Paul Domowitch: For Eagles, no defense against the run

Stewart Bradley, making a tackle during preseason, emphasizes defense's speed.
Stewart Bradley, making a tackle during preseason, emphasizes defense's speed.
Posted: October 06, 2010

JIM JOHNSON seldom lost sleep fretting over the state of his run defense during his 10 years as the Eagles' defensive

coordinator. The Birds finished in the top 10 against the run just three times in the decade he worked with Andy Reid, and he couldn't have cared less.

Johnson shared Reid's belief that you win in the National Football League by throwing the football, and he put most of his time and energy into preventing opposing teams from doing that rather than trying to stuff the run.

"I just don't think it's the most important stat," he once said of stopping the run. "I'm just not sure you can score a lot of points with the running game. The only time I'd worry about [not being able to stop the run] is if we were behind and we couldn't get a team off the field."

That philosophy is why the

Eagles have spent a lot more money on cornerbacks and edge rushers during the Reid era than they have on linebackers and safeties. They always have built their defense with their offense in mind.

Get us a lead and make the

other guys throw the ball and we'll take it from there.

Johnson is gone now, having lost his battle with cancer before last season. But if you were paying attention to the Eagles' personnel moves during the offseason, it's pretty clear that philosophy hasn't change. The Eagles

selected a pass rusher (Brandon Graham) in the first round of the April draft and a cover safety (Nate Allen) in the second round. Traded away a 265-pound linebacker who was strong against the run but had coverage deficiencies (Chris

Gocong), and acquired one

(Ernie Sims) who is 30 pounds lighter, can stay with a tight end and can blitz the quarterback.

The offseason additions definitely have helped improve the pass defense. There is more speed on this defense than any in the Reid era.

Through four games, the

Eagles are first in the league in opponent completion percentage (.520), second in opponent passer rating (63.9), fourth in opponent yards per attempt (6.0) and sixth in sacks per pass play.

That's the good news. The bad news as they head into their Week 5 game against the 49ers is that they rank 27th in the league in run defense after giving up 169 rushing yards in Sunday's 17-12 loss to the Redskins.

The Eagles have given up 130 or more rushing yards in three of their first four games. They have allowed 4.40 yards per carry, the most since they allowed 4.46 yards in 2006. That was the year they gave up 208 rushing yards to Deuce McAllister and the Saints in the playoffs.

That wouldn't be a big deal if the offense was living up to its end of the bargain and jumping out to early leads and making teams play catchup. But that's not what has been happening.

Through the first four games, the Eagles have scored just 44 first-half points. In the 240 minutes of football they have played so far, they have had a lead larger than seven points for just 50 minutes, 58 seconds. They never led at all against the Redskins, and had the lead for just 5 1/2 minutes in their Week 1 loss to the Packers.

So, they haven't been able to force opponents into a passing game, and they haven't been able to stop them when they have run.

Against the run, their speed has been offset by poor tackling and difficulty getting off blocks. The swarm-to-the-ball mentality that Johnson successor Sean

McDermott preached during training camp hasn't materialized because his undersized

defenders too often have been stuck to blockers like Velcro or have been overrunning plays.

You saw both situations Sunday against the Redskins. A very average Redskins offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage, enabling Clinton Portis and Ryan Torain, who was less than 2 weeks

removed from Washington's practice squad, to combine for 125 rushing yards.

"They run the one-cut scheme,"

McDermott said. "They want to run the ball strong and cut it back weak. We practiced it. We were prepared for it. Obviously, we could have done a better job.

"You've got to control the line of scrimmage. You've got to play aggressive. You've got to play physical. You've got to come off the ball and get off blocks and make the tackle. Give them credit. They controlled the line of scrimmage in the first quarter."

The Redskins actually controlled the line of scrimmage for a lot longer than that. Averaged 6.3 yards per carry in the first quarter, 4.6 in the third and 5.4 in the fourth. The only period McDermott's

defense really was able to contain the run was the second, when they held Washington to 11 yards on six carries.

Twice already this season, when the

defense has needed to get the ball back for the offense late in games, it has come up short because of the inability to stop the run.

After a 5-yard touchdown pass from Kevin Kolb to Brent Celek with 4 minutes, 10 seconds left got the Eagles within five points, the defense gave up an 18-yard, third-and-4 scramble to Donovan McNabb for one first down, then gave up a 10-yard run to Torain for another first down. By the time the Eagles got the ball back, there was just 1:07 left and they were out of timeouts.

There was a similar situation in Week 1 against the Packers. A 24-yard field goal by David Akers with 5:46 left made it a 27-20 Eagles deficit. But the Packers' backup running back, Brandon Jackson, rushed for 4 and 6 yards on consecutive carries to pick up a first down and force the Eagles to use up the last of their timeouts.

"We've been stinking it up against the run," defensive end Juqua Parker said. "Hopefully, we can get this thing turned around where we won't be giving up 100 rushing yards every week."

The Eagles have been particularly inept against the run early. Through the first four games, they have allowed 6.1 yards per carry in the first quarter, 3.6 in the second, 4.0 in the third and 3.8 in the fourth.

On Sunday, the Redskins rushed for 57 yards on nine carries in the first quarter. Torain had a 12-yard run for a touchdown in which he ran right over strong safety Quintin Mikell, and a 13-yard run on Washington's second touchdown drive.

"We've got to be ready for the cutback stuff," middle linebacker Stewart Bradley said. "Because of our speed, teams are

going to try to do that instead of trying to outrun us."

"The tackling and getting off blocks, we have to do a better job at that and put more emphasis on it and make sure we get better on that," Reid said.

That, or start scoring a helluva lot more points.

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