Shortly after every Eagles loss, the debate begins about who’s at fault. Usually the most likely suspects are Andy Reid or Michael Vick. Both have track records for making decisions that cause most of us to wonder… ‘what the hell were you thinking?’
Reid had one of those moments yesterday as the Eagles were driving the ball down the field in an uncharacteristic, 17 play, 79 yard touchdown drive, that gave them a 14-13 4th quarter lead. He called a timeout to start that drive after the Steelers gave his offense a formation-look they were not ready for as the play clock was about to expire. Then on a 4th and less than a yard, he inexplicably challenged the spot when it was clear he was going for it anyway. He subsequently loses the challenge and also his 2nd timeout of the half. Reid has yet to learn to value his timeouts especially when he has nothing to gain. The extra half yard would not have made a difference normally. But without a heroic 2nd effort by LeSean McCoy on the 4th down run, Reid may have been questioning in the back of his mind, whether the offense could pick it up.
Vick, on the other hand, didn’t have one of those moments in their sloppy 16-14 loss to the Steelers. He did fumble to the ball 4 times, losing 2. One cost them a td, when he was stripped on a qb draw at the goal line that was recovered by the Steelers for a touchback. He lost another when stripped by LB Lawrence Timmons who seemed ubiquitous on every Eagles play. One was recovered by the Eagles and the other was overturned by replay. After all that mess, Vick didn’t have a bad game. He finished throwing 30 times completing 20 for 175 yards, 2 td, no picks and his qb rating was 104.2.
Let’s all realize that he fumbles a lot and has since his days in Atlanta. That’s simply not going to change! He just can’t alter his game because that’s who he is and without the ability to slide, that’s what he’ll always be. But the one thing he did among all the frustration he provides, was he provided the Eagles a 14-13 lead with 6:33 left.
This loss falls squarely on the shoulders of the defense. The wide-9 could not sack Ben Roethlisberger. That’s 2 weeks in a row they could not register a sack. With only 7 so far this season, they have a lot of catching up to do to come close to the 50 they accumulated last year. They weren’t going up against a spectacular offensive line either. The Steelers were flagged for numerous holding penalties and is clearly their weakest unit. Big Ben was able to step up all day in the pocket, as it was very clear while he navigated the game- winning field goal drive as time expired. He converted after facing a 1st and 20 at his own 10, as well as two 3rd downs, showing why they lead the league in 3rd down conversions. I don’t remember hearing Trent Cole or Jason Babin’s names yesterday other than when the starting lineups were introduced.
What was also very conspicuous was the lack of penetration from the defensive tackles. They couldn’t collapse the pocket which afforded Ben the lanes to climb the pocket and find receivers running in the soft Eagles zones. Defensive Coordinator, Juan Castillo, relies too heavily on the front 4 to apply pressure. He needed to mix it up and send a lb or safety in the A-gaps to give Ben a different look and challenge the o-line. Hopefully he learns from this, gets more aggressive and attacks more.
To me, this was a tale of two defenses. One in the Steelers that disrupts what the other team tries to do and takes the ball away, while the Eagles sit back with a bend-but-don’t-break mentality that doesn’t take the ball away.
The Eagles defense was fortunate they weren’t down 14-0 after Antonio Brown dropped an easy pass from Roethlisberger in the end zone after beating Nnamdi Asomugha. On that same drive, Jerricho Cotchery forgot how to run when he tripped over his own feet or he would have waltzed in for a score. Early in the 3rd, Rashard Mendenhall, playing for the first time time since tearing his right ACL in January, dropped the ball out of bounds as he was out-racing Dominique Rogers-Cromartie up the sidelines for a sure td.
The Eagles defense is far from being a game-changing unit. Problems still exist with stopping the run as Mendenhall averaged 5.8 yards on 14 carries and looked like he hasn’t missed a game. The linebackers still don’t make enough impact plays or turn the ball over and Asomugha looks more like a mistake signing every week.
But if this team is going to go anywhere this season, the defense will have to play with a different aggression because if they don’t, as anemic as the offense is, they won’t outscore the Detroit Lions next Sunday.