NFC East Spin cycle: Eagles' defense needs major overhaul

Posted Dec. 04, 2012 @ 12:50 p.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

Updated Tuesday, Dec. 4 at 1:50 p.m. ET

The Cowboys kept alive their playoff hopes (barely) in beating the down-and-out Eagles, who made another coaching change on Monday. But right now, it’s the Redskins’ exciting win over the Giants that has the division suddenly back in play. Here are all the key goings-on from the division from Week 13:

GIANTS

What we learned: There’s now a three-way race in the NFC East with the Giants, Redskins and Cowboys. The Giants’ Monday-night loss puts them a mere game up with four to play, and only one of those games is in the division. The Redskins have the all-important division record in their favor — 3-1 vs. NFC East, compared to the Giants’ 2-3 mark — and that’s the first tiebreaker after head-to-head record. (The two teams split this season.) The Giants need to match or better the Redskins’ win total the rest of the way. That’s the bottom line.

What’s in store next: There are two games left on the road and two at home, starting with Sunday’s game against the Saints at MetLife Stadium. This one will be personal for the Giants. They have given up 127 points in the past three games (all losses) to the Saints, although two of those have been on the road. Still, with a Saints team that has been turnover-prone and is essentially now out of the playoff race, the Giants will want to jump on them early and deliver a knockout blow.

What the heck? They still could be in the driver’s seat, but missed opportunities have them kicking themselves. As in kicking too many field goals. In an eight-possession game, the Giants ended four of them with FG attempts. Three of them were good. That was good for nine points. Three of the four drives ate up more than 16 minutes of clock combined but accounted for only six points. So although the Giants dominated the stat sheet for the first three quarters of the ballgame, it ended up not mattering. The Giants’ offensive execution on the opponents’ side of the field has left a lot to be desired at times this season.

REDSKINS

What we learned: We learned that we officially have a playoff race — and that RG3 is this year’s Tim Tebow. Watching Robert Griffin’s first-quarter fumble-turned-touchdown brings us to only one conclusion: The young man is turning up aces every game, it seems. Griffin was somewhat ordinary on the stat sheet, but he was turnover-free, made some clutch throws in the fourth quarter to Leonard Hankerson and Pierre Garcon and ripped off a 46-yard run in the second half to stunt some of the Giants’ momentum. Griffin masks a lot of the Redskins’ weaknesses, and his brimming confidence has the rest of the team following him like the pied piper towards a run at the playoffs.

What’s in store next: The Ravens make the short trip into town for a special regional screening of the RG3 show, and they could be coming without two key defenders. Ray Lewis won’t be back for at least another week, and Terrell Suggs might miss the game with a torn biceps. Can the Ravens slow down Griffin after they failed to contain Charlie Batch and the Steelers’ passing game in the second half last week?

What the heck? How did the defense, which looked so ineffective in the first half, rebound with such a strong 30 minutes? Pressure. The Redskins aimed to try to confuse Eli Manning with a slew of personnel packages and defensive looks, constantly rotating through the first two quarters. It barely had an effect, as Manning rung up 187 yards on 14-of-22 passes and the Giants possessed the ball 20:32 of the 30 minutes. But one reason why is that the Redskins routinely sent three and four rushers. Their second-half game plan saw more five-man pressures, realizing that Manning dissecting a shorthanded secondary was not going to cut it. When the Redskins were in zone, bad things happened. When they were in man and pressured, Manning was far less effective.

COWBOYS

What we learned: Dez Bryant is special. Tony Romo, at his best, is really good. And DeMarco Murray, even at less than full health, is a difference maker. The Cowboys beat a beaten-down Eagles team — but one that had come to play Sunday night — 38-33 in a game that hardly was artful, but one that kept the Cowboys’ moderately thin playoff hopes afloat.

What’s in store next: The irony is that the Cowboys have a far better shot, it appears, to earn the NFC’s No. 4 seed as the division winner than they do the No. 5 or No. 6 seed as the wild card. With so many teams in the NFC wild-card mix, the Cowboys would need a wing and a prayer to get in that way. But at 6-6 and one win back (prior to the Monday nighter) of the division-leading Giants, nothing is taken for granted, especially this season. The Cowboys go back on the road for the first time in four weeks, and it’s a tough one. The Bengals quietly have won four in a row (after losing four straight) and have been tougher in Cincy than their 3-3 home record might suggest. The Cowboys have not played there since 2004.

What the heck? Is the defense required to have a meltdown at some point? Are the Cowboys obliged to stake teams a double-digit first-half lead at home every time? With Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy out with concussions, the Eagles’ rookie duo of QB Nick Foles and RB Bryce Brown torched the Cowboys. They were third- and seventh-round picks, mind you; it's doubtful that the Cowboys’ third- (DE Tyrone Crawford) and seventh-rounders (LB Caleb McSurdy) could have taken over a game like that. Foles and Brown amassed a combined 420 yards (Foles 251 passing, Brown 169 rushing) and three TDs and staked Philly to a 14-3 lead and possessed the ball late in the contest with a chance to win. Behind that Eagles’ offensive line and with that receiving corps, missing DeSean Jackson, the Cowboys should have buried them far earlier. Yes, a forced fumble was returned for a TD late to ice the game, but it should not have come down to that.

EAGLES

What we learned: Another game, another whacking. Not only did the Eagles lose another one — their eighth in a row since starting 3-1, for refresher’s sake — on the field, but DL coach Jim Washburn was fired Monday morning in the wake of the 38-33 loss at Dallas. In a week that saw DE Jason Babin released and the Eagles falling to 3-9, it should come as little surprise. But QB Nick Foles and RB Bryce Brown showed starter promise and played exceptionally well in the loss considering all that was missing — namely four-fifths of a starting offensive line and WR DeSean Jackson.

What’s in store next: The Eagles will try to avoid nine losses in a row, but it’s tough to see a clear path to victory in the final four games (all against teams currently in the playoff hunt), starting in Week 14 at Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers are loaded with rookies in the secondary and have the league’s worst-ranked pass defense, so maybe Foles can go on the road and put together back-to-back big games. It’s important for him to shine and show (whoever is left amid the expected postseason rubble) that he can be a starting quarterback in the NFL. Other than that, the Eagles could try adopting a spoiler’s role. It served them mildly well last season when they knocked off a Cowboys squad that was seeking a playoff bid.

What the heck? The defense is awful. Forget what these guys get paid. Bury last year’s statistics. This group is hopeless. It needs a full-scale sacking and rebuilding of some sort, whether it’s an entirely new scheme to fit the personnel or entirely new personnel. There are, of course, salvageable parts; a few young front-seven players deserve to stay and could be cultivated. But DE Trent Cole has been a shadow of his former self. LB Akeem Jordan is not starting-caliber. The entire secondary needs to be examined. It’s a full-scale mess and should be the top priority this offseason. At least the offense can point to injuries as a legitimate excuse. The defense has no such fallback.