Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Andy Reid in trouble, but not Tim Tebow

So two things first, then some diagramming. Then... we'll you can do whatever you want. I'll be off to go watch some College games with a view to keeping an eye on the 2012 and 2013 draft classes. Better to get a look in as early as possible I guess.

Anyway, at the risk of sounding like your boss in a morning meeting, the first thing on the agenda is the Andy Reid situation in Philly. As pointed out before on these pages, any kind of failure to live up to the wild hype was going to end in tears in Philly. It was inevitable from the moment they started spending money on big names. The Vince Young quote just made it worse.

Now as expected the Philadelphia press is turning on Andy Reid big time. As always, people seem to assume that bringing in a new coach now will solve all the problems that the Eagles have. It won't. We're five weeks into the season. A new coach would barely have enough time to get his head around who all his coaches are, who the players are and how the various systems are run by the time the season ends. Like it or not Eagles fans, Andy Reid is your best shot for the rest of the season.

That's not to say that he's without fault. Ultimately the Head Coach is responsible for everything that happens on his team. The defense may not be your speciality, but tough. You should know enough about it to know how it works and how to deal with problems in it. Juan Castillo may be in charge of the defense, but you're the guy that put him in charge, so you're the guy responsible for a) making sure he was up to the job and b) making sure he has all the support he needs to do his job. The buck stops at the top.

The good news for the defense - and for Juan Castillo - is that only one of the Eagles problems is down to that side of the ball. It's a problem they know about and it's an eminently fixable problem. And despite the hysteria in the Philadelphia press, it has nothing to do with "wide nines". It's the linebackers.

This is something I brought up a while back, when coming to the defense of Casey Matthews. People in the Philadelphia (and wider) press have been bitching about how easy it is to run inside of the wide defensive ends that the Eagles use. Of course this seems like a valid argument on the surface, but anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of how defenses are put together will know that it's not the job of the defensive ends to protect that inside running lane.

If you follow the link to the Matthews article you'll see the diagram of a 4-3 defense like that used by the Eagles, complete with marks to show which gaps the players are responsible for in the running game. As you can see, the defensive ends are responsible for the gaps to the outside of the offensive tackles. This is basic, day one installation of the 4-3 defense stuff.

The Eagles problems have nothing to do with wide nines and everything to do with not filling the gaps by the linebackers and the defensive linemen. The "Will" linebacker should be filling the gap between the Left Tackle and Left Guard. The defensive tackle in the "three technique" position should be filling the gap between the Right Guard and Right Tackle.

(In my diagram the defensive end was lined up inside the tight end. All that happens in a wide nine situation is that he lines up a little further outside and now the "Sam" linebacker takes the gap between the Right Tackle and the Tight End).

It really is that simple. There are kids across the US, probably practicing right at this minute as I type this, who understand it. It has nothing to do with the ends. It's not their job. Their job is to rush the passer and contain running plays, funnelling everything inside to other people. It's the job of the others to fill the missing gaps.

Of course there are other ways of doing this. You can line up the defensive tackles head up on the guards and make them "two gap", that is to say they'd be responsible for the gaps on either side of the guards. Using a controlled pass rush they can get into the backfield, pushing the guards backwards to close the pocket from the inside, while also keeping themselves at arms reach from the linemen and ready to make a tackle. I'll admit it's not exactly conventional to mix up the gap scheme like that, but needs must, as they say.

Really though it's the linebackers and their discipline that needs to be addressed. The Eagles need to sit their linebackers down in a room, with the linebacker coach Mike Caldwell, coordinator Juan Castillo, Head Coach Andy Reid and just for kicks, offensive line coach Howard Mudd. Show the linebackers the gaps on film. Show them examples of what you mean, how to fill the gaps, using old tape. And then ram it home, time after time for a good hour until they can repeat the instructions in their sleep. Of course, there is something else the Eagles could do to help....


Through five games now, Mike Vick has seven interceptions and seven fumbles, three of which have been lost. Mike Kafka has another two interceptions to add. The Eagles have also suffered three more fumbles, all lost. Put against their defensive interceptions and fumble recoveries, that leaves the Eagles minus 10 in the turnover stakes. Couple that with their - at times - shocking red zone performance and you have your answer.

See the trouble is this. The Eagles defense is not built to stop the run. That's not what they do. Their defense is built to stop the pass. Why? Because the offense is so explosive. The Eagles lead the league in rushing yardage. Yes, trust me, they do. LeSean McCoy is a touchdown run waiting to happen. Vicks running has been incredible and receivers like Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson are more than capable of ripping off big yardage.

Thus the defense is built to attack opponents who are trying to play catch up. The whole point of the wide nine defensive ends is to give them a better angle to rush the passer (Jason Babin has seven sacks already). Their secondary is replete with playmakers who can gamble and get you interceptions. It doesn't matter if they give up big yards or big scores every now and again, because the offense is supposed to be high powered enough to compensate. It's a gamble, but a calculated one at that.

The big problem is that it's the Eagles offense who are turning it over right now. Vick's fumbles and interceptions are killing his team, just as sure as the turnovers of Tony Romo are killing the Cowboys. The Eagles don't need to fix their defense. They need to fix their offense. And they need to do it quick.

Whatever it takes, the Eagles need to find a way to stop turning the ball over so much while still getting the ball to their play makers. They also need to find ways to turn yardage into points in the red zone. It's not easy, I understand that. But it's not like the Eagles are short of good players on offense. In fact, they're pretty much loaded up at all positions.

Which, come to think of it, is the responsibility of Andy Reid. After all, he calls the plays. In fact, maybe if someone else was calling the plays, the Eagles would score more points and they would make the playoffs. Hey....


No wait, what am I saying? I hate the Eagles. I don't want a potentially good team like that making the playoffs and possibly disrupting the nefarious plans of the 49ers to slip through to the Super Bowl despite being - at heart - shit. Hey!


You know what, I dunno any more. Let's go back to me being your boss in the morning meeting and quietly move things along to the second item on the agenda. Which is Tim Tebow. Or rather, the fact that John Fox has announced to his team that Tim Tebow will be starting for the Broncos in week seven when they play the Miami Dolphins (who as it happens will be honoring Tebow and his former Florida Gators team mates. Because that's just how the Dolphins luck is right now).

So, what do I think about it? Well I'm glad you asked.

I like Tebow. I've said before, I don't buy all the bullshit about him not being able to throw and I don't buy all the crap about his throwing motion either. I won't go over that again here. Suffice to say that if you haven't read it already, the article is here, including videos and stuff.

What I'm trying to figure out is if this was a genius move by Coach Fox, or whether he just kind of blundered into it. The blundering angle would involve him just pulling Orton and saying "you know what, this game is over, let's just roll with the Kid and see what he's got."

For it to qualify as a genius move it would require a bit of foresight on Fox's part. See the Broncos have next week off for the bye. Was Fox thinking about that when he put Tebow out? Was he thinking "you know what, if Tebow turns out to be ok, we could spend two weeks over the bye slotting him into our offense" while subtley rubbing his chin and making that noise that people do when they think they've just hit on a master plan.

Or it could be even more subtle, and devious, and slightly nasty. Maybe he was thinking "this Tebow guy sucks. I know what will do for him. I'll make him start on the night in Miami, on the same night they're honoring him. I'll get the OC to call bad plays and embarrass him in front of the Miami crowd..."

Or it could be even more subtle, more devious, less nasty, but slightly more genius. Maybe he was thinking "What I'll do is put Tebow in for the Miami game. They need a quarterback. Maybe if I show him off, they'll trade for him?"

Or you know what, I could just be grossly over thinking this. My guess is that with the bye week just around the corner and realising that Orton wasn't getting it done, Fox decided to just give Tebow a look against the Chargers. He did well, so now he has two weeks to build an offense that works, preferably one that doesn't involve Tebow risking injury quite as much as he does right now. To be fair, he's a big guy and has demonstrated his toughness on multiple occassions now. Still not sure I'd want him playing the concussion lottery each week though.

At this point I should probably think about moving on to the diagrams, but you know what? This post is already too long and it gives me something to do tomorrow. So tomorrow I will be back with a piece on the outside zone running play that most teams are now using in the NFL.

I've also just noticed that almost every time I write an article about the Eagles I also seem to end up writing about Tim Tebow. I'm not quite sure why that is, but there you go.

For now I'm off to go and watch some College ball. Don't forget to hit the Facebooky like thing if you haven't done so already. Or you could e-mail your co-workers a link to this, instead of sending them chain letters or pictures of dogs wearing hats.

Your choice.

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