Further Review: Are Eagles a bunch of 'softies'?

Posted: November 09, 2011

ANDY REID was asked yesterday if his team is "soft."

"No," Reid expounded.

Funny, Reid's Eagles sure seemed like a prime target for a good squeezing from Mr. Whipple through most of Monday night's 30-24 loss to the bigger, more physical Chicago Bears. What is a team that has led in the fourth quarter of seven of its eight games, yet sits at 3-5 midway through its season, if not soft?

I was trying to make deadline, tapping away at the keyboard through the fourth quarter, so maybe I missed it, but did you see anybody draw a line in the spongy, sandy Linc turf, offensively or defensively? Was there a "rally-'round-me-boys" stop or an amazing clutch TD drive that I somehow missed?

The Eagles are 3-5, with the NFL's third-ranked offense and its 12-ranked defense, with 50 more first downs than their opponents. How is that possible? Well, a minus-seven turnover differential helps, but the larger picture is a 23rd-ranked red zone offense and a 31st-ranked red zone defense. When the going gets tough, the Eagles get . . . handled. Sometimes manhandled.

"What would make you say that?" strongside linebacker Moise Fokou said yesterday, when asked if he thought the Birds' defense, anyway, was soft. "I wouldn't say so. I think we've had some bad breaks, especially yesterday. Couldn't get off the field on third down, couldn't get the momentum back. We had opportunities to make plays or get an interception and we just couldn't capitalize on 'em. I wouldn't say we're soft. I think the personality of people on this defense is very aggressive. It's just some bad breaks yesterday."

Been a lot of those bad breaks this season.

DEVELOPING STORY LINES

* Remember when DeSean Jackson used to blow past mediocre cornerbacks and score touchdowns? Those were the days. He used to be dangerous returning punts, as well. Dangerous to the other team, that is.

* Jackson was targeted eight times and caught two passes, for 16 yards. The Eagles wasted a lot of the evening trying to get him the ball. On the evening of the missed deadline for tucking prorated bonus money from new deals under this year's salary cap, D-Jax didn't seem all that engaged.

* How do you trade Asante Samuel in the offseason and start Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie next season? I don't see how you can.

* Brian Urlacher had 10 solo tackles. No more vivid contrast between the Bears and the Eagles than at the linebacker position.

* Kurt Coleman also had 10 solo tackles, and played well, but it's not always a good sign when the safeties are the big tacklers. Who had the most tackles on the d-line? Brandon Graham, in his first game since last Dec. 12, with four. Jason Babin was shut out. Andy Reid said the Bears shut down his pass rush by keeping seven men in to block a lot. Shouldn't that have made covering the great Earl Bennett a lot easier?

* The Eagles' 330 net yards were a season low. That was the same Chicago defense that gave up 543 yards to Carolina, by the way.

* The Bears were awarded four first downs by penalty. Ouch.

WHO KNEW?

The Eagles might have trouble stopping the run? Wait, we all knew that. Never mind.

OBSCURE STAT

The Eagles are 0-1 this season in games in which Jay Cutler decisively outplays Michael Vick. Vick's five red zone turnovers this season are the most in the NFL. Last year, we supposedly buried the notion that if the other team could keep Vick in the pocket, it would win. The Bears brought that topic back, front and center.

EXTRA POINT

The Eagles are minus-36 in fourth-quarter points this season. Worst figure in the league.

Yes, their defense comes up way too small when it counts, but so does the much more vaunted offense.

The Eagles don't have a come-from-behind win this season, unless you count being down 7-0 to the Rams early in the opener. Across the NFL, you see teams stumble, fall behind late, then mount drives to win. Last weekend you saw Eli Manning do it to the Patriots and Joe Flacco do it to the Steelers, after the Giants and Ravens defenses more or less failed in the clutch. Seems to be the way the offense-crazed NFL is wired these days.

Except here. The Birds got the ball back at their 37 Monday night, following the field goal set up by the fake punt disaster, down 30-24. Three minutes and 51 seconds remained. At home, with the NFL's third-ranked offense. Ought to be doable.

Three plays later, the ball was at Chicago's 39. Then, LeSean McCoy for no gain, incomplete to DeSean Jackson, incomplete to Jeremy Maclin, and, on fourth-and-10, complete over the middle, a ball Maclin had to stretch for, only to slip down a yard short of the first-down marker. Bears' ball, and game.

This has been the pattern when the Eagles' offense has had a chance to pull out a win late, to make earlier mistakes irrelevant. You have to absolve Vick for the endgame of the losses to the Falcons and the Giants, since he left with injuries both times. (Don't absolve Maclin, who dropped a Mike Kafka pass in Atlanta as the Birds were driving late, though.)

Vick and the Eagles got the ball in Buffalo, down 31-24, with 5:39 left. Vick completed six passes in a row. A McCoy run gained 4. Then came the killer interception, when Jason Avant ended up kicking the ball to Nick Barnett. Not Vick's fault, but not a stirring comeback win, either.

At home against San Francisco, Vick and the Eagles got the ball with 3 minutes left, down 24-23. Vick completed four passes in a row, then missed on one, then scrambled for no gain, then benefited from a 49ers' offside penalty. Second-and-5 from the Niners' 49, he hit Maclin at the 32, and Maclin fumbled the ball away.

Again, not Vick's fault. But again, also not a win.

Reid ended the opening statement at his news conference yesterday by noting that the Eagles had a chance to salvage the Chicago game late. Of course, he offered no insight into why they couldn't.

"We had an opportunity, when all was said and done, to have the ball in our hands at the end of the game, with 3-plus minutes to go, and we didn't take advantage of that," he said. "A touchdown wins the game, and we didn't capitalize there like I wanted to."

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