Eagles defense runs out of gas

Eagles safety Patrick Chung watches as Saints receiver Robert Meachem makes a catch late in the game.
Eagles safety Patrick Chung watches as Saints receiver Robert Meachem makes a catch late in the game. (RON CORTES / Staff)
Posted: January 06, 2014

Bill Davis' plan was to stop the maestro from conducting the orchestra that is the New Orleans Saints' offense.

The Eagles' defensive coordinator didn't want quarterback Drew Brees throwing to tight end Jimmy Graham on one play, then Marques Colston on the next. He didn't want to see Darren Sproles making big plays on catches out of the backfield.

"I made the calls for the passing game and tried to make sure we kept the big plays off us," Davis said.

That mission was accomplished for the most part, but the cost of doing so was high. So high, in fact, that it was the difference in the Eagles' 26-24 wild-card playoff loss to Brees and the Saints Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field.

After shutting down opposing running games all season, the Eagles surrendered 185 rushing yards, the most in any game they lost this season. It was just the third time in the last 12 games that the Eagles allowed 100 yards on the ground.

"That's on me," Davis said. "There was a lot more split safety and a lot more pass-oriented calls, so a lot of the runs leaked out. I could have called more of a run-heavy defensive game, but we were trying to keep the points down and the big plays off us, so that run game comes down to me and not the players."

That's nice of Davis to take the bullet, but the players shared equally in the blame. The defense that became known for giving up huge chunks of yards but coming up with takeaways at opportune times had a chance to come up with a game-winning stop for the second straight week.

Granted, a long kick return by Darren Sproles and a 15-yard horse-collar penalty on Cary Williams at the end of the return raised the degree of difficulty. Add in the fact that it was Brees taking the snaps on the final drive that started at the Eagles' 48-yard line and it was easy to understand the sinking feeling that was palpable in the final minutes on this cold night at Lincoln Financial Field.

"It's very disappointing," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "The game came down to us as a defense making a stop and we knew it was going to come down to that because that's what the playoffs are all about. Defensively we didn't make the play to get off the field."

The Saints' final drive started with a carry by Mark Ingram that went for a 1-yard loss. That was the only negative play of the game for Ingram, whose 97 yards on 18 carries were the second most rushing yards by an opposing back against the Eagles this season.

Undaunted by the loss, Saints coach Sean Payton dialed up another run, this one to Khiry Robinson. It went for 13 yards and a first down. The Saints got two more first downs on running plays and ran down the clock to three seconds before Shayne Graham kicked a 32-yard field goal that ended the game and the Eagles' season.

"They did a good job running the ball and we didn't stop the run well enough to win the game," Ryans said. "Essentially that's what it came down to. They ran the ball well and we did a poor job of stopping the run."

Both Davis and Ryans said they were surprised the Saints committed to the run as much as they did.

"I was, but credit to them for adjusting," Davis said. "We adjusted back in that fourth quarter. We knew the run game was coming and we went back to some of the run calls, but the whole thing was about keeping the points down and the big plays off of us and that was the goal."

The Saints are certainly capable of scoring more than 26, but that total was just one shy of their high for the season on the road.

Despite the defeat, Davis felt the Eagles' defense had made huge strides from training camp when Tom Brady and the New England Patriots torched the secondary in a scrimmage.

"I think we made some big leaps, but it wasn't enough," Davis said.

"We needed one more solid game. I'm proud of these guys with the way they grew and the way they dove in and they really were selfless. It was a fun ride and a great group of men to work with and hopefully we built the foundation that we can build off."

Though it was the Eagles' defense that couldn't come up with the final stop, the offense didn't help the situation. After the Eagles opened the second half by going in the wrong direction, Brees led the Saints on a 53-yard touchdown drive that ended with the quarterback finding a wide open Lance Moore for a 24-yard touchdown.

Another three-and-out by the offense was followed by a 66-yard touchdown drive with much of the yardage being covered by Ingram, including the final four yards.

"We adjusted back in that fourth quarter," Davis said. "We knew the run game was coming and we went back to some of the run calls. Our guys played well. You have to give the Saints all the credit. It was a great playoff game and they made one or two more plays than we did and they obviously walked out of here with a victory. We took some great strides this year as a team, but it's not good enough. This isn't good enough. Making the playoffs wasn't enough."


bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob

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