Phil Sheridan: Eagles' Reid needs to heed own words
By Phil Sheridan
Inquirer Sports Columnist
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Here's hoping Andy Reid heeds the words of a wise, successful NFL head coach.
This coach was talking about facing the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team with a smashmouth running game and a dangerous passing attack. He was explaining how tough it is for a defense to handle such balance.
"It starts up front," the wise and successful coach said. "It starts with pressure, the lack of pressure they allow. [Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger] is able to get the ball off accurately. At the same time, they're able to run the football. They're able to keep people off balance. You'd better be ready to be solid against both of them."
Now, you would think the pass-happy Reid might listen to this wise and successful coach, because the wise and successful coach is Andy Reid. The words were spoken yesterday at the NovaCare Complex, two days before Reid's Eagles face the Steelers.
This may seem an odd time to bring this up, since Reid's team has put up a total of 75 points in its first two games. Quarterback Donovan McNabb has completed 65.7 percent of his passes for 642 yards, 4.5 touchdowns (he deserves credit despite DeSean Jackson's blunder) and zero interceptions. Things are clicking on all cylinders.
So why nitpick now? Because now is the perfect time to make the very point that Reid made yesterday.
A balanced, unpredictable Eagles offense will be more effective in the long run, if only because it will help McNabb stick around for the long run. It is imperative for Reid to realize this before the giddy joyride of success ends with McNabb at the bottom of a three-car pileup.
Let us wallow into the doom-and-gloom of 2007, if only for educational purposes.
On Sept. 23 of last year, the Eagles had an all-too-easy, pinball-score victory over the Detroit Lions at Lincoln Financial Field. McNabb threw for 381 yards and four touchdowns in a 56-21 victory.
On Sept. 30, with a Pro Bowl starter missing from the offensive line, McNabb was sacked 12 times in a 16-3 loss to the New York Giants at the Meadowlands. It was a brutal game to watch, and the responsibility for the beat-down lay with Reid.
Without Tra Thomas at left tackle, Brian Westbrook at running back or L.J. Smith at tight end, Reid called 47 pass plays and just 19 running plays. Osi Umenyiora, who had six sacks while lined up mostly against hapless Winston Justice, never did get around to sending Reid a thank-you note.
To make matters even worse, McNabb still was visibly struggling to recover from reconstructive surgery to his knee. The lopsided, pass-happy approach is always open to question. With a physically limited quarterback and a hole in the offensive line, there is no debate. It was a terrible coaching job, and the scoreboard proved it.
That brings us smartly to tomorrow's pretty darned significant game between the Eagles and the Steelers.
Pro Bowl right guard Shawn Andrews appears unlikely to play. Center Jamal Jackson probably will, but he has missed a week of practice for the dreaded "personal reasons." So the Eagles have issues along their offensive line against a quick but physical defensive team that creates havoc for opposing quarterbacks.
"They have big noseguards," McNabb said of the Steelers, "and everyone else is just quick. Their outside linebackers are quick. Their inside linebackers are quick. [Defensive coordinator] Dick LeBeau has come up with a lot of different schemes that could disrupt a lot of different things on offense. We just have to have the answer for it."
The answer, as a wise and successful head coach recently said, is balance. If the Eagles don't find it and stick with it, they will regret it - if not tomorrow then sometime during the long and violent season.
That doesn't mean a 50-50 run-pass ratio. The modern NFL is a passing league, no doubt about it, and it is a good thing that Reid's offense and McNabb's abilities give the Eagles a successful passing attack. And there are certainly some defenses - the Rams' this year, the Lions' last year - that invite a run-and-gun approach.
But some defenses will eat a one-dimensional team alive. Indeed, the goal of these defenses is to force their opponents into being one-dimensional. A team such as the Steelers thrives by getting a lead, running the ball to protect it, and turning its blitz package loose on opponents forced to throw to catch up.
Voluntarily making yourself one-dimensional is the height of foolishness against a team like that.
Fortunately, there is little chance of the Eagles repeating that mistake after last year's debacle in the Meadowlands. A wise and successful head coach said so.
Contact columnist Phil Sheridan
at 215-854-2844 or [email="firstname.lastname@example.org"]email@example.com[/email].