The season that came to a crashing halt on Saturday night against Washington did so for a box full of reasons, and there is plenty of blame to go around. Pick your favorite villain. But any team with a defense that allows this many points down the stretch run of a season isn't going anywhere at all, and that's as big a reason as any why the Eagles didn't.
As they drift into the offseason, with Chip Kelly's supposedly innovative offense in tatters, the 38-24 loss to the Redskins was another game in which the defense didn't do its part, either. Maybe that wasn't much of a surprise considering the ragged nature of the backfield, which was missing both starting cornerbacks, but the Eagles needed a showing that reflected the urgency of the situation. They didn't get it.
Defensive coordinator Bill Davis opted to place more backs on the field at the risk of not getting enough pressure on Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins. He was rewarded with neither pressure on the quarterback nor particularly good coverage from the nickel and dime alignments.
What particularly hurt the defense, and this shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone in the stadium, was tight end Jordan Reed. Cousins found Reed consistently on underneath or delay routes in the first half that singled him up against an Eagles linebacker. On consecutive drives starting midway through the first quarter, the Redskins erased an early 7-0 Eagles lead with touchdown drives that ended on passes to Reed. The tight end lost DeMeco Ryans on the first score and got away from Mychal Kendricks on the second.
Davis adjusted after the second drive and assigned safety Malcolm Jenkins to Reed for much of the game. That slowed things down and perhaps it would have been a good idea to have started things that way. In any case, Washington led, 13-7, and the Eagles defense had not done its job of maintaining momentum.
With cornerback Byron Maxwell out, E.J. Biggers started opposite rookie Eric Rowe, with Ed Reynolds as the nickel back and Jaylen Watkins as the dime. It was an alignment that was quick but still left too many gaps.
It could have been a lot worse for the Eagles defense when the team trailed by six points at the half, but it went downhill when Washington expanded its lead with a touchdown midway through the third quarter that made it a 23-10 game. Once again, Cousins went back to the simple underneath routes on that drive, using running back Pierre Thomas to get one big first down and then completing the drive with a pass to Chris Thompson, who wasn't covered very effectively by linebacker Kiko Alonso.
To that point, the game was a microcosm of the season for the defense. It wasn't as bad as in the blowout losses to Tampa Bay, Detroit, and Arizona, but representative of most of the other games. There were moments when Fletcher Cox broke down the offensive line and disrupted things and times when the defensive backs were able to track their assignments and bat away the ball. Then again, there were other moments and other times.
It could be the Eagles defense was never going to be the same after inside linebacker Jordan Hicks and cornerback Nolan Carroll were lost to injuries. All the games in the second half of the season were going to be an uphill mix-and-match fight, and the Eagles haven't held a single opponent under 20 points since mid-October.
Sam Bradford took the offense to an answering touchdown to make it a 23-17 game with plenty of game left, but DeMarco Murray's fumble that was returned for a touchdown took away all of the margin for error. The Eagles needed to play perfectly in the final quarter of the game. They particularly needed stops and turnovers from the defense, but didn't get any of what they needed.
Washington put together a drive that began on its own 18-yard line and lasted nearly eight minutes as it moved steadily down the field. It was finished off by a fade pattern to Pierre Garcon, but along the way the Eagles weren't able to make any kind of a stand. When Garcon pulled in the perfect pass from Cousins, with Walter Thurmond and Reynolds in the vicinity, the score bumped up to 38-17 with just under nine minutes to play. That wasn't just the game. It was the season, too.
If there was a real failure to construct a formidable offense this season, the failure to shore up the defense was just as real. Injuries played a part certainly, but the problems went beyond that. Davis is going to have to answer for much of it. That might be unfair, but it was as hard to argue with on Sunday night as the big number on the opponent's scoreboard.