Almost exactly years ago this week, the Philadelphia Eagles rolled into a week 12 matchup with the Detroit Lions and were steamrolled 45-14. Jason Peters went down with injury and the almighty Mark Sanchez laid an egg. That was also the first week where I had an article go ‘viral’. I cited that Chip Kelly had lost the locker room, that it was all falling apart and crumbling internally. Offensive linemen were complaining about their conditioning and intensive offseason programs, the secondary was flailing and criticism was being poured onto the team while Kelly refused to change his ways.
Of course, we all know what happened one week later.
Sam Bradford and his beautifully long sleeves walked into New England and went toe-to-toe with Tom Brady and the Patriots, lifting the Eagles to a win. ’53-angry men’. That was the sentiment delivered by owner Jeffery Lurie. Each player found a shirt with the quote on it with the aim of providing an injection of emotional accountability from Lurie. It was something that eventually fueled his next coaching search, ’emotional intelligence’. Kelly would be fired a matter of weeks later after the roster continued to crumble.
Fast forward three years and we find ourselves in a similar spot. No, Doug Pederson isn’t going to lose his job anytime soon, but this team is beginning to crumble. Carson Wentz is letting his frustrations show on the field and on the sideline as hold habits creep out of the woodwork, Malcolm Jenkins is throwing helmets down and waving off teammates trying to offer a handshake of consolation.
The Locker room was reported as quiet. Players, leaders, veterans opted not to talk to the media after the game which can usually be taken as a bad sign. No matter how you look at this situation, the Eagles were categorically slapped within an inch of their life. Their ears are still ringing after the 48-7 beatdown that the Saints laid on them in what was really a must-win game.
The truth is, every game for the last month has been a must-win. From the Carolina choke-job right up until tonight, the time for excuses has come and gone. Injuries have ravaged this team, but that shouldn’t impact the intensity the players play with. The Birds came out flat on Sunday at every position. The defense mustered a single quarterback hit against Drew Brees, Wentz had the worst statistical outing of his career, the run-game was inefficient and the pass defense was as useful as a flannel in a flash flood.
But this is where the emotional intelligence comes in.
Forget the playcalling, forget words like ‘execution, scripting, starting fast’. Forget statistics, forget ‘accountability.’ What this team needs right now is a leader.
Ever since February, there has been a lack of consistency when it comes to Pederson’s leadership. One week ‘the target is on our backs and we’re embracing it’, the next ‘the pressure is off, go out and have fun’. There’s no consistent message other than taking it one game at a time…which right now is a string of embarrassment. The one game that the Eagles did come out swinging in was in London against the Jags, but that fire burned out in the Bye and the team has been sloppy ever since.
Jeffery Lurie craved a coach who could emotionally relate to his Football players and Pederson has proved he can do this time and time again. I’ve had players tell me that what they love most about the Super Bowl winning Head Coach is that he tells them to ‘let their personality show’, which some who run a tighter ship (not naming names), would refuse to do. But this environment calls for a different type of leadership.
They’ve tried benching an offensive lineman, they’ve tried shaking up the run game and they’ve even traded for a wide receiver, but still, the offense can’t put up more than 7 points against the Saints pass defense…which is statistically mediocre at best. The less said about the injury plagued defense, the better.
The Eagles host the Giants next week in what is now once again a ‘must win.’ The Redskins will be without Alex Smith despite being atop the NFC East and although the Cowboys are rolling, the path to the playoffs runs through the division. This is the last lifeline this team has and if Pederson can’t repair the fractures, the nail in the coffin will be hammered in by a Giants offense that’s finally finding its rhythm under Pat Shurmur.
This is Doug Pederson’s greatest challenge of all. We’ve seen him guide a team of underdogs to a Super Bowl, but underdogs are often referred to with grit and something to prove. An underrated component that’s overlooked and is determined to prove the world wrong. The only people the Eagles need to prove wrong right now is themselves and that starts with the Head Coach encouraging a very swift culture change to light that fire once more.
The Eagles have been here before and they have ultimately failed here before. It’s now on the shoulders of the Head Coach to change his stars and bring this team back from rock bottom.
Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports