty good job. There’s some youthful mistakes in there, but overall, he had a real good night tonight playing with Raf and Schenner.”

Placing Konecny with two capable NHL forwards offered the Canadian an opportunity to prove what he could do if he was in fact on the big club.

“We played well together,” Konecny said. “I think from the start we just had a lot of communication, we talked in the room, in warmups, we all knew what we were going to do throughout the game and in certain scenarios.”

If anything, Konecny left an impression on Raffl.

“He’s a very smart player,” Raffl said. “Once he has the puck, he makes smart decisions with it. It was very easy to play with him out there. He plays a mature game and I really enjoyed it.”

Time will tell if more enjoyment is in store come Oct. 14.

Loose pucks
Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon combined for the shutout. Stolarz started and made 11 saves over 29:23, while Lyon played 30:37 and stopped seven shots. “I like both of our guys tonight,” Hakstol said. “Stolie did a good job, he made a difference in this game in the first 10 minutes, those two or three really good saves there. Then Alex came in halfway through, which isn’t an easy thing to do and was ready to go and did his job.” … Schenn, MacDonald and defensive prospect Robert Hagg finished with an assist apiece. … With the roster currently standing at 49, the Flyers expect to make 15 cuts on Thursday. … Defenseman Nick Schultz is out four to seven days with a lower-body injury suffered in Tuesday night’s preseason game. ... The Flyers are off Thursday before likely practicing Friday ahead of Saturday's preseason game at 7 p.m. against the Bruins at the Wells Fargo Center.