1. CAN MICHAEL VICK CUT DOWN ON THE TURNOVERS?
The numbers are staggering: 13 turnovers in six games. Michael Vick has become a turnover machine. Can he possibly keep this season’s pace up? The laws of probability would seem to suggest that the quarterback cannot. In his first nine seasons in the NFL, Vick had an interception or fumble 3.0 percent of every time he dropped back to pass or ran. This season, he has turned the ball over 4.5 percent of every drop or rush. While that may seem like only a marginal increase, it is not; the spike implying that Vick is more likely to turn the ball over at a rate in line with the greater sample than with the smaller one. So he should do a better job in the final ten games. But that won’t be enough. Behind a crippling offensive line, Vick has to be extra careful with his ball security and with forcing throws downfield. It’s that simple. The Eagles won’t win if they keep turning the ball over at this pace – 17 all told. If they don’t, Andy Reid will be forced to stop Vick’s errors the only way he can – by benching him for rookie Nick Foles.
2. WHAT WILL THE DEFENSE LOOK LIKE UNDER TODD BOWLES?
Judging from Todd Bowles’ introductory press conference last week, the defense won’t look much different than it did under Juan Castillo. Well, except for that whole closing-out-games thing. Bowles said that defensive line coach Jim Washburn’s wide-nine scheme will remain intact, that he will continue to mix and match man and zone defenses and that he’ll blitz when warranted and when working. The most significant difference, though, will likely be seen on game days when plays are called and when adjustments must be made. Castillo’s inability to effectively counter fourth quarter changes from opposing offensive coordinators was his ultimate undoing. Bowles, like Castillo, had never been an NFL coordinator before Reid gave them the job. But Bowles has a strong pedigree and a long history of working with some stout defenses. Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha had touted Bowles’ in-game capabilities weeks before he got the top job. The Eagles have the talent and the athletes to play fast yet disciplined, as Bowles said he wanted his defense to look. It’s up to the first-time coordinator to put them in the best possible position to makes plays.
3. HOW CAN THE OFFENSE SCORE MORE POINTS?
Well, they can cut down on turnovers, but we’ve already covered that area. And, really, there’s more to the Eagles averaging a second-worst in the league 17.2 points a game than just turnovers. The struggles on the offensive line and Vick’s giveaways forced coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to call for a more balanced offense and for shorter throws against the New York Giants and Steelers. That strategy had a 50-50 success rate, and would have likely batted 1.000 had Vick not fumbled twice in Pittsburgh. But for the Eagles’ fast break offense to reach its zenith, Mornhinweg has to go back to a more pass-oriented offense that throws downfield. He did so against the Lions last week. The opportunities were there, but the execution in many cases was not. Vick failed to hit open receivers on several plays, so he deserves some of the blame. But his protection was below average and you have to wonder where his mind was after taking such a beating. So what can Reid and Mornhinweg do? They could go back to a ball-control offense – and they may at times depending upon the opponent – but the Lions gave future defenses a blueprint on how to disrupt the Eagles. They stacked the box and shut down running back LeSean McCoy and forced Vick, behind a shaky line, to beat them. Here’s a sober thought: This offense just may not be capable of averaging more than 20 points a game.
4. CAN THE EAGLES MAKE THE PLAYOFFS?
Yes, they can. The Eagles are not dead and buried at 3-3, not by a long shot. Reid has been 3-3 after six games four previous times during his tenure here – 2008, 2003, 2001 and 2000. Each time the Eagles made the playoffs. Consider Reid’s career record before Week 6 (47-37, .559) and after (82-47-1, .635). Consider the combined records of the Eagles’ ten remaining opponents (27-28, .491). Consider the NFC East standings. The New York Giants are 4-2, but the Eagles have the head-to-head tiebreaker right now. The Redskins are 3-3. The Cowboys are 2-3. The division is there for the taking. The Birds have some work to do, but a playoff berth is certainly not out of the realm of possibilities. Now will they do it? The belief here since before the season was they will not.
5. WHAT DOES ANDY REID NEED TO DO TO SAVE HIS JOB?
Making the playoffs would be a good start. If the Eagles finish the season 7-3 or better and somehow fail to reach the postseason, its possible Jeffrey Lurie cuts Reid a break, although highly unlikely. Lurie said that he needed to see “substantial improvement” over last season’s 8-8 finish. Two more wins without a playoff game is not substantial. So, let’s say, Reid rallies the troops and the Birds make it to the postseason. Is that enough? It’s possible Lurie views qualifying for the playoffs as “substantial improvement.” And there are a few possible qualifiers – injuries, acts of God, etc. But it’s likely Reid has to win at least one playoff game. He hasn’t won one since 2008. But first, he’s got to win a few games in the regular season.