Philadelphia Eagles News

Fan-Demonium: Are The Pieces In Place?


I heard an interesting radio interview the other day. NBA legend Jerry West talked about the frustration of not winning a title in the early part of his career. For those who don't know West's story, he was a great guard for the Lakers in the 1960s. His team reached the NBA Finals seven times in the decade. They lost every time. West was named the Finals MVP in 1969, despite losing. That was almost too much to take.

West had a Hall of Fame career to that point. He had played in nine-straight All-Star games. He had scored almost 17,000 points, an average of over 25 points a game. He'd done everything a player could do - except win a title. West thought about retiring. NBA players didn't make a lot of money back then. The game was taking a toll on his body.

Was it worth it?

West decided to stick around and eventually won a title with the Lakers following the 1971 season. Would he have been any less of a player without the title? That's an arguable point. We've seen a lot of good players come and go over the years, but the Eagles have no Super Bowl title. That frustrates all of us. A lot.

I mentioned the West story to remind you how hard winning a title is. There is talk among some fans and media members about whether the Eagles are committed to winning a title. The Eagles have come close a few times, but haven't yet found the right combination of players. West played with Elgin Baylor early in his career. Both guys are among the best players in history. No title. West played with Wilt Chamberlain late in his career. Chamberlain is arguably the greatest player of all time. It wasn't until Gail Goodrich hit his stride and became an all-star that West and the Lakers broke through and won. Goodrich happened to be the right piece at the right time.

Building a champion isn't as simple as go make this move or go make that move. We sit in the same division as two of the most aggressive owners in all of sports, Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder. Jones has three rings, but they came when Jimmy Johnson was running the show and Jones was a much smaller part of the equation. Snyder has a pair of playoff wins in his decade-plus tenure in Washington. Football isn't about blockbuster trades and giving out huge contracts. Football is about building and adjusting. That's no fun in March, but it works when it counts.

Look at Bill Cowher. He didn't win the Super Bowl until his 14th season in Pittsburgh. Some people like to point out that Cowher still had a traditional philosophy of running the ball and playing good defense. That's basically true, but not completely. Cowher became frustrated in the middle of his career and tried some different things. Running the ball and playing good defense wasn't enough to win in the postseason. He tried different styles of quarterback. He opened the offense up. Then in 2004, Cowher drafted Ben Roethlisberger. He finally had the right quarterback who could make enough plays that Cowher could use his preferred running offense. The Steelers won the title in 2005.

The Eagles haven't won it all yet, but it isn't for a lack of desire or effort. Think about all that has gone on in Andy Reid's tenure here. At one point Donovan McNabb, Jon Runyan, Jevon Kearse and Asante Samuel have reportedly been the highest-paid players at their respective position. The team has traded for players like Jason Peters, Donté Stallworth and Terrell Owens. The Eagles have aggressively moved up in the draft plenty of times. The biggest success is Shawn Andrews. The biggest miss was Jerome McDougle. The Eagles have developed elite stars like McNabb and Brian Westbrook. They've drafted and developed plenty of Pro Bowl players. There is a ton of good stuff, but no title.

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Can Andy Reid win a Super Bowl? That's a question many people ask. I absolutely think Reid can win the big game. It is all about finding the right combination of players. Think back to Cowher and West. Thomas Edison has a famous quote about ""failure."" A reporter once asked him about the hundreds of times he'd failed in his quest to invent the light bulb. Edison responded that he hadn't failed. Not even once. Edison said he simply discovered hundreds of ways to not invent the light bulb. That's an interesting perspective, but there is some truth in it.

Reid, Tom Heckert, Joe Banner and Jeff Lurie have seen what has worked and what hasn't over the years. They adjust each season, although not necessarily in huge ways that are obvious to everyone. Think about the last few years. We've started using a lot of two-gap technique on the defensive line. That's a big change football-wise, but not something the average fan is focused on. The Eagles have built up a pretty big set of linebackers. That's something a lot of fans wanted in the past. Reid just spent a high pick on a running back when he took LeSean McCoy in the second round. The last time a running back was taken that early by the Eagles was Charlie Garner in 1994. Reid finally incorporated the fade pass in the red zone last year. That led to a pair of touchdowns (and one dramatic interception).

If Reid was running things exactly the same way as 1999 he'd be a bad coach and likely would have been fired already. If the front office wasn't adjusting the way they do things the team wouldn't have been able to sustain success the way they have. The adjustments have worked, but haven't led to a title yet. Is there hope on that front? Yes.

Let's go back to Cowher for a moment. He always had teams that could run the ball. The problem with Pittsburgh was that they couldn't throw the ball in certain situations and they weren't always able to move the ball against good defenses. Roethlisberger changed all of that. He was a good enough quarterback to make plays when Cowher needed them. He led the team on a dramatic comeback at Dallas early in his rookie year. That proved he could be clutch. He won a shootout with the Giants late in the season. That showed he could go pass-happy and be effective. Cowher's conservative offense could now work because it could turn to Roethlisberger and count on him to come through when needed.

The area where Reid has always needed to improve was the running game. There is some hope in this area now. The addition of Jason Peters and Stacy Andrews gives the Eagles a pair of big guys who can run block. Tra Thomas was never a good run blocker in his career. Peters is a huge upgrade in that area. Left guard Todd Herremans was the best run blocker last season. Center Jamaal Jackson was a terrific run blocker in the past, but struggled somewhat in 2008. The Andrews brothers on the right side are both big, powerful guys. Shawn is one of the best drive blockers in the entire league. This might be just what Reid needed.

We're never going to be a running team with Reid as the coach. I've gone to therapy to learn to deal with that and I can now say it without getting into the fetal position. My hope is that we can be a better running team with the improved offensive line. Cowher's conservative offense got the explosive spark it needed and won. Now maybe Reid's explosive offense got the physical presence it needed. The Steelers didn't become a passing team with Big Ben in place. We won't go conservative. We simply need to be more effective when we do run the ball. Maybe we can convince Reid to call an extra run or two if we're having success on the ground.

Not only did we beef up the line, but we added some other pieces that hopefully can help the running game. McCoy is incredibly talented. He could turn out to be a huge steal being drafted late in the second round. Fullback Leonard Weaver is an adequate blocker, but also gives us some playmaking ability.

The Eagles didn't do much to the defense this off-season. That group was pretty young last year. You don't need to make a bunch of changes when you have a young core in place. You just try to keep them together. The guys played great down the stretch, before the Arizona game. Let's hope they learned some big lessons in that game that will pay off next January. The coaches will tweak some areas that they feel need improving. We'll have a new starter at free safety, either Quintin Demps or Sean Jones. Defensive end Bryan Smith is likely to get on the field this year. Second-year defensive tackle Trevor Laws needs to become more of a playmaker. The pieces are all in place on defense. It is now up to the guys to go and execute.

I'm not going to sit here and tell you the Eagles will win the Super Bowl this year. I have no idea who will win. I will tell you that the Eagles have made the right changes in the off-season. We got more physical up front and added talent to the backfield. The players are in place for the Eagles to make another run at the Super Bowl. We'll see if Reid and company finally have the right combination of players together at the right time to break through and win it all.

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