Originally posted on NESN.com  |  Last updated 10/29/12
After firing defensive coordinator Juan Castillo and with two weeks to prepare for an undefeated, and arguably the NFL's best, Atlanta Falcons, the Philadelphia Eagles were expected to return to the football field in a blaze of glory. Instead their star is falling faster than Felix Baumgartner -- an overused reference, yes, but also fitting. The Eagles lost their third consecutive game, and fourth in the last five, on Sunday and something needs to be done to right the fast-sinking ship. But benching Michael Vick in favor of rookie Nick Foles, as is being speculated, isn't the answer. It's not even a question that Vick hasn't been near worthy of his hefty $100 million price tag -- $12.5 million in 2012 -- so far this season. He's turned the ball over at an alarming rate, leading the entire NFL with nine fumbles, luckily only losing five, and coming in second with a gruesome 14 turnovers. But even that doesn't mean he's the problem in Philadelphia. The Eagles offensive line has been abysmal from the get-go this season, so why don't we start there. Simply put, Vick's offensive line has been nothing short of dreadful this season. Decimated by the season-ending injuries of left tackle Jason Peters and starting center Jason Kelce, and don't forget the retirement of Tra Thomas, the Eagles have been forced to rely on some young no-names and a few overmatched veterans to protect Vick up front. And it's been a disaster. Vick has been sacked 20 times through seven games, good for fifth-most in the NFL, which is rough for such a fragile athlete. But what's even more appalling is that he's probably been hit more than any other quarterback in the league, too. Opposing defenses have registered 58 hits on Vick already this season, averaging out to a little more than eight per game. With all those hits, no wonder he's turning the ball over at such an alarming rate. For a little comparison, the Eagles defense has hit opposing quarterbacks just 21 times this season. Which brings about an even bigger issue: defense. When looking at Philadelphia's defense, at least on the surface, things don't seem all that bad. Ranked 12th in the NFL, allowing just 339 yards per game, and just above the league median in about every other category makes the defense look more than capable. But do a little less stat crunching and a little more digging, and you'll find the problems lie well beyond the numbers. Most glaringly is the Eagles simply lack any semblance of a pass rush. They've sacked opposing quarterbacks just nine times through seven games, good enough for 31st-best -- or second worst -- in the NFL. Just for good measure, both J.J. Watt and Clay Matthews have more than nine sacks this season. And seven other guys have at least seven, which is where the Eagles stood heading into Sunday. The Eagles, though stingy as nearly any defense in the league at times, also don't seem capable of maintaining consistency throughout games. There are spells when opposing offense can barely scrape together two straight positive plays, then there are others when they've got free reign to find success running just about any play they want. The Lions comeback overtime win a few weeks ago is a prime example of that notion. After holding Detroit's offense to just six points through the first three quarters, Philly's defense broke down late in the game. The Lions gained 266 of their 449 total yards and scored 20 points on their final five possessions (less than 15 minutes) of the game, including overtime, to pull out the 26-23 win. This weekend was just more of the same inconsistency, too. After replacing Castillo with new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and claiming a swift turnaround on the horizon, the Eagles decided to put up a stinker. Matt Ryan was almost unstoppable, completing 22 of 29 passes and throwing three touchdowns on the day, and lead the Falcons to scores on each of their first six possessions of the game to take an insurmountable 20-point lead in the 30-17 victory. Sure, Atlanta is the class of the NFC, and probably the NFL right now, but that doesn't justify such a ghastly showing. Or the fact that it's been a chronic issue this entire season. Clearly, Vick's turnovers have become an issue and his decision making has been questionable at times. Simply put, he's been a problem. But he's by no means the Eagles biggest problem, and you've got no better options. Vick actually played well on Sunday, especially against a loaded Falcons defense, completing 21 of 35 passes and with touchdown and, more importantly, protected the football all afternoon. So, he wasn't the reason for the Eagles loss, nor for them dropping to 3-4. Actually, he might have been one of the lone bright -- although still fairly dim -- spots. So, Andy Reid, you're telling me that Nick Foles is better equipped to overcome a horrid offensive line and an incoherent defense? He might have looked good in the preseason, but they are called exhibition games for a reason. If you want to bet your season, and probably your job, on the promise of an unproven rookie quarterback, then go for it. But if you've got any common sense at all, you'll stand behind Vick and exhaust every possibility before making such a drastic move. Vick may not deserve the $40-plus million you guaranteed him two years ago, but that doesn't mean he doesn't deserve to be the Eagles starting quarterback. Have a question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him via Twitter at @LukeFHughes or send it here.
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