Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Eagles-Rams: The Good, the Bad & the Clock Management

It's been two days since the dust settled from the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles' season opener in St. Louis, and just about everything that can be said about the 31-13 win has been said. Regardless, here's my take on the good, the bad and the most frustrating constant of the Andy Reid era.

The Good
Mike Vick: The passing numbers aren't particularly impressive — 14-32, 187 yards, three sacks, two touchdowns — but when you take everything into consideration, the newly minted $100 million man showed his worth on Sunday. In addition to his two-touchdown, no-turnover day throwing the ball, Vick did what no other quarterback can do, rushing the ball for 98 yards on just 10 carries.

Yes, did lose one fumble, and you certainly would like to see a higher completion percentage, but in all, Vick was pretty damn good. Consider that his receivers had a few pretty bad drops, particularly DeSean Jackson on what would have been a 90-yard touchdown, and there's not much to complain about in regard to Vick. Well, except that he once again took too many hits, but what do you expect from an offensive line in such turmoil.

Even with the hits on Vick, I didn't think the offensive played all that badly considering they hadn't played a single snap together as a unit ever. There's work to be done for sure, but it was a promising start.

DeSean Jackson: Save for his horrible drop on that bomb from Vick, DeSean showed he certainly isn't going to let his contract status affect his play. As has been customary since being drafted a few years ago, Jackson made big plays and had a huge game, nabbing 6 balls for 102 yards and a score, including a 41-yarder that went for the biggest pass play of the afternoon. Pay this man.

LeSean McCoy: For anyone who thought Ronnie Brown may cut into LeSean's production this season, fear not if this game was any indication. McCoy wasn't tearing it up in the early going, but as the game wore on and the Eagles took a lead, the offensive line started to dominate in the running game and LeSean took advantage. In the end, he finished with 122 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown on the longest play of the game, a 49-yard run, while also hauling in a touchdown catch.

If last year wasn't proof enough, this is good reinforcement that McCoy is among the elite running backs in the league.

The pass rush: The Eagles sacked Sam Bradford 4 times and former Eagle A.J. Feeley once, with the new additions certainly making their presence felt. Jason Babin recorded two sacks in his return to Philadelphia, making him already more valuable than he was the first around, and Cullen Jenkins was a beast all day, ultimately getting a sack himself.

Honestly, in my opinion Jenkins was the most impressive Eagle defender on the day. He routinely got push up front and helped create all the pressure the Eagles got on Bradford. All day long the Birds were hitting Bradford and putting him on his back before he had to leave with that finger injury. Trent Cole got on the board, and Darryl Tapp had a very strong showing as a situational pass rusher, registering a sack himself and a forced fumble. All in all, great work on the pass rush from the front four.

The secondary: Yes, as the always impressive Sheil Kapadia pointed out, Nnamdi Asomugha was flagged for a 41-yard pass interference and also was a part of a 31-yard completion to Brandon Gibson on a blown assignment by either Nnamdi or Kurt Coleman. But the Nnamdi effect was profound. Those two plays were the only two times Bradford went to Asomugha's side all game long, meaning most of the balls to wideouts were headed Asante Samuel's way. That is a terrifying proposition for any quarterback.

Even though Asante didn't get a pick on Sunday — in fact, he dropped an incredibly easy one — I'd bet the house that he leads the league in picks with Nnamdi taking away his half of the field. Every pass in the first half especially seemed to go Asante's way, and unsurprisingly, the Rams struggled throwing the ball. Bradford was held to just 17-30 for 188 yards while Feeley was just 1-5 for 21 yards.

Add in the fact that Jarrad Page played very well, tying Jamar Chaney for the team-high in tackles with 6 and making several nice plays on the ball, and that Kurt Coleman didn't make any glaring mistakes, and teams are not going to have fun trying to throw the ball against this defense. At all. Though I have to admit that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie got turned around a few times trying to cover Danny Amendola. Still, the talent in the secondary is frightening.

The Bad
The run defense: Oh boy, it didn't take long to see the Eagles may get gashed a bit in the run game. Before you could blink, Steven Jackson was blowing by everyone 47 yards without being touched for a score on the first play of the game. It's a good thing for the Birds that he tweaked his quad on that carry and only had one more all game, though Cadillac Williams continued to get chunks of yards in the run game, going for 91 yards on 19 carries.

Playing the defensive ends to wide clearly leaves the Eagles vulnerable against the run, and the pass-rush-first mentality of the defensive line left them out of position routinely against the run. That made the linebackers' job that much more difficult, because with the d-linemen out of the way, the Rams' o-linemen were able to get on the linebackers and clear the way. Not good.

Casey Matthews: The starting middle linebacker had 4 tackles against a team that was running the ball all game long. That's not good enough. And to be perfectly honest, from what we've seen this preseason and now in one regular season game, Casey Matthews simply isn't good enough to be starting in the NFL. The guy could not shed a black to save his life, he's not particular strong or fast, and he doesn't make plays. Add him to the long list of "other" brothers in Philadelphia's sports history.

Honestly, from what I've seen, Brian Rolle is just a better player than Matthews. I know he's incredibly small too, but he's faster, stronger and seems to have better instincts. I'd like to see more Rolle and less Matthews going forward.

The other linebackers: Matthews struggles were indicative of the linebackers as a whole, though Matthews certainly struggled the most. Jamar Chaney was probably the best of the bunch, leading the Eagles with 6 tackles, but it would be an absolute stretch to say he stood out. Moise Fokou made a couple good plays but also had some absolutely horrible plays, getting eaten alive by blockers and completely misjudging plays.

As everyone expected, the linebackers struggled, especially against the run. Why this franchise seems to undervalue the position this past decade is pretty baffling, but nothing new.

Danny Amendola:

I'm pretty sure your arm is not supposed to do that.

Clock management
If there is one thing that frustrates us Eagles fans more than anything it is this team's absolutely pathetic clock management skills, specifically during the two-minute drill, and it's something that's been going on the entire Andy Reid era.

For a refresher, the Eagles took possession at their own 35-yard line on Sunday with 3:40 left in the first half — 3 minutes and 40 seconds. That is an eternity for most NFL teams to try and go 75 yards, regardless of the timeout situation — though having all three timeouts certainly helps. Of course, the Eagles senselessly burned a timeout in the first quarter on a first-down play and then another on a 3rd-and-6 in the 2nd quarter, which did result in a first down.

So the Eagles got the ball back with 3:40 remaining in the half and one timeout. Seriously, that should leave every team in the NFL with more than enough time to try and punch it into the end zone. Of course, it wasn't for the Eagles, because every single season since Andy Reid has become head coach, this team is clueless at managing the clock. That is not an opinion, it is fact.

Shit, on the first play of that final drive of the half, Vick threw an incomplete pass … and then on 2nd and 10 the Eagles took their final timeout! The clock was already stopped for christ's sake! OK, fine. No timeouts. Still, the team had the ball at their own 35 with 3:34 remaining … and they still ran out of time as they were driving down the field, being forced to kick a field goal because they let so much time expire between plays.

It's something that is mind-numbingly frustrating. Honestly, it is beyond logic that a coach who is as well-prepared and that has had as much success as Andy Reid year in and year out cannot teach his team to function in the two-minute offense. It makes absolutely no sense. And things like that are why so many Eagles fans call for the head of the most successful coach in franchise history as far as wins and losses and playoff appearances are concerned. It's because even though he's been at the helm for more than a decade, he and his teams still make the same mistakes that they did in his rookie season as head coach.

I don't understand how a guy as smart as Andy Reid, a guy who is as good of a coach as Andy Reid can go so long without ever correcting this and his other mistakes. I'll never understand it, and it will continue to drive me crazy.

Teams from other cities think Eagles fans are nuts to hate Andy Reid because they look at all the NFC East titles, all the wins, all the playoff appearances and teams that were in contention and they see a great coach. And they're right. But what they don't see week in and week out for the past 13 seasons is the same mistakes over and over and over again. It's enough to drive you mad and call for his head, even when you know he's had so much success.

You said it, Jaws.

In the end, however, it was a pretty good performance in the season opener. The Eagles had too much for talent for the Rams, and they did what a talented team should do against a less talented one, winning going away 31-13. There's definitely room for improvement, but you really couldn't have asked for a whole lot more in the season debut.

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