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It's not David Akers or Michael Vick; It’s The Eagles' Coach—AGAIN

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Billy Vargus

V FOR VICTORY WITH BILLY VARGUS

With everyone talking so much before the game about how Green Bay has no running game and how great their QB Aaron Rodgers is and how the Eagles would have to constantly blitz to stop him, I knew the Packers would come out and run the ball and take advantage of that preconception. Sure enough, they ran well and often against an Eagles defense that was keeping their safeties back to protect against the deep pass. And when the Eagles didn’t adjust, they just kept running.

“We weren’t about to give them a shot over the top,” said Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, explaining that they didn’t adjust to the run because they were afraid of giving up a long pass. “They got us in the run game.” The Packers ended up with 32 running plays for 138 yards and one victory.

Remember the last time Andy Reid did that? Saw that the other team couldn’t stop the run so he just kept pounding the rock? Neither do I. I don’t think it’s ever happened. Other coaches, like the Packers Mike McCarthy, will change their plan as the game progresses, according to what’s working and what isn’t. Andy Reid never does, never will. He’s going to throw the ball regardless.

Even Mike Martz, the only other NFL coach who is nearly as pass happy as Reid, changed it up on the Eagles. As the offensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears, he surprised the Eagles this year  by running 28 times when they met in November. Even though their running back, Matt Forte, is average at best, they ground out 131 yards, which keyed their win over the Eagles.

Then again, back when he was calling the plays for the St. Louis Rams, Martz did it to the Eagles in the 2001 NFC Championship Game. The Eagles led 17-13 at the half, but Martz called a running play for Marshall Faulk early in the third quarter, and after a solid gain, he called another one. And another. And another. He ended up running the ball 7 straight times against an Eagles defense that was expecting a pass. Before the game was over, Faulk had carried 31 times for 159 yards and 2 TD’s. Meanwhile, Duce Staley had all of 11 carries as the Eagles primary running back. Correll Buckhalter had 6. The Rams ground out a 29-24 victory.

But Reid learned nothing from that, as evidenced by the NFC Championship Game the very next year against Tampa Bay in 2002. Staley busted a 20-yard touchdown run on the second play of the game to give the Eagles a quick lead. But then he hardly saw the ball again, finishing with only 13 carries, as Andy continued his usual pass happy ways. As a result, the Eagles never scored another TD, squandering the lead and the game, allowing Tampa to win 27-10. (By the way, Brian Westbrook had exactly 2 carries in that game, and Dorsey Levens had 3. The Bucs backs, meanwhile, got the ball 32 times.)

Not only won’t Reid adjust during the game, but he also won’t change his plan from week to week to take advantage of the opponent’s weaknesses. Otherwise, he would’ve tried to run more against the Packers, whose defense was 5th in the league against the pass, but only 18th against the run. No, Reid is a one-trick pony, and the trick is one that everyone figured out long ago. The mindless handful of people who defend Reid (and they are dwindling to a rare few) keep trying to say the coach’s refusal to run the ball is not a problem.What's the definition of insanity?.....

But this game was an irrefutable illustration of the truth, when the Packers gave the ball 23 times to James Starks, an inexperienced injury-prone rookie from a poor college program (the University at Buffalo), running it down the Eagles throats while the Eagles own star runner hardly got to touch it.

Inexcusable that LeSean McCoy, who averaged 5.2 yards a carry, the best average in Eagles history, only carried the ball 12 times. And meanwhile, the offense can only manage 3 points in the first half, and the coach is wondering why.

Starks 23 carries, 123 yards. McCoy, 12 for 46. Shameful.

The Packers showed that running the ball is an attitude. If your offensive line opens holes, then even an inexperienced injury-prone rookie from a poor college program (the University at Buffalo) can be successful. But now I’m repeating myself.

And to make matters worse, the Eagles “tell” the defense when they are going to run it. They bring in fullback Owen Schmitt and line up in the I-formation. They may as well just shout out, “Okay, we’re gonna run now.” Then, Schmitt leaves the field, they line up in a shotgun and “tell” the defense, “OK, we’re back to pass again.”

During his tenure as head coach, Reid has failed to fully utilize Staley, Westbrook, Buckhalter and now McCoy.

We could try to put the blame for all this on offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, but as we’ve just shown, the problem has gone on for many years, pre-dating Mornhinweg’s arrival.

The head coach caused the loss. Not David Akers missed field goals or Michael Vick’s interception on the final play. (Although the inability of the offense to adjust to blitzes hurt a great deal, but that’s a subject for another day.)

On the other side of the ball, some people will undoubtedly call for the Eagles to replace McDermott as defensive coordinator, but it’s really not fair to judge him when he has such a ragtag group of players on defense. I do think, though, that there is evidence that the Eagles incredibly poor performance in the red zone this year is at least partly McDermott’s fault. They have such complicated schemes in the red zone that the players get confused. Sometimes the wrong personnel are on the field. In Sunday’s game, no one bothered to cover the tight end and Tom Crabtree caught an easy TD pass. McDermott has indicated that he tries not to make things too sophisticated for his young players. Doesn’t seem like it’s worked. But it also seems he could use more players with the mental and physical abilities to figure it out.

The Eagles will have to realize that they must, for the first time ever, draft an outside linebacker in the first round--one who can rush the passer but is also big enough to stand up against the run. Reid may be gunshy about doing that, because every time he drafted a LB early in the second round, they proved to be busts (Barry Gardner, Quinton Caver and Matt McCoy.)

But he has to take a shot at it. Even the stepfords who cheer everything Andy does should’ve learned something, after they hailed the signing of Ernie Sims in the offseason. If the Detroit Lions give up on a guy, that pretty much tells you all you need to know. Besides, these 230- pound linebackers are just too small to be effective, whether its Sims, Akeem Jordan, Will Witherspoon, Keith Adams, McCoy, or RunMe Over.

Final thought: Quintin Mikell is a free agent. I hope the Eagles bring him back. He’s one of the few knowledgeable and dependable veterans on this defense. But he made one of the biggest head-scratching plays I’ve ever seen. The Packers John Kuhn fumbled the ball right into Mikell’s lap. For some reason, “Q” pushed the ball away while looking around. A Green Bay player jumped on the ball and the Packers retained possession, and subsequently went on to score a touchdown.

I can only guess that Mikell thought that Kuhn had been down and the ball was dead. I have to guess, because even though many media members quoted him after the game, it seems no one specifically asked him about that play. But even if he thought the ball was dead, even if he was looking for a ruling from an official, every one who’s ever played football knows that you jump on a loose ball. If it turns out the ball was dead, then it’s nothing ventured, nothing gained. But if it’s a live ball, and you don’t jump on it—well, you’re guilty of an inexcusable mistake.         

Billy Vargus is an Emmy Award Winner for Best Sports Anchor for 2008 and 2009. (Mid-Atlantic region, covering all of Pennsylvania, South Jersey and Delaware.) Bill has been a TV sports anchor in the Philadelphia area for 18 years with the last 12 coming at Fox 29. He’s also had stops at Channel 10, Channel 12, plus at other television markets around the country.He has also served as the pre-game host for all Seventy-Sixers games in the past and also has acted in films, TV shows and commercials.

Billy V can be contacted at billv@philly2philly.com  

Starks photo: http://www.chicagobreakingsports.com/2011/01/bears-told-packers-rb-starks-they-were-drafting-him.html