Last week’s abrupt release of Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Babin didn’t send a strong enough message to Babin’s former teammates.
The Eagles didn’t look any more unified or determined or competent on defense in Sunday night’s 38-33 loss to Dallas than they did in any of their previous seven consecutive losses.
They can only wonder what might come this week as the coaches and front office go back to the drawing board to find a solution for a defense that allowed at least 24 points for the sixth straight game.
“It’s always on notice when you lose [eight] straight games,” cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. “You know something has got to change. It’s not going to stay the same.”
Or will it?
Head coach Andy Reid passed on the chance to make several wholesale changes last week after the Eagles lost their eighth game of the season Monday night against Carolina and slogged through the same breakdowns as the Panthers rolled up 30 points.
He cut Babin to give more time to defensive ends Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry and put the rest of his veterans on notice of what can result if the Eagles don’t change their ways.
Well, nothing changed. Dallas racked up 417 yards and converted 9 of 14 third downs (64 percent). They scored touchdowns on four consecutive possessions from the second to the fourth quarters.
But after the game, Reid hardly seemed more motivated to dig into his bench and start rookie safety David Sims, third-year corner Curtis Marsh, Brandon Hughes or any of the young reserves.
“Every week I go into I try to make sure I cover that base,” Reid said. “I see how the matchups are and see where we need to be and I’ll continue that.”
Reid clearly felt that his beleaguered starting secondary with Rodgers-Cromarartie and Nnamdi Asomugha at corner along with safeties Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman gave his defense its best chance to survive Dallas’ potent trio of quarterback Tony Romo, tight end Jason Witten and receiver Dez Bryant.
They weren’t. Romo threw three touchdowns, Bryant caught two and Witten caught six passes for 108 yards. At times, it looked like the Cowboys Stadium hash marks were closer to Witten than Eagles defensive backs and linebackers.
Unless Reid was masking his intentions, it looks like safeties Allen and Coleman won’t be benched as the Eagles prepare for Sunday’s road game against Tampa. No extended looks at some of the bench players who have seen limited snaps this year.
“You’re assuming that they played well when they played,” Reid said when asked about those backups earning more time. “I’m in the position where I’ve got to make that judgment for sure. I have to weigh it out, who I think puts us in a better position to do things.
“That’s what I do. I’m looking at those things. I’ve made the decision to play the guys I’ve played because I think they’re the best ones to play at this point.”
Of course, Reid could change his mind.
“I hope not,” Coleman said. “But if that’s what they feel like they need to win and get better as team then that’s what we need.”
Rodgers-Cromartie, who got manhandled at the point of attack by Bryant on a six-yard touchdown that served as Dallas’ go-ahead score in the fourth, said, “You’ve got to respect it” if Reid decides to make more changes.
But only under one condition.
“If you want to see what young guys can do,” he said. “That’s part of the game and I truly understand that. But you [are] gonna have to say that. You ain’t gonna just come in and give it away. That’s not gonna happen.”
It might if the Eagles keep making it this easy for their opponents. Romo completed 82 percent of his passes. Just five of his 27 attempts hit the ground, and none of his 10 after halftime.
The Eagles seemed to really lose their confidence at the end of the third, when the Cowboys converted a 4th-and-1 run to the Eagles’ 37-yard-line after it initially appeared — and was ruled — a stop by Cedric Thornton and DeMeco Ryans.
The play was challenged and reviewed and eventually overturned. Three plays later, Romo hit Miles Austin for a 27-yard touchdown that tied the game at 24-24. On the next drive, Witten’s wide-open, 36-yard reception set up Bryant’s six-yard touchdown catch.
“I felt really good about this one going in,” Ryans said. “I felt like we were well-prepared. We had a good week [of practice]. In the second half, it was just a meltdown where we didn’t make a play like we did in the first half.”
Romo rung up a passer rating of 150.5, which would have been staggering if Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III hadn’t just hung a maximum 158.3 on the Eagles two Sundays ago.
Here are the past six passer ratings against the Eagles: Romo (150.5), Cam Newton (121.2), Griffin III (158.3), Romo (121.1), Drew Brees (128.2), Matt Ryan (137.4). No other team in NFL history has allowed passer ratings of 120.0 or higher in six straight games.
“The season is tough,” Asomugha said. “We came in after closing out last season so well. We kind of came in expecting that to trickle over and start putting some wins together and stuff like that. And it did early, and it seems like it just kind of snowballed.”
The Eagles show up at the NovaCare Complex every week with the singular mission of eliminating the communication breakdowns, missed tackles and alignment problems that have turned their defense into something so porous that kitchen sieves are actually jealous of them.
And yet the same mistakes are revealed each game. It’s become like Groundhog Day, with each more miserable than the previous one.
“It’s difficult because we’re losing obviously, but I think everyone can understand that we love to play this game and go to work and try to get better. Complacency is not our issue right now,” Coleman said. “I enjoy what I do. I love what I do. And i go to the office with I an eager attitude to get better and help his team out as much as possible, but it’s tough when you don’t see the results that you put in every single week.”