NFL Preview - Philadelphia (3-4) at New Orleans (2-5)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - With the pressure continuing to mount in Philadelphia, the Eagles may take solace in the fact their next encounter will be on the road against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.
Philadelphia has a coach and quarterback fighting for their jobs and their fates are certainly intertwined. Hurricane Sandy afforded Andy Reid a little extra time to mull Michael Vick's status before the Eagles' mentor committed to the veteran for Monday night's contest in the Big Easy.
Vick has struggled this season for the 3-4 Eagles, completing 59 percent of his passes for 1,823 yards with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions. He has also lost five of nine fumbles, leading to speculation that rookie backup Nick Foles could replace him.
Vick even hinted Reid was at least thinking about a change after a 30-17 drubbing at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons last Sunday, the first setback after the bye week in Reid's 14-year Philadelphia tenure.
The coach finally cemented Vick's status, if only for another week, via a mass text from the team's PR department.
Hours before Sandy was scheduled to slam the region, Reid's Eagles took their own swipe, punching their fans in the gut with a listless performance against the unbeaten Falcons. Vick didn't turn the ball over but was a pedestrian 21- of-35 for 191 yards and a score in the setback.
"That was an embarrassing performance," Reid said. "I'm stating the obvious. We need to get better. I need to do a better job. This is fixable. We have the talent."
Before Sunday, Reid coached teams were a mind-boggling 13-0 after the bye and there was always something about that week off which consistently charged the veteran coach's battery. Since Reid has been in Philly, the Eagles are 84-39-1 following the bye as opposed to 45-45 before it.
That last layer of invincibility, one which a number of national observers continually cited to support their unrequited love of a deeply flawed Eagles team, was blown up by Matt Ryan and the Falcons, however.
Atlanta, which was also coming off its bye, reached the end zone on its first three possessions and scored on its first six as new Philadelphia defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who replaced the much-maligned Juan Castillo during the break, piloted a group which was more aggressive as advertised but just as confused.
"We didn't do it. We didn't show up," Eagles defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins understated. "We didn't play assignment sound. Whatever we could have done wrong, we pretty much did it."
Atlanta's Matt Bosher never took the field as a punter until 5:35 was left in the game when Bowles' defense finally recorded a stop.
"You don't go from the outhouse to the penthouse in one week," Bowles said. "Right now, we're in the damn outhouse."
Good guy or not, you have to believe Castillo, the scapegoat of the Eagles' mediocre start, was throwing a few "I told you sos" around on whatever island he was deposed too.
"That (changing coordinators) had nothing to do with it," Eagles middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "It all comes down to the players making plays."
New Orleans, meanwhile, is coming off its own bad loss, falling in Denver 34-14 last Sunday.
Brees had an uncharacteristically poor performance, completing just 22-of-42 through the air for 213 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for the Saints, who had their two-game win streak snapped in their first game under new interim coach Joe Vitt, who was suspended for the season's first six games for his involvement in the team's bounty case.
Aaron Kromer had guided the team through the first part of the season.
Brees still leads the NFL with 330.0 passing yards per game but his 213 against Denver was his worst performance since tossing for 196 against Tampa Bay on Jan. 2, 2011.
The Eagles lead the all-time series with the Saints 15-10 and have taken six of the past eight meetings between the two clubs.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
A number of observers think Vick would already be benched in Philadelphia if Reid wasn't on the hot seat. Foles, a rookie third round pick out of Arizona, is the flavor of the month in the City of Brotherly Love, largely because the fans haven't seen him play except for a stellar preseason against a number of guys who are getting ready to deliver packages for UPS during the holidays.
Reid, unlike the fans however, isn't going to get caught up in fool's gold and has been crossing his fingers, hoping against hope that his 32-year-old veteran quarterback with nearly 100 NFL starts under his belt is finally going to "get it."
As unlikely as it is that some magic gnome is going to sit on Vick's shoulders and help him recognize the blitz pre-snap, it is just as unlikely that Vick is going to halt his propensity to play "hero football" and curb his natural instinct to extend every play.
"I think there's a lot of things that I can do better," Vick said. "I'm trying to do everything that I can to put the ball in the end zone to give my guys every opportunity."
The failures in Philly are certainly not all Vick's fault, though. Remember the Eagles lost perhaps the game's best left tackle, Jason Peters, to a torn Achilles before the season started and then suffered another significant setback when center Jason Kelce, a player who is probably a little overrated at the NovaCare Complex but a more than competent pivot nonetheless, went down with a knee injury.
Their replacements, King Dunlap and Demetress Bell at left tackle, and Dallas Reynolds at center have been overmatched more often than not.
Now right guard Danny Watkins, a former first round pick who has been a disappointment, is out with what is being called a "chronic" ankle problem and rookie Dennis Kelly, a 6-foot-8 fifth round selection out of Purdue, has been tabbed as the replacement.
To be blunt, the Eagles' offensive line is a mess right now and Vick is not the type of signal-caller who is going to get rid of the football when his back foot hits the ground on the final step of his drop. Vick has been blitzed 99 times this season, fourth-most of any quarterback, and has been sacked 20 times. This team almost needs a quarterback with a quick release.
"I just don't think he's as comfortable as he usually is," receiver DeSean Jackson told the Eagles' website. "A lot of pressure is getting in his face. A lot of defenses are showing different looks and things like that."
The Saints may not have the defense to take advantage of Philadelphia, however. The team's setback in Denver last Sunday was it's worst defeat in four seasons, and New Orleans became the first team since 1950 to give up at least 400 yards in seven straight contests.
"I've got to do a better job of preparing our football team," Vitt said. I've got to do a better job of getting the team ready physically, mentally and emotionally."
The Saints' defense is currently ranked 30th in points allowed (30.9) and is dead last, allowing 474.7 yards per game.
"On defense it starts with me," said NOLA defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who used to be a linebackers coach under Reid. "Somehow, I have to get better with my job. I hope everyone else does the same thing."
This one figures to be a shootout. New Orleans' defense has been historically bad to this point but Brees rarely has two bad games in a row and will be facing a unit which has mustered just nine sacks, the second-fewest in the NFL.
You almost have to take Brees over Vick in a game which figures to resemble basketball on turf.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Saints 34, Eagles 23
11/02 14:06:13 ET