Fourth and Twenty-Six: How to fix the Eagles

Before I start, let’s just take a moment to step back and recognize something: the fact that articles like this one are being written following Week 13 tells you all that you need to know. First, it tells you that this season, despite a decent effort Sunday night in Dallas, has become nothing short of a disaster. And for that matter, so has this regime. Second, it shows that despite the recent failures, this city and this fan base still yearn for one thing more than anything: success. And third, it makes you realize that Andy Reid is not the man capable of achieving that success.

Enough about Reid though. His departure is almost a forgone conclusion at this point. But that is only one of many changes that the 2013 offseason promises. Last week, Jason Babin was the first casualty of this house cleaning, and on Monday, Jim Washburn, defensive line coach and ‘Wide 9’ guru, became the second. Here’s a look at five changes that should follow to help the Eagles get back on a level where they are capable of challenging for a Super Bowl:

 1. The new head football coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to introduce you to David Shaw.

Shaw took over for Jim Harbaugh as Stanford head coach when Harbaugh departed to take the 49ers job in 2011, and the Cardinals haven’t missed a beat. This year, despite losing his top four offensive players to the NFL (including top pick Andrew Luck), Shaw led Stanford to a PAC-12 championship and Rose Bowl with a freshman quarterback, and beat a then 2nd-ranked Oregon team along the way.

Shaw comes from an offensive background, having previously been the offensive coordinator at Stanford, as well as an offensive assistant in the NFL. The knock on many coordinators who become head coaches is that they don’t know how to run a team from the top, but Shaw’s got that covered. The knock on many college coaches is that they don’t understand the pro game, both on the field and off it, but he’s got that covered as well.

Perhaps more important is his philosophy. He employed a pro-style offense at Stanford with an emphasis on the run game that would translate well to the NFL, and give this team an identity that it clearly lacks on that side of the ball. He would have full control of play-calling, and could bring in any assistants to better implement his system. The NFL has gotten pass-happy in recent years, but the Houston Texans are a perfect model for the old approach, and are proof that it still works. We’ve witnessed the failure of Andy Reid’s West Coast offense, and it’s time for a new approach.

2. As for the defense, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I’m an expert on all the young defensive assistants in the league — that would be a lie about as weak as Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie’s tackling — but I trust that someone in the organization is, and I’d tell them to go find me one. There’s only one qualification: It’s time for the switch to a 3-4.

Many of the league’s top defenses use the 3-man front, with San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Houston, and Baltimore being the foremost examples, and its clear that the trend is in that direction. Furthermore, the personnel suits a 3-4; it’s not perfect, but with a few additions and time, it could be close. Cullen Jenkins was a 3-4 end in Green Bay, and Fletcher Cox was considered by many a 3-4 end prior to the draft. Many of the Eagles’ current defensive ends are speed rushers who lack size, and could make the transition to outside linebacker in a 3-4. DeMeco Ryans played in the system with the Texans and could anchor the middle with somebody from the draft — say, for example, Manti Te’o. The only person that doesn’t necessarily fit is Mychal Kendricks.

Now, as for the current defense itself: the idea that this is a talented group that just hasn’t gelled is a fallacy, but that’s not to say there isn’t potential here. The defensive line could be above average with a new scheme, and the linebacking corps, while in need of help, is improving. The safeties, to be frank, are garbage, and the corners have been similarly awful this year. But I’m a believer that with new coaching, better surrounding talent, and a fresh start, DRC and Nnamdi Asomugha can get back to their Pro Bowl levels.

3. As the losing streak continues the draft pick keeps getting higher and higher, and that means the Eagles have plenty of options. There’s a multitude of highly rated defensive players this year, and I’d love any of them. As previously discussed, if the switch to a 3-4 is made, a top Nose Tackle is critical, and Star Lotulelei (Utah) is exactly that. Te’o (Notre Dame) and Jarvis Jones (Georgia) are beasts at Linebacker, and there are a number of other highly touted defensive lineman, both ends and tackles. Couple one of them with a safety early in the second round, and the new defensive coordinator would have a lot to work with.

4. The personnel on offense is actually really strong, and with an acquisition or two, could strikingly resemble that of the Houston Texans, which should be the model for Shaw’s type of offense. In Lesean McCoy and Bryce Brown, we have Arian Foster and Ben Tate. With the returns of Jason Peters, Todd Herremans and Jason Kelce, and the improvement of Danny Watkins, we have a top ten offensive line. In Brent Celek, we have Owen Daniels, and in Desean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, we have something that Houston actually doesn’t: two playmakers with elite speed on the outside.

The one necessity is a big receiver to be our Andre Johnson. I’m not asking for Calvin Johnson or Brandon Marshall, but Riley Cooper isn’t going to cut it — unless you need somebody to hide in the end zone, that is. The signing of a Dwayne Bowe or a Greg Jennings would give this offense a new dimension, and would complete the set of weapons for…

5. The quarterback of the future, NICK FOLES. The time has come to bid farewell to Michael Vick, and welcome in a new era. Foles showed me enough on Sunday to warrant that title, and while it was only one game, the improvement from Week 10 to 13 has been considerable. He’s got the arm, he’s got the size, and there’s nothing the Eagles can do besides hope that he has the smarts and the mindset. Listen, he’ll never be Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. He may never even be Matt Ryan or Ben Roethlisberger. But can he be Matt Schaub or Alex Smith? Absolutely, and with the previously suggested improvements in place, that’s all he needs to be to have this team competing for the ultimate prize by as early as 2014.