Nothing safe about Eagles safeties

San Diego tight end Antonio Gates leaves Eagles safety Nate Allen in his wake en route to a 21-yard gain. Allen said he thought he played "OK." CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
San Diego tight end Antonio Gates leaves Eagles safety Nate Allen in his wake en route to a 21-yard gain. Allen said he thought he played "OK." CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Posted: September 17, 2013

The question was whether the Eagles needed to look for other options at safety.

"Right now?" Chip Kelly said. "There ain't any safeties on the street, I can tell you that. So we're going to play with the ones we've got."

The last time an Eagles coach delivered news as depressing, Andy Reid was sitting at a microphone next to Juan Castillo, introducing him as his next defensive coordinator.

Sunday's 33-30 loss to the Chargers was a collective non-effort, especially on the defensive side of the ball, but the Eagles' struggling safeties left their fingerprints all over Kelly's first career NFL loss.

Nate Allen was bad, could-conceivably-be-cut-a-day-later bad. Patrick Chung made a few plays, but missed as many. And Earl Wolff played as if he was in his second NFL game. With the Eagles rotating in a rookie who hasn't "grasped everything that we're asking to do," as Kelly said, it may be time to scour the waiver wire.

Though there aren't difference-making safeties left in free agency - and to be honest, there aren't many currently on NFL rosters - Kerry Rhodes remained unsigned. Surely the former Cardinals safety can do as well as Allen. How about Ray Rhodes? He once played safety. He's only 62.

As for Allen, he thought he played "OK," had "things I can work on" and "learn from" that will help him to "keep moving forward." After four seasons - four too many - it may be time for the Eagles to admit that their 2010 second-round draft pick isn't an NFL starter.

Asked about the Eagles' pass defense, the one that allowed quarterback Phillip Rivers to complete 77 percent of his passes for 419 yards, Allen said there was "nothing wrong with it." He amended his first statement to say that the Chargers got the Eagles on "a few routes, a lot of routes," but his first instinct always has been to not get too high or too low.

Allen is the anti-Brian Dawkins. It isn't exactly fair to compare any post-Dawkins Eagles safety to the former all-pro, but Allen appears to play without a pulse. If he was a surgeon on the field, no one would care about his emotions, but to instinctively suggest that there wasn't anything wrong with the Eagles pass defense is mind-boggling. How about some accountability?

Allen's even-keeled approach can sometimes be the right one. It was only one game. The Eagles offense put up 422 yards through the air against the Chargers pass defense, and San Diego isn't likely ready to release Eric Weddle. But Weddle, for one, has a long history of success, and Allen has played one game of note (Buffalo, 2011) in four seasons.

He opened the preseason by whiffing in the open field against Patriots running back Stevan Ridley and has done little since to support the idea that he finally will figure out the position.

But the play of the safeties, not only Allen's, can't be considered much of a surprise. Chung was benched last season in New England for a reason. Wolff dropped to the fifth round in the draft for a reason. And Allen was benched late last season for Colt Anderson for a reason.

The Eagles probably aren't that surprised, either. They rolled the dice on Kenny Phillips in the offseason, hoping that he would push Allen and perhaps return to his former glory before multiple knee injuries. But the gamble didn't pay off, like many other free-agent signings in recent seasons (e.g. Sean Jones, Marlin Jackson, Jarrad Page, O.J. Atogwe).

Safety is a position of weakness across the league. Pass-happy offenses have diluted the need for big-hitting, run-stopping safeties, and those types have been converted into linebackers. Cover-capable safeties have become the norm, but those prospects drift toward the high-paying cornerback position.

But the Eagles have struck out magnificently in the draft - first with 2011 second-round pick Jaiquawn Jarrett and a soon-to-be-determined date with Allen. Kelly said he would play with the safeties he and defensive coordinator Bill Davis have, but that doesn't mean Allen will continue starting.

The Eagles have a short week, with Andy Reid - the man most responsible for putting the Birds in their safety bind - and the Chiefs arriving Thursday. So now may not be the time to bench Allen for Wolff or Anderson or Kurt Coleman.

And the Eagles have a host of other problems on defense, most notably the lack of a pass rush. It wasn't just Allen and the safeties who had their issues Sunday. If Trent Cole or Connor Barwin or Fletcher Cox or Cedric Thornton provided more pressure on Rivers, maybe he wouldn't have picked apart the secondary.

The Eagles cornerbacks, down a starter with Bradley Fletcher out, will take their share of the blame, as well. But Allen and the other Eagles safeties were constantly out of position and ineffective.

They have 14 more games to figure it out if Kelly sincerely intends to play with what he has.


Contact Jeff McLane at jmclane@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.

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