In the past two games, the Eagles defense has registered eight sacks. On Thursday night, they forced a pair of fumbles. However, the defense could not overcome the Eagles' five turnovers in a 34-13 defeat at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles helped make Bengals Pro Bowl quarterback Andy Dalton look quite ordinary. Dalton completed fewer than half of his pass attempts (13-of-27) for just 127 passing yards with a touchdown. The defensive line took Dalton down six times in the contest.
It's hard to win when the opponent scores all of their points off of turnovers or a blocked punt. However, it just so happens that in the past two games the Eagles changed their defensive line front. Under new defensive line coach Tommy Brasher, who replaced Jim Washburn, the Eagles use a more traditional front, with the ends pinched in and not lined up wide in the nine-technique. The move has had a ripple effect on the entire defense, but Bowles does not think the scheme change is the reason for the improved play.
"The guys are working hard and taking pride in their job," Bowles said after the game. "Everybody is held accountable and the guys are working on it."
Bowles took over as the team's defensive coordinator during the bye week earlier this season. Execution became an issue for the defense as opposing quarterbacks were posting impressive numbers week in and week out. Against Washington in Week 11, quarterback Robert Griffin III completed 93 percent of his pass attempts and tossed four touchdowns. In Dallas two weeks ago, quarterback Tony Romo completed 81.5 percent of his pass attempts for 303 yards and three touchdowns.
Just this past Sunday in Tampa Bay, quarterback Josh Freeman was held to 189 passing yards and only completed 42.1 percent of his passes. The Eagles had similar success against Dalton on Thursday night, but the score, unfortunately, did not reflect that.
"I saw some (progress) from certain areas, but not enough to win the ballgame so we have to keep working," Bowles said.
Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha explained how the defensive line change has allowed Bowles to put his own stamp on the defense.
"I think he's been able to do a few more things," Asomugha said. "He's been calling some more creative things that we hadn't had before."
The Eagles, for the most part, were able to get off the field on third down as the Bengals converted 39 percent of their attempts. In the red zone, Dalton came into the game as one of the league's best quarterbacks in that category with 18 touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of over 100 for the season. The Eagles held the Bengals and their pass-catching duo of wide receiver A.J. Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham to 50 percent success inside the 20-yard line.
The defense helped keep the Bengals in check after falling behind early 10-0. The Eagles took a 13-10 lead into the second half and had just posted one of the more impressive series of the season before momentum swung in the Bengals' direction. Following a run stop by defensive end Trent Cole, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox sacked Dalton and on third down defensive end Brandon Graham split a sack with Cox.
When the Eagles got the ball back, quarterback Nick Foles threw an interception to cornerback Leon Hall on the first play. With the ball at the Eagles' 40-yard line, the Bengals scored in eight plays as Dalton scrambled for an 11-yard touchdown. Two offensive plays later, Foles was not able to get the handoff to running back Bryce Brown and defensive end Wallace Gilberry returned the fumble 25 yards for a touchdown.
Just like that, the Eagles were down 24-13 and not able to recover. But Bowles refused to make excuses for any of the points allowed.
"You have to hold them no matter where they get the ball at," Bowles said. "So we win as a team and we lose as a team and we lost as a team today."
There were signs of improvement from the defense on Thursday. However, when a team loses by 21 points and is outscored 24-0 in the second half, it's difficult to celebrate any of the positives.
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