Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid has muttered the phrase "I need to do a better job" into a postgame microphone so many times over the past decade and a half that it's become a running joke in Philadelphia. There goes ol' Big Red again, playing the game he plays with the media, offering up the dry, bland sound bite instead of an explanation that might hint at blame or responsibility for one of his players. It's one of Reid's defining techniques. He assumes blame for losses and stubbornly refuses to get into the details of what went wrong. He doesn't want reporters rushing off to a player's locker and saying, "Andy said you messed up on that play."
Which is admirable, don't get me wrong. Accountability is very important, and Reid's philosophy in this area is a big part of the success he's had in Philadelphia and the strong positive feelings his players have for him. But while accountability is a key aspect of leadership, it is not the only one. And the Eagles' loss to the Cardinals in Arizona on Sunday was a widespread failure of the team's leaders -- specifically Reid, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and quarterback Michael Vick -- to lead before the fact as opposed to taking responsibility after.
The Eagles had issues going into this game. Nine turnovers in the first two games, two key injuries on the offensive line and the absence of starting wide receiver Jeremy Maclin were problems that needed to be addressed and handled on offense. This was not the time for stubbornness. It would have been perfectly acceptable for the Eagles to alter the way they do things on offense, if only for one game. No one would have faulted Mornhinweg if he'd committed to the run more with Maclin out and Vick's protection a question mark. No one would have faulted Vick if he'd taken control of the protection calls to help ease backup center Dallas Reynolds into starting duty. No one would have faulted Reid for asserting himself as the man in charge and ordering all of these changes for the good of the organization.
Instead, the Eagles showed up in Arizona determined to play it the way they always play it -- loose and fast and with the belief that their athleticism on offense could make up for flaws of fundamentals. Problem was, they were playing a tough, determined defensive team that wasn't going to allow that. The Cardinals took advantage when the Eagles wasted second-quarter timeouts, when Vick failed to pick up the blitz, when the Eagles kept throwing it instead of handing it to an all-pro running back as a means of helping the protection.
"In hindsight," Reid said after the game, "it would have been OK to run the ball a little more."
Hindsight isn't leadership either. It's great when people can admit they were wrong, but the Eagles don't need more of that. The Eagles excel at looking back and admitting they screwed up. What the Eagles needed more of last week was a willingness of clear-thinking, circumspect leaders to toss out the usual game plan and come up with one designed to overcome both this particular opponent and their own problems. They did not get that.
Obviously, you need to give the Cardinals credit for winning the game at home. They're a legitimately good team with what appears to be a legitimately excellent defense. But this game wasn't unwinnable for the Eagles. If you're as good as the Eagles believe they are, every game is winnable. The job of the coaches and the quarterback and all of the men who carry the mantle of leadership need to make sure the team is as well-prepared as it possibly can to take advantage of that. The Eagles' leaders, so willingly accountable after the fact, do indeed "need to do a better job" of leading in the practice, preparation and decision-making departments. Accountability doesn't change a final score.