Phil Sheridan: Eagles defense is indefensible

Eagles safety Colt Anderson (30) is congratulated by Kurt Coleman (left) after his interception, which was the Birds' first pick since Oct. 14. RON CORTES / Staff Photographer
Eagles safety Colt Anderson (30) is congratulated by Kurt Coleman (left) after his interception, which was the Birds' first pick since Oct. 14. RON CORTES / Staff Photographer
Posted: December 24, 2012

This is how things are for the Eagles this year. On the rare instances something positive happens, it's a reminder how bad the team has become.

Case in point: Colt Anderson's interception in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 27-20 loss to Washington.

It wasn't a particularly memorable play. Washington's dynamic rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III fired a pass a little too high and a little too hard for teammate Joshua Morgan. Eagles safety Kurt Coleman had him covered. Morgan reached up, and the ball ticked off his hand.

"The ball just fell right in my hands," Anderson said.

It would barely have registered, except it was the Eagles' first interception since Oct. 14, when Detroit's Matthew Stafford overthrew a receiver and dropped a perfect pass into Nnamdi Asomugha's waiting hands.

That was nine games ago. The Eagles defense allowed 297 points between those two interceptions.

It is practically impossible to go that long without an interception. Quarterbacks make bad throws all the time. They don't notice a linebacker in zone coverage. A ball gets deflected by a defender at the line of scrimmage or bounces from a receiver's hands. It just happens.

Except for these Eagles, that is. During the interception drought, they allowed 30 or more points six times. They lost eight of nine games. They gave up 22 touchdown passes, including a total of six to Griffin. Six times, they allowed opposing quarterbacks to post a passer rating above 120.

One little tipped-ball interception is a pebble compared to that mountain of bad defensive football. The Eagles seemed to understand this.

"Doesn't matter," Anderson said. "We lost the game. That's the bottom line."

"It was a long time coming," middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "I was happy to see it. It was good defense. We needed a lot more of it. One was good, but we definitely needed more."

For the last few weeks, the Eagles have managed the feat of fielding a barely acceptable NFL defense. That represents real improvement over the mess they were for the previous couple months. But it is miles and miles away from the quality of defense needed to contend for a championship.

Eagles defenses used to be intimidating. They used to be dominating. They used to create havoc and score points. Now it is notable when a journeyman safety holds onto a football, or someone squares up and takes on a ballcarrier without bailing out of the way.

These Eagles were exultant after Griffin failed to draw them offside on a fourth and 2 in the final quarter. They high-fived each other for standing still.

This defense is also the biggest argument against cutting Andy Reid slack because of injuries. It is true the offensive line was ravaged and that Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson, and LeSean McCoy have all missed time. If Jeffrey Lurie were to seek an excuse to retain Reid, that would be it.

But that doesn't begin to explain how the defense and, for that matter, the special teams have been so wretched. Those units have been remarkably healthy all season. They are terrible because of bad coaching and poor player evaluation.

The last time the Eagles were this bad, they went 3-13 in 1998. Reid took over the next year. He built a playoff team by 2000, a Super Bowl team by 2004. The core of his defense was made up of players who were here in '98: Brian Dawkins, Hugh Douglas, Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, Ike Reese. All it took was Jim Johnson's coaching to turn those same guys into a strong defense.

Could that be true of this bunch? It doesn't look that way right now.

"I think we're going to be pretty good," cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. "The same guys are coming back. All of us played together, and we all know each other. With us starting to mesh, I think that can be real good."

Maybe the right defensive coach can turn this group into a legit defense. It's tough to imagine, frankly. Any really good coach is more likely to clear most of these guys out and create a brand-new, aggressive culture.

This group made that easy. Almost as easy as they made life for opposing offenses.


Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe.

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