Eagles 'D' hard to defend

The Eagles lost another football game on Sunday they could have easily won, at least from the standpoint of having had the opportunity to win it. Nothing is really easily done for this team, particularly when it comes to winning close games, even ones in which the Eagles hold fourth-quarter leads.

Add up the games in which they had the opportunity but failed, and it's fair to say that four wins have slipped through the sewer grate and floated away. That's the difference between being 5-8 and being 9-4, but it is also the difference between the Eagles and the teams that are talented enough to close out those games.

"This is the NFL, so it always comes down to a few plays," defensive end Connor Barwin said. "Good teams make those plays."

The reverse is also true. Bad teams don't make the plays and, rebuilding or not, the Eagles are a bad football team right now. It's no surprise that the offense, which came into Sunday ranked 20th in the league, is struggling. The skill positions were either stripped down or not improved as the team made sacrifices to draft Carson Wentz, and the line has been frayed by injury, illness, and stupidity. The surprise is that the defense, supposedly the strength of the team, has been just as big a disappointment.

Against Washington, the defense was unable to hold two second-half leads, the second of which disappeared at the end of a 77-yard drive with less than two minutes to play.

"We didn't make plays to finish," defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. "They deserved to win that football game."

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That's true, although the Redskins didn't do all that much to earn it, either. They allowed the Eagles to outgain them, to possess the ball for more than 36 minutes, and to hold them to just 2 of 7 conversions on third down. Washington was able to run just 46 plays in the entire game, 30 fewer than the Eagles.

The Redskins won because Carson Wentz threw an interception from the Washington 3-yard line in the first quarter and fumbled the ball on a sack at the Washington 14-yard line in the fourth quarter. Everything in between on that side of the ball paled in significance. A score on either possession - or field goals on both, for that matter - would have changed the outcome.

On the other side, the Redskins won because Kirk Cousins had DeSean Jackson, who was able to run under a fly ball to center field and haul it in. There were other factors and other plays, but not many of them. Cousins had a running game to keep the defense honest, but he still completed only 14 passes. The 80-yard catch-and-run to Jackson was the one that really mattered.

"That big play ability jump-starts this football team," Washington coach Jay Gruden said. "You just put it up in the air where he can see it and find it and he'll get it."

What's troubling about the defense, unlike the offense, is that it isn't building around a supposed superstar or a rookie getting experience. With the exception of nickel cornerback Ron Brooks, who was lost to injury eight games ago, the defense has also been pretty healthy. The defense doesn't have those excuses. This is who they are, and they were supposed to be an awful lot better. But the line doesn't get pressure and doesn't stop a good running attack. The linebackers can fill the gaps reasonably well, but aren't helpful in pass coverage and, well, the secondary has been barbecued.

On Sunday, the players couldn't celebrate a win, couldn't feel good about protecting a fourth-quarter lead, and couldn't speak hopefully about a postseason hope that was still alive. None of that was possible, so they grabbed onto the thinnest rope of all: They had tried.

"This one, out of any loss, is probably the least disappointing," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "I think we all showed up and guys were into it and we fought in all areas. Guys had to step up into different positions and we fought well, but it just didn't come up our way."

The stepping up was done on offense and special teams. By the end, the Eagles offensive line was down to its fourth right tackle of the season, and the special teams down to their third-string long snapper. On defense, no one was out of position, no one had to play more than 21 snaps in the first half, and the Redskins still scored 20 points after halftime.

"We are professional athletes. They pay us to play this game and every guy in here knows that," Cox said. "Keep preparing, keep fighting, and keep punching. Don't give up. That is the one thing we do on this team, we don't give up."

Unfortunately, as another win drifts down the storm drain, as the supposed strength of the team fails it again, the conclusion is that he might be right. The team plays hard enough, but it is the one thing, the only thing, it can do.

bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports