Bowles, last-place Eagles battle to break slump
PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is like so many in and around Philadelphia.
As his team struggles to get out of a losing streak that has cost it a playoff berth -- and maybe much more before it's all said and done -- he's disappointed, he's frustrated, and he's puzzled.
But most of all, he's surprised.
"More surprised that we're not winning ball games," Bowles said on Thursday, as coach Andy Reid's coordinators met the media. "It's not about me. It's about a team as a whole. Everybody has their part in it, me included. I'll take my share of the blame as well. We just have to play better and we haven't been."
Bowles was promoted to defensive coordinator on Oct. 16, replacing Juan Castillo. That was two days after the Eagles lost to Detroit, 26-23, at home, and two games into what is now a seven-game skid.
"You always think you have the right players here as well as the coaches," Bowles said. "We just have to do a better job and we haven't been."
That could start on Sunday, when the last-place Eagles (3-8) take on the Cowboys (5-6) in Dallas. But first things first. The Eagles, searching for answers and short-handed on both sides of the ball, need to be motivated and have the past firmly behind them before this streak goes anywhere.
That's where Bowles and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg come in.
"I think one thing in coaching, and I've been in this thing a little while now, is that motivation aspect," Mornhinweg said. "It's key and it's every day with the motivation aspect of it. Now, we certainly are in a spoiler type role here and that can be very rewarding. So, we have discussed that and it's very rewarding that way."
The Eagles lost to the Cowboys, 38-23, in what was their fifth straight loss on Nov. 11. That was Bowles' third game as coordinator. And in the five contests he's held that role for, Philadelphia has allowed at least 28 points each time.
Perhaps, a midweek shakeup will help stem the tide this week. On Tuesday, the Eagles released two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Babin, who had just 5.5 sacks after recording 18 last year. He signed a five-year, $28 million deal last summer after going to his first Pro Bowl with Tennessee following the 2010 season.
Reid said the Eagles cut Babin to give more playing time to younger players. Babin was claimed off waivers by Jacksonville on Wednesday.
"That's something handled by management and the head coach," Bowles said. "Jason was a great player for us and he's been a great player in this league and we just wish him the best."
But now is the time for the Eagles' youth to find an identity. With little to play for -- and a new coaching staff likely on the way for next season -- it's a perfect chance for the inexperienced players to carve out a niche. The sledding, though, will not be easy. After the Cowboys, Philadelphia closes with Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, Washington and the New York Giants.
All four are in playoff contention.
"You've got a lot of young talent," Bowles said. "It's no different than coming in as a freshman in college or a freshman in high school. Football is a game that you can master early. You'll see some tweaks here and there but I think these guys handle it professionally. They came (into the season) in shape so they're not having that mid-season swoon that a lot of rookies have. Their maturity has a lot to do with that and I think they're doing a good job."
Lost in the defensive struggles has been an impressive debut season from linebacker DeMeco Ryans. Traded from Houston in the offseason, Ryans has mostly gone unnoticed despite leading the team with 87 tackles. He has 15 more than anyone else on the team.
"His biggest strength is his mental capacity. He can handle a lot and he understands adversity because he's been through a lot," Bowles said. "And he's played well. But not winning ball games, as a coach and as a player, nobody plays well when you're not playing well as a group. We win together and we lose together.
"But from a mental standpoint as far as keeping everybody on the same page, he's been doing a great job."
Perhaps -- sometimes soon -- that will start to show in the standings.
NOTES: QB Michael Vick did not pass a league-mandated concussion test this week and will not return to practice until he does. Backup Nick Foles, a rookie, is 0-2 as a starter since Vick's injury. ... Mornhinweg on teams gameplanning differently for the Eagles minus injured wide receiver DeSean Jackson: "Absolutely no question about it. Then, certainly we'll play it differently as well. DeSean is quite a threat." ... The Eagles are 1-5 on the road, and 1-2 in the division. ... Despite the shakeup on defense, special teams coordinator Bobby April does not expect the same on his units: "I hope not. I don't think so. We have our unit set. That would mean somebody's either not playing very good or somebody gets hurt."
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Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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