It is a strange time to be an Eagles fan. The team is 3-7 and has lost six games in a row. As a fan, it is easy to start thinking about the future. What needs to happen in the offseason to fix this? Players and coaches cannot think like this. They must stay focused on the here and now. Deal with what you can control.
The goal on Monday night is simple - win. You can't do anything about games that are already in the books. Just focus on beating the Panthers. Don't worry about style points. A 14-13 win counts the same as 77-0. I'd love to see the Eagles play well and give us a night to really enjoy, but at this point I would gladly settle for an ugly, hard-fought win. The losing streak is killing me.
I'm sure Andy Reid is preaching a message like this to his players. He really needs to stick with a simple phrase: "Do your job." I've written about this in past years when things have gone wrong. Players start trying to do too much. That's when mistakes happen. Instead of catching the pass, a receiver starts thinking about what he's going to do with the ball after the catch and ends up dropping it. The runner starts trying to turn every play into a huge gain instead of just going for 4 yards. Defensive players want to deliver crushing hits and take sloppy angles. That leads them to being out of position and reaching for runners/receivers, which is to say they miss tackles.
Football is a team game because it takes all 11 guys on offense and defense to make plays work. Just one mistake can nullify the other players doing exactly what they're supposed to. That's been happening way too much in recent weeks for the Eagles. One missed block or one missed tackle or one blown coverage or a dropped pass or fumble is all it takes to turn a good play into a bad one, or even a disaster. Those plays are fixable. You just need the players to clean up the mistakes.
Playing "clean" football will be a major challenge with so many rookies and backups on the field.
I'm sure the Panthers will blitz. Ron Rivera, Carolina's head coach, and Sean McDermott, the defensive coordinator, both coached under Jim Johnson in Philadelphia and appreciate the value of blitzing. The Eagles tried different things to deal with the blitz last week, but they didn't work well. Screen passes were effective for part of the game, but you can't count on them over and over. You also need quick pass plays outside and over the middle. Foles must do a better job of reading the blitz and getting the ball to the right player. His receivers need to get open and make the catch.
I could see Reid and Marty Mornhinweg trying to get the ball to Jackson or Maclin on the first play of the game. Don't go deep, but throw an intermediate pass for 10 to 15 yards. I think you need to get them involved early. Wide receivers can be moody when the ball isn't coming to them. I would like to see an end around to Jackson. Or heck, do one with each receiver. Get them touches. Be creative.
Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com and was a contributor to the Eagles Almanac.
It might also help to run the ball and then use play-action passes against the Panthers.
The offensive line will have an interesting challenge. The Panthers are inconsistent with their pass rush. Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy have combined for 15.5 sacks. In some games, they look unblockable. Each guy has a three-sack game this year.
The offense only put up a pair of field goals last week. Foles must lead them to at least 17 points to have a realistic shot to win. The Eagles defense hasn't shut anyone down recently. Carolina is struggling, not scoring more than 22 points in a game since late September, but you can't count on holding them down. Cam Newton is an incredibly talented quarterback. Any time you have a weapon like that, the offense can wake up in a hurry.
The Eagles did get a break in regard to this game. Playing Washington last week meant doing a lot of preparation for a running quarterback and a team that would use the option. The Panthers also do some of that stuff so the Eagles were lucky to have these games in consecutive weeks. The defense did a solid job against the option most of the time last week, but did have some fourth quarter breakdowns when RGIII got loose. Newton is a different kind of runner. RGIII has explosive speed. Newton is 245 pounds. He is elusive, but is more likely to run over you than by you. Tacklers struggled with taking good angles against the Redskins. That should not be a problem this week. Getting Newton down cleanly will be a challenge, though.
Carolina's run game is struggling. They lost center Ryan Kalil early on. He is arguably the best center in the league so that hurt them. They have a rookie at left guard (Amini Silatolu) and a new player at right guard (Garry Williams). The right tackle is a young guy named Byron Bell that is up and down. This group isn't getting the kind of push that is needed for a consistent running game. None of the Panthers running backs is averaging 4.0 yards a carry. Newton has been sacked 26 times. Silatolu and Bell are the weak spots in pass protection.
Newton has some plays where he looks like a great passer and others where you think he's a rookie. He is at his best throwing the ball downfield to Steve Smith or Greg Olsen. Smith is short, but he is very good at going up for the ball. Olsen is a tight end, but is very effective at catching the ball down the field. Because Newton can run, the Eagles will need to play more zone than man coverage. You don't want defenders turning their back on him.
This is a very winnable game. Carolina is 2-8 for a reason. While that record isn't good, they have been very competitive. Six of their eight losses have been by less than a touchdown. The only two blowouts came at the hands of the Manning brothers (Giants, Broncos). The Eagles have been tremendously disappointing this year. Maybe a home game on a Monday night against a 2-8 opponent will finally bring out the best in the team. It would be nice to end the losing streak and be able to enjoy a game for a change.