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News » Phil Sheridan: Amen to getting right Eagles on field

Phil Sheridan: Amen to getting right Eagles on field

Phil Sheridan: Amen to getting right Eagles on field With the up-front acknowledgment that we're mining for gems in a mountain of muck, there was a glimmer of insight somewhere in the middle of Andy Reid's Monday Socratic dialogue with the media.

During Reid's tenure, the Eagles have lost 72 regular-season and postseason games. Throw in that really bad tie last year and it is a reasonable guess that Reid has said, "I have to put guys in better position" - or something very close to that - approximately 73 times.

It is his blanket answer, even though (or because) it tells millions of Eagles fans almost nothing about what happened in the game.

But yesterday, Reid said something slightly different. And yes, this may be desperation, but it was enough to go on.

"As coaches, we have to make sure that we are putting the players in the right positions to make plays," Reid said, before adding, "and make sure that the right players are in the right position to make plays, and that's my responsibility to make sure that happens."

Did you catch it? "Right players in the right position."

A little later, Reid was asked specifically about the Cowboys' ability to make DeSean Jackson vanish, and he developed the thought just a bit.

"I thought we could have given him a few more opportunities [Sunday], and that's my responsibility," Reid said. "I have to do a better job of getting that kid in the right spots to do that."

As he said it, a moment from Sunday's 20-16 loss to Dallas flashed to mind. First half, Eagles facing a third-and-long situation. And there, before your wondering eyes, Jackson was trotting off the field as the Eagles switched personnel groups. Reggie Brown was jogging out to the huddle.

You don't have to be Bill Walsh to recognize that doing the defense a huge favor - eliminating the speedy, explosive Jackson as a threat and providing the eminently coverable Brown in his place - is not a staple of smart offensive Football. That doesn't mean Jackson has to be on the field for every down - a break here and there is necessary - but on third-and-long, your best receiver needs to be out there.

This was painfully similar to that situation a couple years ago in Washington, when the Eagles had the ball in the red zone with a chance to score in the final minutes. Somehow, Brian Westbrook wound up on the sideline because of the personnel package the Eagles went with. Washington's coaches couldn't have been happier with that little oversight.

Ultimately, it comes back to Reid and his staff falling more in love with their clever ideas than with the mundane tasks of making first downs and moving the Football.

It is why pounding the fullback on third and short just isn't innovative enough. It is why the Eagles line up with an empty backfield so often, eliminating the run as a threat and inviting the most intense possible pass rush into quarterback Donovan McNabb's personal space. It is why this whole bewildering and time-wasting Wildcat thing wasn't left behind at Lehigh.

The Eagles lined up with McNabb alone in the backfield twice on their first possession Sunday. The first time, McNabb threw a pass right into the breadbasket of Terence Newman. The cornerback dropped it. Next time, McNabb's pass to Jeremy Maclin bounced off the rookie receiver and was intercepted.

The Eagles had an empty backfield on the second-quarter play that saw nose tackle Jay Ratliff bull through Stacy Andrews and drop McNabb for a 10-yard sack. And they had an empty backfield on a play in which DeMarcus Ware came clean off the edge and delivered perhaps the hardest hit McNabb absorbed all night.

It has been said here many times. This is the kind of punishment that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning seldom, if ever, take. Not just because their lines are better, but because of the maximum-protection philosophy of their coaches. Watch Brady stand flat-footed for four seconds and then deliver a pass as if he's in a 9-on-7 drill with the red shirt on, and the difference is clear.

Reid has always asked McNabb to cope with the rush so more receivers can get out into patterns. That has been true whether the line was up to it, whether the receivers were talented enough to get open, or whether McNabb was playing with a hernia or a healing knee.

So the least he can do is keep defensive players off balance and keep the Eagles' best offensive players for any given situation on the field. The least he can do is "make sure the right players are in the right position."

It just doesn't seem like it should be as hard as the Eagles make it look.

Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.

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Added: November 10, 2009

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