THE SCAPEGOAT chorus has it wrong. When Eagles coach Andy Reid fired his defensive coordinator, Juan Castillo, it was not to deflect either attention or blame from himself. Reid knew that the effect would be the exact opposite. He knew that the bull's-eye drawn on his own back would just get bigger and brighter if he replaced Castillo. Which it has.
The truth is, two enormous decisions made in the last 25 months would decide Reid's future, and everybody knew it as soon as they were made. One was the invention of Castillo, the Eagles' longtime offensive-line coach, as his defensive coordinator. The other was switching from a developing, young quarterback named Kevin Kolb to an exciting reclamation project named Michael Vick.
They were big calls by Reid, both unconventional, so far outside the box that you could no longer see the box. One, Castillo, has now failed.
And Vick, the other?
"As I sit here today, he's the starting quarterback," Reid said.
The words are almost identical to what Reid said on Monday, before he fired Castillo and replaced him with secondary coach Todd Bowles. That doesn't mean he is about to bench Vick, or that a move here is inevitable, and nobody should read it that way. But it does mean Reid is thinking about it, and seriously, and that he is buying some time. That much is plain.
If he did bench Vick in favor of rookie Nick Foles, the bull's-eye would grow to the size of Nebraska, roughly. Reid knows that, too. To admit two mistakes of that enormity in the space of a couple of days would turn this win-or-else season into WIN-OR-ELSE, heightening the reality for everyone involved. Then again, is there really a difference, other than leaning on the caps-lock key? Or-else is or-else, after all.
So would he?
But should he?
The turnovers by the quarterback have been disastrous and do not seem to be abating. This is all true. Vick also holds the ball too long, too often, and that never will change. But the offensive line has played about five terrible first halves out of six games, and Vick would be taking a beating even if he were quicker on the trigger, and even with every bad thing he has done, this flawed quarterback still has engineered game-winning drives in the final 2 minutes of all three of their wins and had the team ahead in the final 2 minutes in the last two losses. Besides, 3-3 is really only about one game behind where they should be, given everything. The season is not over.
Still, the turnovers seem inevitable for Vick now, like the ants gathering around a broken cookie. He talks about eliminating them from his game, but they always return. He fixes the interception problem and the fumbles jump up and bite him. He walks around the complex all week holding a football as a reminder about the fumbles and he goes out in the next game and throws two more picks. The pendulum seems to hit him in the head with every swing.
And so, listen to Reid talking about the Castillo decision, and if he had doubts dating back to the offseason:
"I thought we were making progress," he said. "I saw us making progress. We made progress through the last four games [of 2011]. I kind of liked the direction that we were going. I thought we started off pretty good and then I started seeing some trends come back that I wasn't real happy about, and so I just wanted to make sure that we took care of those. I'm not going to go into details. There were just things that I saw that I didn't want to go in that direction. So, tough call."
The choice here will be to highlight one phrase from that paragraph: "I started seeing some trends come back that I wasn't real happy about."
It is not hard to apply those words to Vick, too. It is why Reid seems so encumbered now by quarterback indecision. Because if he decided that Castillo was going to break his heart in the end, which he did, how close is he to deciding the same thing about Vick? Pretty close, it would seem.
The difference, though, is that Todd Bowles is a credible alternative for Castillo in the here-and-now, and Nick Foles is a relative unknown, and, as Reid said when asked about some break-in time for his new defensive coordinator, "I'm not looking for transition periods right now."
It is why Vick should keep the job. Given everything, and even granting Foles' promise, it remains difficult to project the rookie from Arizona as a guy who can win a playoff game this season. Acknowledging every trouble that Vick has had, things still are not that bad at 3-3, not bad enough to take that kind of a blind shot. Foles is not Bowles, not in experience or stature.
Reid is trying to save not only his own job, but more than a dozen jobs on his staff. He takes that responsibility very seriously. It is, in my mind, the only reason he fired Castillo - because the responsibility he feels to the rest of that group trumped his loyalty to an individual. That is how grim his choices have become.