No fooling fans in garbage time

Posted: December 14, 2012

THE EAGLES are only a laugh track short of a situation comedy right now. At one point on Thursday night, they lost fumbles on three consecutive plays and four plays out of five - and I, for one, can never forgive myself for having typed the words "Bryce Brown" and "Steve Van Buren" in the same sentence a couple of weeks ago.

Besides the fumbles, they also managed to draw a penalty for something no one had ever heard of - calling disconcerting signals while lining up to defend against a field goal. Just before the snap, perhaps someone yelled, "Boo!"

Oh, wait - that was the crowd. Anyway, all of that, plus the normal weekly ration of ineptitude, added up to this final score: Bengals 34, Eagles 13.

But take heart:

At least we still have Jim Washburn to kick around.

The entire Eagles fan base seems intent on dancing on Washburn's grave, and given the wretched lurching of this 4-10 football team that they follow, who among us would dare to deny so many people so much fun? It is the holiday season, after all.

Washburn and his wide-nine defensive front were fired 2 weeks ago, and now the Eagles' pass rush has come to life. The Eagles tied for the league lead with 50 sacks in 2011, and they steamrolled teams with their pass rush during the exhibition season, and then...nothing. As weak week followed weak week, the opinion of Washburn and his signature formation sank.

His firing was widely hailed by the populace - even people who didn't know what it meant hated the wide-nine - and some players acted as if they had been freed from jail, and now this: six sacks against the Bengals and a couple of forced fumbles and lots of overall pressure on quarterback Andy Dalton.

So we are left with a question (after all of the dancing, of course). Simply, what are we to make of this defensive line now? Trent Cole has been awakened. Brandon Graham (21/2 sacks against the Bengals) has been unleashed. Cullen Jenkins looks livelier. Rookie Fletcher Cox (11/2 sacks) continues to improve. And on and on.

"Not taking anything from coach Wash, but things were just not opening up," Graham said. "But now, everything is opening up for some reason."

The storyline is already being crafted. You know, if only they had fired Washburn earlier. If only they hadn't married themselves to that gimmick of a scheme. If only they had played a more conventional defensive front, and been coached by someone like old pro Tommy Brasher, this line and, therefore, this defense, would have been a whole lot better than it showed.

To which, one thing needs to be said: Do not be fooled.

Back when, Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver was the guy who told people not to fall in love with players in April or September. This time last year, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie was the one who warned everyone that the four-game winning streak that ended the 2011 season might just be "fool's gold."

Here and now, everyone has to know that the worst thing anyone can do is ignore 10 weeks of video when the games still kind of mattered to fixate on 2 weeks of video after the team has been eliminated from playoff contention.

Repeat: Do not be fooled.

Cole has had a terrible season. To blame all of it on the formation - a formation in which he played in 2011 and had 11 sacks and did just fine, thanks - is a bit of a stretch. As for Graham, it is fair to say that Washburn could have played him more this season, and that he has gotten better with more playing time - all of which has nothing to do with the formation. But, anyway.

"I'm just more confident," Graham said. "I've got a big role, big shoes to fill, and I've got to go out there and play."

The defense has been better. When you strip away all of the giveaways, the defense really allowed only two touchdowns against Cincinnati, a team still playing for a playoff spot. That is good.

But, well, come on. This is garbage time, and no one should forget it.


Email: hofmanr@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @theidlerich

Columns: philly.com/

RichHofmann

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