By Lance Epstein
It is never easy in the Philadelphia sports world to win a game. Sunday's Eagles versus Lions game was no exception, as the Eagles barely squeaked out a 35-32 victory at Ford Field.
Quarterback Michael Vick dazzled in his first start since the 2006 season. His athleticism was on full display as he avoided multiple sacks and constant pressure in the pocket. He also showcased his legs by running for 37 yards (seven carries)
Yet it was his ability to keep his eyes downfield, go through his progressions and his passing that had him soaring. In the first quarter, Vick connected with star WR DeSean Jackson on a perfect 53- yard pass to give the Birds the early 7-0 lead. Later in the game, he threw a nice 9-yard pass to WR Jeremy Maclin for his second touchdown pass of the day. Ultimately, Vick finished with a 108 QB rating and was 21-for-34 for 284 yards and two-touchdown passes.
However the true hero of the game was no other than running back LeSean "Shady" McCoy. Sunday marked the first time in McCoy's career that he rushed for 100 yards. McCoy rushed for 120 yards on just 16 carries and scored three touchdowns on the ground. More impressively, McCoy put himself in elite company, as he became only the second running back in Eagles history to run for three touchdowns on the ground (other being RB Charlie Garner).
As for the contest, the Eagles nearly blew an 18-point lead with just under six minutes to go in the fourth quarter. With 6:17 left in the game, McCoy danced into the end zone to give the Eagles a commanding 35-17 advantage.
At the time, the Lions fans began to proceed to the exits, but that is when the fun began. On the following Lions’ possession, (Lions QB) Shaun Hill marched his team down the field. Rookie running back Jahvid Best’s third touchdown of the game capped off a seven-play and 85-yard drive.
Still, the Lions were down by 11 points with just four minutes left in the game. That is exactly when things started to unravel for the Eagles. After gaining only two yards on first and second down (and a Lions timeout to stop the clock), the Eagles faced an all-important 3rd-and-8.
If the Eagles picked up the first down, they could basically run out the clock and fly back to Philadelphia at 1-1 (perhaps tied for first place). Unfortunately, the offensive line imploded like they have for much of the first two weeks of the season. Vick was sacked for the sixth time and the Eagles were forced to punt the ball back to the Lions.
The Lions returned the punt out to their own 45-yardline. Once again, it was not easy for the Eagles or their fans. On the first two plays, Hill found his favorite target in Best for 17 yards and 12 yards, which put the Lions at the Eagles 26-yardline.
After an 11-yard reception by TE Brandon Pettigrew to get the Lions inside the red zone, Hill connected with Calvin Johnson on what he thought was a gap-closing touchdown. However, the play was called back due to an illegal formation penalty.
For once the Eagles had caught a huge break. Although like most Eagles fans know, it is never easy in Philadelphia. On the following play, Hill found Johnson again, but this time he was wide open in the middle of the field for a 19-yard touchdown. The brought the Lions within five at 35-30 with just 1:50 left on the clock.
Johnson’s touchdown was only the start to the Eagles’ fans worst nightmares. On the ensuing two-point conversion attempt, Hill found Johnson wide open in the back of the end zone (the third consecutive play) to convert the two-point conversion. Amazingly, the Lions who were once down 18 points with just five minutes to go made it into a three-point ball game at 35-32 with an onside kick to come.
The touchdown and two-point conversion put many Eagles fans on the edge of their seats and very queasy. Then just like that, it got even worse. The onside kick hit off WR Riley Cooper's hands and right into the hands of a Lions defender. The Lions recovered the ball and took over at their own 43-yardline. The unthinkable was just 57-yards away from happening and everyone in Philly was in shock.
The Eagles seemed destined to be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. However, that is when the Eagles defense finally flexed their muscles. They forced a turnover on downs as Hill miss fired on four straight passes.
Finally, it was easy. All Vick just had to do was kneel down and run the clock out. The clock struck 0:00 and the Eagles were sitting at 1-1.
Nonetheless, the Eagles have huge problems and many questions still unanswered. Certainly the loss of middle linebacker Stewart Bradley significantly hurt the Eagles defense, but they were still far to generous with allowing opposing running backs catching the ball out of the backfield. Best caught nine passes for 154 yards and a touchdown. Additionally, the linebackers (mainly Omar Gaither and Ernie Sims) were constantly out of position against Pettigrew.
It also doesn't help the defense that cornerback Joselio Hanson is getting paid a lot of money to be burned by wide receivers. Head coach Andy Reid needs to look in the mirror and admit his mistake of handing out a hefty contract extension to him. His play is hurting the Eagles as much as anyone. In addition, rookie CB Trevard Lindley can do just as good of a job for a fraction of the price and gain much needed experience. When Hanson is on the field, opponents pick on him and for good reason.
Moreover, the bigger concern on defense might be the fact they have failed to hold an opponent under 20 points since their week 15 (2009) matchup against the San Francisco 49ers.
While defensive coordinator Sean McDermott is forced to deal with playing a rookie safety in Nate Allen, installing a new linebacker in Sims and replacing defensive leader Sheldon Brown with cornerback Ellis Hobbs, his unit has the same issues that plagued them in 2009. Those problems are the inability to cover tight end and get consistent pressure from its front four. Of course, the defense will take some time to gel like back in 2008, but it is alarming that they couldn't hold an offense starting a backup quarterback to below 30.
The good news for the offense is that they didn't struggle in the red zone and McCoy is reminding people of former Eagle Brian Westbrook. On the other hand, the offensive line is being manhandled in the trenches. Guard Nick Cole and tackles Winston Justice and Jason Peters struggled mightily to keep defenders off Vick. If not for Vick's gift of alluding and making defenders miss, the Eagles might have given up ten sacks.
One potential solution is to insert offensive lineman Reggie Wells into the starting lineup for next week’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Needless to say, he is an adequate player, but is not good enough to drastically improve a very weak offensive line.
After the game, Reid stated that Kevin Kolb would be the starter at quarterback next week (cleared to practice today). However, with the porous o-line play, it is a question of how long can he hold up. Vick might not be a huge part of the Eagles' future, but Kolb won't be either playing behind this atrocious line.
For the Reid fixing the offensive line and defense it is not going to be easy. As for Eagles fans, it is never easy!