The loud crack heard just before halftime on Sunday in Arizona was the sound of the Eagles' collective backbone breaking. After yet another turnover by Michael Vick, after yet another misread by Michael Vick, the game was over.
The Eagles were soundly beaten by the Cardinals in every phase of the game. Every Eagles flaw was accentuated. Bad games happen for every team in the NFL throughout the course of a season, but this one may have ominous indications of problems to come.
Turnovers and accountability
It is becoming more apparent that with Vick at quarterback, the Eagles are not going to significantly reduce their turnovers. This issue prevented them from being a playoff team last year and could do the same this year.
On Sunday, Vick avoided throwing an interception for the first game this season; he compensated by losing two fumbles. Some would say there was nothing he could have done on the second one, which occurred on the Cardinals 1-yard line and was returned for a touchdown. That single play represented a 14-point swing that pushed the Cardinals' lead to 24-0.
Recapping the game, both Ike Reese and Ray Didinger noted that it is the responsibility of the quarterback to identify free rushers prior to the snap and flip the play to the other side. Vick did not, and the game ended right there.
After the game, Vick said that the Eagles ought to have taken better care of the ball. He said he saw the blitzer coming, but was trying to make a play. His words were as feeble as his passing totals on the day. Every week he says the same thing. Nothing changes.
Vick has courage, but is lacking in every other area that makes a quality NFL quarterback. He cannot read a defense, does not make good decisions, does not learn from his mistakes, and is incapable of saving himself from punishment.
At times Sunday, he was under intense pressure, victimized by a porous offensive line (which is worrisome in its own right, going forward). When given a pocket, Vick held onto the ball for an excruciating length of time, unable to make a decision. These are all flaws fans have seen in Vick for too long.
Old excuses, new problems
Now a new problem has presented itself: Vick is no longer a running threat. It has not been discussed nearly enough for how important it is. His ability to slip pursuers is not nearly what it was even as recently as last year. A running Vick softened defenses enough to open spaces on subsequent passing plays. Now, he is not fast enough to turn the corner and keep defenses honest.
Through three games, Vick has 94 rushing yards and is averaging 4.5 yards per carry—paltry numbers for a quarterback, let alone one known as a bona fide rushing threat. Watching the games, his explosiveness is gone; his speed greatly diminished. On his one positive-yardage run Sunday, Vick was caught from behind by a linebacker, which would never have happened previously. Without his running ability, Vick is a below-average quarterback, and that is what we saw Sunday.
Vick was certainly the biggest problem Sunday, but Andy Reid and his coaching staff were a close second. In the first half, the Eagles ran 30 offensive plays: 25 passes and five runs. They handed the ball to their best player, LeSean McCoy, four times.
That is inexplicable and inexcusable. Last week the Eagles balanced the offense and beat a very good Ravens team. This week they abandoned the run almost entirely and scored 6 points.
Might this be the week this obvious lesson sinks in?
Reid also bears responsibility for Vick’s second and game-sealing fumble at the end of the first half. With six seconds and no timeouts remaining, Reid should have been able to recognize Vick's sluggish decision-making throughout the day and sent in the field goal unit.
A close-range chip shot would have gotten the team on the board and into the locker room with a two-touchdown deficit. Instead, they ended the half down four scores and never sniffed a comeback.
Blame enough to go around
The Eagles were also undone against the Cardinals by other role players on Sunday.
For starters, Damarius Johnson fumbled a punt the Eagles did not recover and displayed a general discomfort in the role.
Those who thought that Desean Jackson's admitted unprofessionalism ended with his new contract were mistaken. At the end of the first half, when a dive toward the endzone might have spared the Eagles the Vick fumble, he turtled up to protect himself. Jackson also threw his hands up at officials while the ball was still in the air and he was still supposedly mid-route.
Fans have to accept the bad with the good when it comes to Jackson. Sunday was the bad.
The Eagles defense did not play great football on Sunday, backed into bad field position on four turnovers. The unit was victimized early, but allowed its last touchdown of the game halfway through the second quarter. The Eagles have not allowed a second-half touchdown this season, which is remarkable. They forced no turnovers and missed more tackles than they should have—unwelcome shadows of last year’s defense—but played decently overall.
Galling for Eagles fans was watching Kevin Kolb quarterback the Cardinals against his former team. He looked downright surgical against the backdrop of Vick’s disjointed, error-filled performance. Just added insult to injury on a bad day for Eagles fans.
Plenty of ammunition for a rivalry match-up
The beauty of the NFL, especially early in the season, is that there is always a meaningful game next week. Week Four features a contest more meaningful than most. A primetime home game against the Giants offers plenty of intensity, but the energy of one before which fan favorite Brian Dawkins will be honored will shake the Linc to its core.
A win over the hated Giants would be at once a fitting tribute to lay at the feet of The Greatest Eagle and the balm for a chafing loss. Dispatch the Giants, and all that ugliness will evaporate like the sun dipping below the painted horizon; a ghost vanishing with the desert wind.