Looking for the method in Eagles' madness

Posted: October 02, 2011

If sound, logical football decisions are the pathway to success in the NFL, then the Eagles apparently missed that part of the seminar.

As they take on the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday afternoon with a 1-2 record, you've got to wonder whether their corporate policy of being smarter than everybody has not only caught up with them but also tripped them into the muddy puddle.

Please explain to me how this makes sense: You employ a new defensive scheme called a "wide nine." This new defensive scheme has all down linemen spread out, leaving gaps as wide as JFK Boulevard, and at the snap has them rushing directly up the field without regard. Now, I'm no defensive wizard, but I've got to think that alignment puts extra pressure on the linebackers and safeties to fill those lanes, take on blockers, and get into the play quickly to make the tackle.

The most troubling part of that, of course, is that the Eagles linebackers and safeties aren't very good.

Was that point discussed in the meeting rooms when the Eagles decided to spend a zillion dollars on cornerbacks, a defensive end, and a backup quarterback with a hamstring as sturdy as fettuccine?

This year the Eagles doled out a grand total of about $1.5 million for three linebackers combined. Bargain basement? Yeah, like a bath-towel sale at Marshalls. Moise Fokou, Jamar Chaney, and Casey Matthews have proven not to be that effective in the wide nine. And it's not so encouraging that the Birds aren't exactly stocked with talented replacements at the position.

The drafting of Matthews in the fourth round and his insertion into the lineup as the starting middle linebacker was a pipe dream influenced by some kind of horse-trainer analysis. In horse racing, sometimes the gene does all the running; the horse has absolutely nothing to do with it. The Eagles (and many of their fans) somehow were deluded into thinking that Casey Matthews would be as good as his brother Clay because he had the same bloodline - and maybe because he had the same hair? But Casey proved that in the NFL, DNA don't play.

Hence Matthews had to be replaced by Brian Rolle. Rolle is a fifth-round pick, and it would be nice if he turned out to be a player, since if you're keeping score, the Eagles have gotten absolutely nothing out of their first four picks of last spring's draft. The first three - Danny Watkins, Jaiquawn Jarrett, and Curtis Marsh - can't even get activated.

Now Rolle looks like a good little player, and I mean that literally. The kid from Ohio State had about a million tackles in college and was a ferocious competitor, but he was drafted late because he's closer to 5-foot-7 than his listed height of 5-10. Eventually, enemy offensive coordinators will tap into the gold mine of Rolle having to cover their bigger receivers. Does Gary Matthews play football?

In the meantime, here's another thing I find totally illogical: the Juan Castillo experiment. Normally, when you hire a new defensive coordinator, that coordinator comes to the job with his own ideas. But it sure looks as if the Eagles have turned Castillo into a mere custodian for the Washburn plan. I don't know if Castillo can coach defense. It seemed a major leap of faith at the time to flip a longtime offensive line coach to the important position. As defensive coordinator, you have to enforce a style, a brand, and do that on the fly during the heat of an NFL game. But maybe the defense should be Castillo's and not Washburn's. Just sayin'.

If Andy Reid didn't firmly believe in Castillo as the defensive coordinator who could revamp the failed defense authored by Sean McDermott, then that's coach-on-fans crime. This is serious business here. You don't have time for uncertainty in the NFL, and certainly not now, when your defense has given up an average of 33 points in the last two games.

Which brings me to Reid's act following these games.

I'm here to announce that I don't care about his news conferences anymore. What I care about is whether the front office is paying attention to his decisions when it comes to the Eagles and whether, if this team doesn't get into the playoffs (I can easily see a final record of 9-7), they will hold his hefty feet to the fire and not be deluded by his overall winning record.

I don't blame him completely for last week's loss. We get overly carried away in shaping the argument against Reid in certain situations. For years, Eagles fans have screamed for him to run the football in short-yardage situations and to play to win the game instead of playing not to lose. And then we get wigged out when he does run the ball or when he does play to win, only to have his players not get the job done.

But when Reid gives us that nonsense that he needs to put players in better positions to make plays, then he should do it, for criminy sakes! The quarterback sneak at the half-yard line is the only play you should call there. But call it only after you put in a 330-pound center like Jamal Jackson instead of relying on 285-pound Jason Kelce to get the job done. What, the "rotation" system you utilize with your defensive line can't apply to the other side of the ball? Kelce got knocked back into next week, and the play fizzled. The last Cincinnati guy who took a fall like that was Pete Rose.

Parting shot

With the Phillies in another postseason run, my mind is firmly focused on Antonio Bastardo, who right now is like Maverick in the movie Top Gun. He's got a confidence problem. Goose is dead and so is Bastardo's slider. But you've got to keep sending him out there in hopes that he will reengage. Know that Bastardo is the Phillies' only bullpen lefthander and that you need him mostly in the eighth inning when you need to get out that tough lefthanded hitter. Trust me, you do not want to elevate Brad Lidge to the eighth inning. You won't long that much for Bastardo against the Cardinals, since most of their power - Pujols, Holliday, Molina - comes at you righty. But I'd much rather flip Berkman to the right side with Bastardo. And if the Phils get to the NLCS against Milwaukee, I shudder to think Lidge is the guy who will be called on to get out Prince Fielder with the Phils up by a run. Keep sending Bastardo out there, Captain Charlie, and hope that he squeezes his dog tags and doesn't leave his wing man.

Contact Mike Missanelli at mikemiss@975thefanatic.com.

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