Time to put season to rest

Posted: November 29, 2011

Well, it was a great 2011 season for the Eagles. Maybe a few minor problems here and there, but nothing that can't be fixed with a little more hard work and putting players in better positions to succeed.

The season highlight film will be released any day now, and those season-ticket renewals will be appearing in a mailbox near you very soon. Make sure to look for them.

With 2011 in the rearview mirror, it's time to look ahead and get things moving in the right direction for 2012. Fortunately for the Eagles, the organization has been clever enough to schedule five exhibition games before the offseason officially begins. Andy Reid and his staff, along with the front office, can use these five games to put in place a plan for 2012 that works out even better than the one they devised for 2011. I know it seems impossible, but these are some can-do guys.

The league is apparently balking at their suggestion that games be shortened to 45 minutes. If that rule were in place this season, the Eagles would have a 9-2 record. As it is, they'll have to find another way to get the job done.

Andy and the organization are always open to outside input on this sort of thing, particularly from the media, so here are a few ideas for getting 2012 started on the right foot:

Bench Vick, play Young. The Eagles have tied their success or failure to quarterback Michael Vick for the next four seasons, with the team on the hook for approximately another $60 million. No other team is going to take this contract off their hands - not now, anyway - and they have to hope what they saw in 2010 is going to come back for 2012 and beyond.

Playing Vick in any of these meaningless remaining games is just a bad risk. Nothing can be gained and, as he favors his broken ribs and the other injuries that have accumulated this season, he might sustain something far worse that could cost him time next season or curtail his career.

Vince Young is not signed beyond this year and the Eagles have no option on his rights. Playing him is a riskless decision because they have nothing to win or lose in the deal. He's just a rental. Young might even put more effort into learning the offense and performing well in the final five games because he's playing for his next job.

As for Vick, who has 11 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions to go with his 79.8 quarterback rating and 3-6 record this season, a fresh start in 2012 is what he needs far more than additional punishment right now.

Give the kids a chance. This is a double-edged sword because it assumes that the talent evaluators within the organization would be able to tell if the players did well or not. Regardless, let's see some more of Curtis Marsh at cornerback, Jaiquawn Jarrett at safety and - oh, what can it hurt? - Casey Matthews at linebacker.

The Eagles were certain that Matthews, without any experience and little else to recommend, could be a starting middle linebacker in the NFL. They shoved the square peg in the round hole and pounded it for all of training camp and two regular-season games before giving up (not to be confused with admitting a mistake, of course). Surely, there was something there that made them swoon in the first place. Let's get another look for five games and see what it was.

In the defensive backfield, the safety position has been manned by willing players who haven't always succeeded, and the cornerback spot by mercenary independent contractors who don't adapt well to new suggestions. Giving Jarrett and Marsh a chance could hardly mess up these units and maybe one of them can play. Finding out would be a good thing.

Seeing a little more Clay Harbor would be fine, too, and getting some carries for Dion Lewis would help decide if he is something more than just the latest Ryan Moats. With a 33-yard kickoff return his longest in 23 tries this season, Lewis could use something else on his resume.

Everyone is defensive coordinator. Pick the five brightest position coaches on the staff and put each of them in charge of the defense for one of the remaining games. Doesn't really matter which positions they coach or how much experience they have on the defensive side of the ball. You say tight end coach Tom Melvin can't do it. I say give him a chance. We think outside the box here.

Let the weekly coordinators put in their own systems and tinker freely with what the Eagles do. A "wide nine" formation for the defensive line? How about a "wide thirty-nine," with the ends lined up just inbounds? Worth a try.

One of the new coordinators will hit on something that works and, all of a sudden, 2012 will look a lot rosier.

With those suggestions implemented and just a few other good ideas, these last five games of the regular season don't have to be meaningless exhibitions that merely deepen the gloom of the coming winter. They can serve as a fanfare that portends the arrival of a sweeter symphony next season.

Maybe the 2011 season wasn't really all that great, but with some extra hard work and some extra deep thinking from the organization, 2012 just has to be better. Right?


Contact columnist Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com and read recent columns at www.philly.com/bobford.

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