Eagles notes

Offensive line hit hard by injuries

The Eagles, who already were playing without starting center Hank Fraley, who is out for the season with a shoulder injury, lost left tackle Tra Thomas to a season-ending back injury today. The Eagles likely will be without another starter on their offensive line Sunday when they try to snap a four-game losing streak.

Left tackle Tra Thomas was placed on injured reserve today by the Eagles. Thomas is slated to undergo lumbar disc surgery. Thomas injured his lower back in Sunday's loss to the New York Giants.

Also, left guard Artis Hicks didn't practice today and Thursday and is listed as doubtful for the game against the Green Bay Packers. Hicks suffered an MCL sprain of his right knee.

Right guard Shawn Andrews also didn't practice Thursday and is listed as questionable with a shoulder injury.

If Thomas and Hicks can't go, Thomas will be replaced by rookie Todd Herremans, while second-year man Adrien Clarke will take Hicks' place. Clarke played much of the second half for Hicks last week.

"You don't get anything done without the offensive line," offensive coordinator Brad Childress said. "But that's why the backups are getting paid, and (offensive line coach) Juan (Castillo) does a great job of developing those guys. So that is an opportunity for those guys."

Of Thomas and Hicks, there's probably a better chance of the former playing than the latter.

"Tra's working hard with the trainers right now to try to get there," Childress said.

Shoddy defense
The Eagles have lost four games in a row, and while it would be easy to put the majority of the blame for their fall from grace on Terrell Owens and Donovan McNabb, the truth is their defense is the biggest reason they've plummeted from 4-2 to 4-6.

Jim Johnson's unit has rolled over and played dead in the fourth quarter of three of the Eagles' four straight defeats. Four weeks ago, the Eagles spotted the Denver Broncos a 28-0 lead but clawed back to within seven, only to have the defense give up three fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 49-21 loss.

Two weeks ago, before McNabb threw that inexplicable pass that was intercepted by Dallas Cowboys safety Roy Williams and returned for the game-winning touchdown, it was the defense that let the Cowboys back in the game. With the Eagles holding a seemingly comfy 20-7 lead late in the game, the Cowboys drove 72 yards in just four plays to close the gap to six.

Then, last week, there was yet another fourth-quarter defensive collapse as the Eagles gave up two touchdowns in the final 12:14 of a 27-17 loss to the New York Giants.

"This has been kind of a theme," free safety Brian Dawkins said. "We're just not stepping up and making the plays when we need to."

The Eagles have given up 79 points in the fourth quarter this season. Forty-nine of them have come in this four-game losing streak. They've got 10 sacks in those four games, but only one of them has come in the fourth quarter.

Once upon a time, when the Eagles blitzed, they usually got to the quarterback or hurried him into a poor throw. But not this year. The first of the Cowboys' two fourth-quarter touchdowns - a 20-yard pass from Drew Bledsoe to Terry Glenn - came on an unsuccessful blitz that allowed Glenn and Bledsoe to beat cornerback Lito Sheppard with a pump fake and double move.

Same thing Sunday on the Giants' final touchdown, a 61-yard pass from Eli Manning and Plaxico Burress. The Eagles blitzed but didn't get there. Cornerback Sheldon Brown bit on a Manning pump fake and Burress blew by Brown as Manning lofted a strike.

"It's another call I wish I had over," said Johnson, the Eagles' defensive coordinator. "I thought they were going to do something else, and they just did a little hitch and went all the way."

The Eagles' defensive problems this season haven't been with Johnson's calls. They've been with the execution by the players. A secondary that includes three Pro Bowlers (now two after Sheppard went down with a season-ending ankle injury against the Giants) has not played well all season, getting beaten, blowing assignments and missing tackles. Many of the blitzes have failed because two players are running through the same hole. On the blitz on Glenn's touchdown catch, cornerback Matt Ware, who was supposed to come from the outside, instead ran up defensive end Jevon Kearse's back, effectively knocking both of them out of the play.

In the Eagles' past three games, opposing quarterbacks have completed 69.6 percent of their passes against them and have averaged 8.1 yards per attempt. The Eagles already have given up 17 touchdown passes. Since 2000, they've never allowed more than 18 in a season.

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