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Eagles' Mike Patterson says defense needs to step up

dennis deitch delco times

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Posted 09 November 2012 - 05:53 AM

Deitch

Eagles' Mike Patterson says defense needs to step up

Published: Friday, November 09, 2012

By DENNIS DEITCH
ddeitch@delcotimes.com, @DennisDeitch



PHILADELPHIA — The Eagles are having a famously terrible year when it comes to the health and continuity of their offensive line. That reached a peak Wednesday when starting right tackle Todd Herremans was placed on the injured reserve list with a broken foot, meaning four linemen expected to be starters this season — including both offensive tackles — could be out of uniform for Sunday’s game against Dallas.

That, however, is just the half of it. The healthier side of the ball has been undergoing an erosion that the firing of defensive coordinator Juan Castillo not only failed to stifle, but seems to have hastened.

Defensive tackle Mike Patterson saw about 15 snaps in his first game action of the season during the Eagles’ 28-13 loss Monday night to the Saints. Patterson’s return came 10 months after he underwent brain surgery, and if any more proof was needed that he was of sound mind, he provided it with his assessment of what the Eagles’ defense is lacking.

“You want to establish an identity, most definitely,” Patterson said when asked if the Eagles’ defense seemed to lack one. “It depends how you want to look at it. We all just want to fire it up and everyone run to the ball.

“We have young, fresh legs, so let’s fly around.”

The Eagles’ blitzing defense under late, great defensive coordinator Jim Johnson gained a reputation as one that flew around and — here’s the important part — separated opponents from the football.

Through eight games this season, the Eagles defense has recovered just three fumbles by opponents, and none of those have come out of the hands of running backs. That’s 216 rushes by opposing runners without a lost fumble, a figure that would be problematic even if Michael Vick weren’t putting the ball on the carpet with regularity.

According to cornerback Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie, there is a reputation building throughout the league about the Eagles ... and it isn’t flattering.

“Everybody looks at us as a pretty defense,” he said, “that don’t want to be physical.”

The good news is that the Cowboys are one of the few teams in the NFL as generous giving up the ball as Vick and Co. Like the Birds, the Cowboys have committed 19 turnovers. After coughing it up five times against the Giants two Sundays ago, Dallas didn’t commit a turnover against the Falcons last weekend.

Which Cowboys team will show up Sunday is anyone’s guess. But the Eagles’ defense is equally quixotic.

“There are several approaches, and there have been attempts,” Patterson said. “Guys are going for the ball … we just haven’t had a chance to get our hands on one.”

Most fumbles are caused by gang tackles, with the initial tackler holding up a back as his teammates arrive with a stripping agenda. That tactic was noticeably absent Monday night.

“As a group last week, we didn’t have as many (linemen) getting to the ball or getting off blocks,” interim defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. “We’ve got to get off blocks. We can’t be satisfied and standing in our gaps. Once we get in our gaps, we’ve got to use our hands. We’ve got to play sound football and we’ve got to get off on blocks.”

Then there are the 11 sacks halfway through the season … and the four straight games in which opponents have gained 120-plus rushing yards, including 140 on 25 carries the Saints amassed to … and the three interceptions the Eagles have had in the last seven games after racking up four in the opener … and the 12 third-down conversions the Falcons and Saints managed in 21 tries the past two weeks.

There are plenty of holes in the defense, and it seems when Bowles tries to plug one, a couple of others sprout.

“Sometimes when you’re trying to make a play,” the former defensive back said, “you’re trying to do too much instead of doing your own job. You’re trying to help somebody else and then that jeopardizes your own position.”

The most accurate way to describe the Eagles’ defensive reputation at this point is to say they do not have one. And in a city that has considered defensive aggression a staple of the game ever since Buddy Ryan came strutting into town with the 46 defense, this defanged unit — on its fourth defensive coordinator in the last four years — may be eight games away from yet another coaching change.

That is, unless something drastic occurs and this soft-serve defense starts to cream people.

“We have to go out and make a name for ourselves,” Rodgers-Cromartie said.