November 4, 2011

Andy's adaptation abilities.

Andy Reid has his flaws. Extremely frustrating failings that'll make you want to rip your eyes out or, more reasonably, flip to another game.

Clock management is one. Stubbornness is another.

Like the time he assigned the completely untested Greg Lewis and J.R. Reed to return punts. It cost the Eagles the game and forced the hopelessly mediocre Reno Mahe back into our lives.

Like his refusal to spend on linebackers and safeties. Maybe we shouldn't lament the loss of Stewart Bradley, but I wonder how the Eagles defense would have looked earlier this season with Quintin Mikell in the defensive backfield instead of Jarrad Page.

A few weeks ago, I would have also added "like the time he hired offensive line coach Juan Castillo to be the new defensive coordinator." But a funny thing happened along the way; the Eagles defense started to improve.

They've allowed only 127 rushing yards over the last two games. Nnamdi Asomugha looks increasingly comfortable in Castillo's schemes. The wide nine has apparently been tweaked (or maybe better grasped by the players), rookie Casey Matthews has been banished from the starting lineup, and the Brian Rolle/Jamar Chaney/Moise Fokou trio has shored up a previously detrimental linebacking core.

And therein lies Andy Reid's genius: His ability to adapt. He's one of the best coaches in the league, maybe in the history of the game, at rolling with the punches.

He's 13-0 after the bye, and he's 62-33-1 in the second half of the season. Take out 2005, which turned into a lost season, and the handful of late-December losses that came after the Eagles had already locked up a playoff spot, and you've got an almost-immaculate record from November on.

Some coaches wither and die after being dealt a bad hand. To his credit, Andy Reid is not one of them.

His in-game decision-making isn't always top-notch, but give him a bye week -- or even sometimes just an intermission -- to get situated and you'll often see the play-calling or the scheme do a complete 180° flip. The team that destroyed Dallas on Sunday night was not the team that pissed away wins in Atlanta and Buffalo. That's Andy Reid out-coaching Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan, that's coaches flip-flopping starters and building up the confidence and capabilities of rookies like Danny Watkins.

Unfortunately, making midseason changes isn't always enough; despite two very strong games in a row (and the promise of more to come) the Eagles remain two wins behind the New York Giants with only one head-to-head match-up remaining. They'll have to take at least 6 of their last 9 games to have any chance at the playoffs. Luckily, they have the personnel to pull it off.

I really thought this might be Andy Reid's last hurrah. Turnovers abounded, and the defense and offensive line took some time to get going. But Castillo's straightened his boys out, and Howard Mudd looks to be every bit the Hall of Fame line coach they said he was.

With the NFL's leading rush attack, a healthy Michael Vick and a boatload of everyone's favorite intangible, momentum, the pieces are there for another dominant season-ending stretch. If the Eagles are able to rebound from 1-4 and live up to the preseason hype after all, this just might be Andy Reid's masterpiece.

No comments: