As if the first two weeks weren’t nauseating enough, along come the Philadelphia Eagles with their spanking new coaching staff and shiny rookie quarterback, providing a power-point presentation to our football-loving nation on everything that’s wrong with the Buffalo Bills.
It must have been disheartening for Bills fans to suffer through Monday Night Football and watch the Eagles trample the Bears, 29-14, at Soldier Field. Philadelphia conducted a three-hour demonstration on how to play defense, how to manage the clock and how the running game should complement the passing game.
The Eagles’ hierarchy includes head coach Doug Pederson, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and offensive coordinator Frank Reich. Pederson’s only head-coaching experience before this season came at the high school level in Louisiana. Reich and Schwartz were overlooked when the Bills hired Rex Ryan.
So how is that working out?
The arrangement has been wonderful so far for the Eagles, who allowed the second-fewest points and had the fourth-rated defense through the first two games. Granted, their first two opponents, Cleveland and Chicago, will never be confused with the ’72 Dolphins. Philly has a tough game Sunday against Pittsburgh.
Still, their early success is still worth noting considering how quickly they started compared to how quickly the Bills have fallen. It’s not a coincidence that the two teams are trending in opposite directions. The Eagles have good people in charge while the Bills are charging into one another.
I envisioned Bills fans cringing at the sight of Schwartz, back in the NFL after a year away, knowing he could have been in Buffalo over Ryan and believing the Bills would be in better shape with him. People are left to wonder what might have happened if the organization made smarter decisions.
In 2014, Buffalo had the fourth-rated defense in the NFL under Schwartz. The Bills led the league in sacks and had three defensive linemen in the Pro Bowl. If there was something to get around in a 9-7 season, it was the defense.
Schwartz’s reward for his fine work was a one-way ticket from Pegulaville to Palookaville. Rex arrived with bells and whistles while shooting off his mouth about upgrading the defense before trying to jam a square peg into a round hole.
While the Bills paid full freight for Schwartz during his sabbatical, they also forked over $5.5 million to Ryan and watched his defense fall to 19th last season, and second-last in sacks, and 23rd through two games this year.
Doug Marrone must have sensed trouble at the top when he split town with $4 million. Otherwise, he would have stayed.
Kim and Terry Pegula had experienced people advising them, and all were on board when they hired Ryan. They were so smitten with Rex that they feared he would get away, as if there was a line around the block of NFL teams that were dying for a coach with a losing record and narcissistic tendencies.
At least the Pegulas had an excuse, albeit a flimsy one, that they were NFL newbies. Russ Brandon and Doug Whaley had no excuse. Among various tasks that too often are intertwined, they’re also responsible for not making their bosses look foolish. That train left the station after dropping off Rex.
Here’s something to contemplate: If you don’t believe in Ryan, and the top of the organization does, how can you believe anything that comes from the top of the organization? It’s easier to completely disregard the spin doctors along One Bills Drive, and checking the results, than separating fact from fiction.
In truth, before Rex charmed their pants off, I thought they should have hired Schwartz or Reich. Schwartz had familiarity with a 9-7 team, especially with his defense. Reich would have added credibility and class while calming the masses after Marrone’s unexpected exit. If they hired Reich, he might have kept Schwartz.
In truth, after Ryan was hired but before last season began, I experimented with whatever people were smoking on the Rex Express. I inhaled. I convinced myself he was a good fit for Buffalo before realizing he was the opposite. He’s a con man in an honest town. His act quickly grew old and tiresome.
The Pegulas must be kicking themselves, especially after watching the Eagles. Schwartz didn’t forget how to coach defense. He also didn’t forget how to use players who didn’t fit Ryan’s scheme. Linebacker Nigel Bradham and cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks signed with the Eagles as free agents.
Bradham rewarded his coordinator Monday with an interception that led to a short touchdown. McKelvin had his flaws, but Schwartz had enough faith to insert him into the Eagles’ starting lineup. Brooks is backing up at corner and playing in obvious passing situations. The Eagles are fifth in pass defense.
Reich is grooming Carson Wentz, the second pick overall from FCS North Dakota State, on the other side of the ball. Executive Vice President Howie Roseman was comfortable enough with Wentz in Reich’s hands to trade away starting QB Sam Bradford for a first-round pick and a conditional fourth-round selection.
Reich is serving as Wentz’s primary mentor while working with Pederson on the offensive game plan. Reich is breaking down video and preparing his quarterback for every situation. He was the same way with Jim Kelly, who said numerous times that he wouldn’t have had the same success without Reich.
Wentz has completed 60 percent of his passes and had thrown three touchdown passes with no interceptions while winning his first two games. He hasn’t been spectacular, but he’s been solid while playing in a controlled scheme with a good defense. Philly had the ball about 12 minutes longer than Chicago.
The Eagles haven’t missed LeSean McCoy, whom the Bills handed a five-year contract worth $40 million because he was unhappy with his trade to Buffalo. The only difference McCoy and overpaid tight end Charles Clay have made since they arrived was in the salary cap.
Look, I’m not suggesting the Eagles are winning the Super Bowl. They might not even make the playoffs. Nobody should be surprised if they lose Sunday to the Steelers. And maybe Ryan will rally his troops, after firing his offensive coordinator two games into the season, and beat the Cardinals.
Who knows? But neither result would change the general trajectory of the Eagles and Bills. The Eagles are still going in the right direction because they have the right people in place. The Bills are still going nowhere because they do not. The evidence was there for all to see Monday.