I'm taking the approach the Eagles are taking internally, that they are about to face a week of the outside world telling them what they can't do. It is not the kind of message they want to take in a series of must-win weeks, so the right way to go about business is to stress what the Eagles can accomplish. I'm going to play to their strengths, and so is the coaching staff as a road game in Cincinnati waits.
There is a season to play here, a post-season dance to attend. And the Eagles can make it. No doubt having four conference losses is an obstacle to overcome, and the 0-3 record in the NFC East a discussion to continue for another day.
For now, for this week, the focus is on the Bengals and the quest to reach 6-4. The Eagles have won three of their last four games. They need to go on another run. And if you want to look to the end of the season, hey, that is your choice. I'm looking at Sunday.
Clearly, the Eagles need to play better football from this point forward. They need to do what they do well and keep doing it. Let's break it down.
Offensively, it starts with the passing game. Even with the warts on Sunday night, Donovan McNabb tossed three touchdown passes and led the offense to 31 points against an outstanding defense. The Eagles, then, need to explore the outer limits of what they can do with this passing game. Maybe the expansion of the passing game involves personnel groupings. Maybe it is a scheme thing. Maybe the philosophy expands and includes more running backs and tight ends. Maybe the Eagles use more shotgun, or they take the "Wildcat" formation to the next generation and use McNabb as a receiver and DeSean Jackson as a quarterback.
I'm just thinking here ...
The suggestion here isn't to totally abandon the running game. The Eagles must improve in that phase of their offense, specifically the short-yardage attack. But the offense is lacking a bread-and-butter personality, and now is the time to make the passing game, already a focus through nine games, even more of a go-to call.
It is time, maybe, to open up and offense that is already pretty darn open by NFL standards. The Eagles throw the ball well. They pass protect well. They create good matchups with their X's and O's and they have enough weapons to put the ball in the end zone. The offense is scoring points this season. What it isn't doing is converting short-yardage plays at crucial times -- more on that in a second -- and while the negative emphasis has been on the short yardage, the strength of the offense has been putting points on the scoreboard via the passing game.
So throw it. Don't hold back. Balance is not in the equation. The Eagles need to get some leads and then go out and work on the running game as they work the clock.
It isn't conventional. Heck, it may not make a lot of sense. I'm trying to think out of the box here ...
Speaking of the running game, it is high time for a couple of tweaks here. Correll Buckhalter needs to be part of the offense on an every-week basis now. Brian Westbrook is great and should get a lot of touches, but Buckhalter brings a different tempo and punch to the running game. And, just a suggestion here because I have really no educated idea on how well Dan Klecko is playing at fullback, but does Kyle Eckel deserve at least a look as a fullback/short-yardage runner?
Now it time for a discussion on the defense. For the most part, the area to improve is stopping the run. The Eagles have done a good job forcing turnovers this season, and the pass defense has given up a big play here and there, but it has been pretty good. Generating more pressure with the four-man pass rush is important -- does Chris Clemons or, for that matter, Bryan Smith, deserve some reps? -- but what the Eagles need more than anything is more success stopping the run.
Now, the greatest test may not be forthcoming in Cincy. The Bengals don't have Carson Palmer at quarterback and they have struggled in every phase of their offense. The receivers are excellent, but can Ryan Fitzpatrick get the ball to them on a consistent basis? Or will the Bengals try to pound it and run, run, run?
At some point, the Eagles are going to have to step up against the run. They have tried just about every tweak to the scheme and did so on Sunday night when the defense was overpowered by the Giants. The Eagles simply need players to step up and play better. They need better technique. They must control the gaps better and tackle better and play more physical football.
The Eagles have invested a whole lot in their front seven. They have first-round draft picks in Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley at tackle, a couple of second-round picks up there with Trevor Laws and Victor Abiamiri and some high-salaried talents like Darren Howard and Trent Cole and even Juqua Parker. The linebackers are young and talented and physical.
It has a chance to come around for this defense, and in games against Cincinnati and Baltimore and then Arizona -- teams that have not run the ball nearly as effectively as Washington and New York -- the Eagles have to work things out. They have to get some answers up front.
Losing Sunday was a large, large downer. But Sunday was Sunday. It is time to look ahead. That is the nature of the NFL and that is the way the Eagles are thinking. They know they have work to do. They know they have to get better and win just about every week from here on out to make the playoffs.
Play to their strengths. That is what the Eagles need to do. Don't worry about the outside view. Make it better from the ground up and go out and beat the Bengals and get hot again.