But at some point, you just can’t argue with the numbers.
Through six games with Todd Bowles as defensive coordinator and Jim Washburn as defensive line coach, the Eagles were allowing quarterbacks to complete 76.3 percent of their passes – a historically bad number.
But in the last two games, since Andy Reid fired Washburn and added Tommy Brasher, the Eagles’ defense appears to be much-improved, limiting Josh Freeman and Andy Dalton to just 44.3 percent completions. Against the Bengals, they did not allow a single completion of more than 19 yards.
To point the finger squarely at Washburn would be unfair. And to simply blame the Wide-9 would not be accurate. Eagles defensive ends still line up way out there on occasion. But there’s no arguing that the change up front to a read-and-react system has taken stress off of the back end and helped the defense as a whole.
“You probably have to talk to Todd. I think he’s been able to do a few more things. He’s been calling some creative things in the back end that we kind of hadn’t had before,” said cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. “The D-Line is playing a little differently, so the safeties aren’t as focused on the run as much as they’ve been in the past, so they’re able to stay back a little bit more. It helps us to get our hands on footballs, which we’ve done the last two weeks, and the D-Line’s playing great too.”
Eagles defensive linemen accounted for 20 sacks through the first 13 games. In one game against the Bengals, they had six. Brandon Graham had 2.5; Fletcher Cox had 1.5; Trent Cole and Cullen Jenkins added one apiece.
“I think it’s helped a lot, doing the reading and react stuff,” Cole said. “I think it’s helped a lot. It’s tough. When you’re losing games, you’ve got to have everybody. It takes a team to win a game. You can’t go out there and try to win with the turnovers, the mistakes, you just can’t win with them.”
The box score will show that the Eagles allowed 34 points, suggesting a disastrous defensive performance. But that was not the case. All five of the Bengals’ scoring drives started in Eagles’ territory: at the 44, the 11, the 40, the 13 and on the 33. The Bengals’ other touchdown came on defense – the result of a fumble between Nick Foles and Bryce Brown.
The improvement on defense is nice, but with the Eagles at 4-10, it’s obviously too little, too late. The truth is many of the players currently on the field aren’t going to be here next year. And the same can almost certainly be said for the coaches. With two games left, the defense will continue to try and build towards something.
“We saw progress in certain areas,” Bowles said. “But not enough to win the ballgame, so we’ve got to keep working.”