This isn't the start I envisioned.
I figured the team would be 2-1 at this point. I wasn't sure which game they'd lose. The Rams were supposed to be much improved, but that has not been the case. The Falcons and Giants are talented teams that have won in recent years. Neither game was going to be a sure thing.
The Eagles are one game off the pace I expected so that's not a huge thing. The fact the team has played such sloppy football is troublesome. I am incredibly frustrated that the team blew leads in both of the losses. There are some excuses to lean on. Injuries affected the defensive line rotation and that hurt the pass rush late in games. Michael Vick left both games and that had a definite effect on the mindset of the team. It's always deflating to see your star quarterback helped off the field or sitting on the bench talking to trainers.
But excuses don't mean squat in January when you look at the standings. The NFL season is only 16 games long. Every game is significant in its own way. You know there will be some losses. No team has its A-game every week. What you can't afford is to lose games when you have fourth quarter leads. Those are killers.
I know fans would love a magic bullet to fix things. The worst defense in the NFL belongs to the Patriots. I think we'd all agree Bill Belichick is a very good coach. The next three defenses feature star linebackers like James Laurinaitis, Karlos Dansby and Clay Matthews.
The Eagles problems can be fixed by the current coaching staff and players. The defense is simply making too many mistakes. Kurt Coleman missed an easy tackle of receiver Victor Cruz and that turned into a 74-yard touchdown. All Coleman had to do was wrap him up and drive him to the ground. That's Football 101. Instead, he came in high and hesitated at the last moment. I have no idea what he was doing/thinking. Coleman is normally fundamentally sound.
Coleman wasn't the only defender to miss tackles. Jamar Chaney and Jarrad Page also missed tackles that hurt us. These are solid players with starting experience. You expect to have some errors and mistakes in every game. That's just human nature. The Eagles' mistakes right now turn into huge plays or touchdowns and that's killing the defense. Casey Matthews hesitated for a second in reading a play fake on Sunday and that became a 40-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Jacobs.
The back seven of the defense has to function as one, whether in defending the run or pass. If a linebacker gets out of his gap or misses a tackle, the safety should be there to clean up the mistake. If someone on the perimeter misses a tackle, there should be enough pursuit to get out there and limit the gain. There are some plays like that, but too often the back seven looks like seven different guys doing their own thing. The players must get on the same page and function better together. This requires teamwork and communication. The current players can improve. They can work together and carry out assignments better than they currently are. That's what the defense needs.
I'm not exactly sure what the cause of the problem is. Juan Castillo simplified the defense so that players could think less and simply react. That makes it easy on young players or guys that are new to the team. There are stretches when the defense is impressive. If you check out the second and third quarters of the last two games, the Eagles played good defense. Not just "OK," but flat out good defense. Slow starts and terrible finishes overshadow the good stretches of defense. Rightfully so, of course. We judge success on overall games, not portions of them.
The players get to crunch time and something happens. The opposing players are coming up big and making clutch plays. Nnamdi Asomugha was an inch or two from breaking up the 26-yard touchdown pass to Cruz, but missed the ball. That play cost us the lead. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had a chance to tackle Ahmad Bradshaw for a loss on third-and-1 near midfield, but missed. That would have given us the ball back with plenty of time left and down only six points. The Giants were clutch. The Eagles were not. I really don't know what to make of this. Players aren't being asked to make super-human plays. They just aren't getting the job done.
Is Castillo the right man to fix the situation? He's only had three games. If you judged coaches on three games, Steve Spagnuolo would have been fired by the Giants after his terrible start in 2007. They were 1-2 and had given up 97 points - Eagles have allowed 77. Castillo will work tirelessly to fix the problems.
I still believe the defense can get things turned around. Andy Reid will do what he can to motivate the players. Castillo might make a lineup change or two. He'll make schematic adjustments. Then it is up to the players to go out and execute. Quit making mistakes and start making plays, especially in the fourth quarter.
1. One player on defense who isn't at fault is Trent Cole. He had a sack on Sunday and flew around the field, doing whatever he could to help. There was one play where he chased down the running back over on the far side of the field.
2. The offense made good use of the fullback dive play. I think giving the ball to the fullback here and there is good. It keeps defenses honest and can get you a few yards. The Eagles did go to the well once too often with the fullback at the goal line.
3. The biggest lesson from the game is one we already knew, touchdowns beat field goals. The Eagles didn't play well in the red zone.
4. The Eagles longest play was just 24 yards. In my preview column, I wrote about all the big plays the Eagles had against the Giants in recent years. The team could have really used a big play on Sunday.
5. LeSean McCoy was great. He ran 24 times for 128 yards and a score. He is emerging into one of the best backs in the NFL. His lateral explosion and cutting ability are rare. Giants tacklers missed him time after time. Maybe McCoy's least appreciated asset is his lower body strength. Defenders can hit him in the lower body and still slide off.
6. Alex Henery was three for three on field goals. Chas Henry punted well. Dion Lewis is improving as a kickoff returner. Remember when those were the big worries?
7. Cullen Jenkins and Jason Babin each have four sacks on the year. Those two players have been worth the money.
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