Congratulations, Eagles fans. Your voices came through loud and clear.
The “Fire Andy!” chants that broke out during the third quarter of Sunday’s embarrassing 38-20 loss to the New England Patriots are impossible for management to ignore. That doesn’t mean Jeff Lurie and Joe Banner will actually fire Andy Reid, but Sunday’s chants made it much more difficult for them to bring him back next season.
Eagles fans expressed their displeasure Sunday. They also demonstrated their knowledge and intelligence.
The “Fire Andy!” chant can’t simply be dismissed as an angry mob voicing its frustration at a loss. The chant – midway through the third quarter – was perfectly timed.
The Eagles faced a fourth-and-1 at the New England 2-yard line. The Patriots took a timeout, so the Eagles had extra time to think about what play to call. The result was a fake handoff to LeSean McCoy, a rollout to the right by Vince Young and a pass to Brent Celek at the back of the end zone that had almost no chance to be complete.
This play exemplified so much of what is wrong with Reid’s approach. The first problem is that he abandons the run too quickly and too often. McCoy, one of the best running backs in the NFL, carried the ball just six times during the first half Sunday. Reid’s standard answer is that when a team is behind, you’ve got to go to the pass more often to catch up. The problem is that the Eagles were ahead until early in the second quarter and were either ahead or within one touchdown of the lead for nearly 25 of the 30 minutes in the first half.
The failure to run the ball isn’t a new problem. Reid frequently abandons the running game too quickly, and it has cost them this season in their losses to the Bears, 49ers and Cardinals. The Eagles led entering the fourth quarter in all of those games, but didn’t use up the clock with their running game and, subsequently, lost their lead.
(In fact, at the end of last week’s internet radio show, Ron Opher asked Josh Landsburg to predict at what point in the game Andy Reid would/should abandon the run. “When they have the lead” was not a choice contemplated by either of them)
When you don’t run the ball often enough, the other team doesn’t have to defend it. That’s why the Patriots didn’t have their linebackers and safeties stacked at the line of scrimmage when defending the fourth-and-1 at their 2. It seemed as if the Patriots didn’t believe the Eagles would run the ball. Not even on fourth-and-1.
That’s why the fake handoff to McCoy didn’t freeze any defenders, which would have allowed Eagles receivers to get open in the end zone. When you don’t run the ball, the play-action fake doesn’t work very well.
(watch for the question at about 40 seconds in about running the ball 6 times in the first half as a “head scratcher” and McCoy’s response)
I don’t like Bill Belichick’s style, but the Patriots coach knows how to use the run to set up the pass. That’s why BenJarvus Green-Ellis carried the ball 14 times against the Eagles. Nine of those carries came on the Patriots’ first scoring drive, which came after the Eagles had extended their lead to 10-0. Hmmm. Belichick stuck to his game plan even after falling behind – and it worked! Hear that, Andy?
The Patriots’ commitment to running the ball, even without a running back of McCoy’s caliber, set up their play-action passes. That doesn’t completely explain why Wes Welker was running wide open behind the Eagles secondary, but the effectiveness of a play-action fake by a team that actually runs the ball serves as a partial explanation. It also highlights why opposing teams rarely bite on the Eagles’ play-action fakes. Nobody believes they’re actually going to run the ball.
The other positive effect of running the ball is it gives your defense a rest. Belichick knows that the Patriots defense is, to put it mildly, not very good. They even had a receiver playing defense during the second half of Sunday’s game, for crying out loud! So Belichick took as much pressure as possible off his beleaguered defense, especially early in the game, by running the ball with regularity.
By contrast, the Eagles ran seven straight plays from scrimmage – covering parts of three possessions – during the first half without calling a running play. During their loss to Cardinals two weeks ago, they called nine straight passes during one stretch of the second half.
By abandoning the running game, the Eagles ate up very little time, forcing their defense right back on the field against the Patriots’ potent offense. Some have speculated that the paucity of running plays during this stretch was the source of disagreement during the sideline confrontation between defensive line coach Jim Washburn and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
There are many reasons to want Reid run out of town. His news conferences are annoying and insulting, but that’s not a reason to get rid of a coach. His poor drafts are a reason, although we don’t know exactly who makes the final decisions on personnel these days, Reid or general manager Howie Roseman. His promotion of Juan Castillo to defensive coordinator before a season in which the Eagles thought they were a Super Bowl contender is another good reason.
Perhaps the best reason to want Reid fired, however, is his arrogance and stubbornness with regard to the game plan. When the Eagles run the ball consistently, they usually win. When they don’t, they are susceptible to losing leads.
Even with his starting quarterback injured, Reid still refuses to balance the attack. Time after time, he abandons the run. We don’t need statistics to prove this point. All you need to do is watch how the Patriots lined up to defend that fourth-and-1 play Sunday at their own 2.
The result was an incomplete pass on a play that had almost no chance of succeeding from the moment the ball was snapped. The fans, watching the Eagles’ eighth loss in their last nine games at Lincoln Financial Field and seeing their last gasps of playoff hopes go out the window, jumped in with the perfectly timed “Fire Andy!” chant.
Then they emptied the stadium. The Linc was more than half empty during the fourth quarter.
The nearly empty stadium sent a message as loud as the “Fire Andy!” chant.
And that message came through loud and clear.