Believe it or not, good times ahead for Eagles

Rookie linebacker Brian Rolle looked much better in the second half against Buffalo.
Rookie linebacker Brian Rolle looked much better in the second half against Buffalo. (Associated Press)
Posted: October 12, 2011

In every life we have some trouble

When you worry you make it

double

Don't worry, be happy

- Bobby McFerrin

 HARD AS THIS may be to believe, I often have been accused by readers, Twitter followers, friends, enemies, people on the street I don't know from Adam, my bosses and, yeah, even my own family, of being somewhat of a Gloomy Gus.

I guess there's no use in denying it since I describe myself in my Twitter profile as a "longtime curmudgeon and proud of it."

My kids have this vision of me spending my retirement - yeah, right, like I'm going to be able to afford to retire - sitting on the front porch with a shotgun across my lap shouting at kids to get the hell off my lawn.

Yes, I'm cynical. Yes, I'm sarcastic. And if you really want to know the God's honest truth, I find it a lot more enjoyable writing about a bad team than one that's bound for glory.

Which is why Eagles fans might be a little surprised by what I'm about to tell you.

The worst is over.

I realize you're still gnashing your teeth over Sunday's five-turnover fiasco in Buffalo. I realize you have little faith right now that Andy Reid can right his 1-4 ship or that a defense that has spent the last month missing one tackle after another and sticking to blockers like Velcro suddenly is going to prevent opposing offenses from tailgating in the end zone.

But I finally saw a little light at the end of the tunnel in the second half Sunday. My eyesight's not what it once was and it could have been an oncoming train, but I don't think so. I think the Eagles are about to start winning.

Even with the turnovers, the Eagles racked up 309 net yards in the second half and outscored the Bills by 17-3 in the final quarter-and-a-half. Mike Vick threw an incompletion on his first pass of the second half, then completed 15 of his next 18 attempts.

After giving up a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive at the start of the third quarter, Juan Castillo's much-maligned defense finally seemed to get its act together, holding the Bills to three points and five first downs the rest of the game.

Yeah, the Bills probably did take their foot off the gas pedal a bit once they had a 21-point lead. Nevertheless, Castillo's unit finally manned up and showed it can stop the run, holding Fred Jackson and Co. to 58 yards on their last 15 carries, not including Ryan Fitzpatrick's two game-ending kneeldowns.

"I thought as the game went on, we continued to get better in most phases of the game," Reid said. "I thought we did some good things there in the second half. We tackled better. The defensive ends and tackles did a better job up front. I thought Juan did a good job of getting the guys in the position that he wanted them in. We tightened up a little bit and did a better job."

The Eagles still clearly have some significant issues, most notably the plague of turnovers on offense and the poor play of their linebackers and safeties on defense.

They have an NFL-high 15 giveaways and a minus-10 turnover ratio. That can't continue. In Reid's previous 12 seasons, the Eagles have had a negative turnover ratio just twice, in 2005 and '07. Not coincidentally, those are the only two seasons that the Eagles have failed to make the playoffs in the last 11 years.

Responsibility for eliminating the turnovers must start with the quarterback. Ten of those 15 giveaways - seven interceptions and three lost fumbles - are on Vick. Yes, he has been subjected to a lot of pressure by his new line, and yes, the last of his four interceptions on Sunday wasn't his fault. Still, he needs to put ball-protection above all else.

On defense, some have suggested that Reid needs to deep-six his wide-nine pass rush and go back to a standard 4-3 and do more blitzing. I don't agree.

For starters, the wide-nine has been very effective as far as getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Eagles have 16 sacks and are first in the league in sacks-per-pass-play. Seven of those sacks have been collected by Jason Babin. Take away the wide-nine and Babin becomes just another undersized end.

And as for blitzing more, well, it's not quite that simple. Effective blitzing largely is about timing. You don't just decide to start doing it in the middle of the season and become good at it. The Eagles made a conscious decision when they hired Jim Washburn as their defensive-line coach that they were going to rely mainly on their front four to get pressure on the quarterback. It's too late now to switch to Plan B.

The Eagles likely will get back Pro Bowl defensive end Trent Cole after the bye week, which will help. And 2010 first-round pick Brandon Graham will be eligible to come off the physically-unable-to-perform list after the bye as well. Mostly, though, they just need better play from their back seven against the run and screen passes.

It looked like a light bulb might have gone on above rookie linebacker Brian Rolle's head in the second half Sunday. And safety Nate Allen, who has been slow to regain his explosion after rupturing his patellar tendon last December, made two nice plays in the fourth quarter that seemed to indicate he's turning a corner in his comeback.

He sniffed out a second-and-10 screen to Fred Jackson and took him down for a 3-yard loss. And he made a nice play on a third-and-7 pass to Stevie Johnson, bringing him down short of a first down and allowing the Eagles to get the ball back with 5 1/2 minutes left in the game.

There is no reason to believe that the Eagles can't beat the Redskins this week. Don't get too impressed by their 3-1 record. Two of those wins came over the 0-4 Rams and the 1-4 Cardinals. The third was a 28-14 Week 1 victory over the Giants.

Tim Hightower and Ryan Torain both are big, power backs. But they aren't Michael Turner or Fred Jackson or even Ahmad Bradshaw. Rex Grossman is 27th in the league in interception percentage and 32nd in third-down passing.

If the Eagles beat the Redskins - and I think they will - they would reach the bye at 2-4. Say what you want about Reid, few coaches have maximized the benefits of the bye better than Big Red.

Under Reid, the Eagles have never lost the week after the bye. They are 12-0. Their record in all games following the bye is an impressive 78-35-1 (.684). Reid's record in November and December is 65-27-1 (.704).

Don't worry, be happy. The worst is over. We'll find out soon enough whether their best is good enough.


Send email to pdomo@aol.com.

For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.

Follow Paul Domowitch on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PDomo.

 

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