Five big questions during Eagles bye week

Andy Reid hasa better record later in the season thanat the start.
Andy Reid hasa better record later in the season thanat the start. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff)
Posted: October 22, 2012

1. CAN MICHAEL VICK CUT DOWN ON THE TURNOVERS?

The numbers are staggering: 13 turnovers in six games. Vick has become a turnover machine. Can he possibly keep this season's pace up? The laws of probability would seem to suggest that the quarterback cannot. In his first nine seasons in the NFL, Vick had an interception or fumble 3.0 percent of the times he dropped back to pass or ran. This season, he has turned the ball over 4.5 percent of every dropback or rush. While that may seem like only a marginal increase, it is not. The spike implies that Vick is more likely to turn the ball over at a rate in line with the greater sample than with the smaller one. So he should do a better job in the final 10 games. But that won't be enough. Behind a crippled offensive line, Vick has to be extra careful with the ball and with forcing throws downfield. It's that simple. The Eagles won't win if they keep turning the ball over at this pace - 17 all told. If it keeps up, coach Andy Reid will be forced to stop Vick's errors the only way he can - by benching him in favor of rookie Nick Foles.

2. WHAT WILL THE DEFENSE LOOK LIKE UNDER TODD BOWLES?

Judging from Bowles' introductory news conference last week, the defense won't look much different from what it was under Juan Castillo. Well, except for that whole closing-out-games thing. Bowles said that defensive line coach Jim Washburn's wide-nine scheme will remain intact, that he will continue to mix and match man and zone defenses, and that he'll blitz when warranted and when working. The most significant difference, though, will likely be seen on game days, when plays are called and when adjustments must be made. Castillo's inability to effectively counter fourth-quarter changes from opposing offensive coordinators was his ultimate undoing. Bowles, like Castillo, had never been an NFL coordinator before Reid gave him the job. But Bowles has a strong pedigree and a long history of working with stout defenses. Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha had touted Bowles' in-game capabilities. The Eagles have the talent and the athletes to play fast yet disciplined, as Bowles said he wanted his defense to do. It's up to the first-time coordinator to put his players in the best possible position to makes plays.

3. HOW CAN THE OFFENSE SCORE MORE POINTS?

Well, it can cut down on turnovers, but we've already covered that area. And, really, there's more to the Eagles' averaging a second-worst-in-the-league 17.2 points a game than just turnovers. The struggles on the offensive line and Vick's giveaways forced coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to call for a more balanced offense and for shorter throws against the Giants and Steelers. That strategy had a .500 success rate, and it would have likely been 1.000 had Vick not fumbled twice in Pittsburgh. But for the Eagles' fastbreak offense to reach its zenith, Mornhinweg has to go back to a more pass-oriented offense that throws downfield. He did so against the Lions last week. The opportunities were there, but the execution in many cases was not. Vick failed to hit open receivers on several plays, so he deserves some of the blame. But his protection was below average, and you have to wonder where his mind was after taking such a beating. So what can Reid and Mornhinweg do? They could go back to a ball-control offense - and they may at times, depending on the opponent - but the Lions gave future defenses a blueprint on how to disrupt the Eagles. They stacked the box and shut down running back LeSean McCoy and forced Vick, behind a shaky line, to beat them. Here's a sobering thought: This offense just might not be capable of averaging more than 20 points a game.

4. CAN THE EAGLES MAKE THE PLAYOFFS?

Yes. The Eagles are not dead and buried at 3-3, not by a long shot. Reid has been 3-3 after six games four previous times during his tenure here - 2008, 2003, 2001, and 2000. Each time the Eagles made the playoffs. Consider Reid's career record before Week 6 (47-37, .559) and after (82-47-1, .635). Consider the combined records of the Eagles' 10 remaining opponents (27-28, .491). Consider the NFC East standings. The Giants are 4-2, but the Eagles have the head-to-head tiebreaker right now. The Redskins are 3-3. The Cowboys are 2-3. The division is there for the taking. The Birds have some work to do, but a playoff berth is certainly not out of the realm of possibility. Will they do it? The belief here, since before the season, is they will not.

5. WHAT MUST ANDY REID DO TO SAVE HIS JOB?

Making the playoffs would be a good start. If the Eagles finish the season 7-3 or better and somehow fail to reach the postseason, it's possible owner Jeffrey Lurie cuts Reid a break, although highly unlikely. Lurie said that he needed to see "substantial improvement" over last season's 8-8 finish. Two more wins without a playoff game is not substantial. So, let's say Reid rallies the troops, and the Birds make it to the postseason. Is that enough? It's possible Lurie views qualifying for the playoffs as "substantial improvement." And there are a few possible qualifiers - injuries, acts of God, etc. But it's likely Reid has to win at least one playoff game. He hasn't won one since 2008. But first, he's got to win a few games in the regular season.

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