Marcus Hayes: Eagles have issues, but not a lack of effort

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Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg (left), quarterback Michael Vick (center), and head coach Andy Reid (right). (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

EXCEPT FOR the losing, the contention that the Eagles have quit on their season and head coach Andy Reid lacks real evidence.

Furthermore, besides the killer turnovers, the red-zone inefficiencies and the defense's sporadic tackling, this is a gifted team fully capable of beating any given team on any given day.

Except the team it is currently playing.

Yes, four consecutive defeats lend credence to the supposition that any team with an acceptable depth of talent that loses like that must not care.

Poll

How awful is the Eagles' situation?

But teams that do not care do not get angry.

They do not choke back tears of frustration.

There sat receiver Jeremy Maclin in front of his locker, 20 minutes after the press dispersed, still in full uniform, pads and cleats, brooding over the Eagles' 28-13 embarrassment Monday night in New Orleans.

There stood defensive end Trent Cole, steaming mad at the ragged play of the defense.

There limped defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, ready to cry over how picayune his unit's play had been.

These guys care.

They don't catch or sack or tackle, but they care.

The team whose ruination commissioner Roger Goodell engineered - the Saints' defense is historically bad - had summoned a heroic effort to smother the explosive Eagles' offense.

Actually, the offense has elements of nitroglycerine and plastique, but its casing and trigger have been compromised. The offensive line has one player starting where he was projected to start in training camp. Quarterback Michael Vick is third in the NFL with 14 turnovers after his pick-six from the Saints' 6 on Monday night, and the Eagles are tied with Dallas for worst in the NFC, with 19, including the fumble Brent Celek gave away in the fourth quarter.

Six of the turnovers came in the red zone, also worst.

"We've just got to do the right thing down there," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said.

More troubling, perhaps, is the defense's sudden incapability of playing as a unit. It was designed to allow Pro Bowl ends and cornerbacks to make plays on the edges, while the middle of the defense read and reacted with a degree of discipline.

And, when the ballcarrier was contacted, swarm to the ball and end the play.

Since Reid fired defensive coordinator Juan Castillo 3 weeks ago, the starting ends have one sack and the corners have zero interceptions.

Sacks and interceptions often come from mismatches, and teams steadily have ensured no mismatches happen. Sacks and interceptions are avoidable.

Allowing early touchdowns is deadly.

The Saints on Monday scored touchdowns on two of their first three possessions.

The week before, the Falcons scored touchdowns on their first three possessions.

This is where the games were lost. This is how:

On the Saints' first touchdown drive, lanky corner Nnamdi Asomugha stood up Mark Ingram near the line of scrimmage for a full 2 seconds . . . as safety Kurt Coleman and middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans looked on.

Ingram, a bowling-ball back, eventually shrugged off Asomugha and rolled for 23 yards, the key play of that drive.

That's right: The skinny cornerback put his delicate nose in harm's way while the contract hitters watched.

"The gang tackling wasn't there like it was in the past," said Asomugha, who also struggled in coverage. "One guy would be there, but one guy can't always bring the guy down. You need a second guy and a third guy. Teams miss tackles. There's always a second guy and a third guy, and you get the guy down."

"We're not getting to the ball," Jenkins said. "It's something you've got to practice. It's something [line coach Jim Washburn] gets on us about a lot. Bleep. I'm trying to hustle my butt off out there. Whether it's screens, or little things - I'm running my butt off. Everything."

Jenkins finished with only two tackles.

Without early results, the defense often seizes up.

"It kind of does," Jenkins said. "One of the issues we have: A lot of times, in games, we get out there and the score's not in our favor much . . . We've got to just keep bringing it."

For a season and a half now, Eagles players and coaches have touted themselves as super talented. Jenkins wonders whether that isn't false bravado:

"Everybody on this team should believe they're one of the best in the league. That's the type of attitude you have to have . . . I don't know if we have that attitude yet, where everybody is trying to be the best in the league and dominate."

Dominant defenses don't think about being dominant defenses: They just are.

Clearly, the Eagles are thinking way too much . . . the way they did last season, en route to the 4-8 start that cost them a playoff shot.

"You saw a little bit of that in this game," said Asomugha, who often was guilty of overthinking last season. "You hadn't seen it much this year. A different type of will than we've had. Certain moments this year, you have seen that."

So, if the issue is not effort, or heart, or matchups, it must then be fixable.

Can the Eagles win seven of eight and make a playoff run?

Sure.

Will they?

Probably not.

How to get it started?

"It's just a matter of getting the first win," Asomugha said. "Then you set yourself up for a momentum swing."

On this given Sunday, the Cowboys visit.

Tough matchup.

 


Contact Marcus Hayes at hayesm@phillynews.com. For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/MarcusHayes.