Eagles have Juan bad defense

Frank Gore breaks the plane of the goal line as he is tackled by Asante Samuel to score winning TD.
Frank Gore breaks the plane of the goal line as he is tackled by Asante Samuel to score winning TD. (CHARLES FOX / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: October 03, 2011

There was plenty of blame to go around yesterday.

The rookie kicker who pushed two very makable field goals wide right in a game the Eagles would lose by a point.

The offense, which was a pathetic 2-for-7 in the red zone and managed just eight first downs and three points in the second half.

Jeremy Maclin for that careless, fourth-quarter fumble. Ronnie Brown for whatever the hell it was he was trying to do on that goal-line play in the second quarter.

Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg, who apparently decided it was unseemly for a passing offense to have the league's second-leading rusher and handed the ball to LeSean McCoy only nine times.

But most of the blame for the Eagles' 24-23 loss to the considerably less talented 49ers yesterday rests the same place as previous losses to the Giants and the Falcons.

With Juan Castillo's defense.

They had a 20-point lead midway through the third quarter against the league's 32nd-ranked offense and blew it. They had a 20-point lead against a team whose leading rusher was averaging 2.5 yards per carry and whose quarterback had thrown just two touchdown passes in 14 quarters.

And blew it.

For the third straight week, a fourth-quarter lead went poof. Before these three collapses, the Eagles were 91-15 under Reid when they had the lead after three quarters.

"You can't be up 23-3 and lose it," said cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. "You just can't. Even when they got within six, we kept saying in the huddle, 'It's 23-17. If they don't score, we win. If they don't score, we win.' Then they drove down and had that run down the right side [a 14-yard gain by rookie Kendall Hunter on a third-and-7 at the Philadelphia 26 with less than 4 minutes left] and they took it in.

"Stuff like that can't happen. It's not good. It's not good right now. Everybody's embarrassed."

They should be. The play of the defense in the second half was absolutely awful. Niners quarterback Alex Smith, who completed just eight of 16 passes for 90 yards in the first half, was 13-for-17 for 201 yards and two touchdowns in the second half. He had six completions of 18-plus yards.

The Niners became the latest team to run all over the Eagles, collecting 164 rushing yards, 96 of which came in the second half. Frank Gore, who entered the game with a gimpy ankle and a 2.5 yard-per-carry average, gashed the Eagles for 127 yards and had 40- and 25-yard runs to go with the 12-yard touchdown run that gave the Niners the lead with 3 minutes left.

"We've got the people to do it, we're just not doing it," said defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, one of several players along with Asomugha and defensive end Jason Babin and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie that the Eagles brought in this summer as part of a defensive overhaul.

"Maybe having this label of having so many good people is hurting us. Because maybe people are standing around waiting for someone else to do it. Expecting someone else to come in and make the play instead of people going out and manning up and making it themselves."

The same problems that plagued the defense the previous 2 weeks - big plays, poor tackling, inability to get off blocks, inability to force turnovers, difficulty defending the tight end and running backs in the passing game - reared their ugly head again.

One-hundred-fifty-four of Smith's 291 passing yards went to tight ends and running backs. Vernon Davis' 9-yard touchdown catch late in the third quarter got the Niners within six points. Hunter's 44-yard catch-and-run set up San Francisco's first touchdown.

In all, the Eagles gave up six runs of 10 yards or more and six pass plays of 18 yards or more.

"As a defense, that's what you preach," said safety Jarrad Page. "Eliminate the explosive plays. Because those kill you. You can play a great game and you can give them six plays where they get big chunks of yardage and the rest of it doesn't matter."

Castillo, whose first season as the team's defensive coordinator is off to a rocky start, agrees.

"Big plays," he said. "We're giving up some big plays. [If] you give up big plays, OK, let's shut them down. Let's keep them out of the end zone. But those are things we're not doing."

The Niners converted two of three red-zone trips into touchdowns. The Eagles' last three opponents are 8-for-9 in the red zone.

"We all hurt," Castillo said. "We've been in this situation before. It's a gut check for all of us."

Reid took a leap of faith last February when he made Castillo, who had been his offensive-line coach, his defensive coordinator. Three straight blown fourth-quarter leads has done little to convince Reid's critics that he made a smart move by elevating Castillo.

"No one is pointing fingers," said Asomugha, an All-Pro corner who has played inconsistently since signing with the Eagles this summer. "No one's getting on Juan at all. Not in [the locker room] at least. We're sticking behind Juan. We know we can play better as a defense. Especially in the fourth quarter."

Said Jenkins: "A lot of these plays that we're getting beat on, people are there [to make the play]. People have the opportunity. People have an assignment. It's not getting done. You can't sit here and say it's the defensive coordinator. It's the players. Players gotta step up and make plays."

Castillo remains confident that he can get his unit on track.

"You'll see," he said. "We'll get this turned around just like we have before. We've all been tested in our lives before. This is a test. And we're going to come out and get it done.

"We have a plan. We believe in the things we're doing. You go back and you keep working on things. You see what the problems are, what happened on the big plays that we gave up.

"On one, they were in an empty [backfield] and the quarterback scrambled around and he gets lucky and he hits the back and the back goes for a big gain. Some of those are breaks. Well, you know what? We've got to create breaks. We've got to create turnovers. We've got to create some of those plays."

DID YOU NOTICE?

-- Mike Vick threw deep to DeSean Jackson on the first play of the game. It was underthrown, but Jackson should have caught it. He went deep again to Jackson on the Eagles' second possession. Again the ball was underthrown and was intercepted by Carlos Rogers.

-- The Niners brought in rookie quarterback Colin Kaepernick to replace Alex Smith in the first quarter on a third-and-17 play. Then called a run play to Frank Gore that gained just 5 yards.

-- Jackson's impact on a couple of Andy Lee's poor punts early in the game. Lee was so intent on kicking it away from Jackson that it went off the side of his foot. He had a 37-yarder, then later a 34-yarder.

-- The excellent protection Vick got on his 45-yard completion to Jackson early in the second quarter.

-- The nifty in-and-out move Niners tight end Vernon Davis gave safety Nate Allen on his 26-yard catch late in the first quarter.

-- Ted Ginn returned a second-quarter kickoff from 8 yards deep in the end zone. He only made it to the 13-yard line.

-- Both LeSean McCoy and Ronnie Brown were in the game on Vick's 5-yard shovel pass to McCoy for a touchdown at the end of the first half.

-- Safety Jarrad Page and corner Nnamdi Asomugha both came on blitzes on Alex Smith's 30-yard, third-quarter TD pass to Josh Morgan.

-- The impressive play by Niners linebacker Navorro Bowman on a third-and-3 in the third quarter. Vick took off and looked like he was going to get the first down easily. But Bowman took a good angle at him, wrapped him up around the legs and held him to a 1-yard gain.

-- The nice play by linebacker Keenan Clayton on a Ginn third-quarter punt return. Ginn was headed for the outside and a potential big gain. Clayton brought him down for a 6-yard loss before he got there.

BY THE NUMBERS

-- The defense's problems covering tight ends and running backs continued. One hundred fifty-four of the Niners' 291 receiving yards were by tight ends and backs. In the first four games, tight ends and running backs have caught 40 passes for 478 yards and six touchdowns against the Eagles.

-- For the fourth straight game, the Eagles failed to score on their opening drive. Last year, they did it seven times and were 7-0 in those games.

-- Jason Babin's three sacks were a career-high. It was his third multisack game in his last eight games dating back to last season with the Titans. He has 10 1/2 sacks in those eight games. The last Eagle to record three or more sacks in a game was Trent Cole, who had 3 1/2 vs. Lions on Sept. 23, 2007.

-- One hundred thirty of the Niners' 164 rushing yards came in the first and fourth quarters. They rushed for 54 yards on seven carries in the first quarter and 76 on 11 carries in the fourth quarter. For the season, opponents are averaging 6.6 yards per carry against the Eagles in the first quarter (32-211) and 5.1 in the fourth quarter (35-180).

-- Michael Vick's 416 passing yards were a career-high. So were his 30 completions. His 46 pass attempts equaled his career-high. He also had 46 attempts in a 2002 game with the Falcons against the Steelers.

-- The Eagles have blown three straight fourth-quarter leads. They have been outscored 36-0 in the fourth quarter of the last three games. Before that, their record under Andy Reid when they took a lead into the final period was 91-15.

-- The Eagles have held just three of their last 15 opponents to 17 points or less.

-- The Eagles gave up seven runs of 8 yards or more. That comes to 24 in the first four games. In just 105 rushing attempts.

-- The Niners scored TDs on two of three trips to the red zone. Opponents have an 80.0 touchdown percentage in the red zone against the Eagles (8-10), and 88.9 in the last three games (8-9).

-- Michael Vick, who rushed for 75 yards on eight carries, needs just 71 more yards to overtake former Eagle Randall Cunningham and become the NFL's all-time rushing leader among QBs.

-- Through four games, the Eagles' linebacking corps has zero sacks, zero interceptions, zero forced fumbles and zero fumble recoveries.

-- LeSean McCoy averaged 19 carries in the Eagles' first three games. Yesterday, he had just nine.

-- Clay Harbor's 16-yard, first-quarter TD catch was just the second of his career. His three catches against the Niners were a career-high.

-- In the first four games last year, the Eagles' defense had six interceptions. So far, they have just two.

-- The Eagles turned the ball over three more times. That's 10 giveaways in the first four games. They have a -6 turnover ratio.

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