There are two inevitable truths in the NFL if a team is underachieving, and those struggles are perceived to be centered around the quarterback. First, the quarterback will be benched. Failing that, the head coach will be benched. Forever.
That’s about to happen in Philadelphia, according to Howard Eskin from WIP Sports Radio, with the most anticipated yet still least surprising QB benching in recent memory likely forthcoming. Eskin reports that Andy Reid is indeed leaning towards a change at the position, sitting Michael Vick in favor of third-round rookie Nick Foles. However, Reuben Frank from CSN Philly reports that a benching hasn’t happened yet, and “as of now” Vick remains the starter.
If Reid does finally sever his tether to Vick, Foles needs to be added immediately in all fantasy leagues, and he should be one of the top waiver claims of the week. Starting him isn’t advisable this week if the move is made, except for those in deep leagues who are dealing with Tom Brady’s bye. But with the weapons in Philly’s offense and Foles’ lack of knowledge that he’s supposed to suck as a rookie making his first start in Week 9, buy low on the upside and take a bench flier, and then dump and run if he implodes.
Sure, Vick has struggled, averaging just 5.5 yards per pass attempt yesterday, and he’s infamously turned the ball over 13 times over seven games. It could be worse too since Vick’s fumbled nine times overall and lost only five of them. Last year over 13 games he had 10 fumbles, losing five.
But similar to the fabricated sense of slate cleansing that was brought on by the firing of Juan Castillo, installing a rookie quarterback at midseason won’t turn around an offense that’s playing far below its potential. Vick has been a problem with his overall regression, and failure to protect the football and use his unique athletic ability to thrive through improvising as he’s done in the past.
A far greater problem, though, is the fact that Vick or Foles or whoever can’t play defense.
More specifically, they can’t play in the secondary. As a unit the Eagles’ pass defense hasn’t been horrific, as they’re allowing an average of 229.1 yards per game through the air, a number that’s up only moderately from last year (212.3). But it’s the individual explosions from opposing receivers that have been hurtful, and have no business happening to a secondary that’s paying Nnamdi Asomugha $25 million guaranteed.
Let us count the ways in which Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie — mostly Asomugha (still love you, DRC) — have been burned repeatedly.
- Yesterday Julio Jones caught five passes for 123 yards and a touchdown, which included a 61-yard bomb. It was the third catch of 50 yards or more that the Eagles have given up. Again, for a normal team with more average names populating its secondary, that wouldn’t be too remarkable at the midway point of the season. For a team that employs Asomugha, it is.
- In Week 6 Calvin Johnson caught six balls for 135 yards, a gashing that in fairness fell more on the shoulders of Castillo, who inexplicably changed his coverage scheme late in the fourth quarter and overtime after Asomugha had shut down Megatron for three quarters. That’s when his football capacity on Sundays became the same as ours: watching, and couch sitting.
- In Week 7, Antonio Brown had 87 yards on seven catches. Somewhat more mild production, yes, but still far from a shut down of a top receiver, which is sort of in the name associated with a shut down corner, if we’re still using that moniker with Asomugha. And we’re not, so yeah, onwards.
- The real carnage came in Week 6, when Victor Cruz posted 109 yards, and Domenik Hixon finished with 114 yards in a game the Eagles still somehow won. Hixon inflicted the truly glaring pounding. He was elevated to an increased workload with Hakeem Nicks out, and that was only the second 100-yard game of his career.
- While allowing Kevin Kolb to seem functional and competent, Asomugha et al gave up 114 yards on nine catches to Larry Fitzgerald. For those keeping score (why the hell are you keeping score? What scoring system could you possibly be using?), we’re now back to Week 3, and we still haven’t found a game when a supposed top-tier secondary which was sitting deep enough in riches that Philly sent Asante Samuel to Atlanta for several roasted peanuts has held all opposing receivers to less than 85 yards.
- Here it is! Dennis Pitta — a tight end — was the Ravens’ best pass catcher in Week 2, finishing with 65 yards on eight catches. But that tosses some pleasant potpourri over the stench of Torrey Smith needing only two catches to eclipse 50 yards. The scorn of the deep ball is still strong.
- We finish with the opener against the Browns when Brandon Weeden was making his NFL regular-season debut, and Cleveland still hadn’t discovered that Josh Gordon is really fast. Predictably, this was an easy passing shut down (Mohamed Massaquoi led Browns receivers with just 41 yards), so of course the Eagles won by one point. One, single point,
And that’s what it’s taken for the Eagles’ passing defense to garner any respect whatsoever. A rookie quarterback starting his first NFL game who’s going through the pain that’s standard in such a start. This isn’t all on the secondary and Asomugha, although since money speaks louder in football than other sports due in part to the potential for a career-altering injury at any time, he’ll shoulder most of the blame. He’s also now formerly known as the best cornerback in the league not named Darrelle Revis. So there’s that too.
But no amount of talent in the defensive backfield can compensate for receivers who have an abundance of time to get open, and opposing quarterbacks who have even more time to scramble and find them. A year ago at this time that wasn’t a problem, with Jason Babin on his way to 18.5 sacks. Now he has 2.5 sacks, putting him on a mediocre pace for just six.
Vick’s demotion has to happen, if not today or this week, then eventually if his current play continues. Short of firing himself, that move is Reid’s last flare. But while he’s attempting to fix one problem, he’ll also be masking a separate and equally concerning failure that Vick has no control over whatsoever.