Now that they have exorcised their fourth-quarter demons, Juan Castillo and his defense have finally unraveled the mystery of how to close out an opponent, right?


Upon closer examination, the Eagles had the same old leaky defense in the late going of what was eventually a much-needed victory over the Giants Sunday night. But one thing saved that unit from coughing up a sixth fourth quarter lead this season: Vince Young and the nine-minute long, game-winning drive the quarterback engineered.

Football, of course, is a team sport, and the Eagles offense and special teams haven't held up their end in a few of those fourth quarter collapses. But for the most part, Castillo and his defensive players have earned the label of being soft and decidedly un-clutch.

When Jason Babin sacked Giants quarterback Eli Manning and forced a fumble, essentially clinching the game, it came as a mild shock. After Victor Cruz caught a 47-yard pass and advanced New York to the Eagles 21, the script called for a game-tying touchdown and an eventual loss in overtime.

But Babin surprisingly rewrote the story. It was as if Lucy hadn't pulled the football from under Charlie Brown and instead he kicked it a country mile.

But that was the imbalanced Giants without their top running back in an NFC East rivalry game. Castillo's stiffest test comes Sunday when Tom Brady and the Patriots come to town.

New England's offense is second in the NFL in total yards, second in passing yards, third in the red zone, and fourth in points. The Patriots have the league's leading receiver, arguably the best tight end, and the most accomplished quarterback of the last decade.

But they can be stopped, or at least limited. The question is: Will Castillo implement a game plan that deviates from the Eagles' comfort zone, which is, well, their zone defense? The Patriots have lost three games this season and two of them were because the Steelers and Giants went man-to-man against Brady's plucky receivers. Wes Welker and the lot couldn't get open, the timing of the offense was off, Brady got flustered, and voilà! That's how you stop the Patriots.

The Eagles have half the scheme to pull it off, and they certainly have the personnel. For the most part, Castillo has hardly blitzed this season. He sent an extra pass rusher only once Sunday night. So the Eagles have the four-man-rush end of the man-to-man equation.

The defensive line had its best performance of the season against the Giants. They sacked Manning three times, hit him 10 times total, and didn't miss a single tackle against the run.

Man-to-man defense doesn't necessarily require cornerbacks to press at the line, but it helps. Nnamdi Asomugha made his name playing this way. His counterpart at corner, Asante Samuel, made his bones playing off receivers. Samuel can play up at the line, but that's usually to just bump receivers and then let them run into the zone with the safety over top.

This will be Samuel's first meeting against his former team since he left in 2008. His distaste for New England coach Bill Belichick is well-documented. Samuel is going to want to do his thing, but he should swallow his pride and man up. He can do it if he wants.

Samuel can handle receiver Deion Branch on outside and let Asomugha shadow Welker (74 catches for 1,028 yards) in the slot when he lines up at flanker. The issue for the Eagles will be covering tight ends Rob Gronkowski (56 catches for 805 yards and 10 touchdowns) and Aaron Hernandez (41 catches for 418 yards).

It's no secret the Eagles have struggled against tight ends in recent history. Keenan Clayton was one of the Eagles' nickel linebackers for the first time on Sunday. He is quick enough to run with Gronkowski, although that is a lot to ask of the second-year linebacker. Safety Nate Allen is big enough to muscle up against either tight end.

The matchups are important, but not as important as the Eagles going man-to-man. It won't matter, however, if the defense is again solid for three quarters only to crumble in the fourth.

The Giants only had the ball for three minutes in the fourth but still managed 153 yards and seven points. If it wasn't for the Young-led 18-play, 80-yard drive, who doesn't believe the Giants wouldn't have tallied more if given the time?

The disparity between the fourth and the first three quarters for the Eagles defense is striking. In the first three, opposing offenses have been held to 5.2 yards a play and 72.3 yards and 4.4 points a quarter. In the fourth, the Eagles have allowed 6.3 yards a play, 116.3 total yards, and 8.1 points.

The only way the Patriots might not exploit the Eagles fourth quarter woes is if they build a large margin and Brady is pulled for his backup.

Extra points. The Eagles signed journeyman defensive end Maurice Fountain to their practice squad to replace Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, who was picked up by the Buccaneers. . . . DeSean Jackson responded to Josh Scobee's tweets Sunday night in which the Jaguars kicker called the Eagles wide receivers a "punk" after he was flagged for taunting. "This man . . . is Waaaaaaay outta LIne!! Stick to ya Own business.. Mind ya own!! I don't respect what u sayin.. Lil Boi status," Jackson wrote. "I don't even know who this guy is."