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Fate or Fumbles Defeat Eagles in Pittsburgh

Michael Vick managed to not throw any interceptions in Pittsburgh—but made up for it by coughing up four fumbles in a close game the Eagles lost on a late field goal.

This game was proof that a team can walk the tightrope only so many times before falling off; that a team cannot tempt fate that many times and continue to win nail-biting victories.

There is no shame in losing to the Steelers by a field goal on the last play of the game at Heinz Field, but the way it happened—yet again—was frustrating. The Eagles played well enough to win, except…

A terminal case of fumblitis

Once again, Michael Vick continued his pursuit of the single-season fumbling record with gusto. The most damaging of Vick’s four fumbles, two of which were recovered by the Steelers, was his cough-up at the 3-yard line as he tried to score the first points of the game on a QB draw.

Miscues like that, especially on the road, are deflating. Vick compounded his error with another lost fumble shortly thereafter. Seldom, if ever, has the NFL seen a veteran QB who handles the ball with less caution.

The defense managed to hold the Steelers scoreless after Vick’s second lost fumble, this one in Eagles territory. It's been a recurring theme for this unit: being made to atone for Vick's carelessness again and again. No defense can succeed under such conditions every time.

Neither can such an offense. Despite the team's lofty ranking in yardage gained, the Eagles have scored more than 20 points this season just once, and that is all attributable to Vick’s turnovers.

In speaking to the media this week, Vick proclaimed that throughout his career, he has always made protecting the football a priority. Vick led the NFL in fumbles in 2004 and 2010 and is on pace to set the record for fumbles in a season this year. In 2004, he was young. Now he is not, so it sounds like more lip service from a player who never seems to learn.

Time for defensive adjustments

The defense should take some responsibility for the loss after failing to stop the Steelers offense on its final drive. The lack of big plays of late has become glaring. Unexpectedly, the Eagles' vaunted pass rush has not recorded a sack in two full games, nor forced enough turnovers.

Since opposing offenses are obviously game-planning to neutralize the Eagles' pass rush, it is incumbent upon Juan Castillo to start calling some blitzes. This unit has blitzed very infrequently, expecting Trent Cole and Jason Babin to provide a pass rush. That pair has a lot of QB hurries, but is not getting home. Linebackers Demeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks should be given the opportunity to contribute to the pass rush.

In the end Sunday, however, the defense allowed 16 points on the road. If they can do that every week, they should win a lot of games. For Pittsburgh, however, coming off a bye week at home, the game was virtually a must-win—and one they might have lost had it not been for Vick's turnovers.

Their cause was aided by the return of three injured starters—safety Troy Polamalu, who re-aggravated a calf injury and left the game early; LB James Harrison, who did not do much statistically; and running back Rashard Mendenhall, who revitalized the Steelers anemic running game with more than 100 yards from scrimmage, including the Steelers only touchdown on the day. The Steelers would not have won this game without those contributions.

Still some magic

Vick did settle down to lead the Eagles on a huge, late-game drive that consumed almost the first half of the fourth quarter. It featured two gutsy fourth-down calls by Reid, which were successful only because LeSean McCoy is a magician, and culminated in a touchdown pass to TE Brent Celek that left the Eagles clinging to a one-point lead with six minutes to play.

Yet you got the feeling watching the game that the probability of the Eagles eking out yet another win while still losing the turnover battle was unlikely, especially in Pittsburgh. The defense allowed the Steelers to drive 64 yards and Shaun Suisham kicked the game-winning, 34-yard field goal as time expired.

The Eagles have a good team, but they desperately need to score more points to win footballgames. They cannot do that without Vick reducing his turnovers. It is exasperating to see the same thing week after week.

The Eagles beat the Giants because Vick played a clean game; they lost to the Steelers because Vick reverted to his old ways. The success of the Eagles hinges on whether Vick keeps turning the ball over.

It really is that simple. Correcting it should be simple as well, but they have not done so. It is difficult to root the team on with enthusiasm when looking over your shoulder for the next turnover to derail the down, or the drive, or in this case, the season.

One question Eagles fans had at the outset of the season has been answered. Yes the Eagles have a good team. The second question is whether their QB can reduce his turnovers enough to allow the team to be successful. Eagles fans are still waiting for the final answer from the only person who can provide it.

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Bryan Littel (Editor) October 11, 2012 at 01:51 AM
Stu became a parody of himself in the last five years—if not earlier than that.
Matt Skoufalos (Editor) October 11, 2012 at 02:02 AM
Hear, hear. Thanks for respecting the space guys. We love having a place to have these discussions, and of course, we like reading Mike's thoughts on the Birds each week. Hell, we've even managed to go through weeks and weeks of this without my favorite WIP-style comments about "the definition of insanity." This is a football-savvy bunch. Let's stick to armchair quarterbacking. On that note: the Lions are getting more and more production from guys like Pettigrew and Burleson (the cries for Titus Young to emerge as a fantasy sleeper haven't reached him yet). I would look for them to try to match Megatron up in the slot against Boykin again—or they might even take shots at Nnamdi, the way he's been playing. What I would say is critical to the game is getting the pass rush going. Stafford has a bad shoulder and has shown that he can be hurried into bad decisions. The Detroit running game is so far nonexistent, which makes them pretty one-dimensional. The Lions D-line will still be looking to get at Vick, and they haven't forgotten how to pressure. But they are allowing a ton of points per game, even if they're not allowing that many yards. Intangibles? Will the death today of Alex Karras fire the squad up? Probably not as much as if the game were in Michigan. But maybe enough to give them a little extra juice.
Matt Skoufalos (Editor) October 11, 2012 at 02:09 AM
Aww man, I love Stu Scott...
Larry O'Doyle October 11, 2012 at 10:23 AM
Is that Jim Lehrer masquerading as Skoof again? Gotta give Bo the nod in this passionate debate. If Brandon Boykin is responsible for Megatron, our future is as grim as Big Bird's. Lots of screens, draws, counters and moving the pocket for Vick should help avoid the pressure and keep the Lions off balance.
Porterincollingswood October 11, 2012 at 11:57 AM
What's your 40 time?
Porterincollingswood October 11, 2012 at 12:02 PM
Our only hope is that the Lions try and establish the run. They've had subpar results doing that, and when they go out of their way to do so (against, inexplicably, the 49ers) they lose. They're a good team playing bad because their coach has implemented a scheme that doesn't play to their strengths. My fear is that, off the bye week, they get back to pass-first. No doubt they see Namdi's play and will try to bully him with Megatron. That said, deep safety play has taken much of his big plays away, relegating Stafford to a dink-n-dunk gameplan he seems uncomfortable with - his INT's all come when he's zoning in on the short routes. So if Juan can scheme and the Lions haven't adjusted, it's a huge win. Kendricks will have to continue to shine in coverage. I feel good about this one.
Porterincollingswood October 11, 2012 at 12:45 PM
Not our "only hope", as a I wrote, but a "big" one. I think the Eagles can make plays on the Lions defense so we can survive a strong showing by the Lions offense.
Mike Diviney October 11, 2012 at 07:18 PM
Agree Larry, with your prescription for offensive success. Megatron won't be in the slot, but Nnamdi will be covering him so... gotta score some point on offense and PRESSURE STAFFORD!
Mike Diviney October 11, 2012 at 07:20 PM
Was about to jump all over your "only hope" line! I feel VERY good about this one. I did against the Steelers too and if Vick played a clean game, probably would have won.
Mike Diviney October 11, 2012 at 07:20 PM
Bo was clocked at 5 even in the 40 with a pocket full of rocks.
Mike Diviney October 11, 2012 at 07:21 PM
Skouf, I'd venture to guess most Lions fans know Karras more as Webster's dad than as a Lion's player. That was a LONG time ago.
Mike Diviney October 11, 2012 at 07:22 PM
Skouf, Stuart Scott- you've got to be kidding me. That guy SUCKS!
Mike Diviney October 11, 2012 at 07:33 PM
The Eagles coverage teams have been getting a lot of attention for their shortcomings, deservedly so. Since their offense is struggling, using special teams to shorten the field would be a good idea. To that end, put Desean Jackson out there as the punt returner. Ray Didinger was just stating the Lions special teams are the worst he's EVER seen. Atrocious and unbelievably bad were his words. 28 yards per PUNT RETURN. Get DJack back there.
Phil McConkey October 11, 2012 at 07:34 PM
Eagles blow out Lions and all is happy and joyful in Eagle land, people from Philadelphia are actually nice to each other...........until the next game.
Mike Diviney October 11, 2012 at 08:25 PM
Your condescending attitude is unbecoming. That's what results from living outside the region of the team for which you root (allegedly).
Matt Skoufalos (Editor) October 11, 2012 at 08:26 PM
He's a national treasure!
Bo October 11, 2012 at 10:13 PM
No doubt Larry, and I love the kid, but if the Lions can place Megatron anywhere near Boykin, we may be in trouble.
Bo October 11, 2012 at 10:28 PM
It is ashame that Karas isn't in the hall of fame, considering four defensive backfield mates who played behind him are all Hall of Famers. Dick LeBeau, Yale Lary, Lem Barney and Night-Train Lane all rack up some amazing numbers and accomplishments with the help of the pressure that all started with Karas on the defensive line. I know the gambling issue that he and Hourning got suspended for and he never apologized but gee wiz, hasn't that expired yet. The hall should do the right thing in February when voting takes place at the Super Bowl location,
Bo October 11, 2012 at 11:09 PM
It isn't good, but I am certain I'll beat Mikey if we lined up now, that said Mikey was an impressive poormans Charles Barkley on the basketball court, who could dominate on the inside using his body and had a soft touch on the outside. Let's have a race, you, me, Gary B and Mike, a 100 yard dash. You pick the high school track Porter, and we'll all put down a 10 spot.
Mike Diviney October 12, 2012 at 12:28 AM
Bo, I think Karas refused to apologize because he insisted he didn't do anything wrong. Who knows? I don't know any of the details about that whol situation. How did Karas, a Lion and Hornung, a Packer both get implicated in that? Hornung's in the Hall.
Porterincollingswood October 12, 2012 at 12:49 AM
Remember Clarence Weatherspoon - if you are 6'0" you retain the right to claim that you're 6'7" in sneakers.
Bo October 12, 2012 at 03:00 AM
Exactly that, Hornung apologized and Karas refused to apologize, yet both were suspended for a year. So fine he wouldn't apologize, even if he did admit and it was proven that he placed six bets of either $50 or $100 on NFL games over a whatever year period, but he served his time per say. I always assumed if he had simply wrote a letter to the commissioner, at whatever time, he then would have been forgiven by the voters/writers, Hornung had bet on many, many games and at much larger dollar amounts than Karas. They both were scolded for associating with known gamblers, and that was also part of their suspension. The guy never had another issue, and I am sure his business dealings were being watched past this point by whoever within the NFL. Surely he was wrong, but I feel it wasn't that which we're really talking about, it was more how he felt his family, himself and anyone close to him were treated during Rozelle's investigation. This whole incident is where Rozelle first established his strength as commissioner, but many think it was a bit of a witch hunt, and Pete went to ridiculous lengths, and after he got more than suffice information on both.
Bo October 12, 2012 at 05:03 AM
I hear Mr Skoufalos here knows my younger brother Adam, who was a grade behind him, and he's just a touch taller and some pounds heavier than I, but we both have the same build.
Matt Skoufalos (Editor) October 12, 2012 at 05:07 AM
I'm sure I may, but that still doesn't make me suitable for handicapping purposes.
Phil McConkey October 12, 2012 at 01:12 PM
no I really do think the EAgles blow them out. Also was shocked at the 4.5 spread I saw. I thought it'd be higher. especially at home
Mike Diviney October 12, 2012 at 07:11 PM
Yeah Bo, but they had to be even more vigilant back then about gambling. Players didn't make a lot of money so they much more were susceptible to the lure of riches offered by underworld types. It was a long time ago. If he was a Hall of Fame caliber player, he should be in Canton.
Mike Diviney October 12, 2012 at 07:13 PM
Phil, it opened at 5.5 and is now 3.5! A HUGE swing for an NFL line.
Bo October 13, 2012 at 12:32 AM
There is no question that he is a Hall of Famer. There are three DTs on the NFL's all decade team of the 1960s, Alex Karras, Merlin Olsen and Mr Cowboy Bob Lilly, all three have been in the Hall for quite some time. LB Joe Schmidt, also a Hall of Famer, played behind Karras in Detroit. Yes gambling and any sniff of it was how Rozelle reasoned his witch hunt, but Paul had far more guilt here in the amount of money he gambled and frequency he did such in. Karras had business associates who were know to be bookmakers, but he claims he never knew.
Bo October 13, 2012 at 08:20 PM
I meant two and Karras isn't enshrined in Canton yet, wherein Rozelle was at the time pretty adamant about black-balling him. I hope that his now passing will give some HOF voters, who will soon gather at the Super Bowl location, the proper perspective, that sadly seems to only come with death, to now do the right thing and vote him in. Ron Santo, in a different way, had to arrive at his enshrinement moment, but only in his passing 10 months before. Neither Santo or Karras should have waited this long. Karras, who suffered from dementia, was also one of the leading voices and part of the class action suit by former NFL players who feel strongly that their head injuries directly resulted from their playing days in the NFL. With that consideration, I'd say that Karras gave a lot to the league in his 11 years of sterling service on the field, with one hiccup off the field. Heck even as Mongo in Blazing Saddles, or in Plimpton's book turned movie, and even in Webster, he more than protected and represented that NFL shield correctly.
Phil McConkey October 14, 2012 at 03:58 PM
Enjoy the games today gentlemen. Here's something to get you pumped up! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UoCT2Snbh7c

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