Phil Sheridan: Eagles' pass-happy plan puts Vick at risk

Posted: September 24, 2012

GLENDALE, Ariz. - It wasn't so much a game as it was an Andy Reid Greatest Hits album.

It was all there: a pass-happy game plan despite injuries along the offensive line, a quarterback taking a brutal beating for no good reason, turnovers, a failure to account for the opponent's best player, misuse of timeouts and chaos in the red zone near the end of a half.

Kevin Kolb, the quarterback Reid developed and gave up on, led the Cardinals offense Sunday in a 27-6 victory. Ray Horton, one of the legit defensive coaches Reid ignored to promote Juan Castillo to defensive coordinator, outschemed Reid and Marty Mornhinweg.

The timeout the Eagles wasted at the start of the second quarter - after a long intermission - might have cost them 14 points. As it was, they couldn't risk running the ball even once from the Cardinals' 1-yard line. The Cards knew this and blitzed Michael Vick mercilessly on all three downs. On the third, of course, Vick coughed up another fumble and James Sanders returned it 93 yards for a touchdown.

Asked about that timeout after the game, Reid mumbled too inaudibly for the microphone to pick it up. Something to the effect of, "We had a problem there."

Gosh, ya think?

In 2007, with Tra Thomas a last-minute scratch, Reid and Mornhinweg came out throwing in a game against the Giants at the Meadowlands. Donovan McNabb was sacked a dozen times that night. It was a beating administered as much by his coaches as by Osi Umenyiora and Michael Strahan.

This game felt a little bit like that game. With a new left tackle and a rookie making his first start at center, the Eagles called 25 passes and just five running plays in the first half. Vick was sacked three times, fumbled twice and ran for his life. The offense was completely overwhelmed by the Cardinals' aggressive defensive front.

"Obviously," Reid said, "we thought that we could throw the ball and do a better job in that area, but we didn't. In hindsight, it would have been OK to run the ball a little more."

It shouldn't take hindsight to know that a patchwork offensive line might struggle against a defense that held New England to 18 points and sacked Tom Brady four times last week. It certainly shouldn't take hindsight to know that LeSean McCoy is a really good running back. By taking him out of the game, the Eagles coaches do their opponent's job for them.

Just as stunning, Reid and Mornhinweg changed tactics dramatically in the second half. McCoy got nine carries after running the ball just four times in the first half. They were trailing by 24 and they ran the ball. It was a breathtaking admission that they had no answers for Horton's blitzes.

This coming Sunday, the same offensive line and quarterback will have to cope with the Giants' defensive front. The week after that, it's Pittsburgh, where Horton learned his craft from legendary defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

That is the most disturbing aspect of Sunday's game. A loss in September is seldom remembered by the end of the season. But a loss like this can have a ripple effect. Teams are going to blitz Vick until he or the coaching staff find a way to make them pay for it.

Think back to 2010, when Vick put together the best stretch of his career. The Minnesota Vikings came to town for a December game and attacked Vick with blitzes from the outside. Other teams copied that strategy. Vick's record as a starter is 9-9 since then, including a playoff loss to the Cowboys after the 2010 season.

"I think we are going to have to make a lot of adjustments," Vick said.

They are, and quickly. Neither Vick nor his coach can afford to let things snowball the way they did Sunday. Obviously, every hit he takes is a chance for him to get hurt. But the cumulative toll is just as significant, physically and mentally. Vick's decision making doesn't exactly improve as he wears down from all the punishment.

The red zone fumble resulted from his failing to account for an unblocked safety. On the two previous plays, he threw the ball out of the end zone almost as soon as he took the snap - stopping the clock, yes, but also wasting two chances to score. In the third quarter, Vick lost 20 yards, taking the team out of field-goal range with an inexcusable intentional-grounding penalty.

Being a quarterback is a dangerous job. Vick clearly isn't going to do what it takes to protect himself. If Reid and Mornhinweg don't, this season could get away from them very soon.

And nobody - not Vick and certainly not Reid - can afford that this year.


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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