When teams struggle to win, there’s usually one of two people that get the blame. The first is the most important person on the field, the quarterback, while the second is the most important person off the field, the head coach. Occasionally the GM also gets blamed but that’s usually alongside the head coach. Very rarely are GMs held solely responsible for a team’s struggles unless their name is Matt Millen.
After the Eagles were the big spenders in the offseason, great things were expected. Now that their sitting at 4-7 and are almost a lock to miss the playoffs, the fans are looking for someone to blame. Since Michael Vick just barely signed a $100 million contract it makes it difficult to put the blame on him.
As a result, during the Eagles most recent beat down at the hands of the Patriots, the fans made it quite clear who they do blame for their struggles. Trailing 31-13 and facing a 4th-and-one on the Patriots 2-yard line the Eagles lined up with an eight-man front and called a pass play. Vince Young overthrew tight end Brent Celek and the fans began calling for the head of their scapegoat. Almost immediately a chant went up of “Fire Andy! Fire Andy!”
So the question is does Andy Reid deserve all, or at least most, of the blame for the Eagles struggles? In his first 12 years as head coach of the Eagles they’ve made the playoffs 9 times, have a 10-9 playoff record, played in the NFC Championship game 5 times, and even made only their second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. In the 12 year before Reid took over they made the playoffs 6 times, had a 2-6 playoff record, and never got past the divisional round of the playoffs.
But it gets even better. If you go back to the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, the Eagles had only 5 playoff wins before Reid became their head coach and only made it to the NFC Championship one time in 1980, the other year they made it to the Super Bowl. So the Eagles have twice as many playoff wins and five times the number of NFC Championship game appearances in the 12 years since Reid took over as they had in the previous 29 years combined.
Yet fans are a fickle lot. It’s not so much what you’ve done as it is what you’ve done lately. And what the Eagles have done lately is to go 4-7 through 11 games of the 2011 season, and the problem is compounded by the incredibly high expectations going into the season.
So did Andy Reid suddenly forget how to coach? Did his team suddenly forget how to win? Are they a soft team that can’t hold a 4th quarter lead, and do they have a coaching staff that fights among themselves?
The answer to the first question is a resounding no, but the answer to the rest is yes. The 2011 version of the Eagles has a lot of problems, as was on clear display when Tom Brady sliced apart their secondary and Eagles dynamic receiver DeSean Jackson dropped not one, but two touchdown passes. But their struggles can’t be put all on Reid.
Before Vick got injured he wasn’t playing at a level that came even remotely close to what he accomplished last year. His 79.8 passer rating was over 20 points lower than the 100.2 rating he posted in 2010. Yet considering his career passer rating is only 80.1, maybe last year was just an anomaly and he’s playing more like his true self this season.
Critics like to point to Reid’s arrogance in thinking his offensive line coach, Juan Castillo, was up for the job of replacing the late Jim Johnson as their defensive coordinator, but the numbers don’t back them up. The Eagles are giving up more yards per game this year (344.6) then they did last year (327.2), but their actually holding teams to fewer point per game, 22.8 points per game this year as opposed to 23.4 points per game in 2010.
The biggest difference, once again, falls on their offense. Last year they were second in the NFL averaging 27.4 points per game. This year they rank only 14th, averaging 23.4 points per game. So it looks like the blame could again be put on the huge drop in production from the quarterback position.
Reid is signed through 2013 and it seems reasonable that Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie will give him at least another year, using the lockout, high roster turnover, and lack of practice time to get acclimated with each other as an excuse. Given the huge amount of success Reid’s had, that would only make sense. But if he sees a repeat performance in 2012, Reid’s time in Philadelphia might truly come to an end.