It may go down as one of Merrill Reeses great calls because it was so on target. He didnt realize it as he said it, but he was summing up this entire Eagles season.
It was the call on Thursdays first touchdown, the 15-yard run by Seattles Marshawn Lynch. You know the play. Lynch took a handoff, disappeared into the line, popped out the other side and ran into the end zone.
As Lynch went into the line, Merrill said: Theres nothing there
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What he meant was there was no visible opening. But as you rerun the video and listen to the call, you see how perfectly it fits together.
Theres nothing there.
What better way to describe this defense? What better way to describe this season? There is nothing there.
The Eagles' defense is an embarrassment. All season it has been soft and poorly coached and now it has simply given up. On Thursday, it was dominated by a Seattle offense that is so clueless it did not even have 11 men on the field for the first play.
Afterwards, Andy Reid was asked several times about his teams effort. In each case, he said the effort was fine. Guys are busting their tails, he said. Yeah, right. That explains how you can lose 31-14 to a mutt like the Seahawks.
Reid always defends his players. In turn, the players always defend Reid. But it would be nice if just once they would defend against the other team. If a defense gets carved up by Tom Brady, thats one thing. But Tarvaris Jackson? Really?
Jackson normally throws the ball like a guy wearing a blindfold. He came into the game ranked 20th or lower in nine of the 10 passer rating categories, but the Eagles made him look like Dan Marino. He finished with a QB rating of 137.0, which was approximately double his norm (72).
The same things that plagued the Eagles all seasonmissed tackles, blown assignments, mental mistakes, coverage gaffesplagued them again. But the worst part was the lack of effort. Reid can deny it all he wants, but it is there on the tape every week. He has to see it, yet it never changes.
There have been dozens of occasions where defensive players loafed. They loafed in pursuit, they stood flat-footed and watched receivers break tackles and run away. They didnt swarm to the ball (five fumble recoveries in 12 games is proof of that) or play with any fire.
Part of the reason, I believe, is they have no respect for the coaches. They realized from Day One that Juan Castillo was miscast as a defensive coordinator. They never had an ounce of confidence in his game plans. All the rah-rah stuff at training camp with Juan running around and slapping guys on the back was good for the TV cameras, but it meant nothing on game day when he had to put on a headset and, you know, actually coach.
Right from the beginning you saw itlate substitutions, players looking to the bench and asking what to do, wasted time outs because the personnel was wrong, obvious adjustments that needed to be made but werentand whenever the camera cut to a shot of Castillo, he looked bewildered.
It does not excuse the players for quitting on himwhich they clearly havebut it does speak to the overall breakdown. To be a good defense, you have to be aggressive and to be aggressive, you must have confidence in what you are being asked to do. That was one reason why Jim Johnson was so successful. The players believed everything Johnson said because they had total trust in him. When he called a blitz, they played it to the max because they believed it would work.
Now you see players looking at each other, pointing, waving, never quite sure what to do or even if they want to do it. So thats part of the problem and 12 games into the season, it is not getting any better. If anything, it is getting worse.
The other issue is the mix of players and personalities on this defense. The front office invested a lot of money in a group of players with Pro Bowl reputations, but what looked so promising on paper has fallen flat on the field because too many of those players are me players. Jason Babin plays for sacks, Asante Samuel plays for his interceptions. Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie seem to think tackling is beneath them.
None of the stars want to do the dirty work like playing the run and tackling receivers once they have the ball. They would rather leave that to the other guys, the linebackers and safeties. The trouble is those guys arent good enough. So the basics arent getting done because some players wont do it and the others cant.
Thats how a play like the Marshawn Lynch touchdown happens. Jamar Chaney, the middle linebacker, gets ahold of Lynch but no one comes in to finish. There are a lot of white jerseys bumping into each other like rush hour commuters on a subway platform, but no one looks for the ball carrier. They are just waiting for the ref to whistle the play dead, except Lynch squirms free and scores a touchdown.
The Eagles have taken exception this season when people labeled them soft. Reid denied it, the players denied it, but it is the truth and every NFL player watching that run on TV must have laughed out loud. I can only imagine some of the tweets that went back and forth.
If you want to look back on this Eagles seasonI dont know why anyone would want to, but lets say you doand you want to pick the one moment that sums it up, that play will do nicely. Toss in a Vince Young sound bite where he says he thought he played OK except for those four interceptions and, hey, youve got it all.
People suggest that Reid has lost the team, that the players have tuned him out after 13 seasons. There is one flaw in that reasoning. Only 12 of the players who suited up this week have been with the team longer than three years and only half of those are starters. There are new faces up and down the roster.
No, this team hasnt tuned out the coach.
It never tuned in.
E-mail Ray Didinger at firstname.lastname@example.org