Andy Reid kicked off the Philadelphia Eagles' bye week in literal fashion, bidding farewell to defensive coordinator Juan Castillo on Tuesday as part of what the coach later suggested would be a more comprehensive shakeup.
If Reid's plan for prodding his 3-3 team toward a deep playoff run and saving his job includes benching quarterback Michael Vick, here's some borrowed advice from the great football philosopher Ice Cube: check yourself before you wreck yourself.
Firing Castillo, a close friend and trusted assistant for the past 14 seasons, seems like a panic move, and that's the way it will be perceived by many in the Philly locker room. Given that the Eagles' defense, despite last Sunday's fourth-quarter collapse in a 26-23 overtime defeat to the Detroit Lions, has actually been a strength this season, replacing Castillo with secondary coach Todd Bowles comes across as a self-serving, knee-jerk reaction. Understand that Reid habitually tells players to look in the mirror and not to "throw anybody else under the bus."
Yet during Reid's news conference on Tuesday, I got the distinct feeling that Vick may soon feel the figurative might of a 45,000-pound Greyhound plowing over him as though the 32-year-old quarterback were a speed bump.
Reid referred to Castillo's firing as "one of the moves" he plans to make in the wake of a comprehensive evaluation of the team's operation. Asked specifically about benching Vick in favor of rookie backup Nick Foles, Reid said the turnover-plagued incumbent was the starter "as I sit here today," a choice of words that necessarily carries ominous overtones.
As I sit here today … hmmm … let's see … where have we heard that phraseology before? Oh, that's right: Reid said Monday that Castillo would continue to make the Eagles' defensive calls "as I'm standing here right now."
As I sit here at my computer on this lovely autumn Tuesday, it sure seems like Reid is strongly considering a quarterback change. For what it's worth, if I'm special teams coordinator Bobby April, I might not be signing any long-term leases, either. The next few days will be interesting.
It's true that Vick has thrown eight interceptions and lost five fumbles in six games, and that's obviously a legitimate concern. However, given the Eagles' struggles at offensive line – highlighted by the season-long absence of left tackle Jason Peters, who ruptured his Achilles tendon in March and re-tore it two months later – some of Vick's ball-security issues have been understandable.
Oddly enough, some of these protection problems can be traced to Reid's surprising decision following the 2010 season to switch Castillo from offensive line coach to defensive coordinator. There are some Eagles players who wouldn't have been crushed had Reid announced on Tuesday that Castillo was being shifted back to his old job, replacing crusty incumbent Howard Mudd. Then again, the week is young.
I don't know how Foles, a third-round pick out of Arizona who had a promising preseason, would perform under siege, as Vick has been forced to through the first six games. Like my colleague Jason Cole, however, I suspect things might not go so smoothly, and that by the time the Eagles and their fans figure that out it would be too late to salvage the season.
And that's the thing: The Eagles' season is far from lost. Philly is a game out of first place in the NFC East – behind the New York Giants, a team it defeated 16 days ago. In case you missed it, the defending Super Bowl champs went to San Francisco last Sunday and pummeled the 49ers, 26-3. The Giants are no joke, and by extension we can surmise that Philly isn't, either.
As Vick told me via text message Tuesday, the Eagles are "so close to being so good." I believe him, given that Philadelphia has also defeated the 5-1 Baltimore Ravens and boasts a roster full of talented skill-position players on offense and playmakers on defense.
Why panic now?
Yes, the Eagles have lost consecutive games to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Lions, each time surrendering a lead in the final minutes – a one-two punch which apparently KO'd Castillo.
However, this seems like a serious overreaction. The Steelers' offense didn't have a play longer than 20 yards in their 16-14 victory, and Pittsburgh's game-winning field-goal drive – after Vick led Philly on an impressive, go-ahead touchdown march – was engineered by Ben Roethlisberger, who's kind of clutch under pressure.
On Sunday, the Eagles let Matthew Stafford and the Lions score 17 fourth-quarter points to force overtime and won it in the extra period after Reid (and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg) called consecutive deep passes, Philly punted from its own end zone and Detroit got great field position.
One key play in the Lions' comeback came when tight end Tony Scheffler somehow got behind the entire defense for a 57-yard gain. Was that scheme, or coverage breakdowns by players who should know better?
On a positive note, the Eagles did well to force overtime in the first place, keeping the Lions (who trailed by 3) out of the end zone on two plays from the 1-yard-line at the end of regulation. Again, was that Castillo's fault?
The Lions were 1-3 coming into the game, but they were a playoff team last season and are among the league's more talented ensembles. Losing this game was distasteful, but it seems like something Reid and his players could have moved past after the bye.
Instead, we have a situation that seems suspiciously dictated by outside forces. First, there were cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha's comments questioning Castillo's play calls down the stretch, complaints which were essentially validated by Reid's decision to change coordinators.
Reid also may be feeling the heat from Philly's increasingly frustrated fans, many of who voiced their frustrations at Lincoln Financial Field, and/or departed early Sunday. And word in the locker room was that owner Jeffrey Lurie was especially embarrassed by Sunday's defeat, a message that Reid undoubtedly received.
However, I'm still surprised that Reid would react so strongly. There are less conspicuous tweaks he could have made, such as stripping Castillo of his play-calling duties and letting Bowles handle the job (which the coach could have chosen not to publicize) or quietly leaning on Castillo and Mornhinweg to make some philosophical changes during games.
Instead, it was as if Reid chose to make a statement – to Lurie – that he has identified the reason for the team's under-performance: i.e. someone other than Andy Reid.
This would seem to be a direct reaction to Lurie's comments at the end of August that Philly's 8-8 record in 2011 was "unacceptable" and that it would take "substantial improvement" for Reid to receive a contract extension (and, for practical purposes, return for a 15th season).
In other words, Reid is coaching for his job. My two-word reaction: So what?
Almost every NFL coach is a bad season away from getting fired, and Reid – more than most of his peers – would draw immediate interest for head-coaching vacancies around the league were he to become available. He has made plenty of money, and he'll likely continue to work in this business for as long as he chooses.
Earlier in August, Reid suffered the worst personal tragedy imaginable. His eldest son, Garrett, was found dead in a Lehigh University dorm room, where he was working with the team as an assistant strength coach during training camp.
I can't presume to conceive of what it's like to cope with such a loss, and I admire the strength Reid has projected publicly while going about his high-profile job. That said, if anyone would seem to possess the perspective that renders the fear of getting fired as an NFL head coach less daunting, Reid seems to be that person. Logic would suggest that Reid would scoff at such concerns, take his best shot and, if it isn't good enough, feel secure that he went down swinging.
Again, I'm not Reid, and I don't see what he sees on a daily basis. But I did see Vick perform transcendently during his stunning 2010 campaign, and it's hard for me to believe that there's no way Reid can help summon similar excellence from his quarterback two years later.
Vick – given his personal struggles that included a near-two-year prison stay – would also seem to have the perspective not to be overcome by the fear of losing his job. Given that Reid has become his de facto father figure, he should be the perfect person to rally teammates on the coach's behalf and make "substantial improvement" a reality.
Perhaps Reid truly believes that the untested Foles is a better option. Perhaps he'll stun us all and summon Donovan McNabb back to Philly for one last run as the Eagles' quarterback.
More likely, Reid is questioning everything in his universe, desperately searching for a way to save his job and deciding which spitball to throw against the wall next.
As he stands here today, he should realize that sitting Vick is a really bad idea.
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