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Fan-Demonium: Keep Grinding

Posted Nov 7, 2012

Fan-Demonium

Monday night's loss dropped the Eagles to just 3-5. It was the team's fourth straight defeat. A lot of Eagles fans are in panic mode. They want change. The 3-5 record is unacceptable and they want something done about it.

Head coach Andy Reid keeps on chugging along. He didn't make any broad declarations at his press conference. He didn't bench any starters. Word from the locker room is that he stressed to the players that the season isn't over and they need to keep working.

Fans and some in the media think Reid is delusional, crazy, or both for acting like this. Doesn't he see the problems? Why isn't he going nuts? To them, this is unacceptable behavior from the coach of a 3-5 team.

I think Reid is doing the right thing. I love to read about football history. I love to watch NFL Films shows about past coaches and teams. One thing I've learned is that the crazy locker room speeches, press conference tirades and dramatic lineup changes generally don't work. The ones that do are anomalies.

Football teams that right the ship tend to do so through sticking with the basic plan. You have to understand that football is a process sport. It takes time to develop and practice schemes. It takes time for players to hone their technique and master the little things that can make them great players in a technical sense. Football is a sport where on-field chemistry is critical. Players must trust each other. They must have a good feel for what the guys around them are going to do.

In baseball, you can trade for players about two-thirds of the way into the season. After that, you can still trade through the waivers system for another month. One player can make a huge difference in baseball. You plug a guy into the lineup and he can instantly improve the offense or defense. Baseball teams also have minor leagues. They can call up players and work them into the lineup all year long.

In basketball, you can make trades that greatly impact the team. You can also find key players sitting on your bench. We saw that last year with the Knicks and Jeremy Lin. They had a star player sitting five feet from the coach for half the year and didn't know it. Basketball teams can adjust their strategy at any time. You only have 10 or so key players to get on the same page. Making big changes is easier.

Football just isn't like those sports. Trades are rare, and the ones that do happen are rarely impact moves. You focus on getting better play from the guys on your roster already. Major scheme change is extremely rare. You are much better served with staying the course. Coaches say over and over that the team needs to focus on fundamentals. Fans think this is crazy, but it can work. The Saints played their worst game of the year in Denver prior to this week. Interim head coach Joe Vitt didn't do anything over the top. He told reporters that the team would focus on blocking, tackling, hand placement, pad level, etc. - basically Football 101. The Saints were able to sustain a run game because they blocked well. They were able to make key plays on defense. They still didn't tackle well, but believe it or not, that was better than some of the games I've seen from them.

Reid's attitude that the problems are "fixable" is the right one for him to have. I don't blame fans and the media for doubting and being very down on the team. That is completely understandable. For Reid and the players, they can't just give up. The Eagles are only two games under .500 and that's not the end of the world to them. They must stay focused on each game as it comes up.

Right now, the team is in the middle of a four-game losing streak. They need a four-game winning streak, but the coaches and players must take it one game at a time. Cliché city, I know, but it is the truth. If you dig yourself into a hole, the first thing to do is quit digging. Then you start figuring out a plan to get out.

While Reid is right to stress fundamentals, there are some things he and the coaches can do schematically to help the players. My first suggestion would be to stop using empty sets. Teams will blitz them, as the Saints did on Monday. Vick did a poor job in anticipating this and sliding away from the free rusher. I would advise Reid to break out tape on the 2003 Eagles. To me, that's the answer.

Lawlor

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com and was a contributor to the Eagles Almanac.

Right guard Jermane Mayberry only played a few games and was replaced by Bobbie Williams, who struggled as a pass blocker. He was much better as a run blocker. Left guard John Welbourn missed three starts. Tra Thomas missed one game, but was not playing his best football that year due to nagging injuries. The line as a whole had some issues.

Reid and Brad Childress, the offensive coordinator at the time, played a lot of two-tight end sets. They were in the ace formation quite a bit. This is when you have a tight end on each side and a pair of wide receivers as well. Sometimes the receivers are split, other times they are on the same side. The Eagles were able to run from the ace formation. They were able to throw deep. They were able to throw play-action passes. They were able to mix in screen passes and checkdowns to Brian Westbrook. It wasn't the only formation, but it was a huge part of the offense.

The beauty of the ace formation is that it gives the offense seven men on the line of scrimmage. Rushers have a hard time beating it off the edge. You still have a tailback ready to pick up a blitzer if needed. The formation is balanced (when the tight ends and wide receivers are split evenly) so the defense doesn't know which side is going to be the point of attack.

One downside to the ace formation is that it limits creativity with the wide receivers. Coaches love to move receivers around and get them in good matchups. When they line up out wide, just one to a side, there is less that can be done. The receivers must get open by running good routes rather than by the design of the routes. I don't think that would be a significant issue with talented players like DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. In terms of personnel, you would take snaps away from Jason Avant and give them to Clay Harbor. I'd be OK with that. Avant is a terrific possession receiver, but he's not a playmaker. Harbor has yet to prove himself as a playmaker, but I think he's got the potential to do more than what he's shown. He did have a great training camp and preseason.

The Eagles have tried a variety of things on offense this year, but nothing has generated points. I was very discouraged to see them only put up 13 on the Saints’ dreadful defense. I am shocked that the team is 29th in scoring. That is hard to believe.

We know one of the huge problems on offense is the offensive line. They struggled mightily to protect Michael Vick the other night. He took a pounding. If the Eagles went to the ace formation and mixed in more running, that would put less pressure on the line. It would put them in a favorable situation. That is something the coaches must do, especially now that offensive tackle Todd Herremans is done for the season.

With four of five starters down, the coaches must adapt. They must figure out a way to better protect Vick and to get maximum production from the offensive line. While the Eagles did have 447 yards of offense on Monday, a lot of that was due to the Saints’ erratic play on defense. The Eagles can't count on that many missed tackles and blown assignments each week. The coaches need a good plan for how to get at least an adequate performance from the line.

As for the defense, I'm not sure what to make of Todd Bowles first two games as defensive coordinator. The defense gave up 30 points against Atlanta and 21 in New Orleans (seven came on the interception return). That is 51 points in two games and it doesn't sound good. The flip side is that the Saints and Falcons average 54.8 points per game combined. Matt Ryan and Drew Brees are both in the top eight in passer rating.

You never want a defense to give up 51 points in two games, but the fact it happened against a pair of star quarterbacks and explosive offenses makes it less painful. Dallas averages only 18.8 points per game. If the defense gives up 28 or 30 this week, that won't be a good sign for Bowles and the defense. If the defense plays well, that will change the discussion.

We did get the best special teams performance of the year down in New Orleans. Chris Polk forced a fumble while covering a kickoff. He's been way too quiet this year on coverage teams. The Eagles almost pulled off a great trick play when Brandon Boykin lateraled to Riley Cooper and he ran the kickoff back for a touchdown. The only problem is that Boykin got sloppy and threw the ball forward by a couple of yards. That was so close to being a great play, but instead it ended up a costly mistake.

Reid, his coaches and his players need to have a great week of practice. They need to forget about Monday night and move on. Focus on the little things and good things will follow. Work hard, work smart and get better. Solve some problems and find a way to win this week.

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