Monday, October 31, 2005

What's Wrong With The Philadelphia Eagles?

that's what's going through everyone's head in eagles nation. i see tv polls, web polls, and radio polls all asking the same question. those polls list all sorts of things that are sub-standard with the team right now, from game planning and play calling to QB play and defensive secondary play to contract negotiations and malaise. i think it comes down to one thing that is the cause of all of it -- line play. the philadelphia eagles o- and d-lines are just sucking right now and it is having a cascading effect on everything the team does and how the coaches prepare the game plan.

- o-line - there are two guys on the offensive line who are below average to poor nfl players - artis and honeybuns. neither is physical enough to run block effectively or stand up to a bull rush. with artis working on one bad wheel, he doesn't even have quickness (normally his best attribute). on top of that, tra is coming off injury and hasn't been that effective, and andrews is playing hurt and hasn't been that effective. of that entire unit, runyan is the only one i can say has been playing pretty well, but even he has played better in the past. if you can't protect the qb, you cannot pass. if you cannot open holes, you cannot run. everything on offense hinges on the success of the 0-line. it's that simple. blame donovan all you want for erratic throws and complain all you want about the sports hernia or play calling (as i have done). the bottom line is if the QB is on his ass on every play, you cannot have success passing the ball. buddy knew that, bud carson knew that, and jim johnson knows that. that's why there is such a premium on pass rushers. i don't care if you are joe montana, johnny unitas, or tom brady. you can't pass the ball accurately if you do not get protection. remember that game where the buddy ryan eagles ran roughshod over the 49ers in the first half, only to see montana stage a huge comeback? the reason that happened is because the niners figured out a way to keep montana on his feet. as soon as he got some time, he was able to carve up the eagles d. similarly, on sunday when mcnabb had time, the eagles scored points... when he didn't have time, the eagles didn't score points. andy has to figure out a way to keep 5 on his feet. drew bledsoe and jake plummer both carved up the eagles d because their teams max protected them and put them in a good position to succeed. when the rams offense started to go south it wasn't because their skill players declined. it was because their all-world o-line, which could get away with blocking only 5 or 6 guys on every pass play, lost members due to free agency departures and injury. once defenses started to get to warner, that offense stopped being the "greatest show on earth".

- d-line - the middle of the d-line is actually playing well i think. the loss of corey simon notwithstanding, this is the best 4 tackle rotation i can remember on the eagles. i do think depth is a problem now that grasmanis is out, but i don't think this is where the d-line is suffering. the defensive ends stink. there is no way to get around it. kearse (lost a step, never bothered to work on technique), kalu (one dimensional 3rd down player), cole (rookie, too many mistakes), and juqua thomas (special teams player) are the worst set of ends i can remember. we have no difference makers at the defensive end position for the first time in a long time. how about this string of defensive ends: reggie white, clyde simmons, william fuller, hugh douglas, and mike mamula (just kidding). that's 20 straight years of dominant pass rushers on this team. this year's vintage has none. subsequently, they get zero, and i mean *zero*, pass rush whenever they rush 4. if you can't rush the passer, you're not going to defend the pass very well. this has forced jim johnson to blitz more than he wants to (contrary to JJ's media persona as a mad blitzer, he is usually pretty judicious on blitzing). so JJ's options at this point are to: a) rush 4, play coverage, and watch the QB stand there with impunity, carving up your defense or b) blitz and leave the d-backs at risk. pick your poison.

ultimately, reid has to answer for the condition of the two lines. with final say over personnel, he's the one who picked these players. for the defense, losing mcdougle was huge, but who's to say that he was actually going to live up to his draft position? in hindsight, losing burgess was the biggest loss on defense. he was the team's best defensive end in the playoffs last season, and he's having a heck of a season with the raiders. how is he going to fix that d-line? what about the o-line? runyan and tra are likely done after the season. what's the plan for replacing them? i can see a healthy andrews taking over for runyan, but is he really counting on todd herremans to protect don's blind side? this team looks old and slow right now, and no where is this more apparent than on the lines. that is the #1 problem imo.

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