Social activist Elliott Larsen once said, "Anger always comes from frustrated expectations." And every Eagles fan woke up angry Monday morning -- angry that their team gave up 21 unanswered points to lose to the 49ers; angry that their team is now 1-3 and in last place of the NFC East; and most of all angry that their team is not a "Dream Team." Even Michael Vick proclaimed when asked how he felt after the game, "I'm frustrated."
In fairness to the Eagles, this whole dream team nonsense was placed on them by their backup quarterback, Vince Young, not a player who actually plays. But the nickname stuck, in part because it was embraced by the Eagles organization. Could you imagine a new player signing with the Patriots, then proclaiming them the dream team? He might get cut the next day. At 1-3, the Eagles are in trouble, obviously, but the good news for Eagles fans is it is still early.
The Eagles have several problems, the first being their red zone offense and defense. The Eagles lost to the 49ers in part because they missed two field goals, but don't overlook the fact they were 2-for-7 in red-zone opportunities. Good teams score touchdowns once arriving in the red zone, but for the past two weeks, the Eagles cannot score from inside the five. They signed former Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown as their short-yardage, power back. But Brown has never been a power back during his entire career. Brown is like the basketball player who would rather settle for the jumper than drive to the rim. He is not a power player. He is an open-field player, which the Eagles seem to stockpile.
The biggest offensive problem for the Eagles is Michael Vick not playing as consistently as he did when he first became the starter early last year. Now, I am not blaming Vick for all of the Eagles problems, but rather making a point that there is a difference between Vick in September of 2010 and Vick in September of 2011.
I realize Vick is not getting the protection, taking too many hits and, as he has said, normally ending up on his butt once releasing the ball. However since the DeSean Jackson punt return game against the Giants last December, when the Eagles mounted a huge fourth-quarter comeback, the Birds are just 2-5. Vick is missing open receivers, his overall percentage of completions is down and when the Eagles don't make big plays down the field, their offense struggles to score touchdowns. Take away the deep ball or the big play, and the Eagles are not consistent in their execution on offense.
When it was announced that Juan Castillo was moving from offensive line coach to defensive coordinator, there were shockwaves through the inner circle of the league. Most veteran defensive coaches I talked to looked with skepticism at the move. It wasn't because Castillo would not work hard or wouldn't know the blackboard jargon, but because football is a game of adjustments and making the right moves takes experience. And Castillo has none.
The whole concept of Castillo's defense is to put pressure on the quarterback and force opponents into making mistakes, especially when they get behind. Yet in each loss this year, the Eagles had a fourth-quarter lead, some double-digits, only to see the opposition not make a mistake and the defense surrender the lead.
Sunday, the Eagles allowed the 49ers offense to look like the 1999 Rams late in the game. For the first time this season, Alex Smith threw for more than 20O yards. Smith and Frank Gore dominated the game late, with the offensive line controlling the line of scrimmage, as the Niners never allowed the Eagles to get the ball back to mount a last-second comeback. The Eagles defense dominated the game early, but when adjustments were needed, Castillo fell short. Credit the 49ers for fighting, competing and making the right adjustments during the game.
The Eagles spent a ton of money on man-to-man, press corner Nnamdi Asomugha, but they play a post-safety defense which means Asomugha plays more zone than man. In fact, if the opponent lines up in slot formation away from Asomugha, he becomes the free safety in the middle of the field. Not where Asomugha wants to be, or where he plays his best.
The Eagles allow too many big plays in both the running game and pass. They struggle to close out games, which has to be alarming since they invested so much this offseason in securing corners and rushers. They have problems in all three areas of football, from personnel to coaching to scheme. And according to defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, the Eagles have attitude problems: "The things we are missing here is attitude. There is not that fire, not that mental toughness knowing that we will make it happen."
Things I loved
I loved how the 49ers kept competing. Clearly, their team is taking on the personality of their highly competitive coach Jim Harbaugh, as my NFL Network colleague Albert Breer outlined last week. Harbaugh has done a wonderful job of giving his team the best chance to win. They might not always look pretty, but they play smart. The 49ers are a solid defensive team, especially in the front seven. When they get a little help from their offense, they can win the NFC West -- and it might be easily, based on watching the other three teams in the West. I thought the Rams could win that division, but I thought wrong. The 49ers are the best team, especially when they can effectively throw the ball.
I loved how the Bengals finally found some offense and won a game. The Bengals have a good defense, especially in their front seven, but like the 49ers their defense pays a price at times for the offense's lack of a passing game. But Sunday, Bengals QB Andy Dalton made some great throws, TE Jermaine Gresham made some great plays and the Bengals knocked off the undefeated Bills. The Bengals could compete for the AFC North crown if Dalton can continue to make strides. They can run the ball, they can play physical defense and when they prove they throw the ball, they can beat anyone.
I loved how the Texans dominated the Steelers on both sides of the ball. Houston took control of the line of scrimmage and effectively ran the ball on the Steelers, something that rarely happens. The 17-10 score was not indicative of the game -- the Texans dominated and had two touchdowns called back on penalties. The Steelers could never get going on either side of the ball, mostly because the Texans were the more physical team. This was a huge win for the Texans as they finally beat a team that plays a physical style.
Things I hated
I hated what Rob Ryan said about Calvin Johnson.The third-best receiver on the Cowboys? Really? That comment made the Cowboys defensive coordinator look ridiculous and motivated the Lions. Tony Romo was bad in the second half, making some bad decisions with the ball, but coach Jason Garrett shares some of the blame too. His play-calling with the lead was poor and his decision to not kick the ball on fourth down inside the Lions' 1-yard line early in the game actually came back to haunt him. This was a total team meltdown, from Romo to Garrett to Laurent Robinson, who did not get across corner Chris Houston's face on a simple slant, to the defense which failed to stop that third-best receiver.
I hated watching Todd Haley scream at Matt Cassel and then watching Cassel go after Haley. Just watching that interaction, it's clear Cassel is taking Haley's comments as criticism and not productive coaching. In three years as head coach, Haley has not learned to calm down and behave like a head coach. Controlled emotion is what a good head coach does, not behave like a lunatic. The Chiefs got their first win, but clearly their quarterback and head coach have severe issues.
I hated watching the quarterbacks play in the Jets-Ravens game. Did Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez play that poorly, or did the opposing defenses play that great? A little of both. Sanchez played worse than Flacco, turning the ball over four times, with three resulting in Ravens touchdowns. Until the Jets can get back to ground and pound, their offense is going to be prone to mistakes. They need less Sanchez and more run game, but it is hard to run the ball when the offensive line cannot create any movement.
Things on my mind
» I mentioned in Friday's column that I thought the Packers were better than a year ago. With Jermichael Finley back and the addition of Randall Cobb, the Packers offense is really more explosive. And is Aaron Rodgers actually better? No question. He improves with every throw, with every series, with every game. He is remarkable.
» Can any Rams receivers catch? St. Louis need to bring in a host of receivers and tight ends to help its struggling offense.
» The Vikings clearly are a team that needs to rebuild, especially within their offensive line. The Chiefs' Tamba Hali dominated the game as the Vikings struggled to handle the Chiefs front. Is it time for Christian Ponder? Only if the Vikings want to guarantee themselves a chance at potential No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck.
» Tight ends are dominating the game right now, particularly one who can extend from the formation like the Saints' Jimmy Graham, the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski, the Packers' Jermichael Finley and the Bengals' Jermaine Gresham. We now can add Jared Cook of the Titans to the list. Cook is a big-time talent and when extended from the formation, he can create problems for the defense.
» Beanie Wells is becoming the big-time back the Cards hoped he would be, but until Kevin Kolb can find a way to lead a team back in the final minutes, the Cards won't be able to win close games. The past two weeks, Kolb had the ball in his hands with a chance to win the game but failed to deliver.
» The Bills won't be a playoff team until they can fix their defense. They cannot stop anyone and if their offense does not score 30 points, they can't win. Has anyone seen Shawne Merriman this year?
A Tribute to Dinger
As Dinger was dealing with cancer, he always maintained a positive outlook. Each time I would send him text, he would always instantly reply back that he was doing great. He was determined to win his battle.
I am sad to say good-bye to Dinger. In the world of football, it is hard to find honest and uniquely caring people. Dinger was both and he will be missed.
I want to send my heartfelt condolences to his wife Kathie and his whole family.