8:59 PM CST, November 12, 2012
— Before tossing that brick through the TV or cursing your least favorite Philadelphia Eagle defender for being an unable or unwilling tackler, consider that attitude, talent and technique are not the only components that go into bringing a ballcarrier down.
In many cases, even the most talented defenders can be made to look inept by improper positioning or pre-snap confusion that leads to tentative movement and uncertainty in the play that unfolds.
This is what's happening too often with the Eagles, whose struggles to get takeaways also are the result of a defense that reacts more than it attacks.
Sunday, these shortcomings were on display on some select big plays the Dallas Cowboys pulled off on the way to a 38-23 victory.
On the Cowboys' first touchdown, a swing pass to running back Felix Jones that went for 11 yards, safety Nate Allen, who was in charge of picking up Jones coming out of the backfield, appeared to be too deep at the snap and then moved laterally before moving toward the line of scrimmage and ended up whiffing from the outside, the first of three missed tackles that allowed Jones to make it to the end zone.
Later, when Tony Romo hit Dez Bryant with a 49-yard pass down the right sideline to set up a go-ahead field goal, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, perhaps thinking he wouldn't have deep help on that play, allowed Bryant to get outside, making it even tougher for the late-arriving Kurt Coleman (coming from the middle of the field) to break it up.
Rodgers-Cromartie is as good at using outside leverage as maybe anyone I've ever seen, and he used it later on what turned out to be a sensational catch by Bryant for a 30-yard touchdown. Rodgers-Cromartie was flagged for questionable pass interference on the play, which he didn't prevent anyway. But the point is that it took the kind of perfect pass from a long distance that Romo might only be capable of executing once or twice a season to make it happen.
These are just a few of countless examples where Eagles defenders might have been able to make (or prevent) game-changing plays if they had been better positioned or coordinated or maybe even ridden harder by a position coach with the salty dog mentality of, say defensive line czar Jim Washburn.
But his unit is just as guilty.
The previous week, on one big gainer around the right side by the New Orleans Saints, defensive end Brandon Graham's inside move at the snap created the opening in the first place.
Now, maybe he was doing what he was told. But if so, someone else wasn't, because that whole area of the field was abandoned by the defense immediately after the ball was snapped.
Don't get the wrong idea. Most times when players miss tackles or blow coverages, it's on them, not their coaches. It's no different with the Eagles this year.
But they haven't been helped schematically or with the play calls by coordinators Juan Castillo (through Oct. 14) and Todd Bowles (the last three games) either.
Their performance against the Cowboys on Sunday was their best in more than a month, yet still not good enough.
This defense has played with too low an IQ to succeed consistently. That ultimately falls on the coaches, whether it's their fault or not.
One thing is for sure: No way these players are as bad as they've looked, and too often — more than with contending teams — they are outfoxed by opponents who always seem to be one step ahead.
Throughout the first half of the season, when opponents would keep seven players in to block four pass rushers, the Eagles' seven other defenders who were left to cover just three receivers not only failed to break up passes but failed to get them down quickly enough after catches.
The reason is that the Eagles too often play a perplexed, confused brand of defense in which their tremendous athletes are turned into pursuers hamstrung by unfair head starts. This was not part of the plan when longtime coordinator Jim Johnson died.
Reid has appointed three defensive coordinators since, each worse than the one before.
Now he's faced with the prospect of a locker room that's about a minute away from losing all faith in the system.
Reid, after a desultory Monday night loss to the Saints on Nov. 5, coldly stared down questions about whether his players had quit and insisted there was no way that was the case.
He was correct. It just looked that way because they were so often not quite in the right positions to make the necessary plays, making it appear they didn't care as much as they should.
"The things I saw — I saw guys playing hard," he said. "We've got to make plays. If guys are in position to make plays, then you have to make the plays. Coaches have to put themselves in a position to make plays."
Reid knows it is the coaches who have failed the most on this team. They have failed the players, and the players, in turn, have failed them.