Philadelphia Eagles News

D Must Make Its Stand Sunday

There have been times this season when the Eagles have dominated on defense. They've allowed just 20 points in the second and third quarters of three games, combined. That's outstanding.

They've also allowed two touchdown drives in each of the last two fourth quarters. That's disappointing.

Castillo's defense has started too slowly and has finished minus a punch. He knows all of this. He sees the areas where the Eagles need improvement. He sees what is working.

San Francisco's offense has been up and down this season. The 49ers have a big-time star at running back in Frank Gore, who is battling a sprained ankle. He is capable of taking over a game as a runner and as a receiver. Quarterback Alex Smith is managing the games well, keeping it simple and involving tight end Vernon Davis (17 catches) as often as possible as the 49ers wait for their explosive wide receivers (Michael Crabtree, who is playing this week, and Braylon Edwards, who is not) to get healthy.

How do the Eagles play this one? We are going to find out, because it will say a lot about Castillo and his approach to the defense and the flexibility within. There isn't much reason to have a game plan in place that relies on exotic blitzes and changing schemes. The Eagles have to go out and play the 49ers in a more physical manner, in a more aggressive manner and in a more confident manner.

Beat them man to man, rather than getting all fancy-schmancy. Take Davis out of the game with attention to detail in the coverage, and don't allow him to beat the defense. Put pressure on Smith with the front four and a well-timed blitz here and there.

Concentrate on the little things and show no panic. This is a long season, and while the Eagles are a disappointing 1-2, the time is right to win and build some momentum.

What is the state of the Eagles' defense? It is unsettled at the moment, with many questions. Let's take a look at that side of the football, unit by unit ...

DEFENSIVE LINE

All in all, the defensive is off to a promising start. Trent Cole has been a dominating player. Jason Babin has been a sack machine who plays hard on every snap. Tackle Cullen Jenkins is a force inside. Mike Patterson has had penetration and production and is playing at a high level.

Injuries hampered the performance against the Giants with Darryl Tapp and Juqua Parker sidelined. Tapp may get back on the field this week. Parker seems a week or so away. Rookie Phillip Hunt showed some speed off the edge last Sunday, but he has to do it on every down.

Reserve tackles Antonio Dixon and Trevor Laws have been fine, although Dixon hasn't been as disruptive early in this season. He is working his way into shape and is gaining explosiveness.

This is a really good group. Are they tiring late in games? I hope not. The whole purpose here was to have depth and rotate all of the bodies to keep everyone fresh. Better play in the fourth quarters ahead is a must.

LINEBACKERS

The personnel shuffle last week resulted in Jamar Chaney playing MIKE linebacker, Casey Matthews playing the weak side and Moise Fokou on the strong side. Matthews was isolated on the touchdown pass to Brandon Jacobs, but he played pretty well otherwise. Chaney missed a couple of tackles inside but was around the ball a lot. Fokou did a good job over the tight end.

You may see some moving around of the pieces this week with Davis in town. There are few tight ends as athletic as is Davis. Will the Eagles put Chaney on Davis, or will they put Fokou on Davis, or will they move a cornerback to cover San Francisco's most dangerous receiving threat?

Or will they make it a group effort and throw the defensive kitchen sink at Davis?

Rookie Brian Rolle is making a push for more playing time, although he already plays in the nickel when two linebackers are on the field. Keenan Clayton is a playmaker in space with speed. Akeem Jordan may get some more time because of his ability to play all three positions.

The Eagles need better play from their linebackers, without any question. Teams are going to attack that part of the field against this defense until the Eagles prove up to the task for 60 minutes. There isn't anyone on the streets who can walk in and help the defense, so the defense is, basically, what it is. Only it has to get better every day in practice and then on game days.

SECONDARY

Everyone thought Nnamdi Asomugha would be impenetrable at right cornerback and that no quarterback on the face of the earth would be able to complete a pass against him or this vaunted secondary. That isn't reality in an NFL where every player is a great player.

Asomugha has generally been in the right place at the right time, but he has not made every play that has come his way. He's a very, very good player, an outstanding cornerback. He has to play the ball better when it is in the air, and he will improve in that aspect of the game. He is going to be a tough assignment for the 49ers this weekend.

Same with Asante Samuel, who has to keep his eye on the pump fake. Every team is going to try to make Samuel bite on routes. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie needs to get his hands on more passes. And all of the cornerbacks must tackle better.

The safeties are an area that could be in some flux. Nate Allen replaced Kurt Coleman early against the Giants and could be in line to start against the 49ers. Allen must trust his surgically repaired knee and play aggressively and confidently. Jarrad Page remains a starter, with rookie Jaiquawn Jarrett and Colt Anderson in reserve.

The secondary just need to fit better, communicate more and get on the same page at all times. There have been too many big plays against this defense. Too many blown assignments. Way too many missed tackles. And the defense in the red zone has been very poor the last two games. There have been far too few takeaways. A team that has always ranked among the best teams in giveaways/takeaways in the league is ranked at the bottom now.

Look no further for a reason why the Eagles are 1-2.

Castillo has a lot on his plate, and he is up to the challenge. San Francisco is going to be a different kind of test. The 49ers aren't going to give the football away. Smith will take a sack before forcing a pass. San Francisco wants to keep the score low in a four-corners-style of game plan on Sunday.

So the Eagles must bring it, starting with the defense. The offense has had plenty of flaws, don't get me wrong, but this is the time the defense must step up and make a statement, take a stand and set the tone for the rest of the season to follow.

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