It's do-or-die time for the Philadelphia Eagles, who are still very much alive on paper but look and feel as though they should be receiving CPR.
After an uninspired and disappointing effort at home against the Atlanta Falcons coming off the bye week, the Eagles now might be in a must-win situation in New Orleans on Monday night.
Here's a closer look at where the team stands as it prepares for that game.
What They Should Be Thinking
OK, we fixed the turnover problem...and we still lost by 13 points. We've now been outscored by an average of five points per game and haven't won in over a month. This is the first time we've lost three in a row since September and October of last year, and we were never able to recover from that slump.
With our famous pass rush continually failing to get the job done, our coverage lacking consistency, our offensive line in shambles and a quarterback controversy beginning to boil over, there's little reason to believe things will be any different this time around.
It's hard to believe that we have only nine sacks this season, which ranks 31st in the NFL. Last year, we led the league with 50 of 'em.
Jason Babin has been so ineffective that Brandon Graham is cutting into his reps, but this problem goes beyond personnel. The Wide 9 simply isn't working, and the all-or-nothing approach on defense is backfiring. Opposing offenses are killing us on screens and using our putrid attempts at adjustments to attack our secondary.
We aren't using LeSean McCoy to the best of his ability, but that's nothing new. As a result of our continued lack of balance and the fact that the line isn't capable of pass-protecting at even a mediocre level, Vick's having a bad year. Sunday against Atlanta, he avoided big mistakes but also failed to do anything with his arm or his legs to give us a boost.
If we eventually go with Nick Foles, it'll be for that psychology and somewhat tangible boost that we require. We have little to lose right now, what with the sky falling over Philadelphia and all. And that's sad.
Beat the New Orleans Saints, and there's a very good chance we'll be just one game out of a playoff spot in the NFC. And our rivals from New York have proven twice in recent years that a simple playoff berth is all that is necessary to turn mediocrity into championship success.
And beating New Orleans isn't far-fetched. It'll be a tough road game, especially on a Monday night, but the Saints have given up more yards and first downs per game than any other team in football. Their defense is atrocious right now, which should give Vick a chance to redeem himself in front of a national audience.
Speaking of Vick, he's actually been significantly better the last four games than he was over the first three, which is probably the sole reason why Andy Reid appears as though he's going to stick with him for at least one more week. He's cut down on the turnovers and has increased his passer rating and completion percentage significantly.
Despite those documented struggles, the defense has still given up the ninth-fewest yards and the 12th-fewest points in football. Not anything that jumps off the page, but if the pass rush does begin to get hot again, we could be very tough to beat.
If we weren't desperate against Atlanta, we have to be now. We've got no choice. We salvaged our season with four straight wins to close out 2011. We have to start that late-season run a little earlier this time.
If we can pull that off, we could save Reid's job and Vick's job and maybe even shock the world.
What I'm Thinking
Stock Rising (Offense): King Dunlap
Back in a starting role at left tackle, Dunlap actually fared very well against Atlanta, giving up not a single hurry on 44 pass-blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus. Now that Dunlap's healthy and performing well, we shouldn't have to see Demetress Bell again in 2012. Or 2013, for that matter.
Stock Rising (Defense): Cedric Thornton
He and Brandon Graham both played well as very active parts of the rotation against the Falcons, with Thornton picking up his first sack of the year and generating some solid pressure and Graham registering two hurries (according to PFF).
Todd Bowles and Jim Washburn have to keep increasing their workload for the time being.
Stock Dropping (Offense): Brent Celek
The tight end's been held under 40 yards in four of his last five games and has just one touchdown this season. He's also dropped six passes on 46 targets after dropping only six on 94 targets last season, per PFF.
Stock Dropping (Defense): Jason Babin
Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie would also work here, but we'll go with Babin, who hasn't recorded a sack since Week 3 and is on pace to record just five of them this season. Dude came into 2012 with 30.5 sacks in his last 32 games.
As I mentioned, wild-card spots in the NFC East are wide open. At least the one belonging to the Minnesota Vikings is. And the Giants might have a 2.5-game lead over Philly in the NFC East, but the Eagles beat New York in their first meeting and have a much easier schedule than the G-men between now and Week 17, when the two face each other to finish the season.
There's still a chance that game could matter. For that to happen, the Eagles just have to gain a game on Big Blue at some point over the next eight weeks.
I don't think this team can just fix its issues with pass protection and on defense overnight, but if Vick can regain some momentum and if the Eagles have already taken care of that major turnover problem, there's a chance they salvage this season.
But don't get your hopes up.
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