Bob Ford: For Eagles, resting starters isn't the best way to prepare for playoffs

Colt Anderson hits the turf after tripping up Cowboys quarterback Stephen McGee to derail his fourth-quarter, 7-yard scramble.
Colt Anderson hits the turf after tripping up Cowboys quarterback Stephen McGee to derail his fourth-quarter, 7-yard scramble.
Posted: January 03, 2011

The way Andy Reid sees it, everything went as planned on Sunday when the Eagles closed the regular season with essentially a live forfeit against the Dallas Cowboys.

Compared to a year ago, when the regular season ended with a loss to Dallas that meant something, he was right. But in terms of preparing the Eagles for the NFL postseason that begins against the Green Bay Packers next week, the manner in which the Eagles approached Sunday's game was a recipe for disaster.

As a reward for stinking up the place on Tuesday against the Vikings, a game that posed some scary questions about the teams' focus and ability, Reid gave almost every starter the day off on Sunday.

"It think it's the right thing to do for us. Other people do it other ways, but this is what I believe in," Reid said after the 14-13 loss to Dallas. "It gives everybody an opportunity to rest up, in particular in the short amount of time we have here."

You only needed to look around the league on Sunday to see that not everyone believes momentum is a switch that can be turned on and off at will. Tom Brady played into the third quarter for the Patriots yesterday, even though their playoff seeding was secure. Up in Green Bay, with no chance of improving their position, the Bears played full-out against the Packers, maybe in an attempt to keep a dangerous rival from the playoffs, but maybe to keep their competitive edge for the games still to come.

It's true that both of those teams will have a bye next weekend, but that time off wouldn't have made much difference if Brady or Jay Cutler suffered a serious injury on Sunday. That is a risk that both Bill Belichick and Lovie Smith believed was worth taking, however. That's the way they do it.

Reid's position is defensible, but it is the wrong one. What the Eagles - or whoever those guys were out there were - did on Sunday will not help them beat the Packers at Lincoln Financial Field. In fact, it might hurt.

When the Eagles left the field against the Vikings, they carried some huge question marks along with them. Most of those were on the defensive side of the ball as the cracks that have been appearing on defense widened into chasms against Minnesota.

Increasingly as the season has gone long, the Eagles have had trouble stopping the opposition. There have been some injuries that didn't help, but even the healthy players haven't been getting the job done. There wasn't even a certainty that when the defense lined up there would be exactly 11 men on the field.

How those problems were solved with the starters on the sideline against Dallas is a reasonable question. Beyond that, the message isn't a good one. The message is that everything is just fine. We'll get back to practice this week and suddenly a porous defense will get it together against an offense ranked among the top 10 in the league overall, and higher than that in the second half of the season.

The message should have been that everything is not just fine. You guys are not getting a day off against the Cowboys, even though that might be prudent from an injury standpoint, because we can't afford to waste any time. Are you listening? One more stinker like the Vikings and the entire season disappears.

But that's not what Reid does around here. He would prefer to calm the herd and impart a sense of peace and confidence. Maybe he's right, but maybe not.

There was also the small matter of the paying public that had to sit through Sunday's farce, and the cynical packing of the roster with players who would become disposable after taking part in this glorious scrimmage that demanded fresh, if anonymous, bodies.

The Eagles brought in a defensive tackle and a defensive end between the Vikings game and the Cowboys game. They promoted a safety off the practice squad. They moved everyone else up a rank, so that the Eagles found themselves at one point late in the game with a defensive backfield of Trevard Lindley, Jamar Adams, Brandon Hughes, and Colt Anderson.

"It was great to get our young guys some snaps," Reid said, as if this was an August exhibition or a spirited scrimmage at Lehigh.

Among the young guys getting those snaps on Sunday as they were used for roster fodder was defensive end Bobby McCray, who will turn 30 this year and hasn't played since being released by New Orleans in September. It's fine that he got back on film and made a few bucks, but let's not pretend players were being seriously evaluated in this mess.

It might be that the Eagles are going to do what they're going to do against the Packers regardless of how the Dallas game was approached. But if they aren't ready, if they are still taking stupid penalties, if they still can't cover receivers or tackle runners, then it might be they needed a wake-up call. But the coach decided to let them sleep in.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com.

Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/bobford.

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