Secondary problems are first and foremost

CLEM MURRAY / STAFFPHOTOGRAPHER Chargers tight end Antonio Gates runs over Eagles safety Nate Allen for a 21-yard gain in the fourth quarter.
CLEM MURRAY / STAFFPHOTOGRAPHER Chargers tight end Antonio Gates runs over Eagles safety Nate Allen for a 21-yard gain in the fourth quarter.
Posted: September 17, 2013

NATE ALLEN had changed into street clothes before the interview began. There was no target on the back of his shirt. He is one of the Eagles' safeties, the most maligned position on the roster, and to say that he (and they) had just had a rough day was to offer no particular insight.

Philip Rivers had just thrown for a tidy 419 yards against them, completing 36 of 47 throws. Tight end Antonio Gates caught eight passes for 124 yards and did what tight ends have done to this defense for far too long. After it was over - after the Chargers punted only once all day and beat the Eagles, 33-30 - Eagles coach Chip Kelly was asked about looking for safeties and said, with blunt honesty, "Right now? 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."

There ain't any safeties on the street . . .

So, Nate?

"Nothing wrong with [the pass defense]," Allen said, evenly. "It's hard to put your finger on one thing that it is. They got us today. They got us on a few routes . . . a couple . . . a lot of routes. We might not have tackled as well as we should have on a couple of things. But like I always say, it's nothing we can't fix."

At this point, Allen is still the starter. But the coaches seem to be mixing in rookie Earl Wolff more and more. "I think they're close," Kelly said, but Wolff must still make too many howling mistakes to take the job or he would have taken it by now - because that is just how noticeable Allen has become.

To be fair, it isn't only him. Rivers carved up the lot of them in yesterday afternoon's home opener. In the first game against Washington, a one-legged quarterback threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns. Rivers, a respected veteran - but not one of the in-the-pantheon guys - threw for 419 yards and three touchdowns. Kansas City's Alex Smith is next, and then comes Peyton Manning from the pantheon, and away we go.

The Eagles' pass rush does not get there without blitzing. Rivers had such a good day against the blitz that Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis went to a lot of three-man rush packages and tried to cover with eight men behind it. That failed, too.

We all knew this was going to be the story of the season - big numbers being stacked upon both sides of the ledger - and here we are. They were thin to start with in the secondary and in-game injuries forced many situations where they had three safeties on the field at once. Oh, and the cavalry is not coming. The safeties are who they are.

"I guess, just in answer to the question, you're not going to find anybody at this point in time that's hanging out on the street corner that's going to be able to play safety for you," Kelly said. "Everybody's allotted to their team either through the draft or free agency, but I don't think there are any free-agent safeties that are standing on the streets unemployed right now. That was my point . . .

"We've got to coach them better and put them in positions to make plays. We've got to make sure we put a game plan together so they understand it. It's a simple deal."

Obviously, though, it isn't simple. Consider what the score might have been had the Eagles not forced two red-zone fumbles yesterday. There are a lot of good quarterbacks on the schedule and this is not going to get any easier. I like blitzing as much as the next guy, but there is only so much you can do and only so much stress you can put on the cover guys.

"Those guys are smart quarterbacks, and sometimes they can pick up on things," Allen said. "We've just got to try to hold our disguises and work on our disguises better and just try to have tighter coverage."

In a league where covering anybody is becoming increasingly difficult - the NFL saw records broken for passing yardage and passing touchdowns in Week 1 - the Eagles are still struggling more than most. It's hard to know what to say. This will not be a good defense in the NFL of 2013. All they can hope for is situational success at this point, for the one late stop.

At one point after the game, Allen hit on the essential truth. Through everything, through the talk of disguised coverages and smart quarterbacks and the need to improve, he said the only thing that matters.

He said this: "Sometimes you've just got to line up and cover somebody."

With that, we wait.

On Twitter: @theidlerich


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