Marcus Hayes: With jobs on the line, Eagles know they must produce

Offensive linemen (from left) Danny Watkins, Dallas Reynolds and Evan Mathis are among the offensive linemen who have failed to produce in front of Michael Vick.
Offensive linemen (from left) Danny Watkins, Dallas Reynolds and Evan Mathis are among the offensive linemen who have failed to produce in front of Michael Vick. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: October 25, 2012

IT TOOK 22 games.

It took a .500 season from last year's Dream Team.

It took five close games and a blowout upset in the desert.

And, last week, it cost them the head of their most devoted soldier.

It appears as if the Eagles finally have grown up.

The tenor among the Birds of Promise finally has shifted from entitled to entrenched.

The tone was set at the beginning of the shortened 2011 season, enbodied by Asante Samuel, of all people. "Pick-Six,'' as he calls himself, constantly crowed during practices without admonition. It was a circus.

An 8-8 circus.

Samuel was not the entire problem; or the real problem, for that matter. He went to three Pro Bowls as an Eagle, intercepted 23 passes in four seasons and never played on a losing Eagles team. But he set that tone, and he was traded in April to the Falcons, who visit Sunday. His influence remained.

It looks as if it is gone.

Business casual for the Birds has been replaced with a three-piece, buttoned-down attitude. You won't see Andy Reid body-bumping DeSean Jackson on the sideline anymore. After the firing a week ago of longtime assistant Juan Castillo, this Eagles team realizes it is a work in progress, a sculpture being assembled.

No piece is sacred.

No piece.

The defensive line has six sacks in six games. It has faced max-protection, true; but every one of the linemen was acquired and retained to disrupt in the backfield.

Starting tackles Derek Landri and Cullen Jenkins have no sacks. They might not have starting jobs much longer, either. They know it.

Safeties Kurt Coleman and Nate Allen keep showing up in the frame in snapshots of those great, late plays by the opposition. They no longer have youth to excuse their indiscretions.

They have room for no more excuses. They know it.

The offensive line might not be fixable, but, certainly, it is mixable.

No rule states that Todd Herremans must stay at right tackle, especially in light of the abysmal play of right guard Danny Watkins. The Eagles can no longer wait for Watkins, a first-round pick in 2011 but a latecomer to football, to catch up. Not on their time.

Backup tackle King Dunlap is healed, and will again replace struggling left tackle Demetress Bell. But if Bell can be considered more valuable to Watkins, Bell and Dunlap could start at the tackle spots, which would slide Herremans back inside, to guard. Watkins could learn from the sideline, where he can do no harm.

You can trace the struggles of top-flight running back LeSean McCoy to the patched-up, underperforming line in front of him. You can acknowledge that McCoy is the Eagles' marked man, the way Brian Westbrook and Ricky Watters once were.

But you cannot ignore McCoy's continued hesitance at the line; his impatience in letting running lanes open; and his instinct to, occasionally, run away from clogged holes, expecting his quickness and speed to wrong-foot pursuers. Teams have figured out his habits, and now his style results in too many negative runs. Those negative runs put even more pressure on the passing game.

And, while McCoy has taken promising strides in blitz recognition and in blitz pickup, he still misses too many blocks.

Despite his electric open-field abilities, since teams essentially have squelched the Eagles' screen game - which, again, is limited by that shaky line - the Eagles might not be able to afford McCoy's presence on every down. Backup running back Bryce Brown and fullback Stanley Havili might manage to keep Michael Vick off his back a little better.

And then there is Vick.

No quarterback has been hit like Vick: 52 times, almost 25 percent more than any other quarterback. Sometimes, this is the fault of his leaky line; sometimes, the fault of the running back; sometimes, simply the symptom of a successful defensive play.

Too often, this is the fault of his poor recognition.

Vick has thrown eight interceptions in six games. Too often, this is the fault of his poor recognition.

Unwise throws, like those in the opener at Cleveland, can be coached out of him.

The underthrown bomb 2 weeks ago to DeSean Jackson?

Terrifying.

Because Vick had no idea why he didn't complete it.

Perhaps the new atmosphere will make him more aware.

Certainly, Vick is aware that rookie Nick Foles is next up if Vick continues to play like a rookie himself.

"My approach now [is to] to go out there and get the job done. We'll see what happens,'' Vick said Monday. "It's not the first time that I've been in this situation.''

Really, it's as if the team sees this as a 10-week season. The Eagles have washed themselves clean of the residue of those five nasty, close games.

Wideout Jeremy Maclin cautioned forbearance: "You've just got to be patient, man."

He was talking about the lack of big plays. He could have been talking about the team's season.

If the offensive line improves, there is no reason why the Eagles cannot win seven of 10 and likely reach the playoffs, if only by virtue of an NFC East title.

There is not a game on the schedule they cannot win; not the finale at the Giants; not Monday night in New Orleans; not Sunday against the undefeated Falcons.

In 13 tries, Andy Reid never has lost a game after a bye week.

But even a loss Sunday does not mean the season is doomed.

A badly played game, however, could turn the new businesslike mood at the NovaCare complex into a panic-stricken run for the lifeboats.

And, no, there are not enough lifeboats.


Contact Marcus Hayes at hayesm@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/MarcusHayes.

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