Published December 21, 2012
PHILADELPHIA – In two games since Philadelphia coach Andy Reid fired defensive line coach Jim Washburn and hired veteran Tommy Brasher to replace Washburn's wide-nine scheme with a conventional front, the Eagles' secondary has suddenly become respectable.
"It's helped the defense out tremendously," said Kurt Coleman, who will start at safety alongside Colt Anderson against the Washington Redskins on Sunday in the Eagles' latest revamped secondary.
After allowing quarterbacks to complete 68 percent of their passes with 18 touchdowns during the eight-game losing streak that doomed Washburn and his wide nine, a scheme that makes life difficult for defensive backs, the Eagles have allowed just three TD passes and limited quarterbacks to a 44 percent completion percentage over the last two weeks.
"I think what we're doing now has helped everyone's comfort level, especially mine," said cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who struggled much of the year before turning in consecutive solid performances.
The wide nine puts a tremendous amount of pressure on defensive backs by forcing them to think run first, since the defensive ends are so far out of position to play the run. This creates massive areas of the field that simply can't be covered.
"It's more true," Coleman said. "It's a more true defense. And you're not asked to fill holes as fast. You can be a little more patient, which helps us out and helps the corners because they know they can have a little under presence by a safety or over-the-top presence, whatever the coverage may be. So it's helping everyone all the way around."
After losing eight straight games and allowing quarterbacks an astronomical passer rating of 117.6 during that span, the Eagles beat the Buccaneers two weeks ago in Tampa, Fla., and then didn't allow a touchdown drive longer than 44 yards in a loss to the Bengals a week ago Thursday.
The passer rating against the Eagles the last two weeks: A dramatically improved 73.8.
"I think we're mixing some things up a little more," said defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who replaced Juan Castillo when the Eagles were 3-3. "There are times when we're helping up front and times we're helping in the back. Just having a good mix overall kind of helps the coverage."
On Sunday, the retooled Eagles defense gets a rematch with a team that gave the unit fits during the losing streak.
Five weeks ago, Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III was 14 for 15 (93.3 percent) for 200 yards with four touchdowns, no interceptions and a perfect 158.3 passer rating in a 31-6 win over Philadelphia.
The Eagles, 4-10 and in last place in the NFC East, host the 8-6 Redskins, winners of five straight. It's another chance for this pass defense to demonstrate that the root of its problems wasn't personnel or execution but scheme.
"Since Todd came around there was a starting-over process with us," Asomugha said. "Now it's starting to take shape ever since the Tampa game. ... Being able to play a little bit faster always helps."
In 12 games this year with Washburn in place, the defensive linemen had only 13 sacks. They have eight in two games since Brasher took over.
"The D-line is playing really well, so that always helps us in the back end," Asomugha said. "You've definitely seen more of what (Bowles) can do. (The defense) is a little more intricate than it was in the weeks before."