By Kevin McGuire
Coming out of the bye week, the Philadelphia Eagles are all out of excuses. If Juan Castillo really was the problem with the team letting two near wins slip through their grips heading in to the bye week, then there should be no excuse for allowing it to happen again. This week, with the undefeated Atlanta Falcons visiting town, will be the first opportunity to prove the team is now in a better position to win.
“Our guys are going to come out, we’re going to prepare and get ourselves right,” Eagles head coach Andy Reid said. “As far as changes go, we talked about, Juan (Castillo) and (defensive coordinator) Todd (Bowles). Todd (has had) an opportunity to jump in here and have a few meetings and a couple practices now with this walkthrough here.”
Todd Bowles takes over as defensive coordinator and the chemistry with the players appears to already be paying off following the Castillo experiment. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans says the defense is ready to listen to Bowles.
“It’s good having him there – a former player and a guy who has done it before,” Ryans said. “He has coached a few different teams under a few different schemes.”
“He understands the strengths of it and he understands the weaknesses of it,” safety Kurt Coleman said. “I think we went back, did a lot of evaluating, tweaked some things, and we’re going to be able to play some ball.”
While the defensive coordinator may have changed for the Eagles, the Falcons are not expecting too much to change as far as the system goes. The wide-nine approach remains in tact in Philadelphia and Falcons head coach Mike Smith believes not much will be different when his team hits the road this weekend.
“There will be some unknown,” Smith said. “I’ve known Todd a long time. He’s an excellent coach and I don’t think there will be a mass change in what they do philosophically because they’ve invested so much time into the scheme that they’re running.”
The trick for Bowles will be to disguise the defense better than Castillo was able to manage, as the defense was often too predictable. That may be the reason the Eagles were unable to hold on to late leads at home against Detroit and on the road against Pittsburgh in their two most recent games.
“By the fourth quarter, everybody knows what we’re going to do,” defensive end Brandon Graham said looking back at the first half of the season. “And that’s why we get beat.”
Now the excuses are all gone and the Eagles must find a way to close out games defensively. Of course, the offense needs to pick up the slack as well.
Offensive tackle King Dunlap has been moved back to starting left tackle, a move that the team hopes improve the stability of the offensive line. Through the first half of the season the line has failed to provide much protection for quarterback Mike Vick, who has fumbled more often than most would like to have seen. The Eagles also signed a new center this week by adding former New Orleans center Matt Tennant.
“These are proud guys,” Reid said of his offensive line. “There’s no talking that’s going to help you do this, that’s not what it is. You’re graded on what’s happened on Sunday. That’s the bottom line. So at one o’clock Sunday you go out and do you’re thing.”
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Kevin McGuire covers college football for Examiner.com and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow him on Twitter (@KevinOnCFB). His work can be found on Examiner.com.