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Phil Sheridan: Eagles need to put up or shut up

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Posted 04 November 2012 - 05:43 AM


Phil Sheridan: Eagles need to put up or shut up

Phil Sheridan, Inquirer Sports Columnist
Posted: Sunday, November 4, 2012, 1:34 AM

This is it. This has to be it - the ledge, the precipice, the cliff's edge.

At 3-4, coming off their worst overall performance in an underwhelming season, the Eagles fly to New Orleans for their last real chance. It is put-up-or-shut-up time, once and for all, for a team that sure loves the sound of its own voices.

Whether they're talking about being a dynasty in training camp, complaining about the fans on Twitter, or making speeches in players-only meetings, these Eagles have mastered the oral part of the exam. Monday night, with a national audience bearing witness, they face an absolute, must-win football game.

Put up.

Or shut up.

The setup could not be more perfect. The Saints are recent champions whose season was thrown into disarray by the absence of their head coach and his top defensive assistant. The Eagles' season is in disarray because of the presence of their head coach and his top defensive assistant.

The Saints offense presents a challenge to both sides of the ball for the Eagles.

With Drew Brees running the league's top-rated passing attack, the Saints are everything an Andy Reid offense is supposed to be: high-scoring, exciting, productive, able to score at any moment, from any point on the field.

That is exactly the kind of offense this Eagles defense was intended to stop. When he imported Jim Washburn's wide-nine, pass-rushing line scheme, Reid had just been eliminated from the playoffs by Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. Brees and the Saints had won the previous Super Bowl. In an act-and-react league, Reid was looking for an antidote to the high-powered passing offenses that had risen to prominence and dominance.

Well, here we are. If this defense has any merit - and that means scheme, talent, character - then it will show up at the Superdome in a very big way. The highly paid cornerbacks have to cover Brees' receivers long enough for the highly paid defensive linemen to get to Brees. It is that simple. That is the program we've been sold for two seasons, and it is time for delivery.

There can be no more whining about how Ben Roethlisberger is just too big to sack or Matt Ryan is just too efficient to blitz. In between, this defense let Matthew Stafford pick it apart with the game on the line. If that didn't prove how empty the talk has been, nothing will.

Brees is excellent, but he has been sacked 13 times this year. He has thrown eight interceptions. It is within the laws of physics and rules of football for the Eagles to make a big play against him.

"You got to have a good overall game plan against them," defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said, "and you have to hope that he is off a little bit. You have to hope they are a little bit worn down. . . . Every quarterback right now, with four guys rushing the passer, will try to get rid of the ball a little quicker and let your playmakers make plays."

Well, not every quarterback.

The flip side of Reid's attempt to build an elite pass defense was his belief he would be adding it to an already elite passing offense, led by an elite quarterback. That belief was based on Michael Vick's flash of greatness during the 2010 season.

Reid renewed his vows with Vick last week. They are officially tethered together for the duration of this season, which could mean the duration of both men's tenure in Philadelphia.

Let's keep it basic. Forget all the side issues. Whether Vick runs more, or does better against the blitz, or cuts back on turnovers, or sprouts wings and soars over the defense makes for talking points. But it is scoring points that matters. However he does it, Vick has to hang 30 on the scoreboard Monday night.

Tall order? The Eagles averaged 31.7 in the 10 games Vick started and finished in 2010.

That is the Vick the Eagles were counting on. They need him, and the defense they were counting on, and they need them now. If they don't deliver, then it's simple. They simply aren't a competent NFL team.

And if they do come through Monday night, that's just a first step. Getting to .500 is hardly an achievement for Reid, for Vick, for this franchise. It is a starting point. The finishing point needs to be somewhere around 11-5 for this season to be considered a success.

The Eagles aren't being graded on a curve anymore. There is no lowering of expectations because of their failure to meet them so far. All a win against the Saints would do is keep them from going over the ledge, the precipice, the cliff's edge.

All a loss would bring is more empty talk.

Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com

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