After having a few days to digest the Eagles playoff loss and reflect on the season, I think it's fair to say, with apologies to Dennis Green, that the Eagles are who we thought they were back in August.
Even though I was frustrated with some of their decisions in the off-season, I figured they had no urgency to plug all of their holes because the Eagles brass viewed 2010 as a rebuilding year, in spite of what they stated publicly. But then Kolb got hurt, Vick played great, and the Cowboys got off to a hideous start. So by mid-season they had a good chance to win the division in a weak year. Vick's unique skills solved some of the problems on offense and made the pieces fit together better.
However, defensively this was as bad as they have ever been under Reid, underscoring their need to add impact players. The last time the Eagles drafted an impact defensive player early in the draft was 2002. They got spoiled over the years by Jim Johnson's ability to hide their weaknesses and make a below average defense look average or an average defense look pretty good.
But by the end of this season they had 10 players logging key snaps on defense who were either 7th round picks or undrafted free agents. Credit is due to Eagles scouts and coaches for finding players "on the street" or late in the draft. But let's face it, most of these guys were only playing because they had nobody better. That's far too many non-pedigree players on a defense. Many are still young players, but I can't see them getting much better with more experience. Most are at or near their ceilings right now. For some just being on an NFL roster is their ceiling.
And having a good defense changes how you call a game on offense. For those who want to see the Eagles run the ball more, a good defense better enables them to do that. They went into most games this year figuring they had to score 30 points to win.
The mindset of the coaches was not to waste possessions on offense, especially in games where they fell behind, like they ended up doing against the Packers in the playoffs. In that game they called running plays on nine of their first 19 snaps over four possessions. And it resulted in three first downs, a missed field goal, and 3 punts.
It wasn't until the end of the first half after they were down 14-3 that they began to abandon the run and that's when they started moving the ball. A better defense would allow them to be more patient with the running game, like perhaps if they were down only 3-0 or 7-0 vs Green Bay at that point, instead of 14-3. During the three best defensive seasons under Reid – 2002, 2004, and 2008, they ran the ball much more frequently than usual down the stretch.
A lot of fans have blamed Reid and Sean McDermott for the disappointing end to the season. But they exceeded expectations this year, and, if anything, made it back to the playoffs at least a year earlier than they likely planned. And their biggest problems are personnel issues not coaching issues. I think they could use a new philosophy or new system on defense, but first and foremost they need players who make plays. There are no systems or schemes that could transform these players into a championship-caliber defense. Good teams, or even Joe Webb and the Vikings, will eventually find these weaknesses and exploit them.
They need players who give opposing coaches sleepless nights, figuring out how to gameplan to block them. Other than avoiding throwing the ball to Asante Samuel's side of the field too often and picking up an occasional exotic blitz, opposing teams don't have to worry about much of anything when preparing for the Eagles.
So, no, I don't think it would be wise to fire Andy Reid any time soon. And although I wouldn't be totally opposed to hiring an established defensive coordinator, I don't think McDermott should walk the plank for these results either. Comparing him to Jim Johnson is unfair when there are probably no players on the 2010 Eagles who could have started for Johnson's best defensive teams other than Samuel.
It's difficult to grade McDermott's performance because he's had so little talent to work with the last two years. With the exception of Samuel, most of the talent evaluation decisions for a number of years on that side of the ball – whether in draft, trades, free agency, or assessing whether or not to keep their own players – have been poor. So just throwing more draft picks or money at the problems might not help the defense much more at this point. First they need to change the person evaluating the defensive talent or change the process they use to make those evaluations. Stop trying to "get by" with short-term stopgaps at LB and part-time players on the D-line. Because whatever they are doing now isn't working and hasn't worked for several years now.