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My Solution To Fix Eagles' Woes

Sunday's game in Washington is, then, a must-win situation. Not mathematically, of course, but logically. The Eagles can't afford to fall four games behind the Redskins in the loss column, and they can't drop to 0-2 in the division.

I said it when the team boarded the bus and left Ralph Wilson Stadium to anyone who would listen (nobody listens to me, trust me), and I was glad to hear Rodney Harrison of NBC echo the same thoughts at halftime of the Football Night In America game: The Eagles are going to win the NFC East.

Now, this is not going to be easy to accomplish. The Eagles are in a substantial hole at 1-4. They are killing themselves in many areas -- minus-10 and dead last in the NFL in turnover ratio, terrible tackling on defense and inadequate play in the red zone. You know all of that.

But there is a fix here. It's a risky one, and from this perspective (compared to a football coach or scout or anyone who really knows what is going on, so I use that as a disclaimer) it is a novice's approach, but here is my solution to fixing what ails the Eagles ...


Whatever adjustment the Eagles made late in the game against Buffalo -- and from my vantage point it appeared the cornerbacks came up to the line of scrimmage and the safeties played more in the box -- the Eagles seemed more aggressive and confident and fast on defense. It is time, then, to make this change: Take away the running game. Commit to stopping the run and to slowing the screens and all of the dink-and-dunk stuff that is leading to big gains and back-breaking plays for the defense.

The Eagles' strengths on defense are 1) Their ability to cover wide receivers down the field, and 2) Their pass rush. So play to the strengths, then. Put eight men in the box. Dial up some run blitzes. Make quarterbacks throw down the field, in the face of an aggressive pass rush and against a group of cornerbacks that covers as well as any group in the league.

This defense is giving up big plays, but they aren't giving up big plays in the passing game down the field. Heck, Ryan Fitzpatrick threw one or two deep balls on Sunday -- one along the sidelines with Asante Samuel in coverage and one that Samuel broke up 20 yards down the field -- and instead lived on short passes and screens and shovels. When the Eagles use their cornerbacks in "off" coverage, lined up 7-8 yards off the line of scrimmage, receivers are running slants and crossing routes and then breaking tackles and ending up with big plays.

Here's an example: Buffalo wide receiver Naaman Roosevelt had all of one catch for 28 yards in four games prior to Sunday. Pressed into action because of an injury to Donald Jones, Roosevelt responded with 5 receptions for 41 yards, including a critical 20-yard catch and run in the fourth quarter. On that play, a first and 15 from the Buffalo 5-yard line, Roosevelt lined up on the right side of the formation with Samuel in off coverage, seven yards off the line of scrimmage. Roosevelt ran 5 yards and then slanted. Samuel broke, too, but instead of covering Roosevelt, Samuel broke into the flat to cover tight end Scott Chandler, who was being chased by linebacker Jamar Chaney.

Fitzpatrick threw to Roosevelt, who bounced off of safety Jarrad Page, got to the sidelines and gained 20 yards. The Bills, instead of being backed deep into their territory clinging to a 7-point lead, ran nearly 4 minutes off the clock and punted from their 43-yard line. The Eagles got the ball back at their 20-yard line with 5:39 remaining in the game and you know what happened after that.

A couple of questions here: Why would the Eagles give a receiver like Roosevelt any space at all at the line of scrimmage? Why not challenge him on every play and dare him to get off of press coverage? Why not try to disrupt the timing and precision of a route rather than let him make a catch and then force the defense to make a tackle in the open field?

It's time to go all out on defense. Put the cornerbacks at the line of scrimmage, up in receivers' faces. Do you think Washington is coming into Sunday's game intent on challenging Samuel and Nnamdi Asomugha and the Eagles' cornerbacks down the field? I don't. I think Washington is going to try to run the football, as every team has done on the Eagles. I think the Redskins are going to throw screen passes, as every team has done against the Eagles. I think the Redskins are going to play conservative football to minimize the pass rush this team can generate. Rex Grossman is going to get the football out of his hands quickly.

I understand that this is a simplistic and probably unreasonable approach to playing defense. But my point is this: The Eagles have to go for it on defense. They have to make something happen. They have to take risks, as they did late in Sunday's game at Buffalo.

The Eagles must stop the running game, first and foremost. They must load the box, pinch the edges and tackle a whole heckuva lot better than they have tackled through five games. They have to establish a tempo and an attitude on defense and not be content with giving a receiver a cushion to catch the ball and rely on a struggling tackling team to make a tackle.

Go after the offense. Is there a risk here? Yes, the Eagles open themselves up to some big plays, but they are giving up big plays in handfuls now.

The formula here is to increase the pressure with run blitzes and to stack the line of scrimmage to take away the running game. The Eagles rank 30th in the NFL against the run. Doesn't that say it all? The Eagles must commit to the running game by putting their coverage people out on an island. It puts a lot of responsibility on the cornerbacks, true, but isn't that what acquiring Asomugha and trading for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was all about, anyway?


Michael Vick and the offense are doing a lot of very good things. The offense is moving the football up and down the field with some great play design and creativity. The turnovers are just ridiculous, though, and I'm not sure what the cure is there. Turnovers tend to come in bunches and the Eagles have had more than their share in five games (15). I've never seen anything like it in 25 years of covering this football team.

Somehow, the coaches have to impress upon the players the absolute importance of ball security. The fumbles are all on the player who coughs up the ball. There is no excuse for a fumble. The Eagles too often are carrying the football out away from their bodies. That is on each player, individually.

But the Eagles can also help Vick by giving him a chance to get rid of the football faster. He is just facing too much pressure. Defenses are blitzing the beejesus out of the Eagles, and while they are giving up big plays, they are also creating turnovers (which plays into my philosophical change on defense) and getting their hits in on Vick.

Maybe the Eagles can run the ball just a tad more. Maybe they can incorporate more of the screen game and the shovel passes and the draws to give defenses something to think about. Maybe the Eagles can get the ball to their bevy of talented playmakers in space and give them a chance to break tackles and gain big yards.

I actually liked what the Eagles did on Sunday in the red zone. They spread the field and looked to give Vick some options with his legs. Two penalties -- an illegal hands to the face call against Danny Watkins and a holding call on King Dunlap ruined a late-game chance inside the Buffalo 10-yard line -- the Eagles had a first-and-goal situation at the Bills' 8-yard line -- but there was some progress made.

The Eagles are going to make mistakes up front with a rookie center in Jason Kelce, who I happen to think is becoming an outstanding player, and a rookie right guard in Watkins. Teams are going to keep blitzing and blitzing and blitzing, and you can be sure the Redskins will do so on Sunday.

If the Eagles can improve ball security and their pass protection just to reliable levels, the offense can score a lot of points.


It is a real struggle for Dion Lewis on every kickoff. He is a quick player and he is a running back who I think is going to be a player here, but I'm not sure he has the kind of breakaway speed to make the kickoff return game dynamic. I'm also not sure that the Eagles have a better option out there. The average starting point for the Eagles on kickoff returns is the 19.6-yard line, ranking them 28th in the league.

So if you are starting every drive after a kickoff there, the offense has a long field with which to work. Somehow, the Eagles need to create some big plays on kickoff returns to help the offense and to seize momentum in games.

Coverage wise, the Eagles have been really quite good. They are eighth in kickoff coverage and the punt coverage has actually been excellent. Rookie kickers Alex Henery and Chas Henry have had their ups and downs, obviously. DeSean Jackson, breathtaking as he is, is averaging just 6.4 yards per punt return.

A game-changing return would help, of course. That's the goal here in the near future.


The Eagles would likely have to go 9-2 the rest of the way to win the NFC East at 10-6. I think that is possible, but of course it will take precision football, a ton of resolve and great leadership the rest of the way. The Eagles haven't demonstrated anything close to the consistency needed to go on that kind of run, which has frustrated everyone.

Now is the time to do it. Now is the time to turn the season around. This is the first, true must-win game of the season waiting. Washington is 3-1 and fresh coming off of its bye week. The Eagles have historically struggled (5-7) in the game prior to the bye week. They can't afford to trip up against the Redskins. Keeping a season alive hangs in the balance.

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