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Defense Gets Back To Work In Football 101

Sean McDermott didn't yell, he didn't break chalkboards and he didn't issue any manly challenges to his defense after a not-so-good performance on Sunday night against the Giants. On Wednesday, as the Eagles got back to business on the practice field, McDermott made sure to stress the basics.

And he delivered his message in an old-fashioned sort of way.

"It was all about fundamentals. Crazy. Old-school stuff, like it was Day 1 of camp," said cornerback Sheldon Brown. "We were kind of like, 'Man, why did we have to have a bad game.' Not full gear, but we went over tackling drills, small assignments. It was kind of like Football 101. We went back to ground zero.

"I was wondering out there, 'Hey, could the weather have had anything to do with it? They (Giants) weren't tackling worth a crap, either. But, hey, Coach McDermott wanted to make his point and he made it. We understand."

The sky didn't fall in on the defense on Sunday night, not at all. The Eagles had a bad game, allowing 38 points to the Giants, missing a bunch of tackles and giving up as many big plays as they had permitted all season. It was a poor showing, a downer for a defense that has fought through so much adversity all season.

And no way are the Eagles going to let one tough game dampen their spirits, or their expectations.

"Sean was obviously a little disappointed in the way we performed, and we were disappointed in ourselves," said middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter. "But Sean came into the meeting today and said, 'Look, it's over with, it's done. One bad game doesn't make you a bad defense.' We know we have to move on, correct the mistakes and hopefully not let it happen again.

"We won the game, which made it a lot easier to accept."

This is the first time, really, that McDermott has had to address a defense coming off such a tough outing. The Eagles defense has largely been good this season, even with the injuries and the loss of cornerback Joselio Hanson. McDermott hasn't had a set lineup all year. He and his young defensive staff have been as liberal and as creative as any staff in the league with their use of personnel and X's and O's.

The players are still learning about McDermott. He is still learning about them. The first impression, after a, in football terms, meltdown game, has been nothing but positive. Those who were here when Jim Johnson was the coordinator understood how Johnson was after each game, how he approached the performance with a clinician's expertise. Johnson was able to diagnose and correct mistakes.

As a first-year coordinator, McDermott is still in a period of self-discovery. He has been an A-plus in terms of maturity and professionalism and commanding respect. How he treated the team after the New York game furthered the trust factor. Instead of beating down the team, he stressed the importance of doing the little things correctly, and McDermott also pointed to two series late in the third quarter and into the fourth quarter when the defense held the Giants and gave the offense a chance to extend a 37-31 advantage.

"He's cool. It's kind of one of those situations where the message is, 'OK, you can't be great every week. Now let's see how we're going to respond,' " said Brown. "This is the first time that he's hit that adverse situation, like *really *hit it and he wants to see how we respond. That's all he asks, that you be a professional about the situation and hit it head on and let's get better.

"We want to show everybody who is criticizing us, who doubts us, that they are wrong. Jim was the same way. The difference is, Jim had nothing to prove. Because Coach McDermott is so new to the job, when something goes wrong, he gets the fingers pointed at him. We're out there playing, we're out there communicating, we're out there making plays. With Jim, they weren't going to point at Jim. It was like, 'The players must be messing up because Jim knows his stuff.' "

It was Back To Basics Day for the Eagles as they started digging in to play the 49ers. They know what to expect from the 49ers. San Francisco wants to establish running back Frank Gore -- "He is one of the best in the game," said Trotter. "He never stops running the football, moving his legs." -- and they want to get the ball to tight end Vernon Davis and wide receiver Michael Crabtree.

"Sean told us not to let all the bad things we did overshadow all the good things we did," said Trotter. "We forced some turnovers, we scored and we made some stops when we had to. There was some good that came out of the game, and that is what we're working with looking ahead to the 49ers."

Let's see how the defense responds. This is a proud and extremely close-knit group that understands the importance of consistency through the course of 16 games. The Eagles have a 9-4 record, they lead the NFC East and they have a chance to take a big step toward a playoff spot with a victory over San Francisco on Sunday.

They won't allow a sub-par game against the Giants to get them down.

"Oh, we'll come ready to play on Sunday," said Brown. "It's another challenge and we love challenges. I think you will see a defense that performs the way we know we can play."


  • Andy Reid certainly had a lot of good things to say about tight end Martin Rucker, whom the Eagles promoted to the active roster on Tuesday. Sounds to me like the Eagles think they are very, very well-stocked at tight end here peeking ahead to next year. "At the University of Missouri they run the spread offense and he was more of a flexed out tight end, wasn't asked to block much at all. That's what he's been working on the last couple of years here," said Reid. "He is trying to put himself in a position where he can block and be respectable there. He's added some weight and strength and he's worked like crazy to get that part of his game down. Is he where he wants to be? No, not yet. But he's working at it and I think he'll get there. As a receiver he's very, very talented and he's improved tremendously as a blocker. At Cleveland they weren't in a position where they could wait for that development. They moved on and that's our gain here." Obviously, tight ends coach Tom Melvin is doing quite a job working with these young guys.
  • Will Brian Westbrook play on Sunday? I'm starting to think he might not. Westbrook ran with the scout team in practice on Wednesday as the Eagles continue to ease him back into playing shape.
  • I don't know how much he will play this week, but Chris Patrick is a backup for the 49ers along their offensive line and he was involved in almost-daily scraps with the defensive line in training camp this year. Patrick, a hard-working kid who I am glad has made it to an active roster, is not afraid to mix it up one bit. In fact, somebody hung a picture of Patrick on Jason Babin's locker at the NovaCare Complex with the message, "I'm coming to get you, Babin!"
  • I'm going to write about DeSean Jackson and how he is handling all of the attention he is getting -- very well, thanks for asking -- but here is an idea: He has done interviews with ESPN's "Mike And Mike Show," Jay Glazer's "The After Party" on FOX, ESPN's SportsCenter and is part of the network production meeting on Friday. He is also being hounded by the media in California this week. Now, Jackson has been a center of attention in the NFL quite a bit during his two seasons, and I think it is worthy of a story on Thursday. Geez, I love that kid.
  • It really is still uncertain how much, if at all, Kevin Curtis will play on Sunday. He practiced on Wednesday and that's about all we know. Let's see how his knee responds to the pounding.
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