Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Andy Reid and Robert Griffin III

It's been a long time since I last posted on this blog. I just haven't had the time so much these days. But two things have truly been nagging at me so much that I just could not let them lie any longer. After months of inactivity I've basically been compelled to post, driven by two stories that are prevalent in the NFL right now; the situation with the Philadelphia Eagles and the career of Robert Griffin III.
First off, let's address the Eagles.

There is no doubt that over time Andy Reid did a great job with the Eagles initially, leading them to a Super Bowl appearance. But the wind has been out of Reid's sails for a long time now. The Eagles have looked distinctly average when held up against division rivals the New York Giants, and while the Eagles have been one of the consistently better teams in the NFL over the years, they've never really gotten over the hump and lived up to the hype.

The current "Dream Team" is no exception.

And sadly, Andy Reid is unquestionably the heart and soul of the problem. I say sadly because the death of his son at the start of the season must have hit him hard. Some people cope with such adversity by diving into their work and as such we must be ever vigilant when criticising Reid that he may still be mourning the loss of his son, which potentially could be affecting his decision making.

But make no mistake about it, Reid must receive his due criticism. I say that because as tough as his situation has been, he has now cost two coaches their jobs completely unfairly. He also cut a productive player from his team for reasons beyond explanation.

It's just not on. If Andy is not coping well then he should resign and take a year out of football, then look to make a fresh start elsewhere in 2014. Juan Castillo worked hard to get his first job with the Eagles and has taken a lot of flak for Reid over the years, especially so in the last year. 

Castillo kept going though and did his best to take a randomly selected assortment of expensive free agents and turn them into a coherent defense. We have seen since his firing that he was doing a good job, as without Castillo the Eagles defense has practically fallen apart despite having many quality players in it.

The firing of Castillo was nothing more than an attempt by Reid to deflect blame and hold onto his job. He stabbed one of his hardest working and most loyal coaches in the back in order to save himself and that is just not on. What's worse, he repeated the trick by firing defensive line coach Jim Washburn.

Now Reid and Washburn don't have the same relationship going back that Reid and Castillo did, but the simple fact is that the defensive line has been one of the very few components in the Eagles organisation that has worked properly in recent years. In fact, not only has it worked properly, it's worked very, very well. 

And yet the man who orchestrated all that - Washburn - has now gone. And for what? What did he do? Since when did coaches start getting fired for performing well? When did NFL head coaches start opting to fire their most productive members of staff?

It's nothing more than another attempt to shift blame onto someone else. Now Reid can point to Washburn and make him into another scapegoat, like Castillo. It might have worked a bit better, hell people might have actually believed it, had he not chosen to fire probably his best assistant coach.

But Reid didn't stop there. He then went on to release defensive end Jason Babin. This is the same Jason Babin who picked up double digit sacks in the last two seasons for the Eagles, including 18 last year. He had 5 sacks in 11 games for the Eagles this year and was their most productive pass rusher. 

Alright, I know young Brandon Graham is coming along well. I backed Graham when he came into the league and have done since. He's finally starting to get the game time he deserves and is really picking his game up another level this season.

That's no excuse to dump Babin though. He's your most productive pass rusher. So use him opposite Graham if you have to. Or if you feel Trent Cole is the better all rounder then save Babin for passing downs, keeping him fresh and letting him rip at what he does best.

You could either bring him in and switch Graham or Cole to the inside, or even just replace one of those two guys for one down. This is not rocket science. Coaches have been doing this sort of thing for years now, managing their players snaps to get the most effect out of each player.

Not with Andy Reid though. Instead he's turned Babin into his latest tool for deflecting attention away from his own ineffective performance as a head coach. And make no mistake, he has been ineffective.

Reid is supposed to be an offensive guru and moulder of promising quarterbacks. Just ask Donovan McNabb how that turned out. He failed to correct McNabb's technical issues before discarding him in favour of Michael Vick, a quarterback who Reid never seemed to understand. He just couldn't get Vick into the right plays or positions to be successful, leading to Vicks inevitable failure.

Reid did do a good job of marketing Mike Kafka and Kevin Kolb, limiting their playing time and then opening up the offense when they did take the field, which tempted a number of teams to come sniffing. Since then though, both quarterbacks have seen their hype slowly melt away as their well masked problems came to the fore as they were pushed into starting roles for which they were not adequately prepared.

I now feel sorry for Nick Foles. I really like him and touted him as probably the best quarterback prospect (in my opinion only) in the 2012 draft class. So far he's slotted in ok to the Eagles starting line up, but I fear for his future if Reid stays on as the Eagles coach.

There is some degree of mitigation in all this. The Eagles have been struck by injuries on the offensive line that haven't helped with their ability to keep their quarterbacks upright, but that's still a slightly dubious excuse as it really only applies to a short period this season. It also doesn't explain why Danny Watkins, who played his best football in college at right tackle, is still being wedged into the guard spot like a square peg into a round hole.

It just disturbs me what is happening with Reid. If you're a GM or an owner, how can you not see that Reid is cutting ties with some of your most competent staff in order to save his own skin? It does you no good to let Reid decimate the team of talent just so he can protect himself, especially when you consider the morale effect it must have on the other coaches who remain.

Who wants to work for Reid now? He's proven multiple times that he will offer up coaches who have otherwise performed well in order to save himself from the chop, so how can any coach under Reid perform to their full potential? What is the motivation for doing so? Why would you take a job with someone who you know could turn you into a scapegoat at any moment and harm your long term career prospects?

Andy Reid needs to go. For his own sake, mentally. And for the sake of the Eagles organisation, long term. His position is untenable. Everyone can see that. It just seems people are afraid to say it. At least that's one of the advantages of being a lowly blogger. I have no bridges to any teams that can be burnt, which at least gives me the freedom to speak openly and say what everyone in their right mind is thinking. 

Reid is not the long term answer in Philly. He's not even the short term answer. Let him resign with dignity and move on. If he won't leave, fire him. It's as much as he deserves after costing two people their jobs and it's the best long term move for the Eagles organisation.

And after that heart warming message, we move on to RG3.

I've written some articles like this in the past about certain players (Cam Newton springs to mind) that have drawn some mildly offensive but none the less hilarious e-mails from people. In order to avoid a repeat of that, I should preface this section by pointing out that I don't really have an issue with RG3.

He is what he is. He doesn't call the plays, he executes them. He has a certain set of attributes that he attempts to utilise on the football field to the best of his ability and he works hard by all accounts to improve himself each week. 

My beef is with the media and the way Griffin is touted. I expect the drooling, fawning type of coverage from someone like Jon Gruden. He's a guy with potential coaching options on the table every season and he needs to keep every avenue open, while at the same time playing up the hype for the TV cameras. That's what color commentators do (imagine the reverse; "well folks, I probably wouldn't watch this game myself. Both these teams are average at best but we got lumped with them because of the schedule," etc).

But the wider RG3 hype has been ridiculous. Again, let me make a point; Griffin has done ok as the Redskins quarterback, especially considering he's a rookie. There is a long way however between ok and amazing, and Griffin still has a lot of work to do before he can be considered the latter.

He is physically very gifted. He jogs down the field at the same speed most linebackers would call a sprint. Every now and again that speed comes on display and he picks up big gains. He is also taking a lot of nasty licks though, and if the experience of Cam Newton is anything to go by then Griffins second season in the league will see him being vastly more cautious about running with the football.

As a passer he has also had a lot in common with Newton. He throws a lot of screens and short dump offs to running backs, mixed with a number of long bombs that are more blind hail marys than considered passes. Like Newton, he's had a lot of luck with these, but luck can run out real quick in the NFL.

This is most aptly demonstrated when both guys get down in the redzone. Here is where we really start to see what a quarterback is made of, when the space for receivers to run is more restricted, the time to make your throws is a lot shorter and where mistakes are often magnified. Inside the twenty yard line is where quarterbacks can make or break their reputations.

So far Griffin has struggled, like Newton. You can't just hurl the ball 40 yards down field and hope your guy gets under it. Passing has to be more precise, the reads have to be made much quicker, and the timing of the passes has to be a lot better. You have to have confidence at throwing into tight windows. Griffin has not shown anything that would suggest to me that he is as amazing as people are touting him to be.

Yes, he does have a high passer rating. But even the normally effusive Gruden has long since made his opinion of that measure clear. Pass completion percentage plays a big part of it and is notoriously over rated as a stat due to the ability of quarterbacks to make lots of short completions without really getting the ball moving in a meaningful way.

If you want a stat, look at Griffins passing touchdowns. 17 in 13 games is not bad, but it's not stellar either. It's certainly not enough to warrant the title "amazing" or "outstanding", even for a rookie. I've even heard people say ultra-stupid s**t like putting Griffin up there with Drew Brees (31 touchdowns) or Aaron Rodgers (29 touchdowns). Another rookie, Russell Wilson, has more (19 touchdowns) but gets much less attention.

Again I'll emphasise the point; Griffin is doing ok. He's doing alright for a rookie quarterback. But let's not pretend that this season has marked Griffin out as a future hall of famer, or as some Redskins fans and pundits seem to believe, a future Super Bowl winner if the Redskins can just put some weapons around him.

He's certainly off to a good start and he's on the right track to some extent. However there is still a long, long old road for Mr. Griffin to walk before he even touches the edge of what is considered "elite" in the NFL. And he still has some work to do before we can even use superlatives like "amazing" to describe him, outside the context of doing an over the top Jon Gruden impression.

It's been a while, but hopefully the wait has been worth it. I'm not sure how often I'll be able to get round to updating this blog, but at least I've remembered why I first started it; as an outlet for my frustrations at the majority of the mainstream football press.

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