Eagles must put up or shut up

Posted: October 14, 2011

The players are angry. They have had enough of the Andy Reid and Juan Castillo bashing and they are letting everybody know.

The fans. The media. Their Twitter followers.

On Sunday, at FedEx Field, the Eagles will get to make their point in the only place that matters. On the field. Against another NFL team. Because until these guys begin playing as if they're well coached, there is no reason for anyone to believe they are well coached. Until they play with discipline and commitment, there is no reason to believe they care what happens.

After Sunday's most recent debacle, in Buffalo, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin lashed out when a reporter asked about Reid's culpability. On Monday, offensive linemen Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis confronted a fan who displayed an anti-Reid banner across from the entrance to the NovaCare Complex. Wednesday, quarterback Michael Vick said criticism should be directed toward the players, not the coaches.

All very inspiring. Now block somebody, tackle somebody, hold on to the football, and we'll start to believe you mean it.

This is all pretty standard stuff. Every bad team in history goes through this. When the heat is on the coaches, players always say the same things. Coach X doesn't throw the ball. Manager Y doesn't swing at balls out of the strike zone. Yadda yadda yadda.

It means nothing unless they actually change their behavior on the field. Sometimes they can't, because the players just aren't good enough or because the schemes they are playing just don't fit the talent. Sometimes they don't because, in spite of their public statements, players do quit on coaches.

We don't know which is the case here. We're going to find out quite a bit on Sunday. If this team doesn't get its act together for this game, the season is over. Period.

Look, the Eagles are 1-4 for several very clear reasons. Reid made some decisions that have proven to be disastrous. He handed Castillo one of the most demanding, high-pressure jobs in sports without affording him the necessary apprenticeship. He has grafted singular philosophies about both the offensive and defensive lines onto a roster ill-suited to play either. He failed to acquire adequate players at several vital positions.

The coach did get the team into this mess. We've established that. But at this point, with no real recourse for addressing the roster, only the players can clean it up.

Take two issues, one on each side of the ball: turnovers and tackling.

Well-placed sources reveal there are zero plays in Reid's playbook that call for receivers to cough up the ball or for Vick to throw it into the chest of an opposing linebacker. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said, "We've done some ball security drills." But guess what? In the heat of a game, only the players can protect the ball.

Buffalo's defensive players said after forcing five turnovers that they were looking for chances to punch the ball out. Some of the Eagles, they said, don't hold the ball tightly enough when they run. So you have kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more the Eagles turn it over, the more opponents will look to force turnovers.

When the coaches stress ball security and turnovers keep happening, eventually that comes back to the coaches. Why? Because there is a name for the art of correcting players' mistakes. It's called coaching.

From the time he got the stunning promotion to coordinator, Castillo has preached hard work and fundamentals as the keys to his approach. When players fail at the basic task of tackling an opponent, it is the players' fault. When that continues week after week after week, it becomes the coaches' fault - especially when players appear to be giving less than full effort at times.

It has been an article of faith around here that Reid's teams get better as the season wears on. In the past, rough starts have been followed by strong showings in November and December. If this team follows that pattern, there is still hope, especially with the rest of the NFC East looking somewhere between so-so and not so so-so.

But those turnarounds were accomplished by a core group of veterans who are no longer here. They were led by assistant coaches who are no longer here. This is a different group, built in a different way. It is one thing to rush around signing star players. It is something else to create a team.

Maybe these last few embarrassing weeks will do that. If these Eagles really are "proud men," as Mornhinweg said, and if they really believe in this coaching staff, then they are in luck. They get to take the field Sunday and prove their point where it counts.



Play smart.

Play hard.

Or shut up.

Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, psheridan@phillynews.com, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at www.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan


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