Ok Eagles fans. We can all breathe a sigh of relief that the post-bye week record remains intact, and celebrate a stomping of the Cowboys. And then we’ll get to hear about how we never believed in the team, etc, etc, and they just pulled together and played Eagles football.
That was pretty much Football 101 last night. Run the ball, throw play-action to the tight end and possession receivers over the middle, use the deep threat to spread the field and lengthen the defense. And the “How ‘bout them Cowboys!” fell right into the trap, pretty much leaving the entire middle of the field wide open and not generating enough near field pressure to contain Michael Vick or stop LeSean McCoy. Is Andy Reid getting it, or are defenses just playing so stupidly against the Eagles that he has no choice? Time will tell, I guess.
Now in the 12th year of Reid’s coaching tenure, I think it’s pretty clear what we can expect from this team year-in and year-out, so it’s no risk to predict that the Eagles will roll into the playoffs provided everyone stays healthy. This is what they do.
Every year the Eagles are mediocre at best before the bye week, then come storming out and roll through the rest of the season. It’s not a coincidence.
The games before the bye are Andy Reid’s preseason. During the actual preseason he has no agenda other than figuring out the very bottom of the roster and just getting his regulars used to game action. They don’t gameplan, they don’t run anything other than pure vanilla stuff or a few things that they want to try out. But really, he’s trying to figure out who gets to keep the playbook.
He then spends the first 4-6 games of the season tinkering, doing what other teams do in the regular preseason. Which explains Clay Matthews starting the season at middle linebacker, and the offensive line experiments, and the lack of any defensive or offensive adjustments. If you gave him a truth serum, he would probably tell you that as long as the team wins 2 games before the bye, he really doesn’t care about the overall record. 2-2, 2-3, 2-4, or 4-0, he doesn’t care. He knows they aren’t out of it, and he has now seen his scheme against real defenses and first-string players. They go into the bye week, he sees what’s working and what isn’t, and voila! Real football after the bye. Not only that, but the first few games of the season establish almost a dummy look for teams on the schedule to study, giving them more to worry about. Industrial espionage-style football. Very sneaky.
Then what happens? They roll. and let’s not forget that most of the teams in the NFL just aren’t that good. A talented team with a healthy quarterback is going to play 6 teams that stink, four teams that they are better than, a few even teams, and one or two that are better than they are. Beat the teams that stink, lose a game you shouldn’t and win a game you shouldn’t, and you’ll probably end up with ten wins every year, at least 9. And that gets you into the playoffs where you have a chance.
And that’s where the trouble starts for faithful Eagles fans, desperate for a Super Bowl. Just because the team rolls through the second half of the regular season, that doesn’t mean that the linebackers suddenly got better, or that the rookie undersized center got bigger, or that Michael Vick became a guy who could deliver under heavy pressure against a team with a strong secondary. It’s just that most weeks in the National Football League, that’s not what you’re facing.
In the playoffs, on the other hand, that is what you’re facing. Eventually. At some point, unless they are very lucky, the Eagles will play a good, complete team that is playing well. They will likely be on the road because of those games they lost in September. And that team will exploit the linebackers and safeties in Andy Reid’s defense and challenge his offense out of its comfort zone; there will be a short yardage play that they don’t convert, or they will mismanage the halftime clock, or they will burn a timeout that will come back to haunt them. And ultimately, whether it is in the wildcard game, the conference championship game, or the Super Bowl itself, they will probably lose a close game. And tell us how close they were after such a difficult start and how wrong we were for doubting them. Never mind that we were right to criticize their hapless start, or that the flaws we saw in September were ultimately what were exploited in January.
So once again we are on the cusp of history, Eagles history. They are going to rebound from a horrendous start, chastise us for doubting them, roll through the remainder of the regular season and probably win the division. They will probably win a game or two in the playoffs, and then lose to a better team playing well. That’s what history tells us. Let’s hope that this is the year it’s wrong.