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Fan-Demonium: Winning's Not Easy

Posted Oct 9, 2012


Winning in Pittsburgh isn't easy. The Steelers have a great home record over the years. They normally have outstanding teams, but beating them at home is even more difficult. That's what makes Sunday's loss so frustrating. The Eagles had the chance to steal a game. That would have been an unexpected win. It was there for the taking, but the offense stalled at the wrong times and the defense couldn't get the one stop they had to have.

There are plenty of positives to take away from the game, but it is hard to get past the "we shoulda won that game" vibe. The Eagles sit at 3-2 and atop the NFC East. That's fine for now. The point is that down the road you don't know what that extra win might have meant. Could it be the difference in winning the division? Could it be the difference in getting a bye week in the playoffs? Could it be the difference in making the playoffs at all? Last year, 9-7 won the NFC East. There have also been 10-6 Eagles teams that didn't get into the postseason. You just don't know. That's why winning every game is so critical.

Michael Vick is catching a lot of heat for his fumbles. He lost two in the game. Another was wiped out by a replay. A fourth was recovered by guard Danny Watkins. No matter how you break that down, it is simply unacceptable. The quarterback cannot put the ball on the ground like that. The worst fumble came at the goalline, as Vick tried to get into the end zone. Some fans didn't like the play. I did. Last week, I thought the coaches erred on third-and-goal late in the game when they didn't run a quarterback draw. It can be a great goalline play. Vick must do a better job of protecting the ball when he's about to get popped by a defender. Vick wasn't being careless, but didn't do enough to protect the ball in a critical situation. You must come up with points on that possession. Even settling for a field goal there would have been a great help down the line.

Not all is lost with Vick. Early in the year, he was not seeing the field well and was making some really bad decisions. He threw the ball late. He threw into coverage. Vick has now gone three straight games without throwing an interception. He is seeing the defense better and making good decisions. That's progress.

The offense still isn't scoring points the way it needs to. Part of that is due to the turnovers. I also think that big plays are missing. On Sunday, the Eagles only had three plays that covered 15 or more yards. In most games, the Eagles will have at least double that amount.  There are plenty of games where that would be tripled.  The offense wasn't able to sustain long drives in the first half and that's why the Eagles were shutout. There were two long drives in the second half and the team scored 14 points. That's an improvement, but it proved to be too little, too late.

Defenses are keeping safeties back to limit the vertical passing attack. That has hurt the ability to throw deep. The rebuilt offensive line is also a factor. The other thing is that Vick isn't throwing as well on deep balls as he has in the past couple of years. I'm not sure why this is. His deep accuracy needs to improve. Even with coverage, DeSean Jackson is capable of making big plays. It would also help for Jeremy Maclin to get 100 percent healthy. He showed what a factor he can be in the season opener.


Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of and was a contributor to the Eagles Almanac.

While the offense had an off day, they did give the Eagles a 14-13 lead midway through the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, the defense couldn't not make this lead stick. Late scores that gave the Eagles the lead in the Cleveland, Baltimore and Giants games were protected. I wish I could point to one thing and blame that player or unit. I think you have to give credit to Ben Roethlisberger. He ran the drive brilliantly. The offense moved the ball and worked the clock. They converted on key third downs. They ran the ball well enough to keep the chains moving. The defense needed to make one big play and just couldn't do it.

The defensive line is under attack for now going two games without a sack. This is a legitimate concern, but can also be misleading. Think about the last two weeks. The Eagles faced Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. The defense allowed a total of 33 points in those two games. The Giants and Steelers combined for two touchdown passes and were just 3-of-8 in the red zone. You don't play good defense like that if the line is getting handled.

We all want to see Trent Cole, Jason Babin and company delivering sacks. That's what those guys are paid to do. The offense can make it tough for the defense to get sacks by doing certain things. They can run draw plays, throw screen passes and throw more short passes than in a normal game. We see the Eagles do this stuff when playing the Giants.

The Steelers did this on Sunday and it worked pretty well. Still, the Eagles line did get pressure. Roethlisberger had his lowest quarterback rating of the season. He was knocked to the ground on a few plays. He was forced to move around in the pocket at times. There were a couple of holding calls on pass plays and one bad miss when Cullen Jenkins was being clearly held and drew no flag. This wasn't a case of the Steelers dominating the Eagles up front. No sacks are disappointing, but you must keep sacks in context.

Last year, the Eagles led the NFL in sacks with 50. The Vikings also had 50. You would think that meant they had a good pass defense, right? The Vikings actually had the worst pass defense in the NFL. They were only 26th in yards allowed, but were dead last in allowing 34 touchdown passes. They only came up with eight interceptions all year (last in the league). The Eagles have six now, to put that in perspective. Opposing quarterbacks had a rating of 107.6 against them, easily the worst figure in the NFL. The Vikings had a ton of sacks, but could not defend the pass.

You want the defensive line to get sacks because that means the quarterback is getting hit and it helps lead to turnovers, but the offense can negate that as I described above. The real key is to get regular pressure on the passer. Make the quarterback play fast. Don't let him get comfortable in the pocket. The Eagles are doing a good job of this.

While pressure is a good thing, you can bet that Juan Castillo and Jim Washburn are frustrated by the lack of sacks and will try to come up with some tweaks to get to the quarterback. That could mean personnel changes. It could mean doing more with stunts up front. It could mean more blitzing. The Eagles do need to get to the quarterback. Even with pressure, consecutive games without a sack isn't good.

I am more concerned by the lack of takeaways. The defense must get the ball. Those can be game-changing plays. Early in the game an errant snap hit the ground in front of Trent Cole. He never saw the ball and the Steelers were able to recover. If Cole just fell on it, the Eagles would have had the ball at the 10-yard line. That would have been a tremendous boost to the offense. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had chance to pick off a pass in the end zone, but wasn't able to hang on. That would have prevented the Steelers from getting three points on that drive. Last week, Brandon Hughes failed to hold onto an interception in the end zone. The Giants got a field goal there. A pick by Hughes could have really changed how the fourth quarter played out. Luckily, the Eagles won that game.

Good defenses want to stop offenses from moving the ball and scoring points. Great defenses want to get takeaways and make game-changing plays. The Eagles are good right now, but have a long way to go if the defense wants to be considered great.

Quick Hitters

* DT Cedric Thornton is getting better each week. He can play the run and gets some push on pass plays.

* Colt Anderson made a sensational play in kickoff coverage when tripped up the returner inside the Steelers' 10-yard line. Anderson looked like he was shot out of a cannon on that play.

* LeSean McCoy didn't have huge numbers, but I thought he played really well. He had to fight for every yard and he did just that. He also converted a pair of fourth downs on the go-ahead drive.

* Brandon Graham continues to make the most of his snaps. He had the two best hits on Roethlisberger in the game, despite not playing as much as others.

* Casey Matthews came in to play when Mychal Kendricks got banged up. Matthews had tackles on his first two plays. That doesn't exactly make him Dick Butkus, but you like it when young guys step up when they do get a chance.

* Brent Celek had a quiet day. You have to give the Steelers credit for how they played him. Celek did still catch a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.

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