PHILADELPHIA (AP) No pass rush, poor coverage and sloppy penalties have turned a strong defense into one of the NFL's worst in a short span.
The Philadelphia Eagles (5-7) have lost three straight games by an average margin of 14.3 points per game. While the offense has reasons for struggling - rookie quarterback, injuries to their leading rusher and top receiver - the defense has no excuses.
It's the same group that was ranked sixth in the NFL after nine games.
''For nine weeks you probably could not mention best defenses in the NFL without mentioning the Eagles,'' defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. ''The last three, you probably can't mention worst defenses in the NFL without mentioning the Eagles. Hey, facts of life, man. That's what it is. Same scheme, same players. We're in a slump. We have to own that.''
When the defense was going well, Schwartz got plenty of positive attention. The former Lions head coach appeared on his way to getting another opportunity to run a team after this season. But now he's taking heat for the defense's struggles and suddenly he's no longer one of the ''hot'' coordinators.
''I think any time things aren't going well, you're looking at everything that you can, whether it's schemes, whether it's individual effort, whether it's collective effort. It's a tough situation,'' Schwartz said.
Aaron Rodgers and Andy Dalton torched the secondary the past two games and neither quarterback was sacked. The Eagles had 20 sacks in the first five games, but have only six in the last six.
Fletcher Cox started the season playing like a guy who deserved the big contract ($63 million guaranteed) he signed in the offseason. Cox had four sacks in the first four games but none since Week 5. Vinny Curry signed a deal that included $18 million guaranteed. He has 1 1/2 sacks and has only played 43 percent of the snaps.
Schwartz relies on his front four linemen to pressure the quarterback because he doesn't like to blitz. The Eagles simply don't have shutdown cornerbacks who can cover receivers man-on-man without safety help.
''Sometimes the best answer to being able to cover them is get the ball to come out quicker,'' Schwartz said. ''There was a double edge to that, too. If they pick up that blitz, you can get isolated in coverage a lot.''
The Eagles have shown they can dominate games start to finish on defense. They shut down the Steelers and Falcons, two of the most potent offenses in the league.
But they've allowed 85 points in the past three games and an average of 413 total yards per contest.
''It has a lot to do with confidence, and we need to get back to that, and they need to know that first nine weeks, they were respected for what they put on tape, and the last three, we've been in a slump, and we need to get back to those first nine,'' Schwartz said.
It won't be easy Sunday against the Redskins (6-5-1). The Eagles lost 27-20 at Washington on Oct. 16, allowing a season-worst 493 total yards, including 230 rushing.
''The main thing is, as a team, we have to be better,'' Cox said. ''With a group like that, we have to play our best game and set the tone against those guys by playing physical and stopping the run.''
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