Turns out Goldilocks would not make much of an NFL coach. Waiting for everything to be
gets you a 2-4 record and a lot of unhappy fans.
First, the Eagles' passing game struggled because cornerbacks were jamming their wide receivers hard at the line of scrimmage, throwing off the timing.
Now we hear the Eagles can't get the ball down the field because defenses are playing soft, forcing Donovan McNabb to check down to Brian Westbrook or, gulp, Thomas Tapeh.
Too hard, too soft. Maybe, if the Eagles are lucky, the Minnesota Vikings will play them just right on Sunday. Maybe they'll serve porridge in the pregame locker room, too.
It's funny how you don't hear Peyton Manning or Tom Brady explaining how the defense took away what they wanted to do on offense. There's a pretty good reason for this. The Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots don't run offenses based on taking what the other team's defense allows them to take. They dictate what they're going to do and force opponents to stop them. If they can.
"We like to dictate," Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said yesterday. "When we call some of our [downfield passing] shots, there are some times when it's just simply taken away."
So why aren't defenses taking away Randy Moss and Marvin Harrison, Donté Stallworth and Reggie Wayne? Why is it Tony Romo keeps finding Terrell Owens downfield? Are we to believe NFL defensive coaches go to great lengths to contain Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown, but haven't figured out that Moss and Owens and Harrison are dangerous?
There are three possibilities: Those players are better, those offensive systems are more effective, or both.
The Colts happened to play Monday night against a pretty good Jacksonville defense. Manning is a brilliant quarterback, no doubt about that. But he threw balls that were slightly off as far as placement and timing. His receivers have a knack for catching them. When Manning throws into a crowd, somehow it's always Wayne or Harrison or Dallas Clark who comes down with the ball.
At halftime of the Monday night game, ESPN showed highlights of Brady's six-TD game Sunday against Miami. Same thing. Brady threw jump balls in the vicinity of Moss, even though he was surrounded by defensive backs. Moss came down with touchdowns where you strongly suspect McNabb would get saddled with interceptions.
Watch the replay of McNabb's pass to Brown just inside the goal line in the loss to Chicago on Sunday. Replace Brown with Owens or Moss or Wayne (or Chad Johnson or Plaxico Burress) and you'll get a touchdown 99 times out of 100.
Great players make that play every time. Very good players make that play most of the time.
"As far as making great plays," Mornhinweg said, "I think our players are capable of that, and I certainly think we'll see more of that coming."
Mornhinweg may believe that in his heart or he may simply be saying what he thinks is the right thing. It won't do any good now to acknowledge the limitations of the Eagles' offensive skill players, non-Westbrook division. But it seems pretty clear that if the coaches wanted to dictate their plan of attack, and the players were good enough, they would do it.
Regardless of the defense, McNabb threw deep when Owens was here. He threw deep when Stallworth was here. Heck, he even felt confident throwing deep when Todd Pinkston was his best speed receiver.
Now? Drop your safeties back and the Eagles abandon all hope of throwing deep. Move a safety up and the Eagles abandon all efforts to run the ball because there are "eight in the box." Swarm Westbrook in the red zone and watch the Eagles kick a field goal.
There is no way to know, without bugging the Eagles' meeting rooms, what percentage of this is play calling and what percentage is McNabb's decision making. Mornhinweg said McNabb's decisions have been "pretty good" so far this season, but it's hard to imagine he'd say so if he felt otherwise.
One thing seems very clear. During the all-too-brief period when he had a proven superstar wide receiver in Owens, McNabb put up great numbers. He threw passes on faith because he trusted Owens to catch the ball in traffic. Before that situation turned toxic, it proved that McNabb could be as effective as any quarterback in the league.
Manning has always had receivers like that. Brady has them now. So do Tony Romo and Eli Manning. They don't settle for what the defense gives them. They take what they want.
The Eagles seem to be waiting for the defense to be just right. Not too hard and not too soft. Like Goldilocks, all that approach did was irritate some Bears.
Sunday at 1 p.m.
TV/Radio: Fox29; WYSP-FM (94.1).