Nobody said this was going to be easy. The Eagles are in a bad way right now as they play out the final four games of the season. Injuries have decimated the offense and the defense has been torn apart by coaching changes and an alarming lack of discipline and commitment to playing physical football.
The news that broke early, way early, on Monday morning was that of the Eagles dismissing Jim Washburn as the defensive line coach. You can read into it all that you want, but the fact is the move is something that a lot of people could see coming. Certainly not in the course of the season, for nobody wants that to happen and Tommy Brasher isn't going to work miracles in the last four games of 2012. But Washburn has long had a reputation of doing things his way, and Andy Reid knew the chances he was taking when he hired Washburn and brought in the Wide 9 alignment and the up-the-field approach to the defensive line play.
It didn't work. It blew up in the defense's face, as did a lot of things this year.
For me, the focus is not on moves like Washburn's departure. Nor is it on the run/pass ratio or the things that, honestly, may not matter much at all in a matter of weeks. I'm looking at the big picture here and there are some things to talk about ...
- I can't figure out Trent Cole, and maybe having Brasher back as the line coach will get him going on the stat sheet. Cole has all of 1 1/2 quarterback sacks this season after reaching double digits in the previous three seasons and in four of the previous five years. Has Cole just pooped out after playing so many snaps in the past seasons? Is it a scheme thing? Certainly he isn't the only one not producing at the level expected and needed. The Eagles must improve the defensive line -- again. It may not be first on the offseason need list, but it's up there. And whether that means coach or players, the Eagles need to find a way to be dominant at the defensive line of scrimmage.
- Vinny Curry played 19 snaps on Sunday night and Darryl Tapp played 24. I'm guessing those numbers change quite a bit in the weeks ahead. Tapp is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after the season and Curry is, hopefully, a key part of the Eagles' success up front defensively.
- Where are the defensive tackles on this team? It can't be a stretch to say that from September to now, rookie Fletcher Cox and first-year player Cedric Thornton have been the most productive tackles on the team.
- Damaris Johnson leads the NFC in punt return average (13.9 yards per return), a statistic obviously skewed by the 98-yard touchdown return on Sunday night. Maybe that return unleashes Johnson a bit. He has seemed a bit hesitant in the return game for much of the year. He needs to get up the field more quickly instead of dancing around waiting for a seam to develop.
- Good to hear Reid name Nick Foles the starting quarterback for the remainder of the season. It sure makes sense to me to keep Nick Foles as the starter. Obviously, Michael Vick's future as an Eagle is very much in doubt as his salary jumps to a reported $16 million for 2013. There are a lot of questions about the big picture here for a 3-9 team, and quarterback is one of them. For the rest of the year, I'm glad Foles is the guy. It is the right call.
- Speaking of Foles, he has made some significant strides since his first regular-season action against Dallas on November 11. Think about it: In that short period of time Foles has clearly had the game slow down for him. He's generally made the right checks at the line of scrimmage, he's gone to the right receiver and he's shown more and more athletic ability at the position. He certainly has a chance to make it.
- What happens at cornerback in the big picture? Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie started the season very well, and has struggled since. Same with Nnamdi Asomugha. Brandon Boykin has been up and down as a rookie and neither Curtis Marsh nor Brandon Hughes has earned additional playing time. Who are the cornerbacks on this team in 2013? Asomugha's contract takes a huge jump after this season and DRC is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. Who stays? Who goes?
- Not that it matters a ton ... The Eagles are 12th in the NFL in total offense (based on total yards gained) and are 17th in total defense. They are 29th in points per game. The turnover ratio continues to struggle. The Eagles are minus-18, better than only Kansas City (minus-21) in the NFL.
- Three conversions in three attempts inside the Dallas 20-yard line helped the Eagles improved their red-zone touchdown percentage to 44.4 percent. They have 16 touchdowns in 34 red-zone opportunities.
- How much might the Eagles benefit from having the backups play so much along the offensive line? Well, let's discuss. King Dunlap will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, so obviously there is a question of whether he'll return. Dallas Reynolds has made some very nice strides the last few weeks. Same with Dennis Kelly at right tackle. Jake Scott is a veteran on a one-year contract. Having Kelly and Reynolds gain experience now will help in the future.
- Finally, about Foles: He's completed 60.9 percent of his passes and has been sacked eight times in 133 pass attempts. There are many things to work on, but he's making good progress. Looking for Midnight Green linings here, people ...