Eagles' defense exposed in loss

Posted: September 17, 2013

WHEN YOUR offense racks up 511 yards and you lose - while being outgained - you have a problem.

When your quarterback throws for a career-high 428 yards and you lose, you have a problem.

When your coach is questioned about what he can do at safety, and his response is to lament that there aren't any good ones out there to sign, you have a problem.

The Eagles, you'll no doubt be shocked to read, have a problem.

If Week 1 hinted at the best-case scenario for Chip Kelly's exciting, infuriating first Eagles team, yesterday showed us the worst-case scenario. Kelly's awe-inspiring offense can't inspire much awe if the defense is getting pushed up and down the field at will. We felt this before, but now we know it: If the Eagles' pass rush isn't getting home against a sharp, veteran quarterback, it is going to be a long, painful afternoon, every time.

San Diego's Philip Rivers boarded the plane for home yesterday evening with 36 completions in 47 attempts, 419 passing yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 124.3 passer rating. Rivers was sacked just once. Had the Chargers not turned the ball over twice on red-zone fumbles, they might have been pushing the 50-point barrier, instead of kicking a 46-yard field goal with 7 seconds left to nail down a 33-30 victory at Lincoln Financial Field.

The next three quarterbacks the Eagles face are Alex Smith, Peyton Manning and Eli Manning, so the fact that this Eagles secondary might be even worse than the one that set the franchise touchdown-pass record with 33 last year looms kind of large this morning. Eagles opponents have 721 net passing yards and five passing TDs through two games. That projects to 5,768 and 40 for the season. Last year's 4-12 Eagles gave up 3,668 passing yards.

"Just like last week was a lot of fun, this week was the opposite," Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis said, after a long chat with team chairman Jeffrey Lurie, who seemed to be in a consoling mode. (Imagined dialogue: "Billy, just hang in there, we'll get you some help for the secondary this offseason. I swear. Just promise me you won't shoot Nate Allen.")

"I take my hat off - Philip Rivers had a phenomenal game," said Davis, whose unit was trampled for 539 net yards. "He really did. I threw everything at him. We couldn't get him off his spot. When we did get to him, he was making throws, and they were making catches . . . when we dropped [into coverage instead of pushing the rush], he held the ball and got some of those deeper routes in on us, the bigger plays . . . I was trying to mix it up, go back and forth. They outexecuted us."

Michael Vick, who threw for 227 yards in the second half, said the Chargers "kept us off the field and out of rhythm in the first half . . . we can't sit here and hang our hats on what didn't happen. We should have made it happen."

Allen, the 2010 second-round pick who once showed considerable promise, was the epicenter of fan dissatisfaction. The stat sheet says Allen led the Eagles with seven solo tackles. The stat sheet does not say that most of those tackles were downfield, after long catches against him, on a day that began with an Allen first-snap personal-foul penalty for grabbing the facemask of Ryan Mathews as Mathews bowled him over.

This town has seen some wobbly safety play since Brian Dawkins and Quintin Mikell departed, lo these many losses ago (there has been seven of those in a row at home now, by the way; last Eagles win at the Linc that counted was Sept. 30, 2012, vs. the Giants). Yesterday might have been the nadir.

"There ain't any safeties on the street, I can tell you that," Kelly said after losing his home debut. "So we're going to play with the ones we've got."

Allen rotated with fifth-round rookie Earl Wolff, who at least tackled with gusto. Neither Allen nor Wolff seemed able to cover anyone, anywhere, at any time. Patrick Chung had issues as well. Corner Brandon Hughes made his 2013 debut in nickel situations, with Bradley Fletcher (concussion) out, and was underwhelming before leaving with a hamstring injury.

"I think Earl shows us things where we watch him play and we think he's got a bright future," Kelly said. "But I don't think he's totally grasped everything that we're asking him to do."

Allen was the last Eagle out of the showers, long after most of his teammates had gone home, but not too late to be greeted by former Eagle King Dunlap, who played a strong game at left tackle for the Chargers.

It sure looked like Dunlap hooked Allen and threw him down on the final San Diego touchdown, a 15-yard pass play from Rivers to Eddie Royal (seven catches, 90 yards, three TDs), a receiver the Eagles made look like Jerry Rice. No flag was thrown. The officials probably assumed Allen wouldn't have made the tackle anyway. Hard to argue there.

Allen told Dunlap he "nearly choked me" on the TD play. Dunlap chuckled, before trundling off to the bus.

Finally, when reporters had their turn, nobody wanted to grab the bull by the horns and just ask: "Nate. What the [heck]?"

"They got us today," Allen said. "They got us on a few routes. A lot of routes. We might not have tackled as well as we should have, on a couple of things. Like I always say, it's nothing we can't fix . . . We just gotta work on it in practice, disguise stuff, and work on having tighter coverage."

Turned out, the Eagles' opening win at Washington didn't exactly give San Diego any great hints on how to shut down the Birds' offense, as was often discussed during the week, but it sure gave the Chargers an excellent idea of what the Eagles' defense was going to do. Corners Brandon Boykin and Cary Williams said Rivers seemed inside their heads.

"It's hard to say," Allen said, when asked about that. "Those guys are smart, quarterbacks. Sometimes they can pick up on things."

Williams, unable to exhale without drawing a flag from ref Terry McAulay's crew, said Rivers "was calling things out" that the Eagles were trying to do. "He's a veteran guy. He's savvy. He caught us in bad situations . . . It looked like he knew exactly what DeMeco [Ryans, the defensive signal-caller] was calling, to a degree . . . Sometimes you get outwitted. Sometimes you get outplayed. I think today was one of those days."

As Kelly noted, if the Eagles' offense, prolific as it was, had been a little sharper, it might have prevailed in a shootout. Vick and DeSean Jackson (nine catches, 193 yards) connected for one touchdown, had another called back because Lane Johnson wasn't toeing the line of scrimmage, and just missed connecting on at least two more. Jackson could have had 300 receiving yards against a secondary almost as pliant as the Eagles'. James Casey dropped a TD pass. Alex Henery missed a 46-yard field goal just before halftime. Colt Anderson forced a fumble on the kickoff following the 2-yard Vick touchdown run that gave the Eagles their only lead of the day, at 27-23 with 7:06 left, but the ball squirted through several players, including Henery, before the Chargers' Darrell Stuckey recovered it at the Eagles' 39. Seven plays later came the 15-yard Royal touchdown where Dunlap took out Allen.

It was that kind of day.

Had the Eagles won, which certainly could have happened, given all those opportunities, they'd be 2-0 heading into their meeting with Andy Reid and his 2-0 Chiefs Thursday, but their pass defense wouldn't be any less dreadful. It would just be easier to pretend you can win games consistently with such a flaw.

Spoiler alert: You almost certainly can't.

"I hope so," Kelly said, when asked if these were correctable mistakes. "This doesn't feel good, does it? We better make sure we can correct it. We have a game in 4 days. We're going to come out against a team that likes to throw the football, and we have to be ready to play."

On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian

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