Andy Reid's Philadelphia Eagles teams are 12-0 in games immediately following bye weeks. That's a large enough sample size; the record can't be written off as a fluke or a lucky streak. That's a stat that tells you Reid and his coaches know how to coach -- that they know how to prepare their teams for games and are especially dangerous when given extra time to do so.
That's one of the things that's been so frustrating about these 2011 Eagles -- that they've looked so unprepared for so many of their games. Reid's better than that, and he knows it, and starting Sunday night, when he'll try to improve that post-bye record to 13-0 against the Dallas Cowboys, he needs to start showing it.
It may have actually started two weeks ago against the Redskins, when Reid and his coaches made some sensible adjustments to some things that hadn't been working through their first five games. They tightened up that much-maligned "Wide 9" defensive front, pinching their defensive ends in closer to the tackles to combat the Redskins' running game and the zone-blocking scheme they use to operate it. They used three-step drops with quarterback Michael Vick, who'd been taking way too long to get rid of the ball, as a means of keeping the Redskins' great outside linebackers from getting to him. They let LeSean McCoy run out the clock when they had a second-half lead. These were critical adjustments, and not just because they worked. The were a sign that Reid and his coaches weren't going to be as stubborn anymore about sticking with their plan in the face of evidence that it wasn't working.
That's a good thing, the willingness of Reid and his staff to take a step back and say something like, "Hey, maybe we don't have the linebacker support to make Wide 9 really work the way it's supposed to, so let's tinker with it a little bit." It indicates a level of intelligence and circumspection that encourages Eagles fans to believed that this season's high hopes can still be saved. It indicates that Reid understands the extent to which the responsibility for fixing the mess that was the Eagles' 1-4 start is on him.
And it is on him. We can see the Eagles have great players who haven't been coached or deployed properly for much of this season. We can all see how much of their troubles have to do with scheme. I'm interested to see whether, given two weeks to think it over, they decide to play their great cornerbacks in tighter coverage than they have so far. I'm sure Nnamdi Asomugha would enjoy that chance, and I wonder if he'll be called upon Sunday night to shut down Dez Bryant or Miles Austin. That's up to the coaches, who need to find better ways of putting the players they have in positions to succeed.
One of the reasons the Eagles believed their plans for this season would work was their faith in their coaching staff. One of the main reasons Reid thought he could make things work after switching his offensive line coach to defensive coordinator, hiring new veteran line coaches who would implement new schemes on offense and defense and signing a bunch of free agents in a short pre-training camp window was that he believed in his ability and the abilities of the coaches on his staff to make it all function. To this point, they have failed at that, but hope lives. The division is not out of reach. The Redskins game showed some ways out of the early-season ditch. They need to win Sunday, and to keep winning, but they can do it, and Reid should know it's up to him to make it happen.
There are no dire career consequences awaiting Reid if he isn't successful. He's not getting fired, no matter how many crazed Eagles fans call for that. And I don't imagine him to be the kind of guy to quit after missing the playoffs. No, if these Eagles don't turn it around, Reid's punishment will be (a) the knowledge that he blew one of the best chances he's ever had to put a championship team together, and (b) a reduction in the benefit of the doubt he'll receive when he returns next year to try again with many, if not all, of these same good players. He doesn't want that, and you can bet he comes out of this bye week motivated to avoid it. Sunday night, we'll see what he's got in mind. And if it's more of the same flexibility and open-mindedness we saw against the Redskins, Eagles fans will have reason to hope.