It probably isn't a good sign when you're playing the Detroit Lions and you're the most undisciplined team on the field. But that's what happened to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, when they wasted a 23-13 lead attained with 5:13 left in the fourth quarter, allowed the Detroit Lions to tie the game, and lost in overtime as Lions kicker Jason Hanson booted a game-winning 45-yard field goal with four minutes gone in the extra frame.
This is the second year in a row in which the seemingly abundantly talented Eagles have been as Jekyll-and-Hyde as any team in the league, but their record in that time is as middle of the road as you can get -- they're 11-11 in that time. On Sunday night and Monday morning, the blame for these little failures started at the top, and worked its way on down.
"I'll take responsibility for it -- I just know that it wasn't good enough all the way around," Eagles head coach Andy Reid said after the game. "There are times and places when everybody's got to look at themselves in the mirror and get better -- me included."
But it didn't stop there. Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, whose schemes have been under fire since he took the job before last season started, was questioned by cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha when he chose to blitz late in the Lions game and put cornerback Dominique Rogers-Cromartie on Calvin Johnson, when more straight coverage and Nnamdi on Megatron seemed to be working well enough before.
From Sheil Kapadia:
In the fourth quarter and OT, [Lions quarterback Matthew] Stafford was 3-for-4 for 36 yards against the blitz. When the Eagles didn't send extra pressure, he was 12-for-20 for 184 yards. In other words, he was lighting up the defense against four-man rushes too.
Perhaps more significant is that Rodgers-Cromartie was on Johnson for both of those 17-yard completions, and it's tough to figure out why Juan Castillo ... made that decision. Asomugha had done a good job on Johnson for much of the game, and on both those routes, he lined up in the slot. We know from last year's failed experiment that Rodgers-Cromartie struggles in the slot. Asomugha, meanwhile, had been lining up inside all game. He said afterwards that the idea was to give Johnson different looks, but clearly those looks didn't work in the end.
Asomugha was asked after the game whether you want to have an offense prove that it can stop what's working before you start to re-set, and whether players go to their coaches and ask them to stay with what's working.
His reply to both questions? "Um, yes."
It isn't just Castillo's fault, and while it's the obvious tack to take to blame Michael Vick and his 13 turnovers for this mess, there are more troubling issues afoot. Rookie defensive tackle Fletcher Cox was ejected from the game after punching a Lions player on a point after touchdown attempt, and receiver DeSean Jackson got away with hitting another Detroit player in the face on a punt return.
"It's just undisciplined," veteran receiver Jason Avant said of his team. "That's the bottom line. It's undisciplined football. An undisciplined team at this point. Six games in, it's embarrassing. That's the word. Embarrassing. For coaches. And veteran players.
"With the mind-set of, 'Me before the team,' in certain instances. And we need to address that before we play another ballgame."
"The interesting thing about it is, coach Reid is such a disciplinarian," Asomugha told Philly.com. "And there are times in the game where that becomes an issue. It makes no sense."
The Eagles, who have won their three games by a total of four points, could easily be 0-6 right now. They have a bye this week, and they next play the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 28. If things don't rebound quickly, the domino effect could be severe. The calls for Reid's job, seemingly a staple in Philly even when things were going well, are growing in volume and frequency. Team owner Jeff Lurie has already said that another 8-8 season would not be an acceptable result.
"There's no question what I said — we need substantial improvement," Lurie said in August. "We have a very good team, I think, on paper. Paper doesn't get you that far if you can't maximize it."
Many believe that Vick won't be back in 2013 if the team fails to make the playoffs. And a supposedly dominant defense that hasn't picked up a quarterback sack in the last three games could look very different down the road, as well.
The Eagles are skirting the edge, but they're pushing themselves over. It's just as confounding now as it was in 2011.
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- Nnamdi Asomugha