|Eagles shift attention to struggling defense|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 15 November 2007 13:57|
After figuring out a way to correct their inept performance in the red zone, the Eagles have turned their attention to their struggling defense.
The key to defensive success in the second half of the season might be the same thing that helped their offense: getting healthy.
Two months removed from being the least-troublesome of the team's units, the defense has had a tough time lately.
Last week, the Washington Redskins posted 361 yards of total offense, but lost. Two weeks ago, Dallas passed for 324 yards and rushed for another 110 in an easy win.
The Eagles are hoping for a better effort this week. It helps that they're facing the winless Miami Dolphins (0-9) and rookie quarterback John Beck.
Back are two All-Pro players who missed chunks of the season because of injury, safety Brian Dawkins and cornerback Lito Sheppard
``I think Dawkins was back to his old self last week,'' defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said. ``Lito is still in a situation where he hasn't played a lot. That will come.
``It will be a challenge for those guys to start shutting people down.''
The Eagles defense is tied for 14th in the league - 12th-best against the run and 23rd against the pass.
Johnson called the Eagles ``careless'' in their coverage against the Redskins, and he was equally as blunt in explaining why three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Jevon Kearse and 2006 free-agent signee Darren Howard saw their playing time cut in favor of Trent Cole and Juqua Thomas.
``Trent is playing at a high caliber. J.T. is playing very well,'' Johnson said. ``Those two, right now, are two of our better ends at pass rushing. It's as simple as that.
``They're getting more time than Howard and Jevon - no secret. J.T. is getting good pressure and so is Trent.''
Cole is tied for second in the league with a career-high nine sacks. Thomas has four sacks and 21 tackles.
Kearse, still recovering from a knee injury that sidelined him for most of the 2006 season, has 3 1/2 sacks.
Kearse acknowledged that he is disappointed with the way things have transpired this season.
``Yeah, but I mean, it's football,'' he said. ``That's how it was when I came in and that's how it'll be when I'm gone. It's a part of the game.''
Johnson conceded Kearse's production might be down because he is still recovering from his injury and that the player might be frustrated.
``I want him to produce; I want him to be there, but right now, the guys that are producing are playing,'' Johnson said.
Howard, who refused to answer questions Thursday, did make two key stops in a goal-line stand against the Redskins, yet still saw his time limited.
The Eagles struggled in the red zone early in the season, settling for field goals instead of TDs.
As Donovan McNabb's surgically repaired knee improved, so too did the red zone TD production. As a result, the Eagles (4-5) are within a game of .500 and have rekindled fans' postseason hopes.
Their breakthrough inside the 20-yard line has come over the last two weeks, as Philadelphia converted six of seven chances into touchdowns.
``We certainly have gotten better as far as scoring points,'' offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said.
The offense has moved the ball plenty and is ranked fourth in the NFC and seventh in the league. But for most of the first half of the season, drives concluded with field goals instead of TDs. Before last week's win over Washington, the Eagles were 10-for-28 in the red zone.
That's changed. McNabb's been sharp, throwing for four scores against the Redskins in a game in which workhorse Brian Westbrook finished with four TDs. This season, McNabb has seven TD passes in the red zone without an interception.
``We have our guys back healthy,'' McNabb said. ``We're showing different things in the red zone - the run, pass, which opens up the play-action, and getting a lot of guys involved with it.''