PHILADELPHIA - The Eagles' defense has been going backwards since defensive coordinator Juan Castillo was fired.
After giving up 128 points in the first six games, the defense allowed a combined 51 points under new defensive coordiantor Todd Bowles in back-to-back losses to Atlanta and New Orleans.
"I think everybody's pressing too hard," Bowles said Thursday. "Everybody just needs to do their job and we need to just make our plays when they present themselves. We can't have the same mistakes crop up every week and we've got to rectify that. It's been a little disappointing, but we've got the guys in the room that can turn it around."
Poor tackling has been a major concern all season, but especially during the Eagles' four-game losing streak.
On Monday night, for example, safety David Sims had a chance to prevent a touchdown. New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham had just caught a short pass from Saints quarterback Drew Brees and turned upfield. Sims hit him at the 5-yard line, but failed to finish the tackle. Graham tossed him to the ground with a forearm shiver and continued on his way to a 6-yard touchdown reception during the Saints 28-13 victory at the Superdome.
"I put the blame on myself because I missed a couple of tackles," Sims said. "I have work to do. There are some little things that I need to do better."
He probably won't get the chance to redeem himself against Dallas on Sunday, however. Safety Nate Allen, who missed the Saints game with a strained hamstring, returned to practice this week and is expected to play against the Cowboys. Allen is ranked third on the Eagles in tackles this season with 46 stops. Middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans tops the team with 83 tackles, followed by safety Kurt Coleman with 60.
Coleman may be the most improved tackler on the team. He was benched briefly last season after missing a couple of key stops in a loss to San Francisco, but has since become a reliable tackler, even if it means taking some big hits of his own.
In the season opener at Cleveland, Browns rookie running back Trent Richardson barreled into Coleman with such force that Coleman's helmet flew off and he suffered a bloody lip and various cuts. But Coleman still managed to bring Richardson to the ground.
"Having good technique helps, but the technique will only take you so far," Coleman said. "Tackling really comes down to want-to. You have to be willing to take the guy down by any means necessary."
Defenders face different challenges when it comes to tackling depending on what position they play.
Defensive linemen usually don't have to worry too much about a running back trying to juke past them because they play in such a confined space. A running back is usually just trying to get into the defensive backfield as fast as possible.
Linebackers and defensive backs have to deal with fakes and changes of direction from shifty running backs and speedy wide receivers.
"Everybody misses tackles once in a while," Ryans said. "It's football. Missing tackles happen. but you can't let it leak for so much yardage that it really hurts you. The key is to have good pursuit. You need everybody getting after the ball carriers so when one guy misses, there are other teammates to clean it up for him."
One common problem comes from devoting too much attention on delivering a big hit instead of just making the tackle. Defensive players want to deliver that jarring blow that produces roars from the crowd and lands on ESPN's highlights. The Eagles devote a portion of every practice to reminding players to wrap their arms around a ball carrier to take him to the ground.
"There are players that are going to miss tackles that are good tacklers and then there are some players that just aren't good tacklers," Bowles said. "But you can fix that with fundamentals and you can fix that with attitude. Attitude is the main thing."
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