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Fan-Demonium: Encouraging Signs


Last night was miserable. Today isn't much better. I hate it when the Eagles lose. I really hate it when the Eagles lose to the Giants. Having the Eagles lose the game late when they had a chance to go down and score the go-ahead touchdown is just gas on the fire.


This loss has me at a weird crossroads. Part of me thinks Andy Reid has to do some serious soul-searching about this football team. The Eagles are now 0-3 in the division. Not only have they lost the games, but also they've lost in a very disheartening style. The team is getting physically beaten.

The Cowboys, Redskins and Giants have run for a total of 490 yards against the Eagles so far this season. Dallas did little running in the first half of the Week 2 matchup. They did give the ball to Marion Barber more after halftime and he ran 11 times for 51 yards. Washington fed the ball to Clinton Portis all-game long and the Eagles simply couldn't stop him. The Giants fed the ball to Brandon Jacobs all-game long and the Eagles couldn't stop him.

Brian Westbrook struggled with running the ball in all of those games. He has a total of 43 carries for 117 yards in division games this year. Simply put, when it comes to games against NFC East teams the Eagles can't run the ball and can't stop the run. That is not a formula for winning.

It is one thing to have injuries, to lack talent, or to have a key player struggling for some reason. You can look at those situations and try to find solutions. The Eagles right now aren't winning the line of scrimmage. That isn't one player. That isn't one mistake. That is a systematic problem.

Some people will argue that the team needs "a real fullback." Having a proven lead blocker would help, but it wouldn't solve the problem. The same could be said for a really good blocking tight end. The offensive line is massive. Each of them has the potential to physically dominate. That isn't happening. Too often the guys are getting beaten up front. That is the biggest concern to me. The offensive line has to get more push.

The run defense outside of division games has been very good. That is encouraging. The talent is there. The guys can dominate at times. So what is the problem against NFC East teams? There is no simple answer. The guys up front aren't controlling the line of scrimmage the way they need to. The linebackers are not flowing to the outside as quickly as they need to. Tackling has been sloppy at times.

         <td>Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He's followed the team for almost 20 years. Tommy has been trained by an NFL scout in the art of scouting and player evaluation and runs</td>

There is another factor to consider. Jim Johnson is nervous about Terrell Owens, Santana Moss and Plaxico Burress. He gameplanned to stop or control these players. Certainly he wanted to stop the run as well, but he feared big passing plays even more and geared his defense to stop them. That plan had mixed results. Moss was completely shut down. Owens got loose for one big play on a busted coverage. He didn't have a bunch of catches and didn't have a 100-yard game. Burress was limited to just one catch.

I mentioned the results were mixed. Owens caught a pair of touchdowns and Burress caught one. That isn't good when those are the guys you're trying to shut down. Playing over the top against these guys opened up the middle of the field. That meant big days for tight ends Jason Witten, Chris Cooley and Kevin Boss.

Johnson's logic was sound, but the execution from the players wasn't good. The secondary made some mistakes in coverage at times. Other times they just didn't cover guys tightly enough. You have to limit a team's ability to run or throw. The Eagles didn't really do either one.

Not only did the Eagles give up a lot of rushing yards, they gave up 100 points in the division losses. That has to be devastating to Johnson. He will give up yards as long as the defense keeps the other team out of the end zone. That hasn't been the case in 2008. Teams have been moving the ball and scoring touchdowns. Last year, NFC East teams scored a total of 121 points in six games against the Eagles. Something is wrong this year.

Back to the crossroads comment from earlier. While all of this sounds very discouraging it isn't completely bad. Just when you want to write everyone off and have massive changes you think about the other side of the coin. The Eagles are still 5-4, 5-1 outside the division. They can still be a playoff team. There is talent. The execution is what needs work.

The Eagles lost the division games by four, six and six points. They had a chance to win each of the games. The offense came up short on a couple of fourth-down plays and the defense couldn't stop Portis on a fourth-down run.

There isn't some significant gap in talent. The Eagles had halftime leads in two of the games. They had third quarter leads in two of the games. They are doing some things right. Unfortunately, the Eagles aren't playing well in the fourth quarter. That is when the team is coming up short and that is costing them games.

The Eagles season will depend upon them winning at least two of the rematches with NFC East foes. They may need to win all three contests. The games were close the first time around, so it isn't out of the question. The Eagles have to play better and come up with a couple of more key plays. Being close isn't good enough in football.

Let's shift back to last night's game. As miserable as it was, there were some positive signs. The red zone offense looked very good. The Eagles were four-out-of-five in the red zone and three-for-three in goal-to-go situations. David Akers was busy kicking extra points instead of field goals. That was the main reason they kept the game close. The Giants couldn't put them away because they had to settle for field goals on a couple of drives while the Eagles kept getting into the end zone.

The offensive line did a poor job of run blocking, but they had a very good night in pass protection. The vaunted Giants pass rush didn't register a single sack. They got pressure on a couple of pass plays, but nothing with any consistency. Donovan McNabb generally had plenty of time to find his receivers.

I liked the way the coaches kept DeSean Jackson so involved in the offense. He ran the ball three times for 24 yards and a touchdown. He caught four passes for 61 yards. You can tell they see him as an offensive weapon and not just a receiver. The touchdown came from the "Wildcat" formation. Jackson lined up as the quarterback in the shotgun. He got the snap and ran to his right. He got good blocks from Correll Buckhalter and Jon Runyan. Jackson used his speed to get to the edge and then turn upfield and dive into the end zone. That was a good play in terms of design and execution.

The Eagles went and got points in the final two minutes of the half for the third straight game. That is a good sign. Good teams need to come up with points in that situation.

I can't say enough good things about Trent Cole. People who look at his sack total and judge him are missing the big picture. Cole is relentless. He might not get to the quarterback every game, but Cole's coaches and teammates know that he will do everything possible to get to the ball every single play in a game. He did everything in his power to stop the Giants last night. Cole had a sack and three tackles-for-loss. He had six tackles. New York defensive ends Justin Tuck and Matthias Kiwanuka *combined *for five tackles and two tackles-for-loss.

The coaches and players don't have much time to think about this loss, no matter how devastating it is. They can't live in the past. What's done is done. They have to go over the tapes and move on to preparing for Cincinnati. Go win that game and stay in the middle of the playoff hunt.

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