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Eagles begin turnaround, but still long way from contending

Embattled Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo stood at the tunnel near Philadelphia's locker room and hugged players as they hustled off the field following their victory Sunday over Washington. Shortly thereafter, he reclined in a chair in the defensive side of the visitors' locker room to speak to reporters.

The pressure that had been surrounding him was -- and could again be -- intense, to say the least. Talk about waiting to exhale.

"The guys get a win, they get to be happy," he said. "They work hard. They work really, really hard. I'm just glad for them."

Clearly, the Eagles' win over Washington was a relief -- for Castillo, Andy Reid and players cashing checks who've barely generated a return. It was the type of victory, though, that didn't necessarily spur thoughts of a turnaround to a season that's started as a mess. Instead, it was one of those wins that was better than the alternative.

I've been around a lot of losing teams mired in adversity. The vibe around the Eagles before Sunday's kickoff could not have been more negative. Stress was everywhere. It couldn't be disguised.

Maybe the victory could propel Philadelphia to meet the promise generated when it went on a Daniel Snyder-like spending spree this offseason. I bought in initially. I figured things could start slowly but at some point the Eagles would jell and wreak havoc on the entire league.

It could still happen but even watching them against the Redskins, Philadelphia didn't look like a dominant team. The Eagles won because Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman threw four interceptions -- three to once-benched safety Kurt Coleman.

Good defense by the Eagles? OK, I'll give them that. They played better and dictated that Washington play into their hands by stifling the running game, forcing Grossman to make plays. Still, I'd venture to guess that if Grossman or any other quarterback threw four picks to just about any team in the NFL, the charitable quarterback's team would lose.

The Eagles, who improved to 2-4, still have plenty of proving to do. They'll get their chance right after this weekend's bye with a run of games against Dallas, Chicago, Arizona, the Giants and New England. If they're a playoff team, they win three, if not four of those five. They have to, really.

The four losses they've suffered doesn't give them room to lose more than three more games on the season -- and that's cutting it close. There is a chance the big-market, mediocre NFC East could be won with a 9-7 record.

The division-leading Giants (4-2) haven't done anything to look like consistent winners. Quarterback Tony Romo has boxed Dallas coach Jason Garrett into curtailing his play calling out of fear Romo will turn the ball over. That's not good but the Cowboys (2-3) are the type of team that will be in almost every game. The Redskins (3-2) just lost the left side of their offensive line to injuries and could be making a quarterback change, despite being a half-game out of the division lead.

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The Eagles are the biggest unknown of the lot. Philadelphia has so much working in its favor -- especially LeSean McCoy at running back. McCoy, San Francisco's Frank Gore and Chicago's Matt Forte are the best do-everything backs in the NFL, and a healthy Arian Foster could be lumped in that group as well.

Castillo's defense showed some toughness and needed swarming in beating Washington. Philadelphia protected its linebackers by tightening their defensive splits along the line of scrimmage and clogging run lanes. Can they consistently do that? If so, then maybe Castillo can put players, especially the talented group of cornerbacks, in position to make more plays.

Castillo said he knew it would take time for his defense to come together and by regularly going over fundamentals, players would come around because they'd trigger the needed "muscle memory" to succeed. I'm not sure about that. Most of the guys on the Eagles defense know how to play the game. They just need to learn to play together.

More so, it might have taken Castillo, the former offensive line coach, time to figure out how to construct schemes that fit the talent. He might still have some learning to do.

Still, the Eagles snapped a four-game losing streak with a quality win. Their only other victory came against a Rams team that's arguably the worst in the NFL. That victory over Washington could be all Philadelphia needed, but we'll see. This team is hardly a finished product.

Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins came to the Eagles from Green Bay, which started last season 3-3 before hitting its stride and making a run to a Super Bowl championship. After Sunday's victory, he stressed that slow starts can be overcome, but everyone has to play as a team, not as a group of talented players.

Right now, the Eagles still are a group of talented players.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89

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