PHILADELPHIA—Poor tackling, careless ball security and mental mistakes are a recipe for disaster in the NFL.
The inability to execute these basic fundamentals is a main reason why the Philadelphia Eagles -- a preseason favorite to reach the Super Bowl -- are off to a 1-4 start.
"A little review of the last game, it's real simple," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said Thursday, "we take care of the ball and we'll do a little bit better."
In a 31-24 loss at Buffalo last Sunday, the Eagles had 489 yards of total offense. But five turnovers, including one interception that was returned for a score, cost Philadelphia.
A week earlier, the Eagles had 513 total yards in a 24-23 loss to San Francisco. But they committed three turnovers, including a fumble inside the 49ers 35 in the final minutes.
Overall, the Eagles lead the NFL with 15 turnovers.
"The one thing that you've got to remember is to protect that football, and I have to do it all the time when I'm in the pocket," quarterback Michael Vick said. "There's guys around me all day. It's just part of being a football player and being a great football player. I think that's what determines what type of player you are in the long run."
Expectations entering the season were enormous for the Eagles after the defending NFC East champions spent wildly in free agency and brought in six players with Pro Bowls on their resume.
But all that talent is wasted potential at this point. It hasn't translated into wins.
"If it was one particular thing, then you might say that (players aren't listening)," coach Andy Reid said. "That's not how I feel. I think that the players are listening. We've just got to continue to work our fundamentals and do the right things in practice, practice fast, and so on. Do the things that we've always done."
It isn't just the turnovers that are killing the Eagles. Sloppy tackling has been a major problem on defense, leading to big plays and touchdowns.
Players scoff at the notion that limited padded practices due to the new rules in the collective bargaining agreement is what's causing all those missed tackles.
"Regardless of if we couldn't go in pads, we still have to know how to tackle," rookie linebacker Brian Rolle said. "It's a professional game, we're paid for what we do, we should be good at it regardless of how many times we practice it."
The idea that you have to practice tackling once you reach the NFL is downright silly to some players.
"If you're at this level, and you're playing defense, you know how to tackle -- at least you should know how to tackle technique-wise," linebacker Moise Fokou. "Getting a tackle, it's an effort thing and it's something you've got to have within yourself. So I wouldn't say that lessening the contact per week or in camp has affected the tackling."
So how do the Eagles solve these problems at this stage?
"You keep working and teaching, and the more reps the players get at it, the better," Reid said. "We all have improvements to make. During the tough times you always go back, again, and re-emphasize the fundamentals, and make sure that you're putting the players in a good position to make plays. I've got a great group of guys in the locker room, and good football players, and we've got good coaches. That's a good start to get a turnaround."
Reid always takes the blame for losses and he's uttered the same line about "putting players in good position to make plays" repeatedly throughout his 13 seasons in Philadelphia.
Clearly, though, that's not happening.
Perhaps the problem is the coaching and the system. Reid made a bold move when he switched Juan Castillo from his longtime spot as the offensive line coach to defensive coordinator.
So far, it's backfired.
Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha was the prize of the free-agent market. But he hardly looks like a two-time All-Pro in this defensive scheme. That could be due to the fact he's played more zone coverage than he's used to and he's being asked to do more than just cover man-to-man. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was one of the top cornerbacks in the league with Arizona, but he's also struggled in a new role on this defense.
The Eagles are employing a wide-nine defensive technique, meaning the two ends line up way outside on the line beyond the tight ends. This strategy has improved the pass rush -- Jason Babin has seven sacks and the linemen have 16.
But the wide-nine also makes the defense vulnerable against the run, especially on off-tackle plays. The Eagles are even more susceptible because they lack run-stuffing linebackers and safeties. Only two teams have allowed more yards rushing than Philadelphia, which is giving up 140.2 per game.
"We have to make some adjustments," Castillo said. "There's some things that you'll see this week. I can't get into the particulars, but you'll see some adjustments that will help us."
The Eagles visit the NFC East-leading Washington Redskins (3-1) on Sunday. The Redskins are coming off a bye, and have had plenty of time to prepare for Philadelphia.
Poor tackling and carelessness with the ball are physical mistakes that should be correctable. The mental errors are more troublesome.
Veteran defensive end Juqua Parker jumped offsides on fourth-and-inches at midfield with 1:23 left against Buffalo, allowing the Bills to get a new set of downs and run out the clock. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had no intention of taking the snap and it was obvious to everyone that he was simply trying to draw Philadelphia offsides. Yet somehow Parker jumped.
"We're all part of the situation here," Reid said. "It's not one guy, it's all of us, and we're all in it together. That's one of the great things about football. It's a team sport, and we've all got to do our jobs better.
'And when we do that, we'll have better results."