LANDOVER, MD -- They're not dead yet.
Not this week. Not after a much needed 20 to 13 victory over the Redskins.
This week the Eagles created the turnovers, rather than giving them up. This week the Eagles tackled surely and with some force. This week the Eagles defensive backs made plays -- from Nnamdi Asomugha delivering a big early hit to Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman combining for four interceptions (including three by Coleman) to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie breaking up a deep pass that could have been a Redskins score.
This week the Eagles weren't flashy, but they were efficient and played well against the run. With the defensive line seemingly tightened up in run situations, the Eagles held Washington to 42 yards on the ground, forcing Rex Grossman to throw, and throw badly. Backup John Beck put a scare into the Eagles with a late score, but the Eagles managed to grind out the clock with a final drive.
The Eagles are now 2-4 and have a chance. They still lag in the playoff race, but 13 2-4 teams have reached the postseason since the NFL went to its current playoff format in 1990.
LeSean McCoy had 126 rushing yards on a career-high 28 carries and four Eagles had three receptions or more. The Eagles even got a solid fill-in effort from Winston Justice at right tackle.
Andy Reid's team still has a long way to go to dig out from their ugly start, but they remain within striking distance in the NFC East. They now have a bye to rest and then three straight home games, presenting an opportunity to further recover.
The rest of the schedule will include far bigger tests than this Redskins team led by a starting quarterback who put on one of the worst displays you might ever see. But the rest of the schedule remains relevant today, and probably will for some time, thanks to a much-needed win.
The Eagles have life. They have looked sharp Sunday and are off to a great start in a game they have to have, leading 20-3 at halftime.
All of the factors that went against for the Eagles in the previous four weeks have worked for them Sunday. Nnamdi Asomugha delivered a big hit early, snuffing out a Washington drive. Juan Castillo’s two safeties made plays, each coming up with a first half interception off of Rex Grossman. Nate Allen, along with the pick, was a steady presence who kept Washington gains to a minimum. Batted balls landed in the Eagles’ hands, not those of their opponents. They kept penalties to a minimum and took advantage when the Redskins kept giving up free yardage.
At the end of the first half the Eagles had outgained the Redskins 250 yards to 75.
Most importantly for the Eagles offense, they eliminated turnovers. Their 250 first half yards turned into 20 points. The Eagles had roughly double the yardage in each of the past two games and only 23 and 24 total points, because they kept giving the ball up instead of finishing with touchdowns or field goals.
The only question now is if they can eliminate one more problem: their penchant for surrendering leads.
Observations from earlier in the game:
-- It took only six games, but the Eagles defense had its first big hit of the season when Nnamdi Asomugha clobbered Redskins tight end Chris Cooley after he caught a screen pass. All season long the defense has lacked intimidation. But Asomugha brought it on that play and knocked Cooley, who injured his hand, from the game. Later on Kurt Coleman took a personal foul when he hit a defensless receiver over the middle. It seemed like a clear-cut call, but it's one of those aggressive plays you'll take when looking at the big picture. And the big picture coming in was the Eagles D was soft.
-- You got to give Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo and his unit the nod for their first half performance. The intensity was there, and more important so was the execution. Aided by the narrowing of the wide nine on obvious run downs, the Eagles kept the Redskins' runnners in check at the start. And when the offense put the Eagles ahead, Washington had to call on quarterback Rex Grossman. And, quite frankly, Grossman wasn't up to the challenge. His first half numbers were, well, gross: 6 of 14 passing for 64 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and a 17.3 passer rating.
-- Sometimes, you make your own luck. The Eagles seemed sharper and more focused in all areas Sunday, and the bad bounces that hurt them in previous weeks suddenly started going their way. A tipped Mike Vick pass fell to Jeremy Maclin. Brent Celek batted a ball into the air and instead of seeing a Redskin intercept it, managed to stick with the play and make a catch himself. Runners held onto the ball as they were tackled. It might be a bit of luck or just a cyclic, as many Eagles said, but there's something to be said for focus, too, which seemed far more abundant Sunday than in previous weeks.
-- Nate Allen was one of the few glimmers of hope after last week's loss, and his strong play continued Sunday. Allen had a second quarter interception off of Rex Grossman and nearly made another pick late in the first half. Less spectacularly, but perhaps as important, was the way Allen continued stepping up to make plays in the open field, or at least slow down runners and hold Washington gains to a minimum. Those kind of plays helped the Eagles limit the kind of big gains that have hurt them during their four game skid. It also shows that last year's number two pick is ready to contribute. With 2010 first round choice Brandon Graham saying he expects to return from injury after the bye, the much-maligned draft class of last year still has plenty to say about how they will be judged in Philadelphia.