It’s one thing for fans to give up on their team. It’s entirely another for the players to give up, too.
But after watching last night’s 45-21 humiliation at the hands of Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, it was apparent that the Birds themselves have joined Eagle Nation in giving up on the 2006 season.
What happened last night on the artificial turf of the RCA Dome was a travesty. From the very first snap, Eagle defenders were manhandled and pushed all over the field by the bigger, stronger Colts offensive line.
Philadelphia Eagles were being tossed to the ground like sacks of potatoes, opening up gaping holes for Indy’s stud rookie running back Joseph Addai (24/171). After totaling only three touchdowns through the first 10 games of the regular season, the first-year man out of LSU ran for four against an Eagle defense that has clearly quit.
Of course, even if they hadn’t quit, the Birds still probably would have lost this game. They are physically no match for the Colts and chances are the score would have been similar no matter how motivated the Eagles were.
But last night’s loss was an embarrassment. From the first snap they were overmatched, falling behind 21-0 early in the second quarter, allowing the Colts to do whatever they wanted.
And like a good team should, the Colts took advantage, rushing for a staggering 237 yards, piling up 420 yards of total offense. And that includes a fourth quarter in which Indy mercifully pulled in the reigns.
It has been clear for weeks that the biggest problem in Philadelphia is the defense. In fact, it was evident last year as well. The Birds, with their philosophy of going with “small but quick” players, have been getting pushed around since the start of the 2005 season.
What is the problem here? Is it the personnel? Is it the philosophy? Has defensive coordinator Jim Johnson lost his touch? Has the rest of the NFL caught up to his schemes?
To all those questions, the answer is yes.
Perhaps the play that best crystalized what this Eagles defense is all about was Addai’s third touchdown run, six minutes into the second quarter. As Addai stretched left, OLB Matt McCoy was completely plowed over by Indy TE Dallas Clark, opening up a huge hole that allowed Addai to score virtually untouched.
I repeat. A pass-catching tight end absolutely obliterated a starting outside linebacker on a supposedly competent defense.
Watching it made me want to vomit.
But McCoy’s not the only culprit, not by a long shot. Watching Darwin Walker and Mike Patterson get eliminated at the point of attack, Trent Cole and Darren Howard disappear before our very eyes, Shawn Barber and McCoy get bullied, and Brian Dawkins and Sean Considine miss arm tackle after arm tackle, you wanted to throw a paper weight at your TV screen.
And it isn’t as if the Eagles haven’t addressed these defensive concerns in past offseasons. With their last two first-round picks, the Birds have drafted Mike Patterson (I’ll give someone $200 if they can give me a rational explanation for the contract extension the Eagles gave Patterson a few weeks ago) and Broderick Bunkley, who was deactivated after missing the team flight to Indianapolis on Sunday and has been nearly invisible all year long. This past off-season, they spent big money on defensive end Darren Howard as a free agent and signed OLB Shawn Barber to a one-year deal.
But one thing they’ve neve done is invest seriously in the outside linebacker position. Even with gobs of salary cap space, the Birds have never valued the linebacker position, instead concentrating on investing in a small, quick, quarterback-pressuring defensive line.
Only, the defensive line hasn’t been getting any pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Cole and Howard have disappeared. Jerome McDougle has been the franchise’s worst draft pick since Mike Mamula. Patterson and Walker not only can’t generate any pressure on the inside, they’re too undersized to clog up any running lanes either. And because Andy Reid and Jim Johnson have inexplicably and completely ignored the linebacker position, the Eagles are simply no match for teams with any hint of size.
The team’s defensive philosophy has to change. Perhaps it’s time for Jim Johnson to find employment elsewhere and for a new defensive coordinator to take the reigns. A defensive coordinator who is capable of making in-game adjustments. A defensive coordinator who understands that size matters. A defensive coordinator who gets the concept that playing stiffs at linebacker will eventually catch up to you.
And while Johnson no longer has some of the players that once made his defenses great (Corey Simon, Hollis Thomas, Carlos Emmons), what has transpired over the last year and a half is his own fault. Together with Big Red, this is the defense he has constructed. These are the players he wanted for his system. It is he and Reid who have drafted these stiffs and signed these free agents.
And it isn’t working. It’s an embarrassment.
A new philosphy can only happen with the dismissal of Jim Johnson as defensive coordinator. The Eagles need a new direction on defense, and they need it now.
Of course, there were other storylines last night. Jeff Garcia, filling in for Donovan McNabb, played pretty darned well, moving the Eagles offense up and down the field when they had the ball.
Brian Westbrook and the offensive line continued to show that, given the opportunity, they can be a dominant running force.
Andy Reid showed once again that he has completely lost touch with reality in calling that bizarre Hank Baskett pass play to start the Eagles’ second drive, a play-call that screamed panic.
While mathematically still very much alive (thanks to losses by the Giants and Panthers yesterday), the Eagles are through. Instead of rising to the challenge of playing without their starting quarterback and proving the Delaware Valley wrong, the Birds did nothing but reinforce our cynicism and skepticism by stinking up the joint last night.
They have quit on their season.
And for that, there is no defense.
John Stolnis is a staff writer for http://www.phillysportsline.com