Don't give up on Eagles defense

Posted: November 10, 2011

THE EAGLES’ defense didn’t exactly lose the Chicago game single-handed Monday night — the offense put up just 17 points against a pass defense that came in ranked 28th in the NFL — but Juan Castillo’s group definitely backslid from its encouraging efforts against the Redskins and Cowboys.

As the 3-5 Birds prepare to host 2-6 Arizona, and a 25th-ranked offense that probably will be run by former Fordham quarterback John Skelton, a host of defensive issues again loom front and center. Stopping the run, after Chicago's Matt Forte gained 133 yards on 24 carries. Fourth-quarter play, after the Eagles blew a lead into a loss in the final 15 minutes for the fourth time this season, being outscored 10-0. And maybe most surprisingly, pass-rush pressure, which really hadn't been a problem all season.

The Bears often kept in seven blockers. Between that strategy and some adroit footwork by quarterback Jay Cutler, Chicago became the first Eagles opponent all season not to allow a sack. You would think keeping all those players in to block would make pass coverage easier, especially for a secondary as deep as the Eagles', but Cutler found open receivers in critical spots time and time again, often on third-and-long. The Birds' secondary seemed confused; nickel corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had a dreadful evening. It didn't help that starting safety Nate Allen left with a concussion early and rookie Jaiquawn Jarrett had to play his first non-special teams snaps of the season. Jarrett is expected to start for Allen this week.

"It wasn't like the pass rush just wasn't there. Cutler did a good job of getting the ball out fast," defensive end Darryl Tapp said.

Does that have any bearing on this week's game?

"Of course," Tapp said. "Once one team does something that's successful, the next team wants to do the exact same thing. We're not going to get away from it, just because we're playing different teams."

Penalties extended one Chicago touchdown drive and set up a field goal. Overall, the defense was not consistently dominated by the Bears - it had its moments, such as Brian Rolle's strip and score against Forte - but was wildly inconsistent.

"We knew that they would probably help at certain times and do things, but not to that extent," defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said, when asked about the extra blockers. "We had times when we did good, but there were other times when we weren't able to overcome certain things. We've got to do a better job of that. It doesn't matter what happens or if things are called, any little adversity we may have faced, we've got to do a better job of handling it."

Babin took what he considered a bogus late-hit penalty on Cutler, tranforming fourth-and-goal to first-and-goal and setting up a touchdown just before halftime. He was not happy with the way he or his linemates played, but Babin also accused Chicago of a dirty tactic on one block, where a tight end went in motion and blindsided Babin. He said Eagles management has complained to the league about the play.

"We're still salty about it," Babin said, when asked about the sack shutout, for a defensive line that has 22 through the first half of the season. "We're still talking about it today. Anytime we don't get as much pressure as we think we should on the quarterback . . . it's frustrating to us. That's our job, that's our job that everybody really evaluates us for. When it doesn't get done, guess what? It doesn't matter why it didn't get done, it's our fault.

"I'm sure we could bring some more guys, we could try and disguise some things, conceal some movement . . . I'm pretty sure it's not going to happen again to us. We're not going to get caught like that."

Castillo, the defensive coordinator, said he did a poor job of factoring in that the Bears were coming off their bye, and had time to throw in some new wrinkles.

"That's what you have to prepare for when you play a team that had some extra time to prepare for you," Castillo said. "That's why you have to be sharp . . . Every team has certain formations, shifts, motions . . . that's what you prepare for during the week, so you don't have any communication problems, or any errors, or anything like that. I have to do a better job with that during the week."

The run-stopping, of course, has been a problem all season. Even the Cowboys gained 85 yards on just 10 carries; they fell behind so far they chose not to try to run. Yet, as several Eagles noted this week, the Birds stopped the run quite a few times against the Bears, but Chicago, which led 10-0 early, did well on the ground in the first and fourth quarters.

"There's no reason why we couldn't be a top five team in stopping the run," said defensive tackle Derek Landri.

Landri said the explanation isn't size or talent level, it's one you've heard before - too many new people and techniques, not enough time to develop chemistry.

"With a lot of different guys coming in, we're one of those teams that kind of got hurt by not having an offseason, putting new people in new situations, trying to piece it together as we go, get everybody together and playing ball. It's one of those things. Some teams gel, and are playing well. Other teams take a little more time," he said.

Maybe the most frustrating thing was the inability to hold that fourth-quarter lead. The go-ahead touchdown drive was only 51 yards, thanks to a 19-yard Devin Hester punt return, but it was ridiculously easy; the Bears ran five plays and never faced third down.

"You should want the game to be on your shoulders like that," middle linebacker Jamar Chaney said. "Anytime the offense gives you the lead in the fourth quarter, you want to be able to hold it. That's got to be our mindset. Whenever we get the lead, we go out there and we take care of business, no matter what the situation is. Right now, we're not doing it."

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

Follow him on Twitter at

http://twitter.com/LesBowen.

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