By Chris Murray
For the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
Today’s column is for Eagles fans who considered suicide after witnessing the Birds last two losses of the regular season coming into Sunday’s NFC Wildcard matchup against the Green Bay Packers at Lincoln Financial Field.
Right after the Eagles horrific loss to an awful Minnesota Vikings team where Michael Vick had the worst game of his season, fans were inundated with proclamations from local sports talk radio geeks of Vick’s reversion to the run-first form of his days with the Atlanta Falcons.
Oh, Lawd send us a blessing from the football gods!
But before you do your belly-flop into the Delaware River by jumping off the Ben Franklin or Walt Whitman Bridges after paying the $4-toll (or $2 if you’re using the Tacony-Palmyra or Burlington Bristol Bridges), hold up.
If Andy Reid and the Eagles coaching staff can get out of the way of themselves, the Birds will move on to the next round of the playoffs where they will face the Chicago Bears.
Perhaps the most obvious thing that needs fixing is the Eagles’ porous offensive line, which allowed 49 sacks during the regular season. You have a tough time throwing the ball well if you’re doing it from your backside.
If he’s going to do his best against Green Bay, the O-Line has to keep Vick from having to run for his life for four quarters.
It would also help Vick stay in the pocket if Andy Reid would end his propensity to chuck the ball in the air on every play.
I know I’ve said this in about a million inches of copy this season, but the Eagles have to show some balance in their offensive attack by running the football. That’s how you slow down a hard rushing team like Green Bay. When your line is pounding on a team in the running game, that defense ain’t charging all that hard. I’m just saying.
I know some of you saying, ‘well, you’re right, but this is a passing league and that’s not how Reid and the Eagles do things.’
And how many Super Bowls have the Eagles won under Reid? None.
Knowing Reid’s stubbornness, here are a few things he needs to consider. First, running back LeSean McCoy is averaging 5.2 yards per carry. Can he run up the middle and get the tough yardage late in games? He proved that in the Eagles first win over the New York Giants when broke off a 50-yard run late in that game. McCoy’s running in the last four-minutes, 22 seconds sealed the 30-27 win over the Dallas Cowboys in December.
McCoy, who has played in 15 of the team’s 16 games in 2010, also leads the team in receiving with 78 catches for 592 yards. The Eagles have to put the ball in his hands in the running and passing game. The Birds have to give the Packers something to think about other than Vick.
What’s funny about Reid’s ability to not rely on his running game is that the times when he grudgingly makes use of the running game, the Eagles have actually won games on a consistent basis.
I direct your attention to the late season playoff runs of 2008 and 2009. When the Eagles ran the ball more than 20 times during those runs, they actually won games.
Coming into that fateful regular season finale in 2009 against Dallas, the Eagles had run off six straight wins and ran the ball more than 20 times and ran for over 100 yards in five of those games. Down the stretch of the 2008 season when they eventually went to the NFC Championship game, the Birds went 4-1 in their last five game and averaged 149 yards rushing.
I know, I know, Reid will probably have a flash back to BYU passing San Diego State into the Stone Age. But if the Eagles can show some balance against a hard-charging Clay Matthews and let’s not forget cornerback Charles Woodson, who will probably be coming on the blitz off the edge, they can slow down the assault on Vick.
As for Vick, I think the week off after taking too many shots from defenders for the last two games will help him regain the focus on passing from the pocket that he’s had all year. Vick has to be able to make those hot reads against the blitz and get the ball out of his hands more quickly. I don’t mind Vick taking off and running if there’s nothing there, but I get the feeling the Packers are going to have somebody spying Vick.
They’re not going to let him run for 103 yards as they did in the second half of the season opener.
The real challenge for Eagles fans in this game will be on the defensive end. The Eagles secondary has been getting torched all season, especially in that miracle comeback win over the New York Giants.
If there’s anything the Eagles have in their favor is that the Packers don’t have anything close to resembling a running game which means that their front seven can put pressure on quarterback Aaron Rogers.
In that first game of the season where the Packers came away with a 27-20 victory, the Birds sacked Rogers three times and intercepted him twice. Oddly enough, the sacks came from the defensive line with two coming from Juqua Parker.
Because Rogers has shown the ability to pick apart teams that like to blitz, the Eagles are going to have to pick their spots. The bottom line is that they have to bring the wood to Rogers and not give him enough time to get the ball to wide receivers Donald Driver and Greg Jennings.
If the Packers offensive line is able to control the line of scrimmage in the passing game, it is going to be a long day for the Eagles secondary because I don’t think they can stop the Packers receivers.
All that said, this is a winnable game for the Eagles. If they can pick up the blitz and show some balance on offense and beat up on Rogers on defense, the Birds are headed to the next round. If they don’t, it will be another off season of finger pointing, bitching and moaning.