Dec 4, 2012, 1:56 PM EDT
A few weeks back, we pondered where it all went wrong for
the Eagles. It feels like eons ago, but even heading into October this looked
like a playoff squad. Now they’ve lost eight straight, and have a shot at the
number one pick in April’s draft. How in the world did we get from Point A to
Point Z so quickly?
In reality, there probably isn’t any one transaction to
blame for the team’s decline. Great players got old, and were replaced through
a combination of ineffective drafting and a recent over-reliance on free
agents. Nearer to the top of the food chain, the quarterback situation went
from stable to complete mess in a single offseason’s time (2010), and a legendary
defensive coach passed away. It’s all been building up, conspiring to the end
of the Andy Reid era for awhile.
But like a Jenga tower, there is always that one misplaced
block that finally brings the entire weakened structure to the ground. In
Philadelphia, it’s beginning to look like Jim Washburn was what made the damn
thing collapse, at least that’s what we are led to believe based on the last
couple of weeks.
When Jason Babin was released out of the blue last Tuesday, the
defensive end Pro Football Weekly’s Ed Edholm describes as “the wide-9-iest of
the wide-9-ers,” you knew right away something was up. This wasn’t a cash-cutting move, or
even purely to clear a roster spot for second-rounder Vinny Curry – the Eagles
went with 52 players last week rather than the traditional 53. They could have
stashed Babin on the bench or deactivated him for the rest of the year, but
obviously that would have caused problems.
Sure enough, reports surfaced Washburn was not happy his favorite
student got the axe. We don’t know what happened next, but we do know the
defensive line coach was pushed out the door just six days later.
With their exits, we are starting to develop a picture of just
how divisive Washburn was. He reportedly frustrated Trent Cole to the point where the veteran
walked out of a meeting, yet coddled Babin during a sack drought that lasted
over a month. He disrespected his colleagues, whether they were in public, like
the time he and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg got into a shouting
match on the sidelines during a game; or behind closed doors, where he apparently
referred to Juan Castillo – supposedly his boss – as “Juanita” in front of
By all accounts, Washburn seems like pretty much of a colossal prick. However, that’s not the sole reason
why he was the worst thing that ever happened to Reid, nor is it because he brought with him the now universally-despised Wide-9.
In theory, the Wide-9 wasn’t a bad thing. It was extremely
successful in Tennessee, where Washburn was employed by head coach Jeff Fisher
for 12 years. The Titans routinely finished in the top-5-or-10 in sacks, and
the system constantly churned out Pro Bowlers, sometimes reviving careers like
Babin’s. If the Eagles could pressure opposing quarterbacks primarily using
just their front four rather than rely on the frequent blitzing that had become
stale after Sean McDermott stepped in for Jim Johnson, and players like Brian
Dawkins and Jeremiah Trotter had left the organization or retired, it could
open up new doors schematically.
And it worked for awhile, to a degree. The Eagles tied for
the league-lead in sacks last season with 50, a whopping 46 of those coming
from the line alone. Babin finished with 18, briefly making a run at the
all-time record, and earning himself a trip to the Pro Bowl in the process.
Never mind the rest of the personnel didn’t fit – they had one of the worst,
most inexperienced linebacker groups is recent memory, and the back end was a
mess. What they were doing up front was working. Why it suddenly sputtered out
this year actually remains a bit of a mystery.
Even installing a wide-9 front under a leaky roof wasn’t
Reid’s worst call though. Hiring a defensive line coach before hiring a new
defensive coordinator after McDermott was not retained will go down as the most
misguided decision of Reid’s career.
It seemed to everyone like an unusual thing to do at the
time back in 2010, and the perception is that was why the Eagles couldn’t land
a legitimate defensive coordinator. That’s how Castillo eventually wound up
with the job in February as the list of candidates dried up, most without ever
bothering to interview in Philadelphia.
Promoting Castillo from offensive line coach to defensive
coordinator might have been a mistake either way. The fact is, we may never
know. But not only did Reid saddle himself with a first-year coordinator who
had been coaching offense since the 80’s, he created an unhealthy, unmanageable
situation for himself. Washburn clearly ran roughshod over Castillo, clearly
discredited him not only in front of his own unit, but to the defense as a
whole. How was Castillo supposed to do his job with a rogue position coach
running amok in the locker room?
Washburn wanted to be a defensive coordinator, only without
the accountability. For that, Castillo took the fall rather unnecessarily in
October, while Washburn was allowed to stick around and keep playing house
despite the fact that he was never picking up after himself. Meanwhile, that
lack of accountability seems to have trickled down to practically every member
of that defense, as evidenced by their performance since Week 6.
In retrospect, the decision to set up the staff in this
manner looks more foolhardy than ever. It was Reid’s greatest miscalculation,
the move that pushed this perennially steady franchise over the cliff. There is plenty of blame to go around for the fiasco that is
the Eagles’ 3-9 season, but nothing could be more bungled than this.
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