Eagles defense lagging in takeaways

Linebacker Jamar Chaney returns an interception against the Bills. It was one of only three Eagles picks this year.
Linebacker Jamar Chaney returns an interception against the Bills. It was one of only three Eagles picks this year. (STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 14, 2011

Turnovers are hurting the Eagles - and not just on offense.

It has been obvious that the Eagles' 15 giveaways are disrupting an offense that otherwise has moved the ball well. On defense, the opposite has been true: The Eagles are giving up yardage and have been unable to bail themselves out with timely interceptions or fumble recoveries.

The Eagles have five takeaways this year. Only Pittsburgh and Miami, with two each, have fewer. Five others are tied with the Eagles near the bottom of the NFL.

It's a sharp change from last season, when the Eagles' 34 takeaways were tied for fifth best in the league.

The Eagles have an opportunity to improve on their standing this week when they face Washington quarterback Rex Grossman, an erratic passer who has thrown 45 career interceptions and 46 touchdowns. This season he has six scoring passes and five picks in four games.

Asked why the takeaways suddenly have dropped off, Eagles defenders had few concrete answers. But here are two likely factors: The defense, in being simplified, has become more predictable, and the Eagles are so soft against the run that teams can play catchup without frantically passing the ball.

For years, the Eagles have lived by the philosophy of getting big leads and making teams play catch-up. They have then attacked quarterbacks with a variety of blitzes that have forced offenses into mistakes. Even Peyton Manning was fooled into tossing two interceptions against a varied Eagles defense last season, and that was when the team had far less talent at cornerback and on the defensive line.

This year, the philosophy is the same, but the defense is less varied. The pass rush usually comes from the four down linemen, leaving less for quarterbacks to read. And when the Eagles do get ahead, teams have proved that they can stay on the ground and still rally, thanks to an average of 5 yards per carry against this defense.

Cornerback Asante Samuel, who ranks fourth among active NFL players with 43 interceptions, has just one this year.

"Better start fast," Samuel said when asked how the defense can boost its takeaways. "Get a lead and get them to play like we want them to play. Make them predictable."

When the Eagles compiled 34 takeaways last season, 23 came on interceptions.

"We've had chances to make some plays. We just didn't," safety Kurt Coleman said. "Really, it just comes down to making plays."

Indeed, some would-be interceptions have been dropped, and several Eagles echoed Coleman's thoughts: that creating turnovers is simply a matter of taking advantage of opportunities. They said takeaways can come and go in bunches - as offensive players have said this week.

"Turnovers are one of those things," linebacker Moise Fokou said. "You can be No. 1 in the NFL one year and the next year get none."

As the Eagles offense has shown, turnovers can completely change the complexion of a game. Michael Vick and company have put up about 500 yards of offense in each of the last two weeks but scored only 23 and 24 points because they have coughed up the ball. By the same token, the Eagles defense could mask some problems if it could steal the ball away.

"Attack the ball, swarm to the ball, be a team-tackling team because good things happen when you're around the ball," Fokou said.

Of course, linebacker Brian Rolle also noted that there is a downside in going for strips. It can lead to missed tackles - another problem that has plagued the defense.

The Redskins have fumbled only five times in four games and lost just two of them. They almost certainly will attack the Eagles on the ground Sunday.

If the Birds can force Grossman to pass, though, there might not be a better opportunity for them to kick-start their takeaway production.

They can't afford to wait much longer.

Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214, jtamari@phillynews.com, or @JonathanTamari on Twitter.


comments powered by Disqus