Amid flying rumors and opining analysts, Andy Reid announced Wednesday that he would not replace Michael Vick as the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. And you can hardly blame him.
Benching Vick would have been the same as waving a white flag. Why would anyone question the Eagles' reluctance to do that at this point? Sure, at 3-4, they face a 2.5-game deficit in the NFC East, but they are still very much in the thick of the wild-card race. And remember, the two most recent Super Bowls were won by teams with regular-season records of 9-7 and 10-6, respectively.
Nick Foles was named the backup quarterback before the season started for a reason; he's not suddenly better than Vick eight weeks later. Yes, Foles had a great preseason, throwing for 553 yards and six touchdowns while giving up just two picks in limited action. But preseason performances aren't a great predictor of success when the games count. Defenses play vanilla across the board, and this was certainly the case against Foles, who took snaps with the second-string offense for much of the preseason. Foles didn't face the kinds of complex blitz schemes or hidden coverages he would in the thick of the regular season. For the most part, he was playing against other rookies and slappies who were just as green as him.
Don't forget the caliber of the offensive line that Foles would be playing behind as the starter. If it weren't for Vick's escapability, the Eagles would have given up many more than 20 sacks by now. Foles fell into the third round of April's draft mostly because of his slow wind-up motion and his concrete-like feet in the pocket. And fans want to throw him in behind this Eagles offensive line?
Rather than continuing to pile on Reid, Eagles fans ought to focus their unhappiness on the players themselves. Coaches can only do so much; the rest is about executing the calls they make. Take the way the Eagles covered the long touchdown reception by Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones in the second quarter of Sunday's loss. Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha was in bump-and-run coverage, with safety help over the top. Well, after whiffing on the bump, Asomugha failed to catch up to the fast Jones, and safety Nate Allen was five yards late in his help over the top. That wasn't a bad call; it was just executed terribly. Hard to blame that on coaching.
All we talked about last year was the Eagles' wide-9 defensive technique and how much pressure it put on opposing quarterbacks in passing situations. The Eagles finished the 2011 season with a total of 50 sacks, tied for most in the NFL. This season, they have just nine sacks, the second-worst total in the entire league. Philadelphia returned mostly the same personnel from last season, and they're using the same schemes, but we've seen a huge dip in execution and production.
So you can blame the coaches for failing to inspire the players to work harder, and you can even blame them for failing to make appropriate adjustments as the season rolls on. But you also have to place a huge amount of the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the players, who aren't performing at the level they're capable of.
» If you were the Jacksonville Jaguars, and you'd invested a third-round draft pick in a punter (Bryan Anger), how ticked off would you be to see a punt blocked for a touchdown? That's exactly what happened to Anger against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, and it might have been the difference in the game.
» The Cleveland Browns finally committed to the running game, actually tallying more carries (33) than Brandon Weeden had passing attempts (27). And it's no coincidence that they beat the San Diego Chargers. I'm just not sure why the Browns waited to do it against the NFL's best rushing defense. Why didn't they go to the run a week earlier, when they were facing the Indianapolis Colts, who have one of the worst rushing defenses of the season, if not the decade?
» Tight end Heath Miller is quietly having a Pro Bowl-caliber season for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Miller isn't a flashy playmaker like the New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski or the New Orleans Saints' Jimmy Graham, but he is a reliable target and a consistent option for Ben Roethlisberger. He doesn't complain when Roethlisberger throws somewhere else, he blocks well when asked, and he just does his job. I was very impressed with him on Sunday, when he contributed four catches for 46 yards and scored a touchdown in a win over the Washington Redskins.