Eagles can't stress fundamentals enough

Posted Oct. 10, 2011 @ 4:29 p.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

The 49ers and Bills have done the rest of the league a favor: They have shown how you beat the Eagles, who fell to 1-4 after Sunday's five-turnover loss in Buffalo.

The way you beat the Eagles is you prevent their big plays on offense and make them inch up the field with the run game and the short pass. Defensively, you take that same approach; the more plays you run against the Eagles' defense, the more chance there is that they will take a bad angle, miss a tackle or commit a penalty.

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In 2010, the Eagles were a big-play offense. They received long catches and punt returns from DeSean Jackson. Jeremy Maclin ate up the middle of the field, with Jason Avant and others helping do the same. LeSean McCoy was just as dangerous as a receiver as he was as a runner. And, of course, Michael Vick was in the midst of his germination as the greatest weapon in the NFL.

Teams figured out that you can't give up those quick-shot scores to the Eagles. That was the fairly obvious part of the equation.

What has emerged over the early course of this season, amid scores of personnel and schematic changes on defense, is that you don't need to quick-strike the Eagles offensively. Run enough plays and eventually they'll self-destruct.

In every loss this season, the Eagles' defense has made a critical series of errors that has led to losing.

Against the Falcons in Week Two, they hit Matt Ryan several times but couldn't knock him out. They also allowed Michael Turner to break tackles on his way to a 61-yard run, his season-long run to this point.

Against the Giants in Week Three, WR Victor Cruz raced past Kurt Coleman and Nnamdi Asomugha for a TD catch-and-run and then outmuscled Asomugha and Jarrad Page for another score. Casey Matthews also completely bit on a play-action wheel route to RB Brandon Jacobs for a long score.

Against the 49ers in Week Four, the Eagles were physically manhandled at the line of scrimmage and appeared beaten even when they were winning the game. They allowed Alex Smith to pick the unit apart systematically.

And then in Week Five, the Bills ran a series of short passes and runs, not to be conservative, but to force the Eagles to play fundamental football and tackle them. For every good play the Eagles' defense made, it backed it up with two bad ones.

It's not just the defense, though. The turnovers on offense have been in stark contrast to last season's team, which had a plus-nine ratio. Already, through five games, the Eagles are an incredible minus-10, which is tied with the Steelers for the worst mark in the NFL.

The week prior to the loss in Buffalo, the coaches stressed fundamentals and ball control. A lot of good it did. Vick was intercepted four times, and two of them had direct blame to others. Jason Avant, regarded as having some of the best hands in the NFL, fumbled one reception and allowed one of those Vick picks to carom off his hands into those of Bills LB Nick Barnett. Another one came when C Jason Kelce inexplicaly allowed a pass rusher to cross his face and hit Vick as he was throwing. Talent is one thing, and the Eagles have plenty of it on both sides of the ball. But talent is negated when assignments are not carried out and players are careless.

And to top off the trifecta of ineptitude, the Eagles jumped offside on a 4th-and-1 play at the Eagles' 49 with 1:23 left and the Bills nursing a 31-24 lead. Everyone in Ralph Wilson Stadium knew the Bills were trying to draw just that, yet DE Juqua Parker jumped offside. As an 11th-year veteran, he should know better. Coaching most certainly deserves some of the blame. But where is the players' accountability when the coaches are stressing these fundamentals and the players are not executing it on the field?

There's plenty of blame to go around in Philadelphia these days.