The Philadelphia Eagles snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against the Falcons on Sunday night, losing 35-31. The Eagles played well but still have some big problems to resolve.
The Eagles’ performance last night was a virtual roller-coaster. They looked absolutely dominant for a few stretches but then showed maddening lapses for stretches, mainly on defense.
At one point I thought the Eagles were going to turn the game into a rout. But then some familiar things happened. Some of the same old problems reared their ugly heads again.
Overall, there were many positives and negatives to take from the game. But here’s a look at the five biggest problems that led to their Week 2 loss in a game they should have won…
1. The Run Defense
I feel like I’m starting to sound like a broken record. The run defense seems to always come up on the “biggest problems” list.
Michael Turner’s first two runs went for a total of 23 yards. Maybe I’m impatient but I was already shaking my head four minutes into the game.
It’s kind of like when you quickly run out of patience with a bratty child who starts whining. It doesn’t take much to be like “here we go again.”
The Eagles did clamp down on Michael Turner and the Falcons run game for a while after that and it looked as if that wouldn’t be a factor.
However, with the Eagles only up by three points in the fourth quarter and Michael Vick out of the game, the defense needed to step up. Instead, they stepped aside and allowed Turner to burst up the middle and down the field for a 61-yard run that led to the go-ahead score for Atlanta.
Turner finished the game with 21 rushes for 114 yards and a TD. When it mattered the most, the run defense came up small again.
Time and time again, this keeps on happening. Much of the problem stems from the fact that Andy Reid continues to field subpar linebackers.
Better linebackers = better run defense. Especially when you have a defensive line scheme such as the “wide 9″ that puts more of the onus for run-stopping on the linebacker corps.
2. Red Zone Defense
Last season, this was the ultimate Achilles heel for the Eagles defense. They were historically bad in that they allowed opposing teams to score 78 percent of the time.
Against Atlanta, that trend continued as the Falcons scored on all five trips to the Eagles’ red zone.
In 2010, they also set a dubious franchise record for allowing 31 TD passes. Last night, four of Atlanta’s five TDs were through the air (and all in the red zone).
The Eagles brought in all that talent to fix their defense but it still yielded the same results as last season. Obviously, they need to get better in this area.
You can’t allow opponents to score a TD every time they get inside the 20 yard line and still expect to win games. Whether it’s the scheme, the linebackers, or the need to blitz more in this area of the field, they need to figure this problem out fast.
3. Covering the Tight-end
This has been a problematic area for the Eagles defense ever since the day LB Carlos Emmons left. It’s almost as if it’s a known and accepted flaw by the team.
What else can it be? How can one team have the same flaw year in and year out? By not prioritizing to fix it, that’s how.
If you play fantasy football and have a tight-end that is facing the Eagles, you know you’re going to get some good points that day.
During the course of Andy Reid’s tenure, sans the time with Emmons, the Eagles have routinely been burned by tight-ends. Granted, they’ve faced some good ones over the years but have also made average ones look like pro bowlers.
Tony Gonzalez torched the Eagles last night with seven catches for 83 yards and two huge touchdowns. It’s not clear as to why they didn’t, or couldn’t, adjust their coverage last night to bottle him up a little better.
The tight-end is usally the responsibility of the strong-side linebacker. Right now, that’s Jamar Chaney. If he can’t handle it then defensive coordinator Juan Castillo needs to scheme differently.
That may mean having a safety or a corner help out in coverage, particularly when playing against the likes of Gonzalez or other good tight-ends.
4. Michael Vick Gets Hit Too Much
Whatever Reid, Mornhinweg and/or Vick himself needs to do to stop the punishment, they need to do it.
Whether that’s by getting the ball out faster, better protection from the offensive line or restricting his amount of running, Michael Vick cannot continue to endure big hits.
This was a problem last year and continues to be one this year.
The Eagles are two games into the season and already Vick has a concussion. Granted, the play on which he was injured was kind of a fluke (being slammed into Todd Herremans), but we all knew it was just a matter of time before Vick was injured.
The question this wasn’t really if Vick was going to get hurt, it was more like when will he get hurt.
Even I thought he’d make it past Week 2 unscathed. Vick’s style of play does leave himself vulnerable but something has to be done.
If he continues to absorb hits at the rate he has over two games, he’ll be out for the year by midseason.
5. Andy Reid Needs to Challenge Himself on Challenges
For his entire career as a head coach, the notion of when to use his red flag has perplexed Andy Reid. He seems to always either challenge when he shouldn’t or not challenge when he should.
Last night against the Falcons he actually got one right. But it was the play he didn’t challenge that cost the team.
With the Falcons up 14-10 to start the second half, Michael Vick’s first pass attempt was intercepted. Or so it seemed.
Reid couldn’t decide fast enough whether or not to challenge the play. Replays showed that the ball appeared to have touched the turf and the play likely would have been overturned.
But no challenge, then two plays later the Falcons scored a touchdown and went up 21-10.
I will give Reid somewhat of a break on this one because apparently there wasn’t a replay angle that showed the ball hitting the turf until well after the next snap of the ball.
However, sometimes coaches have to have a feel for when to make a quick decision on whether or not to challenge. That play was a momentum shifter and gave Atlanta seven points.
Had he challenged it, that touchdown never would have happened in a game lost by four points. Of course, if he did challenge and lost we could complain about that too.
But alas, this is one of the areas where Reid is weak. It didn’t necessarily cost them the game last night but it did alter the ultimate outcome.
Perhaps he should follow suit on what the Colts did by hiring a “replay consultant” whose sole purpose is to make these decisions.
Hey Andy, I’m available for hire!
6. Red Zone Turnovers by Offense (Michael Vick)
Twice in two weeks now the Eagles offense has turned the ball over in the opponent’s red zone.
Last week against the Rams, was sacked and fumbled away a scoring opportunity. Luckily, that one didn’t come back to haunt the team.
Last night against the Falcons, again it was Vick who coughed the ball up and with it a chance to put points on the board. Instead, that fumble led directly to a Falcons TD.
Overall, Vick has turned the ball over four times in two weeks. Three fumbles and one interception. It’s hard to win when you can’t hang onto the ball.
Good teams will make you pay for that every time.