IF, IN FACT, arrogance diminishes wisdom, then the Eagles are squandering their richest resource.
Say what you will, but Andy Reid, Marty Mornhinweg and Juan Castillo are among the better coaches in the NFL in the past decade, perhaps longer. At one point or another, peers and experts hailed each as among the game's best at something: preparation, organization and hiring, in Reid's case; educating quarterbacks and implementing the West Coast offense, for Mornhinweg; and, for Castillo, the capacity to learn any of football's mysteries.
Put the development of Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb and the revival of Michael Vick's career at the feet of Reid and Mornhinweg. Credit Castillo with turning himself into the league's most innovative offensive line coach.
If only they would allow themselves the chance to let the game unfold before them. If only they would fire the weapons they have instead of trying to make those weapons more clever, more potent; instead of trying to make them devastating.
If only . . .
The 3-3 Eagles might be the 5-1 Eagles.
The overtime loss to a lousy Lions team might have been a boring, delicious win, one to savor atop the NFC East for 2 weeks.
Castillo might still have a job.
Instead, the Eagles stew through the bye, their quarterback situation unsettled, all of their plans shaken, all of their evaluations unsure.
What are the Eagles, 6 weeks into 2012?
Arrogant. Again and again and again, arrogant.
It is a team that opts for the knockout blow. It is a team that continually outsmarts itself; that shows little faith in basic football; that relies on trickery when toughness will do.
A team that hired Castillo, its longtime offensive line coach, to run the defense; then, in an effort to mask other deficiencies, fired him 22 games later.
Castillo never touted the Eagles as anything more than a possible contender. Some of the players, however, are convinced they are a championship machine. Always, that sort of assurance begets complacency.
Vick acts as face and spokesman for the players. Asked if he believed the Eagles had the game under control after they took a 10-point lead with just over 5 minutes to play against the Lions, Vick replied:
"I mean honestly, yeah. I know our football team and I know how good we are . . . Before I knew it, we were in a fight."
Michael Vick is a lot of things to a lot of people: felon, icon, hero, baller. Michael Vick is this to all people: honest, in his statements concerning football.
Michael Vick and his team thought the game was over.
Against a team with Calvin Johnson, a receiver so freakish that he is nicknamed after the villainous Emperor of Destruction, and Matthew Stafford, whose 41 passing touchdowns in 2011 more than doubled the output of the Eagles.
Given the chance to milk the clock late in the fourth, again, the Eagles opted for the exclamation point.
The best offensive player is running back LeSean McCoy.
The worst unit on the team is the offensive line, which especially struggles in pass protection.
The player making the most mistakes is Michael Vick.
The Eagles held a three-point lead. They faced third-and-4 at their own 18 with 2 minutes, 41 seconds to play. The Lions had two timeouts, plus the clock would stop at the 2-minute warning.
The Eagles have to run the ball, right? That takes the clock down to 2 minutes, or forces the Lions to use another timeout.
Of course the Eagles didn't run. They passed.
The ball left the hand of their 6-foot quarterback and was batted down by the Lions' 6-4 monster defensive tackle.
Which framed the final moments of conceit.
Stafford made several plays late in the game, but none as devastating as the 16-yard out to Johnson with 1:19 to play in regulation. Not just because it converted second-and-11 from the Eagles' 41 and put the Lions well within field-goal range, but also because it came against the Eagles' zone defense.
A zone defense it had barely played all game.
If Johnson is Megatron, then, on Sunday, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha was Optimus Prime. Asomugha played his best game since arriving last year. He intercepted a pass intended for Johnson in the end zone in the first half. Two of the first three plays of the game were incompletions to Johnson.
Entering the fourth quarter, the Eagles were wearing pith helmets. They had the Lions snuffed and stuffed: 165 total yards allowed, 7-for-21 passing for 91 yards with an interception, six points.
Until the fourth quarter.
Instead of simply leaving Asomugha on Johnson, as was done virtually all game, the Eagles played more zone and sent more blitzes. Stung by their lack of sacks, unwilling to simply win a game without maiming the quarterback, they tinkered with their strategy.
With a 10-point lead, at home, against an offense they had dominated. Well rested, too: The defense played just six plays in the third quarter.
Intent on making the big play, the knockout play, they went zone to entice an interception and blitzed. And gave up 286 yards of offense after the third quarter.
And, so, Castillo was fired.
Adios, Juan: It's all your fault.
This is the franchise without a Super Bowl title, and with only two Super Bowl appearances. Nevertheless, it has been described by owner Jeffrey Lurie as "the gold standard." Joe Banner, who built the franchise for Lurie before leaving this summer, equated the Eagles with the Red Sox . . . who, unlike the Eagles, won two titles in the first decade of the millennium. Still, Banner lauded himself and his hand-picked administrators for their wisdom as "risk takers."
With Banner gone, Reid exercises total control.
Reid; whose constant and escalating dismissiveness in 13 years of press conferences led Lurie last winter to order Reid to be more forthcoming, more human.
And he has been.
Unless, as on Sunday, he is angry.
Graceless, in defeat.
The arrogance always has trickled down.
Now, it should be mentioned that the organization is riddled with good and generous people, inside the locker room and inside its offices. Led by Asomugha, the players are sincere and prolific with their foundations and charitable efforts. Last year, the Eagles won a significant and prestigious international award as the pro franchise most beneficent to its community.
Perhaps the award served to further harden the arrogance. Consider the reaction to the batted ball, intended for streaking Jeremy Maclin.
Vick, on Sunday: "Jeremy Maclin would have still been running."
Reid, on Monday: "We had an opportunity on a third down for a huge play that last series in the fourth quarter and the ball got tipped."
"Still been running."
No admission that they called the wrong play for the time. They will do the same, again, and again, and again.
So, after 6 weeks, after three wins by a total of four points, after sacrificing perhaps the best man the organization has known in 2 decades, the Eagles remain what they have been for 14 years:
Convinced of their own greatness long before that greatness arrives.
Contact Marcus Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.