I wish that meant it was winning games by scoring TDs on interceptions and fumbles. But no, it’s just down right offensive. We’re only three games into the season and it’s perfectly clear that Juan Castillo is in over his head as the defensive coordinator and the perennial personnel failures are rearing their ugly head early. They’ve faced three teams with struggling offenses and made them look good and there’s little hope in sight that it will improve. Last week the Giants offense was so inept it got booed, yesterday Eli Manning threw 4 touchdowns. The Falcons have struggled mightily against the Bears and Buccaneers defenses, in between Matt Ryan threw 4 touchdowns against the Eagles. The Rams… well the Rams have no offense and they still put up 335 yards on the Birds. We thought that was kinks getting worked out, players still adjusting to new roles, the coaching staff still adjusting both to new players and to being new to coaching defense, but it has become clear: for all the talent on the team, they’re just not good enough and not coached well enough.
Re-shuffling the linebackers this week predictably did nothing. Casey Matthews showed he is not a starter in the middle or on the outside. Moise Fokou is and will always be a bad player. Jamar Chaney looked promising in 3 starts in relief of Stewart Bradley last year, but like I said in the off-season, three games isn’t enough to tell you if it’s just smoke and mirrors. In three starts this season, he’s had not enough ups and too many downs. The linebackers can’t get off blocks, can’t penetrate gaps, can’t get the job done. They’re undersized, so they get pushed around in the run game; and they make bad reads, leaving them hopelessly exposed in the passing game; to top it all off they can’t tackle. None of this is a surprise. When the Eagles imported Jim Washburn and his Wide 9 defensive line philosophy and Jason Babin with him, they were clearly going to a defensive front that opened huge running lanes in the B and C gaps that put responsibilities on the linebackers to contain. There were plenty of free agent options available for Andy Reid and Howie Roseman to give their offensive-line-coach-turned-defensive-coordinator Juan Castillo. Instead they did nothing. Free agency has been where Reid has gotten all his best linebackers over the years: Carlos Emmons, Shawn Barber and Dhani Jones weren’t great, but they were serviceable, Takeo Spike was the best talent but didn’t work out. Reid’s also had some duds in 300 lb Levon Kirkland, Nate Wayne and Mike Caldwell, but these guys were backups or in the case of Kirkland so far over the hill they were in the valley. They should never have been expected to do anything notable, and they never did.
That leaves a lot to be desired, but compare that to the linebackers he’s drafted:
1999: Barry Gardner, 2nd round. Don’t remember him? I don’t blame you. Gardner started 18 games in two years for the Eagles, finished out his career as a backup on the Jets and Browns who won 13 games in 3 years. The very next player drafted was Mike Peterson,
2000: None drafted.
2001: Quinton Caver, 2nd round. Caver was so memorable that it took me three tries to spell his name right. Caver was released in the middle of his second season. Ouch.
2002: None drafted.
2003: None drafted.
2004: None drafted.
Gee, do you think that drafting only 2 linebackers in 6 years could lead to problems? For other teams it would be crippling, but as we’ll see for the Eagles it’s not really a problem when you are terrible at drafting them.
2005: Matt McCoy, 2nd round. Nothing more than a special teamer. The next linebacker taken was seven picks later, when Miami selected Channing Crowder. The next LB after that was Kirk Morrison.
2006: Chris Cocong, 3rd round; Omar Gaither, 6th round. Gaither turned out to be a nice backup/rotational player, which is pretty good for a 6th round pick. He was fine as a spot starter in relief of an injured player, but not starting material. Gocong was a disaster. A big time pass rushing DE in D-IAA college, he has 6.5 career sacks. Couldn’t cover, tackle or rush the passer. The definition of useless. This was a weak draft for linebackers, but that doesn’t excuse the Gocong pick.
2007: Stewart Bradley, 3rd round. Bradley is Reid’s best LB pick, and he didn’t even play two full seasons. Bradley was a wrecking ball in 2008, garnering “this guy is going to be a Pro Bowler” attention from the national media. It seemed too good to be true that Reid had finally found a linebacker to build around in the draft. It was. In 2009, during the first ever “Flight Night” glorified scrimmage, Bradley blew out his knee. Stacey Andrews re-injured his back on the bus ride from Lehigh, so maybe they should have cancelled the event after 2009. Bradley missed the entire season. In 2010 he suffered a concussion in the first game and his season ended in December with a dislocated elbow. In between, his athleticism never returned to it’s pre-ACL tear days.
2008: Bryan Smith, 3rd round; Joe Mays, 6th round; Andy Studebaker, 6th round. I confess I had to look up Bryan Smith. He never appeared in a game for the Eagles. Not one. Joe Mays, who for some reason was given a shot to win the middle linebacker job in 2009, takes a back seat on Wikipedia to the pitcher of the same name who has a career 5.05 ERA. You may remember Studebaker for his 96 yard interception return for a touchdown for the Chiefs in 2009, making him the most memorable of the trio of failed LBs the Eagles drafted in 2008.
2009: Moise Fokou, 7th round. If it wasn’t for the Eagles, Fokou wouldn’t be in football. He was the 230th of 256 picks in ’09 and has done nothing to show that he belongs in the NFL. That the Eagles keep starting him is mind boggling.
2010: Keenan Clayton, 4th round; Jamar Chaney, 7th round. That Clayton isn’t even in consideration for playing time is telling. It either tells you that he’s simply awful, which is probably the case as he’s never even shown anything in the pre-season, or that the coaching staff is completely overlooking him, which can not be ruled out as a possibility. Chaney’s the best of the current linebackers, but that’s “the one eyed man is king in the land of the blind” territory.
That’s a pitiful track record. It’s as if linebackers have become an afterthought to Reid. They currently start a rookie 4th rounder (Casey Matthews) and two guys drafted in the 7th round (Chaney, Fokou). And they might replace Matthews with Brian Rolle, a rookie 6th rounder. This is by far the least talented linebacker corp in the league. As I asked last week, at what point do you finally give in and bring in any of the free agents out there for a look? The same goes for safety, where Jarrad Page, Kurt Coleman and Nate Allen aren’t getting it done. The weaknesses in this defense are exactly what we thought they were: the linebackers and safeties. The coaching isn’t any better, but that’s for tomorrow.
Around the League
-The Bills still aren’t for real, but damn do they make it entertaining. The best thing that happened to them was the touchdown getting overturned. If it’s a TD, the Patriots have time to score.
-The Falcons look bad. Their offensive line is a sieve and the defense is just bland.
-The Texans had a chance to make a statement against the Saints. They did, but that statement was “same old Texans.”
-Tony Sparano, start updating your resume.