Defense In A Rush To Get Better

The Eagles' defense has no defense against the run. The situation has gotten so bad that lineup changes are being made to try to find a solution to the problem. Omar Gaither is the big winner and his play Sunday was a reason for optimism.

The Eagles are managing to remain in the thick of the NFC playoff hunt despite a defense that has allowed 200-plus rushing yards in four of the last six games.

The latest episode of "We Can't Stop The Run" occurred Sunday at FedEx Field as the Eagles eked out a 21-19 win over the Washington Redskins despite being gashed for 210 rushing yards. Redskins running back Ladell Betts rushed for a career-high 171 yards on 33 carries.

In the last six games, the Eagles have given up 1,119 rushing yards on 213 carries. That's a whopping 5.25 yards allowed per carry. Yet, they are 7-6.

"We definitely need to be better at (stopping the run)," Eagles coach Andy Reid said after the Eagles climbed back over .500 for the first time since October 22. "But the bottom line is we need to win games. We did that. The end result was we stopped them."

Led by Betts, the Redskins put together five scoring marches of nine plays or more against the Eagles. But only one of them resulted in a touchdown. The other four ended in Shaun Suisham field goals.

Trailing by five, 21-16, the Redskins drove down to the Philadelphia three with about six minutes left in the game. But a 12-men-in-the-huddle penalty moved them back to the eight and forced them into a passing situation. Eagles safety Brian Dawkins sacked quarterback Jason Campbell for a nine-yard loss on a third-down blitz to force Washington to settle for a field goal.

"We didn't do a good job against the run," acknowledged Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. "Our gap control was really poor. We can't let people run the ball like that. We were aggressive. We just didn't do a good job as far as our run gaps."

The Eagles' inability to stop the run forced the Eagles to stay in a lot of run fronts and limited their ability to blitz the inexperienced Campbell, who attempted just 27 passes despite the fact that the Eagles jumped out to a 21-3 first-half lead.

What's really frustrating Johnson is the big runs the Eagles are giving up. Betts had eight runs of 10-plus yards Sunday, though he never made it to the end zone.

"We had the gashes (long runs) today," Johnson said. "I hate gashes. I felt if we could've controlled that, we could've gotten them into more third-and-longs. But we didn't do that."

Johnson already has made one lineup change. Two games ago, he benched struggling weak-side linebacker Matt McCoy and replaced him with rookie Omar Gaither. Gaither had a pretty good game against the Redskins and even intercepted a pass.

Against the Redskins, Johnson also gave backup end Juqua Thomas more playing time ahead of struggling Darren Howard, who hasn't been a factor since early in the season.

But there's not many other personnel moves he can make. The Eagles selected a defensive tackle, Brodrick Bunkley, in the first round of the April draft. But Bunkley barely gets on the field. He took just one defensive snap against the Redskins, in their goal line package late in the game.

Notes From The 'Nest...

  • CB Rod Hood was deactivated for Sunday's game because of a sore hamstring. The Eagles think he'll be ready for this week's game against the Giants.
  • CB William James, who missed the last two games with a knee sprain, replaced injured Rod Hood as the team's nickel back Sunday. James tipped a pass that was intercepted by teammate Mike Lewis and returned for a touchdown.
  • S Michael Lewis, who lost his starting strong safety job to Sean Considine earlier this season, has become a valuable part of the team's nickel package. Lewis is used as a second linebacker in the package, which allows him to play to his strength, stopping the run. In Sunday's win over Washington, he also had an 84-yard interception return for a touchdown. Lewis gathered in a pass that had been tipped into the air by CB William James and ran untouched down the right sideline for his first career score. "He's handled the situation well and came through with a very large play for us," coach Andy Reid said.
  • LB Shawn Barber played about 22 snaps Sunday against Washington in his first game back from a knee injury. Barber plays in the Eagles' nickel and dime packages. He suffered a stinger late in the game that probably will limit his practice time this week, but he is expected to play against the Giants.
  • DE Juqua Thomas saw more playing time against Washington than he had in any previous game this season. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson played Thomas over struggling starter Darren Howard in a lot of situations.
  • DE Trent Cole is starting to wear down. Cole, who was supposed to be primarily a passing-down player this season, is playing every down, and the fatigue factor is showing.
  • DT Brodrick Bunkley, the team's '06 first-round draft pick, was on the field for just one play Sunday and only two the week before. The coaching staff says he'll get more playing time when he starts doing better in practice.

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