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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Vikings Expose Flaws in Birds

The Eagles won’t have to worry about playing three meaningful games in 11 to 12 days after all. Dropping their postponed game against the Minnesota Vikings last night, 24-14, the Eagles are now locked in to the third seed of the NFC playoffs regardless of Sunday’s outcome in their game against Dallas.

Excuses certainly exist for this game. Having a football game delayed two days can mess with a team. Players try to build to a crescendo of emotion aiming to peak on game day. Gearing down and back up again due to a sudden postponement can’t be easy. Coaches are suddenly preparing for the next game without having played the game in front of them.

It could actually be argued that this loss is a blessing in disguise as the Eagles may not have gotten a bye week even if they had won on Tuesday night and against Dallas. Now they can (and should) rest the key players next week. Of course, no one wants to hear that, especially when many, including myself, thought that they had an excellent chance of getting the help they needed to get a bye week in the playoffs in the form of the Packers beating the Bears on Sunday.

None of that matters now. But the Eagles still have plenty to worry about.

Excuses aside, and we all know that the Vikings had plenty of excuses of their own to play poorly, the Eagles were pretty much shut down on Tuesday night.

For all of the excitement that the Eagles offense can offer, its Achilles heel is the same as it has always been under Andy Reid – it simply cannot or will not adjust. Their only touchdown prior to the fourth quarter came on the second possession on a series in which Minnesota penalties moved the ball more than the Eagles.

An interference penalty on Minnesota’s punt to the Eagles set them up at midfield. They didn’t move the ball until a pass interference penalty put them on the 24 yard line. After two running attempts failed, Mike Vick hit Jeremy Maclin at the 3. Two plays later, he connected with tight end Clay Harbor for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

Minnesota moved the ball pretty well on their ensuing drive. Rookie quarterback Joe Webb had a nice scramble and completed pass on a 3rd-and-2 for a first down. The drive stalled after a Vikings face mask penalty knocked them out of field goal range, but it was clear that the increasingly suspect Eagles defense wasn’t going to have the easy game many expected with Webb starting for Brett Favre.

The next possession started with a 10-yard run by LeSean McCoy, and despite a 12-yard reception by Brent Celek and another nice run by McCoy the drive stalled. Celek dropped a pass later in the drive, followed by Vick stumbling on a handoff and a sack.

The warning signs that the Eagles were in trouble got louder with the next possession after a 3-and-out by Minnesota. Lito Sheppard dropped an easy interception, and Vick under threw DeSean Jackson for an interception. Jackson was held to just 2 catches for 32 yards – that just cannot happen if the Eagles hope to have success.

After recovering an Adrian Peterson fumble, the Eagles had another horrid possession featuring yet another would-be interception that was dropped. The Eagles defense held again, and with 2:20 left in the half the offense got another shot.

By my count, a third Vick pass was dropped thanks in part to an offensive pass interference, which was actually a decent play by Jackson to help avert a turnover. Finally, Minnesota forced a Vick fumble and ran it back for a touchdown to tie the game at 7. The half ended with David Akers missing a 54-yard field goal attempt.

At this point, NBC commentator Chris Collinsworth was pounding home to audiences the idea that the Eagles could not stop the Minnesota blitz. The way to slow that down is to run the ball and maybe throw some screens. Yet, McCoy ran the ball 5 times in the second half in a game that stayed close until late in the fourth quarter.

Minnesota opened the half with a long pass to Percy Harvin to the Eagles 28 yard line. Andy Reid actually got a Vikings TD reversed several plays later with one of his best uses of a replay challenge ever, but they still came away with a field goal.

The Eagles responded with a 3-and-out on three pass plays, which included another sack on Vick.

Minnesota started gashing the Eagles defense with Peterson, who finished with 118 yards rushing on 22 carries. A very nice tackle by Kurt Coleman inside the 10 went to waste on the very next play. Webb finished off the drive with a great 9-yard run, and the Eagles chances for a first round playoff bye were looking dim.

The ensuing drive by the Eagles looked promising, going deep into Vikings territory. But even then, a 10-play drive only included two runs by someone (McCoy) other than Vick. Reid has been very vocal about what he perceives as the unfair hits Vick is taking this season, yet the play calling is doing nothing to protect him the normal hits a running quarterback will take.

It’s an old theme on the play calling by Andy Reid or Marty Mornhinweg – blame who you want – but they simply do not run the ball enough.

Finally, a Vick fumble ended the drive. It was his third turnover of the night, and he should have had two others at least. I mentioned this last week, and Vick continued an alarming trend of interceptions. Without even considering fumbles, his interceptions are becoming a problem. He’s now thrown six interceptions in five games.

Again, the defense held. As the fourth quarter started, I wrote down one word – “Heart?” Did the Eagles have the heart to win a sloppy, ugly, Tuesday night game that was dead from an energy standpoint all night? This was a game that just felt flat. Announcer Al Michaels even said “every other seat” was empty when the game began.

In fact, the Eagles scored on a Vick run on their first drive of the quarter. Yet, before the defense even had a chance to continue the momentum, Akers put the kickoff out of bounds giving Minnesota great field position. It was the final nail in the Eagles coffin that was filled with turnovers and a defense that is crumbling before our eyes.

Minnesota converted two 3rd-and-longs for first downs, and ended the drive and the game with a Peterson touchdown.

This was an ugly loss that exposed almost every flaw that exists on this team. The question going forward is whether or not they can out run those flaws in the playoffs.

Now, unfortunately, they’ll have to do it for an additional game if they want to go anywhere in January.

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