TODD BOWLES. Huge mistake?
"It ain't got nothing to do with the coordinator. It's everything to do with the players," Eagles cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said Thursday. "It's us. We're basically not making the plays to get the job done."
DRC said the word around the league is, "Y'all guys are talented, but y'all don't wanna hit nobody."
Rodgers-Cromartie says the defense Bowles inherited from Juan Castillo has to go out and show the "want to" to disprove that perception. "Until you fix it, it's always going to show itself," he said. "Everybody looks at us as a 'pretty' defense that doesn't want to be physical. We gotta go out and just make a name for ourselves."
"We just gotta get that focus in and come together as one," he said. "We gotta get that 'Eagles are here to play' back."
Where did that feeling go?
"I thought you knew, I don't know," Rodgers-Cromartie joked. "We've been working hard . . . the main thing is just to get out there Sunday and get it back."
Rookie corner Brandon Boykin said: "With the firing of coach Castillo, people expected us to just not skip a beat and come in and be better, which is really unrealistic, in my opinion. No matter who you are, when there's change, you're going to have some difficulty."
Two things to remember: Bowles had no input into choosing these players, or on the basic outline of the scheme.
It was just 24 days ago that Andy Reid told Bowles he was "going to go with his gut" as Bowles later narrated it to reporters, Reid naming the secondary coach his new defensive coordinator in a stunning bye-week shakeup.
Back then, the Eagles were considered solid playoff contenders whose most consistent strength was a defense that ranked 12th in the NFL. The only problem was, they'd just lost twice in a row on late drives; second-half adjustments had been a problem in 2011 under Castillo, and they seemed to be becoming a problem again. So Reid fired Castillo and put Bowles in charge, Reid looking for less predictability, better finishes.
You know what happened. Atlanta scored on its first six possessions, New Orleans on two of its first three, then again as soon as the Eagles got within 21-13, the Saints moving almost effortlessly. With the Eagles' offense struggling to score behind an injury-ravaged o-line, the defense's finishes suddenly didn't matter so much.
A defensive unit that seemed to be carving an identity early in the season - fierce pass rush, make you throw short, gang-tackle against the run - suddenly looks pliable and impotent. It has less of an identity now than it had when Castillo was fired. It's also giving up more points and yards; the ranking has slipped from 12th in the NFL to 15th. Keep in mind that both Atlanta and New Orleans pulled back on the reins a little late in the games because they had comfortable leads. (On the other side of the ledger, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees are right at the top of the NFL in terms of quarterbacking in 2012.)
"When you look at the grand scheme of things, we've been in a lot of positions to make plays and just haven't been able to," safety Kurt Coleman said Thursday, defending Bowles. "We've also changed up a lot of our defense a little bit. We're still trying to get acclimated as far as right gaps, right people to execute to . . . When it comes down to it, the players gotta play better. We gotta play better.
"We're just getting our bearings, we're just getting used to it. I think everyone's going to be able to fly around and play a lot better."
Bowles was asked Thursday if the notion that the defense is worse under him is an unfair perception.
"I don't know whether it's perception or nonperception. I just know I have a job to do [to] get the guys better. We all have a job to do on defense, the players themselves and the coaches themselves, we all have to get better," Bowles said.
Asked about the disappointment of his two-loss start, Bowles said: "It's disappointing because we lost, No. 1. And No. 2, we're playing hard and making plays and then [we] have plays in each game that we're not finishing, either in the first quarter, or we're not finishing in the fourth quarter. We can't have the same mistakes creep up every week, and we've got to rectify that. So, from that part, it's a little disappointing, but we've got the guys in this room that can turn it around."
When Bowles got the job, he described his vision of a defense that was "sound, disciplined, fast, opportunistic."
So far, not so much.
"We're not playing well at all," defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said. "We got exposed by Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, two [guys who are] heckuva quarterbacks. It really doesn't have anything to do with who's in charge, it's just the players. We've had opportunities to make all types of plays and we haven't."
Of course, some people might argue that is the essence of coaching: getting the players to perform.
"That's unfair," defensive end Brandon Graham said, when asked if it's fair to say the defense is getting worse under Bowles. "It's just a bad two games, that's all . . . I like him. Everybody respects him. I know how hard he works. That's not fair right now . . . I know everybody's hearts are in the right place. It's just been a tough two games, that's all I can say."
"It's too early to say" that the switch to Bowles was a mistake, said defensive tackle Mike Patterson, who got his first game action of 2012 on Monday after returning from offseason surgery to untangle blood vessels in his brain. "He's a good coach. Everybody understands his points."
Rodgers-Cromartie said teams aren't playing the Eagles any differently, that they know they are going to see screens, for example, because they play the wide-nine. They just have to play more physically.
Despite his devastating critique, DRC said he remains optimistic.
"I still feel real good about us," he said. "Everything we've put on tape is correctable - not tackling, not being in the right places."
Contact Les Bowen at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LesBowen.