Game 15 Eagles 17 Saints 9
On Sunday the Eagles' season officially ended with a big smooch for their female sibling. Yes, finishing 8-8 is akin to a tie, which is akin to “kissing your sister” as the old sports adage goes. Never quite understood what that meant but obviously it ain't very good.
Not gonna delve into yesterday's game per se via my normal fashion, but rather will incorporate some observations into the bigger picture, AKA my final grades plus what the future holds, as I see it.
Made in the Grade …
Offense (Overall): C+
Hard to believe given how inept they looked at times but the Eagles Offense finished the season ranked 6 th overall in the NFL – 10 th in Passing and 8 th in Rushing. Digging a little deeper is also cause for encouragement heading into next season as the Eagles finished tied for 7 th in Third Down % Success Rate (42%).
But overall it was obvious to all who watched this team week in, week out, that this offense just didn't have the weapons it needed to succeed. Factor in the often-bizarre play calling and you had a collective group who had more downs than ups for the season.
This grade is of course skewed greatly by many factors, most notably AJ Feeley's up and down play, Donovan's slow start as he returned from a major injury and the final 2-3 games where #5 showed flashes of his old self.
But it just seemed the Eagles QBs could never find that consistent rhythm from week to week. Now part of that inconsistency must fall at the feet of the receivers, who could not consistently get separation AND at the feet of those doing the play calling, AKA Mandy (Marty + Andy) MorninReid (Morninwheg + Reid).
What the future holds: Clearly Donovan McNabb will give this team the best chance to win. But the powers that be MUST provide him with more weapons. It's really that simple.
Running Back: A
We might as well start calling Brian Westbrook, Gilligan because he's on an island. He stands alone as the Eagles only real threat (other than Donovan and that was just the last few weeks). Opposing defensive coordinators do not lie awake wondering how to stop Reggie Brown, Kevin Curtis, et al.
A cause for concern is that Westbrook will be entering his 7 th season and will turn 29 early in the season. The shelf life of an NFL running back is not very long and many hit that proverbial wall when they turn 30.
What the future holds: Brian Westbrook is an elite NFL running back. There is no debating that. But much like #5, he too needs the Eagles to add some weapons to lighten his load. I would also expect the Eagles to draft a RB fairly high next year to start planning for life after B-West.
Wide Receiver/Tight End: C/D
As previously stated this crop of Eagles receivers are not collectively causing insomnia among opposing defenses. Reggie Brown may just in fact be the ultimate tease, showing flashes of greatness and ineptness at differing times of the season. Kevin Curtis is a sold NFL receiver who in the right system and right compliment of players would be very productive.
What the future holds: Altogether now… THE EAGLES NEED A NUMBER ONE RECEIVER! Ok, you don't want to get caught up in the whole classifying receivers with a numerical designation? Fine. But we all know what we're talking about. The Eagles need a WR who can stretch the field, make the tough catch. In other words, a #1. As for tight end, obviously LJ Smith will not be back and while rookie Brent Celek looked good in a limited role, the Eagles will need to address this position in the off season.
Offensive Line: B-
Yes on paper a B- might sound high considering the Eagles allowed the 5 th most sacks in the NFL (49). But as we all know many of these were due to Donovan simply holding onto the ball too long. I think for the most part this group played very solidly and more than held their own against most opponents, Winston Justice vs. Osi Umenyiora notwithstanding.
What the future holds: The play of Max Jean-Gilles as he filled in for Pro Bowler Shawn Andrews was most encouraging. With two tackles on the downside of their careers in William Thomas and Jon Runyan, the Eagles will need to plan for the day they are no longer around. While the aforementioned Justice left something to be desired, Jean-Gilles proved he is more than capable of stepping in with perhaps the Big Kid (Andrews) moving outside.
Defense (Overall): C+
Overall this group finished ranked 9 th overall in total defense in the NFL, 6 th against the run and 17 th against the pass.
This group collectively has a much higher upside than the offense. Most surprising and biggest cause for hope was the play of Defensive Tackles Mike Patterson & Broderick Bunkley, Defensive End Trent Cole and the linebacking core of Omar Gaither, Chris Gocong & Stewart Bradley. Conspicuous by his absence is Takeo Spikes, who, while playing decently for the most part, will be another year older and the future is clearly with the 3 young linebackers.
One area this group MUST improve upon is takeaways. 11 interceptions and 8 fumbles. For the entire season. That my friends simply will not do.
Defensive Line: C+
The aforementioned Patterson, Bunkley and Cole should give the Eagles and their fans much hope for next season as they will continue to improve. Of course the only reason this grade was not a little higher was due to the play of the fourth member of the DL. Jevon Kearse, Darren Howard most notably were essentially persona non grata most of the season.
What the future holds: Rookie DE Victor Abiamiri along with DE Juqua Thomas gives the Eagles more cause for hope as if they too continue to improve, they will greatly help lessen the load of Trent Cole on the other side and Patterson & Bunkley in the middle.
It's hard not to get overly excited about this group of Gaither, Gocong and Bradley given the way they played together toward the end of the season. But they are still very young and very inexperienced and a veteran like a Takeo Spikes will still be needed to add depth and guidance.
What the future holds: Be it Spikes or some other veteran LB, the Eagles will need some insurance in case their young 3 are not quite ready to go it alone.
Anyone who has read my column for more than 2 weeks knows I am no fan of Lito Sheppard. More often than not he is beaten and beaten badly but is ultimately saved by a poor throw or dropped pass. Ok, you want to tell me he was injured? Fine. I'll buy that, sort of. It still does not excuse ALL of what I witnessed this year. And there is no such reason available for Sheldon Brown. Yes, he makes nice, hard-hitting tackles here and there. But what about his coverage skills? From where I sat, he had by far his worst season as an Eagle.
Some bright spots in the secondary came from Quinton Mikell and Josellio Hanson with Mikell showing he could be an every down safety in this league and Hanson proving he is a very solid nickel back.
What the future holds: A major question in the off season will revolve around Brian Dawkins. Long the heart and soul of the defense, the number of injuries he sustained this year is a major cause for concern. He will turn 35 during next season and one has to wonder just how much he has left. Sean Considine hardly distinguished himself during his brief stint so you would think the Eagles will address the position of safety fairly in next year's draft.
As for the corners, I will chalk this season up as an aberration… for Sheldon Brown that is. As for Lito and the Shuffle, well I think you know where I stand on that particular topic.
Special Teams: F-
If I could have given a lower grade, I would have, believe me. Coaching? Personnel? Both? Whatever the reason, whatever the cause this group was downright deplorable all season-long.
What the future holds: When you hit rock bottom, there's only place to go, right?
Head Coach/Personnel: D/D-
Two positions. One man. Andy Reid. Spare me the “Isn't Tom Heckert the Eagles General Manager and overseer of personnel decisions?”
Yeah and I'm king in my house and make all the decisions and my wife does whatever I tell her to do.
As a Head Coach clearly Andy Reid was distracted by the off the field police blotter entries otherwise known as his two sons. No one will ever convince me otherwise. And it was because of these distractions Big Red's focus was never completely on the team, nor should it have been. Should he have taken a leave of absence during the season? Yes, I think he should have. But that would have meant surrendering control and there will simply be none of that.
Which brings me to Andy Reid, the personnel decision-maker. Didn't take long to see Andy' arrogance when it comes to personnel matters as in Week 1 we witnessed a true comedy of errors as the Eagles paraded one kick returner after another and essentially launched the Packers on their magical ride into the playoffs.
Another egregious act by Andy Reid, personnel man about town was his refusal to admit the Eagles needed a true #1 receiver and could instead win by adding a receiver who served as the #3 for many years in St. Louis , Kevin Curtis.
But to me the most offensive thing perpetrated by Andy Reid the personnel man was the whole kick returning fiasco. The sheer arrogance of thinking he could just stick anyone back there (Greg Lewis) and be successful is what really stands out to me when looking back at this season.
What the future holds: Unfortunately neither Andy Reid the coach nor personnel man are going anywhere. It is quite apparent that this team needs a true general manager, one with a football pedigree. But it is that aforementioned control which he will never relinquish that will prevent that from ever happening.
I think Andy Reid the coach should be back but I think Andy Reid, the de facto GM should not.
Color man Rich Gannon said it a few times yesterday. There's not much difference between an 8-8 team and a 12-4 team. The difference often comes down to the small things, the minor details and one or two plays during each game that ultimately is the difference between making the playoffs and going home early.
Yesterday's game was a perfect microcosm of just how imperative it is to keep focus at all times and that every play counts.
From Donovan's ill-advised interception in the first half when he threw against his body, to the back-to-back false start penalties, to the Eagles actually calling a timeout late in the game despite the fact that they had the ball and the lead at the time.
These are things teams like the Patriots simply do not do. What's that? It's not fair to compare the Eagles to the Patriots? Why? Jeffrey Lurie does it all the time. Something about the gold standard and all that, remember?
Thus concludes the final TMA of the season. I want to thank you one and all, again, for your support of the TMA and www.InsideTheEagles.com , brilliantly run by the great Jules Pilla.
I may chime in from time to time in the offseason with a random TMA but in the meantime, please continue to visit www.InsideTheEagles.com and the official ITE Blog, run by yours truly, www.InsideTheEagles.Blogspot.com , where you can get my opinion on a myriad of topics from sports to entertainment to politics and all points in between all year long.
Thank you all once again and may you all find what you're looking for in 2008.
Time's yours. Food's mine.
© Copyright 2006. Jules Pilla
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