The Philadelphia Eagles face the Washington Redskins this Sunday in a game that can only be described as an encounter where their 2011 season is on the line. If this team has any Super Bowl aspirations, a fifth defeat could cripple their dreams.
Philadelphia is fighting history this weekend as well. If they finish the weekend at 1-5, the team must realize only the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals reached the playoffs after starting a season as poorly.
That Bengals team started the season 1-6 before rattling off seven straight wins behind Pro Bowl players like Lemar Parrish and Bob Trumpy. They would lose the first playoff appearance in franchise history against the eventual champion Baltimore Colts.
The offense has yet to really click for the Eagles yet this season. While ranking third best in the NFL in total yards gained, they have been struggling to consistently score touchdowns and rank 11th in total points scored. The offensive line, an issue that mostly has haunted head coach Andy Reid since he took the job in 1999.
It has to burn Reid's heart at this issue. He has won 60 percent of the 197 regular season games with Philadelphia, which makes him the winningest head coach in franchise history, but blocking is an area he is supposed to be an expert in.
Reid played offensive tackle in college, then got into coaching immediately upon graduating after his 1981 senior season. He coached the offensive line until the end of the 1996 season. His Eagles teams have produced just five Pro Bowl blockers since he took the helm, with only one that Reid drafted and developed, not something the head coach probably foresaw.
Philadelphia looked smart last year by trading quarterback Donovan McNabb and going with Michael Vick in his place. Vick, though known for a mobility that made him the NFL's top rushing yards leader by a quarterback in league history last week, has taken a tremendous pounding in 2011 because of Philadelphia's offensive line woes.
Vick has battled injuries and missed time this year, something the Eagles thought they had a contingency plan for by signing free agent Vince Young. Young has been to the Pro Bowl quarterback twice since being drafted in 2006, but he was not healthy enough to play when Vick went down.
Blocking isn't the only reason Vick has suffered. Though he is still learning how to be a pocket-passer, Vick has a propensity to hang onto the ball too long and take many unnecessary sacks.
The Eagles rushing attack is led by an excellent 5.8 yards per carry average from halfback LeSean McCoy, yet the Eagles still are ineffective in short yardage situations where a powerful running game between the tackles is needed. None of Reid's teams have ever excelled in this critical area.
If the offensive trenches weren't enough of an issue for Reid, his defensive lines haven't been much better in his Eagles career. Philadelphia has had a habit of getting tiny pass rushers who were weak against the run, often contributing to the reason Reid has yet to win a Super Bowl despite 119 regular season victories and nine playoff appearances in his previous 12 years.
Jeff Lurie has been a great owner since buying the Eagles in 1994. He is known for his loyalty as much as the generosity he has displayed to charitable causes. Reid's coaching staffs have shown a solid continuity for the most part, which can be seen with defensive coordinator Juan Castillo.
Castillo has been with the Eagles since 1995, holding jobs in many areas. After coaching the offensive line since 1998, he moved over to defense this year. Critics are not only pointing to Philadelphia's poor run defense, others are looking at a secondary that has yet to meet expectations.
After spending a ton of money to sign free agent cornerback Nnamde Asomugha, as well as trading for Pro Bowl cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Lurie bit the financial bullet by retaining the services of Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel. Not only has the secondary given up way too many touchdowns on so few passing attempts, ranking 30th in that category, the group is not creating turnovers.
The Eagles tried to address the long-standing issue in their trenches by signing two high profile free agents in Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins. While the duo has already racked up a combined 12 of the teams 16 total sacks, they are also a reason the team ranks 30th in rushing yards allowed and last in rushing yards per attempt up the middle of the defense.
The team took a gamble this year by going with a bunch of underwhelming or unproven linebackers this season, and are losing big so far. Not only has the group mostly stunk in run support, they have been even worse in pass defense.
The fact the Eagles safeties haven't played great hasn't helped either. Kurt Coleman has struggled at free safety, which hurts more due to the fact Nate Allen has yet to play as well as he did in his 2010 rookie year.
Despite Lurie shilling out millions to Vick, Young, Asomugha, Babin, Bryant, Steve Smith, Ronnie Brown, and others, the results have yet to be met by a group trying to get acclimated with each other on the fly in a season truncated because of a players strike. Yet history shows pouring money into players does not equate to championships.
Whether it is the 2010 Miami Heat, the Ted Stepien Era with the Cleveland Cavaliers, or even the 2011 Boston Red Sox, the examples are plentiful. Sometimes the angle of spending a lot of money works, as George Steinbrenner showed by winning seven titles in his 37 years of owning the New York Yankees.
The season is not yet lost for the Eagles, especially if they defeat a division rival that Reid has triumphed over 15 times in 24 attempts. The Redskins, who are coming off their bye week, need this game to stay on top of the NFC East while trying to increase their lead with their second division win in as many attempts.
Washington will probably attempt to run the ball down the Eagles throats with their trio of excellent running backs. If they succeed, Philadelphia could see their 2011 season begin to end as the game clock expires.
The City of Brotherly Love is starving for a football title in the NFL, having not seen their team win a championship since 1960. They are known as passionate fans, so a let down by their beloved Eagles may lead to a large insurgence of fans calling for the firing of Reid.
With their season on line, let alone the Eagles careers of guys like Reid and Castillo, the team has their backs against the proverbial wall and must begin to come out swing like Philly legend Rocky Balboa. Hopefully their thrust will not be fictional like Rocky was.