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More Eagles Changes This Week?

Posted Oct 17, 2012

Step 1 was the defense, and the massive change announced on Tuesday with Todd Bowles becoming defensive coordinator. What steps are to follow this week? ...

As I write this, former Bears offensive lineman and first-round draft pick Chris Williams is in town working out. Maybe the Eagles sign him and add him to an offensive line that certainly needs some improvement. Maybe Williams just can't play and the Eagles take a pass.

Eyes are open. That's the point. Anything goes here. Head coach Andy Reid is in full evaluation mode here and everything, including himself, is up for a second and third and fourth look.

Reasonably, though, after the bombshell of a move on Tuesday -- dismissing Juan Castillo as defensive coordinator and making Bowles the man for the remainder of 2012 -- just how much more change can we expect in a matter of a few days?

Here are some ideas on what might happen and could happen down the line. I'm not sure anything substantial will occur between now and Monday, when the players next report to the NovaCare Complex. But I'm pretty certain that we'll see a few things that make us raise an eyebrow or two.

The following, by the way, is just a series of guesses. There is no pipeline of information flowing from Andy Reid to me to you. Just some thoughts about what to do to turn the season around and have the Eagles where they need to be in January ...

  • The offense has a ton of work to do. There is no ignoring the paltry point total, the embarrassing turnover numbers and the low ranking in the red zone. The Eagles have all of these weapons at the skill positions, but they have so little to show for all of the talent. The most obvious question is about the quarterback position and Michael Vick. Is he still the starter? Reid says "yes," at this point. How much that changes upon completion of the self-scouting process, I don't know. But the offense has been pretty lousy, all in all. The team has scored seven points in the first quarter this year, and that's a ridiculous number. Vick's turnover problems have been well documented, as have the problems along the offensive line.

My guess is that Vick remains the starting quarterback, but that he is provided an immediate mandate to improve production and reduce mistakes. In other words, he's in a game-to-game scenario. It would be radical, indeed, to make the move and promote rookie Nick Foles to the starting job, but the Eagles just can't live with interceptions and fumbles and missed assignments. They can't live with scoreless first halves and field goals instead of touchdowns and a continued lack of sustained drives.

It certainly all isn't on Vick. No, sir. Vick was knocked down 18 times against Detroit, and has been knocked to the ground more than 100 times in six games (number courtesy of ESPN's Ron Jaworski). Vick is working at it, and you can see it in his play. He's really, really trying to restrain his recklessness. But when he has an offensive line in front of him that was as ineffective as it was against Detroit, and at other times this season, well, there's only so much that can be done at times. As for the offensive line ...

  • Here is where I think the Eagles could reasonably make a personnel move. I'm not going to point out one player or another, because it can be fairly argued that not any member of the offensive line is playing particularly well this season. The Eagles have not adjusted well to the losses of left tackle Jason Peters or center Jason Kelce. The running game would be nearly zero if not for the cutback brilliance of LeSean McCoy. Blitzes reach the quarterback at an alarming rate, although I will acknowledge that Vick at times holds on to the ball a smidgen too long as well. The Eagles could try to get King Dunlap back on the field at a tackle position. They could give rookie Dennis Kelly a try. They could see if Steve Vallos can lend veteran experience along the interior.
  • The final component of the offense that can be addressed is the play calling and the structure of the offense. What is the identity of the Eagles offense? Are the coaches still trying to make this a big-play offense to utilize the talents of the skill-position players? That sounds great in theory, but if the Eagles can't give the quarterback time to make plays, or if the quarterback is just not taking advantage when players are to be made, isn't the approach worth altering? That the Eagles haven't scored on a single opening drive is reason for concern, right? Maybe the coaches can start by examining the 15-play script that opens games and come out of the gates with something different. Maybe the offense can be more of a catch-and-run passing game, where Vick is required to get the football out of his hand and into the clutches of Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson. Maybe the Eagles need to change the kind of running plays they are calling. The stretch play worked great against the Giants, but it hasn't had a lot of impact in the other five games. Where is the sprint draw that has worked so well in the past? How can the Eagles establish something between the guards with McCoy or Bryce Brown or Dion Lewis or Chris Polk, who hasn't even touched the ball this season.
  • We all see that the special teams have had their struggles. There have been some bright spots, too. Alex Henery has made 11 of 12 field goals and has more range this season. He made an adjustment on kickoffs and then went out and boomed four touchbacks against Detroit. Mat McBriar seems to be gaining more consistency and he came up big in crunch time on Sunday. The kickoff coverage team is better. The punt coverage team has been pretty decent all year. The major concern is the return game, where the Eagles are getting nothing. I'm not sure how to improve that. The blocking has to be a lot better. There are no magical return answers out there. All of a sudden, Damaris Johnson is in the background, having been made inactive last week. That could continue as Riley Cooper's role increases and Mardy Gilyard makes stops in coverage. Bobby April has to figure something out here. He's the man who has to make a better plan.
  • Would the Eagles change personnel on defense? I don't see much they can do. I would guess that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie won't play the slot any longer. He's great outside, and not as successful inside. The Lions forced him into the slot in the fourth quarter on Sunday and Matthew Stafford took advantage. The Eagles need a solution at safety in a reserve role. Colt Anderson struggled late in the fourth quarter. Where was David Sims? Is he not ready to play here? Where the Eagles need to improve the most is in their pass rush and in their run defense. They happen to have a huge challenge next Sunday coming to down in the form of the Atlanta Falcons, who are as balanced a team as you will find in the NFL. We're going to learn a lot about Bowles right off the bat as he battles Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez and Michael Turner in his first game as the Eagles' defensive coordinator.

A win over Atlanta opens up all kinds of possibilities. After all, the NFC East is wide open. There don't appear to be any great teams out there, but it's now time to start jockeying for playoff position. The meat of the NFC East schedule starts in a few weeks after this very tough game against Atlanta and then a dangerous road game in New Orleans.

How ready are the Eagles to make another run at it all? How much is going to change between now and next week when the players come back to work? We're all waiting and watching and wondering how the season can turn around.

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