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No Defending That Loss
It’s one thing for fans to quit their team. It is completely different that players also give up.
But after watching last night’s 45-21 humiliation at the hands of Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, it was clear that the Birds themselves had joined the Eagle Nation in forgoing the 2006 season.
What happened last night on the artificial turf of the RCA Dome was a travesty. From the get-go, Eagle’s defenders were battered and shoved all over the field by the Colts’ biggest and strongest offensive line.
The Philadelphia Eagles were being thrown to the ground like sacks of potatoes, opening holes for rookie Indy running back Joseph Addai (24/171). After adding just three touchdowns in the first 10 games of the regular season, LSU’s freshman rushed for four against an Eagle defense that has clearly given up.
Of course, even if they hadn’t given up, the Birds probably would have lost this game. They are physically no match for the Colts and the scoring most likely would have been similar no matter how motivated the Eagles were.
But last night’s loss was a shame. They were outplayed from the get-go, trailing 21-0 early in the second quarter, allowing the Colts to do whatever they wanted.
And as a good team should be, the Colts took the lead, rushing for a staggering 237 yards, racking up 420 yards of total offense. And that includes a fourth quarter in which Indy mercifully took over.
It’s been clear for weeks that the biggest problem in Philly is defense. In fact, it was evident last year as well. The Birds, with their philosophy of going with “small but quick” players, have been under pressure since the start of the 2005 season.
What is the problem here? Is it the staff? Is it philosophy? Has defensive coordinator Jim Johnson lost touch? Has the rest of the NFL caught up to their schemes?
To all these questions, the answer is yes.
Perhaps the play that best crystallized what this Eagles defense is all about was Addai’s third touchdown run, six minutes into the second quarter. As Addai dived to the left, Indy TE Dallas Clark flattened OLB Matt McCoy, opening up a massive hole allowing Addai to score virtually untouched.
I repeat. A pass-catching tight end completely destroyed a starting outside linebacker on a supposedly competent defense.
Seeing it made me want to throw up.
But McCoy is not the only one to blame, far from it. Seeing Darwin Walker and Mike Patterson get knocked out on point of attack, Trent Cole and Darren Howard disappear before our very eyes, Shawn Barber and McCoy being bullied, and Brian Dawkins and Sean Considine missing one arm after another, you wanted to throw a paperweight at your television screen.
And it’s not that the Eagles haven’t addressed these defensive concerns in past offseasons. With their last two first-round picks, the Birds selected Mike Patterson (I’ll give someone $200 if they can give me a rational explanation for the contract extension the Eagles gave Patterson a few weeks ago) and Broderick Bunkley, who was disabled. after missing the team flight to Indianapolis on Sunday and has been nearly invisible all year. Last offseason, they spent a lot of money on defensive end Darren Howard as a free agent and signed OLB Shawn Barber to a one-year deal.
But one thing they’ve never done is seriously invest in the outside linebacker position. Even with plenty of salary-cap space, the Birds have never valued linebacker, instead focusing on investing in a small, quick, pass-rushing defensive line.
It’s just that the defensive line hasn’t gotten any pressure from opposing quarterbacks. Cole and Howard have disappeared. Jerome McDougle has been the franchise’s worst draft pick since Mike Mamula. Patterson and Walker are not only unable to generate any pressure inside, but are also too small to clog the running lanes. And because Andy Reid and Jim Johnson have inexplicably ignored the linebacker position entirely, the Eagles simply aren’t a match for teams with any hint of size.
The defensive philosophy of the team has to change. Maybe it’s time for Jim Johnson to find a job elsewhere and for a new defensive coordinator to take over. A defensive coordinator who is capable of making game adjustments. A defensive coordinator who understands that size matters. A defensive coordinator who understands the concept that playing stiffs at linebacker will eventually catch up with him.
And while Johnson no longer has some of the players who once made his defenses great (Corey Simon, Hollis Thomas, Carlos Emmons), what’s happened over the past year and a half is his fault. Along with Big Red, this is the defense that he has built. These are the players he wanted for his system. It’s him and Reid who recruited these stiffs and signed these free agents.
And it’s not working. It is a shame.
A new philosophy can only happen with the removal of Jim Johnson as defensive coordinator. The Eagles need a new direction on defense, and they need it now.
Of course, there were other stories last night. Jeff Garcia, filling in for Donovan McNabb, played pretty well, moving the Eagles’ offense up and down the field when they had the ball.
Brian Westbrook and the offensive line continued to show that, given the opportunity, they can be a dominant running force.
Andy Reid proved once again that he has completely lost touch with reality by calling that bizarre passing play by Hank Baskett to start the Eagles’ second drive, a play that screamed panic.
While mathematically still very much alive (thanks to losses to the Giants and Panthers yesterday), the Eagles are out. Rather than face the challenge of playing without their starting quarterback and proving the Delaware Valley wrong, the Birds only reinforced our cynicism and skepticism by stinking up the joint last night.
They have given up their season.
And for that, there is no defense.
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