Between the Tackles: Nothing new with shortcomings

Posted: January 10, 2011

Same story, different verse for the Eagles' defense yesterday.

The same problems that have been plaguing Sean McDermott's young unit most of the season, plagued the Eagles again in their season-ending, 21-16, wild-card loss to the Packers at the Linc.

More red-zone futility. More third-down woes. More trouble getting a consistent pass rush on the quarterback.

"All year, it's been the same story," said safety Quintin Mikell. "When we play confident and when we attack and we're not thinking, we can play with anybody.

"But that first half, I don't know if we were thinking too much or what. In the second half, we just cut it loose and played much better."

The Eagles, who finished this season with the league's worst red-zone failure rate (76.7) in nearly a quarter century, gave up three more red-zone touchdowns in as many attempts yesterday.

If you're counting, opponents converted an astounding 36 of 46 (78.2 percent) red-zone opportunities into touchdowns against the Eagles this season. In 31 goal-to-go situations, the Eagles gave up 26 TDs.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed all five of his pass attempts in the red zone, three of them for touchdowns. In 17 games this season, opposing quarterbacks completed 42 of 62 (67.7 percent) passes against the Eagles in the red zone. Twenty-five of those 42 completions went for touchdowns.

"They made the plays and we didn't make the plays," McDermott said. "We were in position to make some. We've got to do a better job and that starts with me. [Fixing the red-zone problems] will be a big emphasis this offseason."

The Eagles, once again, couldn't get off the field on third down. With Rodgers completing six of eight third-down attempts, the Packers converted five of six third-down opportunities in the first half and eight of 13 overall.

"We gave up too many points in the first half," rookie free safety Kurt Coleman said. "Twenty-one points, it's a good day. But it obviously wasn't good enough.

"We just couldn't get off the field early on. In the second half, we tightened up our coverage, and tried to affect Rodgers as much as possible."

The Eagles held Rodgers to 180 passing yards and 6.7 yards per attempt. Took away the deep ball, allowing no completions of more than 20 yards and holding Rodgers' favorite target, Greg Jennings, to one catch for 8 yards.

But the breakdowns on third down and the breakdowns in the red zone doomed them early on.

"I thought we had a chance a couple of times on third down to get off the field, and we didn't for multiple reasons," McDermott said. "They made plays. You gotta give them credit. They're a great offense and they made plays."

The Eagles gave them a little help a few times. On a third-and-5 on the Packers' second possession, McDermott came with a blitz that forced Rodgers into a hurried incompletion that should have resulted in a punt.

But rookie linebacker Keenan Clayton jumped offsides, giving the Packers a first down at the Philadelphia 31-yard line. Six plays later, Rodgers hit little-used tight end Tom Crabtree, who had just four catches this season, for a 7-yard touchdown.

On the Packers' next scoring drive, a 12-play march that ate up 7 minutes off the clock and ended with Rodgers breaking containment and hitting wide receiver James Jones with a 9-yard scoring pass, the Packers converted three third-down opportunities.

The Packers were supposed to be a one-dimensional offense. Came into the game ranked 24th in rushing yards per game and 25th in yards per carry.

But with the Eagles focused on taking away the deep ball from Rodgers, the Packers rushed for 138 yard on 32 carries. Rookie James Starks rushed for 123 yards, which was 22 more than he had rushed for the entire season.

"I don't think [running the ball] was their initial game plan," McDermott said. "But we weren't about to give them a shot over the top with Jennings. Our game plan was to come in and give ourselves a chance to win. I thought the players played hard. We left some plays out there, for sure. But the players played hard.

"If we had given them a single-high safety, who knows. But that's how they hit teams down the field with Jennings. And I didn't want to give them a chance to bust the game wide open. We did a good job of managing the big plays. They got us in the run game. But, at the end of the day, we were in the game."

After the Packers drove 80 yards on 11 plays for their third score with 7 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter, McDermott's defense tightened up. Allowed just 34 yards and two more first downs on the Packers' final three possessions.

Linebacker Moise Fokou shot a gap and dropped running back John Kuhn for a 3-yard loss on a third-and-1 early in the fourth quarter when the Eagles desperately needed the ball back.

And Clayton redeemed himself late in the game with an important, third-and-10 sack of Rodgers that gave the Eagles a chance to win at the end.

"First half, we just let too many points on the board, Mikell said.

Rodgers completed 18 of 27 passes. But for the third straight game, the Eagles failed to force an interception. And they gave up those three touchdown passes. That's 34 in 17 games. That's way too many.

"[Rodgers] made some plays checking down a few times," McDermott said. "He's a Pro Bowl quarterback. He's gonna make some plays. We knew that. We contained him pretty much most of the game."

Costly drops

DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant both had costly drops in the game. Jackson, who had just two receptions, dropped a second-and-7 pass from Mike Vick at the Green Bay 13 late in the first half. The Eagles ended up having to settle for a field goal. Avant dropped a third-and-8 pass in the third quarter that would have given the Eagles a first down.

Second-guessing

Andy Reid's decision to settle for a field goal early in the fourth quarter on fourth-and-1 at the Green Bay 16. Turned out to be a really bad decision when David Akers missed the 34-yard attempt.

Thumbs down

-- To David Akers. The guy's the best kicker in franchise history. He's a Pro Bowler who had one of the best seasons of his career. But, man, he picked a lousy day to come up small, missing 34- and 41-yard field goal attempts in a game the Eagles lost by five points.

-- To Reid for using up a timeout on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line with 4:08 left. I understand you want to make sure you have all your ducks in a row on a key play. But did you really need to waste a timeout on a quarterback sneak?

Did you notice?

-- Andy Reid gave the trumpet player who performed the national anthem an "atta boy" pat on the butt after he was finished. Didn't give many to his team during the game.

-- The Eagles lined up left tackle Jason Peters as an H-back on a third-and-1 bootleg by Michael Vick on the first possession. It didn't work. Vick was tackled for no gain.

-- On a third-and-3 at the Green Bay 23 on their first possession, the Eagles went with a five-wide receiver set. Vick's pass to Riley Cooper was incomplete.

-- Rookie Keenan Clayton replaced Akeem Jordan, who had replaced Ernie Sims, as the second linebacker in the Eagles' nickel package, along with fellow rookie Jamar Chaney.

-- The costly offsides on Clayton on a third-and-5 on the Packers' second possession. The Eagles came with a blitz on the play and forced an incompletion. But because of the penalty, the Packers got a first down. Instead of punting the ball away, they drove down and scored to take a 7-0 lead.

-- Clay Matthews' second-quarter sack came on a delayed blitz similar to the one he burned right guard Nick Cole on in Week 1. Cole once again was the one victimized.

-- Yet another near-miss by left end Juqua Parker on Aaron Rodgers on a key third-and-2 midway through the second quarter. Parker let Rodgers get outside, where he completed a 4-yard pass to fullback Quinn Johnson for a first down. Six plays later, Rodgers hit James Jones for a 9-yard touchdown to make it 14-0.

-- Rodgers' TD pass to Jones actually was supposed to be a middle screen, but Jamar Chaney sniffed it out. Parker once again failed to keep containment on Rodgers, allowing him to get on the perimeter and buy time. Cornerback Asante Samuel lost track of Jones in the end zone.

-- The costly drop by DeSean Jackson on a second-and-7 pass at the Green Bay 13 late in the first half. The Eagles ended up having to settle for a David Akers field goal.

-- On Rodgers' deep sideline incompletion to James Jones late in the first half, Clayton lined up as a single safety, almost 40 yards behind the line of scrimmage, yet still didn't get over to give Samuel help with Jones.

-- Vick's 24-yard touchdown pass to Avant in the third quarter came out of a four-wide receiver set. Avant lined up in the right slot and got behind slot corner Jarrett Bush.

By the numbers

-- With yesterday's loss, the Eagles now are 9-4 at home against the NFC North under Andy Reid. They are 4-1 in the postseason against the NFC North under Reid.

-- For just the second time this season, the Eagles lost a game when they won the turnover battle. They were 8-2 when they won the turnover battle.

-- In his last eight games, Aaron Rodgers has thrown 19 touchdown passes and just two interceptions and has a 71 percent completion percentage.

-- Reid is 10-9 in the postseason, but just 3-4 over the last 6 years.

-- LeSean McCoy, who had just 12 carries yesterday, had 14 or fewer rushing attempts in seven of his last eight games. The last time he had more than 14 was Dec. 12 against the Cowboys, when he rushed 16 times for 149 yards. He had 20-plus rushing attempts just once this season - 21 vs. Falcons on Oct. 17.

-- In his last seven starts, Mike Vick had 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions. In his first six games, he had 11 touchdowns and no interceptions.

-- DeSean Jackson's receiving numbers in the Eagles' seven losses this season ( he didn't play in two of them because of injury): 13 receptions, 154 yards, zero touchdowns. His receiving numbers in the Eagles' 10 wins: 36-949-6.

-- The Eagles, who sacked Aaron Rodgers just two times yesterday, had just 17 sacks in their last nine games. The Eagles had more than three sacks in a game just twice this season - vs. Jacksonville in Week 3 (seven) and vs. Chicago in Week 12 (four).

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