Brian Westbrook finally got a chance to play the role of a typical running back Sunday in the…
Inside Slant, Notes, Quotes, Personnel, Etc.
Right guard Shawn Andrews also didn't practice Thursday and is listed as questionable with a shoulder injury.
If Thomas and Hicks can't go, Thomas will be replaced by rookie Todd Herremans, while second-year man Adrien Clarke will take Hicks' place. Clarke played much of the second half for Hicks last week.
"You don't get anything done without the offensive line," offensive coordinator Brad Childress said. "But that's why the backups are getting paid, and (offensive line coach) Juan (Castillo) does a great job of developing those guys. So that is an opportunity for those guys."
Of Thomas and Hicks, there's probably a better chance of the former playing than the latter.
"Tra's working hard with the trainers right now to try to get there," Childress said.
--The Eagles have lost four games in a row, and while it would be easy to put the majority of the blame for their fall from grace on Terrell Owens and Donovan McNabb, the truth is their defense is the biggest reason they've plummeted from 4-2 to 4-6.
Jim Johnson's unit has rolled over and played dead in the fourth quarter of three of the Eagles' four straight defeats. Four weeks ago, the Eagles spotted the Denver Broncos a 28-0 lead but clawed back to within seven, only to have the defense give up three fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 49-21 loss.
Two weeks ago, before McNabb threw that inexplicable pass that was intercepted by Dallas Cowboys safety Roy Williams and returned for the game-winning touchdown, it was the defense that let the Cowboys back in the game. With the Eagles holding a seemingly comfy 20-7 lead late in the game, the Cowboys drove 72 yards in just four plays to close the gap to six.
Then, last week, there was yet another fourth-quarter defensive collapse as the Eagles gave up two touchdowns in the final 12:14 of a 27-17 loss to the New York Giants.
"This has been kind of a theme," free safety Brian Dawkins said. "We're just not stepping up and making the plays when we need to."
The Eagles have given up 79 points in the fourth quarter this season. Forty-nine of them have come in this four-game losing streak. They've got 10 sacks in those four games, but only one of them has come in the fourth quarter.
Once upon a time, when the Eagles blitzed, they usually got to the quarterback or hurried him into a poor throw. But not this year. The first of the Cowboys' two fourth-quarter touchdowns - a 20-yard pass from Drew Bledsoe to Terry Glenn - came on an unsuccessful blitz that allowed Glenn and Bledsoe to beat cornerback Lito Sheppard with a pump fake and double move.
Same thing Sunday on the Giants' final touchdown, a 61-yard pass from Eli Manning and Plaxico Burress. The Eagles blitzed but didn't get there. Cornerback Sheldon Brown bit on a Manning pump fake and Burress blew by Brown as Manning lofted a strike.
"It's another call I wish I had over," said Johnson, the Eagles' defensive coordinator. "I thought they were going to do something else, and they just did a little hitch and went all the way."
The Eagles' defensive problems this season haven't been with Johnson's calls. They've been with the execution by the players. A secondary that includes three Pro Bowlers (now two after Sheppard went down with a season-ending ankle injury against the Giants) has not played well all season, getting beaten, blowing assignments and missing tackles. Many of the blitzes have failed because two players are running through the same hole. On the blitz on Glenn's touchdown catch, cornerback Matt Ware, who was supposed to come from the outside, instead ran up defensive end Jevon Kearse's back, effectively knocking both of them out of the play.
In the Eagles' past three games, opposing quarterbacks have completed 69.6 percent of their passes against them and have averaged 8.1 yards per attempt. The Eagles already have given up 17 touchdown passes. Since 2000, they've never allowed more than 18 in a season.
SERIES HISTORY: 36th meeting. Packers lead the series 22-13, but the Eagles have won the last three meetings, including a lopsided 47-17 regular-season victory last year and a dramatic 20-17 overtime win in the '03 playoffs that was highlighted by Donovan McNabb's fourth-and-26 completion to Freddie Mitchell.
--Arbitrator Richard Bloch has upheld the Eagles' four-game suspension of Terrell Owens for conduct detrimental to the club. Bloch made his ruling Wednesday after listening to more than 13 hours of testimony last Friday at a Philadelphia airport hotel. Owens was suspended on Nov. 5 after criticizing quarterback Donovan McNabb and calling the Eagles organization classless in an ESPN interview. He later refused to apologize to McNabb and his teammates for his comments. Owens' suspension will be up after Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers. But coach Andy Reid already has said that the club intends to deactivate Owens for the team's final six games. He still has five years left on the seven-year contract he signed with the team last year. But the Eagles will be releasing him before March 1, when he is due a $5 million roster bonus if he still is on the team.
--Punter Reggie Hodges was released this week after getting a punt blocked against the Giants. He averaged just 34.2 yards per attempt on 19 punts for the Eagles since replacing injured Dirk Johnson. The Eagles signed Nick Murphy to replace Hodges. Murphy, 26, was in the Eagles' 2004 training camp before getting cut. He spent five games last season with Baltimore and Kansas City, averaging 43.9 yards per attempt. "His gross (average) needed to be better than what it was," special teams coordinator John Harbaugh said of Hodges. "He needs to be able to transfer what he does in practice and pregame into the game. But it's a tough thing for a rookie to do." Hodges was selected in the fifth round of the April draft by the St. Louis Rams, but was released after five games.
--With the exception of the contract extension he received two weeks ago, this has been a forgettable season for Pro Bowl kicker David Akers. He missed four games with a torn hamstring and hasn't kicked particularly well in the six he has played in. He's made just six of 11 field-goal attempts, and last week against the Giants, he missed a 38-yarder late in the fourth quarter that would have pulled the Eagles to within seven and given them a shot at an onside kick.
BY THE NUMBERS: 3 - Number of sub-40-yard field goals David Akers has missed in the past three years, including a 38-yarder Sunday.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's disappointing. We're just not getting the job done. We've been giving up some big plays. That's something we've got to keep addressing." - Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Eagles made several roster moves this week. They put quarterback Donovan McNabb (sports hernia) and cornerback Lito Sheppard (dislocated ankle) on injured reserve, released kicker Jose Cortez and punter Reggie Hodges and signed punter Nick Murphy and cornerback Donald Strickland. Murphy will replace Hodges. The release of Cortez means kicker David Akers will handle kickoffs, in addition to the placekicking. With Sheppard out, nickel corner Rod Hood will move into the starting lineup. Matt Ware, who had been the club's No. 4 corner, will be used in the club's nickel package. It's uncertain whether Strickland, a former starter for the Indianapolis Colts, will play much this week against Green Bay.
--OT Todd Herremans may get his first NFL start Sunday at left tackle. Starting LT Tra Thomas is listed as doubtful with a back injury and hasn't practiced this week. Herremans is a rookie.
--LT Tra Thomas may miss his first start this season. He injured his back last week against the Giants and is listed as doubtful. He has yet to practice this week.
--LG Artis Hicks isn't expected to play Sunday against Green Bay. He injured his knee last week and is listed as doubtful.
--G Adrien Clarke probably will get his first '05 start Sunday in place of injured LG Artis Hicks. Hicks played most of the second half last week in Hicks' place and held his own.
--S Quintin Mikell will be the Eagles' nickel corner Sunday against Green Bay. With starting corner Lito Sheppard out for the year with an ankle injury, Rod Hood will start. Mikell will be used at nickel instead of CB Matt Ware, who has not played well this season.
--LB Jeremiah Trotter has some swelling in his knee, but he participated in the Wednesday morning walkthrough. He is expected to play Sunday.
GAME PLAN: The Eagles have gone to a much more balanced offense the past three weeks. They've only thrown the ball 24 more times than they've run it in that stretch. With Mike McMahon replacing injured Donovan McNabb, the Eagles will continue to mix it up, though the Packers have a solid run defense that has held opponents to 3.8 yards per carry. When the Eagles do pass, running back Brian Westbrook and tight end L.J. Smith are expected to be the main focus. In the Eagles' 47-17 win over the Packers last year, Westbrook caught 11 passes for 156 yards and three touchdowns.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Eagles RG Shawn Andrews vs. Packers LDT Grady Jackson. A pair of 360-plus pound sumo wrestlers. Jackson is the key to the Packers' run defense and usually requires double-team blocks.
--Eagles RB Brian Westbrook vs. Packers SS Mark Roman. Westbrook exploited this matchup a lot in last season's win.
--Eagles CB Sheldon Brown vs. Packers WR Donald Driver. With Lito Sheppard on the shelf, Brown will spend much of the day with the Pack's best wideout.
The Eagles offensive line is banged up. Three of the five starters - LT Tra Thomas, LG Artis Hicks and RG Shawn Andrews - didn't practice Wednesday. But coach Andy Reid is hopeful that all three will be able to play Sunday.
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