Even more painful than the Andy Reid news conferences lately have been the weekly sessions with defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
Andy, we've seen on the hot seat before, over the years. The Eagles' outlook has never been quite this bleak, but there have been many crises; Reid knows what we're going to ask, we know what he's going to say. The dynamic is familiar.
Bowles, we'd hardly heard from at all before the first-year secondary coach was abruptly handed Juan Castillo's job Oct. 16. We still don't know what sort of scheme he prefers, what kinds of players he likes. He was asked to run Castillo's scheme, with Castillo's players, and the result has been horrific.
In Bowles' four games running the defense, all increasingly bleak losses, opposing quarterbacks have a 143.6 passer rating. The Eagles have given up 11 touchdown passes and haven't intercepted anything. Those are ridiculous numbers, especially when you consider it was Bowles who had the extensive background in NFL defenses, not Castillo.
Bowles answered a series of questions Friday that were all a variation of the same question: "Todd, what the bleep?"
Asked why players are miscommunicating, as was the case on the 49-yard Aldrick Robinson touchdown catch that made the score 14-3 in the second quarter of last Sunday's loss to the Redskins, Bowles said: "It shouldn't [happen], especially on the plays we gave up against Washington. We addressed that in the meeting. That should not happen. There's got to be communication on every play."
But, this keeps happening. Why isn't it getting corrected?
"I think everything is corrected, every week, all the time. Players are going to make mistakes, just like your children," Bowles said. "You don't want'em to happen, you can go over 'em and go over 'em. We have a responsibility to correct, they have a responsibility to get it right."
The expectations for this group were so high, with a lot of proven Pro Bowl talent and some heralded youngsters. (And in fact, the defense looked great through the first four games.)
"Expectations and Pro Bowl players - it's a new year. You have to prove yourself every week in this league," Bowles said. "Nobody's going to give you anything . . . You have to come out and make plays. That's all this game is about."
On the Robinson play, Nnamdi Asomugha clearly expected help underneath, but safety Nate Allen bit on a run fake. It still seemed that maybe Asomugha, with no other receiver nearby, could have hustled over and tried to cover Robinson, instead of looking on helplessly and wondering where his help went.
"Nnamdi, Nate and DRC [Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie] - all three were involved, and we should have had two out of the three back there, and we did not," Bowles said.
Bowles' frustration was obvious Friday. It filled the room.
"You coach it until you're blue in the face, but you can't play it for them, just like they can't coach it for you," he said.
"No matter what kind of coach you are, it's tough to go over things and then see a mistake on the field," Bowles said. "You have to move on. You get ready for the next play and the next game."
Bowles said he thinks his players are working hard, even if it might not look that way sometimes. Does their play reflect on him?
"Of course, I'm the coordinator," he said. "I've never seen our guys have a lack of effort or courage or anything like that. That's a whole different ballgame, as opposed to making a mental mistake. Our effort and our courage and our fight has always been there."
Defensive end Trent Cole has never notched fewer than eight sacks in a season since he became a full-time starter in 2006. Cole, 30, has 1 1/2 sacks in 10 games this season, nothing since the third game.
"It's a tough game," Cole said, when asked what's going on with him. "That's a hard question to answer . . . I go out there every day to do my best."
Asomugha, 31, another one of those Pro Bowl guys who hasn't lived up to his billing, said Friday he knows he hasn't played well, but he doesn't regret signing here in 2011 and very much wants to stay.
The cornerback said the possibility of not being here next season if the Eagles clean house "doesn't go through my mind."
"I definitely want to be here for it to turn around, because I know it will," he said.
Marty reloads with Foles
The idea was not for Nick Foles to drop back to pass 50 or so times in his starting debut, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said Friday. It just worked out that way, after the Birds fell behind early and had to go to a 2-minute offensive approach, Mornhinweg said.
"We struggled to get anything going at all" in the 31-6 loss at Washington, Mornhinweg said.
Foles, who will start again Monday with Michael Vick still sidelined by a concussion, threw third-down interceptions on his first two series, distorting the rest of the game.
"I've got to do better. Third-and-longs with a rookie quarterback, you're always susceptible to those types of things," Mornhinweg said.
Mornhinweg said Foles "learned an awful lot . . . And I will say I'm excited about this ballgame coming up. Because not always, but normally, that second start for a rookie quarterback is usually a little bit better . . . We've got to help him. I've gotta help him, the line's gotta help him, the receivers gotta help him."
Overall, Mornhinweg said: "We've been nicked up pretty good, but nobody wants to hear about that. We've got some fine football players . . . We haven't played very many plays together. I would expect us to get better and better every week. It's just that simple.
"We've got to take on, sort of, the personality of this city," he said. "We've got to be bold and aggressive in everything we do, in this situation. I'm sure there's some people out there that have been knocked down. Shoot, we get up, dust ourselves off and let's get to the next thing, And the next thing is this practice coming up . . . That has to be our mentality."
Andy Reid confirmed that Michael Vick has moved on to Phase 2 of the concussion recovery process, exercising on his own. The Eagles have not officially ruled out Vick for the Panthers game, but everybody around the team knows he isn't playing. Also not playing - unofficially - will be running back LeSean McCoy, who remains in Phase 1 of his recovery after getting hurt late in the Washington game, Reid said . . . At the end of a lengthy explanation, Bobby April summed up his special-teams units' problems with getting enough players on the field for a Redskins punt and a subsequent Redskins field goal attempt: "So, we had a guy that did come off that gave us 10, and then we had a guy that didn't come off that gave us 12, so neither one of those are good. Obviously, we've got to be at 11." April noted that Jason Avant, sidelined with a hamstring, is usually the guy who handles the special-teams counting. "The guy who replaced him just wasn't schooled up by me enough to be in a habit of doing that" . . . The Eagles claimed wide receiver Greg Salas off waivers from the Patriots and released Mardy Gilyard.