Eagles' troubles with defensive back seven remain

Posted: August 10, 2012

One season later, the same problems appeared to exist. The Eagles' defensive woes in the back seven were supposed to be rectified in 2012 with new additions in the linebacker corps and more familiarity among the secondary. But in Thursday's 24-23 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the starting defense too closely resembled the 2011 defense.

For those on the field, though, it was a different story. Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha insisted that it's far too premature to make any assessments from Thursday. After all, the first-team defense played only two drives, and there was no scheming for a preseason game.

"There were a lot of moments where it felt good, and it felt so different from last year," Asomugha said. "Even in the tough moments where they ran a drive, there still wasn't that sort of panic from anyone."

The Steelers scored on the two drives on which they faced the Eagles' starters. The Eagles' defensive line applied pressure and suffocated the quarterback. Yet missed tackles and blown coverages proved costly, and the Steelers capitalized on the errors.

The Steelers engineered a 16-play, 52-yard drive that resulted in a field goal and a 10-play, 70-yard drive that finished with a touchdown.

Jarrett has tough time

After second-year safety Jaiquawn Jarrett struggled as a rookie in 2011, the Eagles spun Jarrett's woes as the by-product of an offseason hindered by the NFL's labor strife. Jarrett was supposed to benefit from time with the team and within the system throughout the offseason. Yet even an understanding of the scheme failed to solve inadequate tackling and confounding angles of pursuit.

Jarrett particularly plagued the defense on two plays on one drive. The first was a 33-yard running play, when Jarrett tried to deliver a big hit but instead knocked down a teammate, allowing Steelers running back Jonathan Dwyer to escape for a big gain. Three players later, Jarrett provided too much cushion on a touchdown pass.

"He's just got to learn from it and get better," coach Andy Reid said. "When you come in with the shoulder instead of the arm - at this level, and he's learning that, you got to bring all of it - so you got the arms, you use them."

In front of Jarrett, the linebackers did not appear to fare much better. Thursday's game was the anticipated debut of DeMeco Ryans, who has the unenviable task of trying to solve the Eagles' long-standing linebacker issues. A two-time Pro Bowler in Houston who saw his performance decline because of injury and a change in scheme, Ryans was supposed to be the difference-maker the Eagles lacked.

Two drives are too small of a sample size, but Ryans didn't make much difference. In fact, Ryans also missed a tackle - the part of his game that has often been hailed as a staple - but he said everything that occurred was correctable.

"That's when you work it in, and you start to get better at it throughout the preseason," Ryans said. "That's one of those things that not everyone is crisp on right now, but that's what preseason is for."

The Eagles can at least take solace in their defensive line. During those two drives, the line had three sacks - including two by backup defensive end Phillip Hunt. The Steelers' quarterbacks were consistently under duress. And it was even more notable because the Eagles played without starting pass rushers Trent Cole and Jason Babin.

Defensive line shows up

Two drives is too small a sample size, but Ryans didn't make much of a difference. In fact, he missed a tackle, supposedly one of his strengths.

The Eagles can at least take solace in their defensive line. During those two drives, the unit had three sacks - including two by backup defensive end Phillip Hunt. The Steelers' quarterbacks were under duress throughout the game. And it was even more notable because the Eagles played without starters Trent Cole and Jason Babin.

Of course, the pass rush was strong last season, too. It was plays from the back seven that hurt the Eagles. One season later, the same problems exist.


Contact Zach Berman at zberman@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @ZBerm.

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