Blame Nate Allen? It's a battle of perception

Day late, dollar short: Safety Nate Allen chases the Chargers' Eddie Royal into the end zone. Critics "don't always know the ins and the outs," Allen said. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff
Day late, dollar short: Safety Nate Allen chases the Chargers' Eddie Royal into the end zone. Critics "don't always know the ins and the outs," Allen said. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff
Posted: September 19, 2013

It's time to come to the defense of Nate Allen, who apparently needs some.

See that, right there? That was unfair. That was a cheap hit on a guy who has become the face on the milk carton of the missing Eagles pass defense. Everything that went wrong against the Chargers on Sunday - and there were 413 net yards of wrong through the air - wasn't the fault of the strong safety, but you wouldn't know it to listen to the talk around town.

No one is focusing on why Trent Cole couldn't get around the immovable and unmoving object of San Diego left tackle King Dunlap and his break-but-don't-bend-over style of play. No one is mentioning that Philip Rivers' two leading receivers, with eight catches each, were tight end Antonio Gates and running back Danny Woodhead, who were the responsibility of a linebacker or a nickel back or even free safety Patrick Chung, but definitely not of Nate Allen. No one is taking apart the cornerbacks who couldn't find three-touchdown superstar Eddie Royal - Eddie Royal! - all day long.

It isn't that Allen had a good day, either. He had a pretty bad one, late to pick up receivers who were handed off to him, late to bring help over the middle of the field, just late to dinner a lot. But - and this is probably no consolation to him - he wasn't the only one stinking it up out there as Rivers picked apart the defense.

"That comes with the game. It's part of being on this level," Allen said of the criticism. "We know what's going on in the defensive room and what we're trying to get done. The outside world is going to see it differently, but they don't always know the ins and the outs."

That much is always true. Everyone can see the defensive back scurrying to catch up to a receiver in the open, but no one except the coaches and the players knows for sure if that was his responsibility or if he is trying to repair someone else's mistake.

"You never know what it is," said rookie Earl Wolff, who will be the next starting strong safety if Allen were to lose his job. "It could be that somebody had the wrong man. It might be busted coverage. You might feel the D-line was supposed to get there faster or the linebackers were supposed to get there faster. You can never blame it on one person."

Allen is an easy target, though, because he has a few things working against him. Unlike every other member of the current starting defensive backfield, Allen was part of last season's defensive disaster and is painted with that messy brush. He was benched in favor of Colt Anderson the last two games of the season and now he is apparently holding onto his job by a fraying thread.

"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," coach Chip Kelly said after Sunday's loss, and that is every bit the ringing endorsement it sounds like.

Allen's other burden is that he was a high draft pick, taken in the 2010 second round with the 37th pick overall. That helps a player remain in favor with an organization until there is a regime change, and then it doesn't help at all. I think 2010 was one of those drafts when Howie Roseman wasn't doing anything but going out for the sandwiches, at least the way they tell it now, so Allen isn't going to get favored treatment there.

"I don't get caught up with everything like that. Outsiders don't see it the way we do and that's just how it is," Allen said. "We just have to learn from everything we messed up."

They better be studying rapidly. The Eagles have given up a 68.8 completion percentage in the first two games, 748 passing yards and five touchdowns.

Against Kansas City, they will be up against a mobile quarterback who will make them respect the run option. Alex Smith has run 12 times for 82 yards so far, mostly out of the pistol formation in which the quarterback takes a shotgun snap but takes it significantly closer to the center than normal.

Smith has also completed 60 percent of his passes and thrown four touchdowns. He is quick and smart and will be playing against a defense that was neither against San Diego. And not just Nate Allen.

"Our defense is 11 guys. It's a pass rush. It's everybody being where they're supposed to be, when they're supposed to be there. So it's totally a team game," Kelly said. "It's never isolated on one individual player. I know as a coaching staff, we're not that way. I know as a team, we're not that way."

Somebody has to be the face on the milk carton, though, and it might as well be a highly drafted holdover from the previous administration, a link to a past that doesn't hold fond memories and didn't hold a lot of leads.

"You still have to have confidence," Allen said. "You have to keep moving forward."

A good plan, and moving forward, or just moving in any direction, a little bit quicker wouldn't hurt, either.

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