Problems all over for Eagles defense

Tom Brady tries to elude Connor Barwin. The Eagles got little pressure on the Patriots quarterback.
Tom Brady tries to elude Connor Barwin. The Eagles got little pressure on the Patriots quarterback. (YONG KIM / Staff)
Posted: August 17, 2014

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - The progress the Eagles defense seemingly made during scrimmages this week with the Patriots was washed away by yet another sloppy preseason performance.

The problems were manifold: missed assignments, third down, penalties, lack of pressure, Curtis Marsh.

How do you beat Marsh? Let us count the ways . . .

If there's consolation it is that Marsh normally wouldn't have been the replacement for starter Cary Williams at cornerback. It's unlikely he'll even make the 53-man roster. But many of the players who make up the rest of Bill Davis' starting defense struggled in the Patriots' 42-35 victory Friday.

The second unit, several members of whom played in sub packages with the first team, wasn't so hot, either. In the first half alone, the Patriots offense scored 21 points, gained 246 yards, and converted 7 of 10 third downs. Last week, the Bears were good on 10 of 17 third-down conversions.

The Eagles committed eight penalties, although three were declined and one was offset by a New England penalty. Marsh was called for pass interference and delay of game. Brandon Boykin, who had been one of the most consistent defenders through training camp, was flagged for holding twice.

A quick disclaimer: It was just the preseason. The Eagles were obviously tinkering with different personnel groupings. Marsh was on the field. But after a year of playing in Davis' scheme, the Eagles have looked much as they did last preseason and in the first month of the season.

The apparent gains they made this offseason were measured by a strong showing against Tom Brady and the Patriots offense earlier this week. The Hall of Fame-bound quarterback toyed with the Eagles during last year's scrimmages, but he didn't have as much success, particularly on Tuesday.

But it was one practice (insert Allen Iverson voice: We're talking about practice.) and Brady looked like Tom Terrific on Friday. He completed 8 of 10 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown. Brady tossed an interception to Williams, one the cornerback returned 77 yards for a score, but his receiver appeared to run the wrong route.

The drive was a microcosm of how the Eagles defense survived for much of last season. It bent, didn't quite break, and used a turnover to reverse its fortunes. Davis can't expect 31 takeaways again.

A series later, after Williams left with a hamstring injury, Brady went after Marsh like he did during scrimmages a year ago. It wasn't fair. Marsh has excelled in one-on-one drills this camp, but the Eagles' 2011 third-round draft pick has never been able to carry it over into games.

Brady threw to his left (Marsh's side) on four straight throws and drew a pass interference flag and connected on 3 of 3 passes, the last a 15-yard touchdown strike to Kenbrell Thompkins. Reserve Patriots quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Ryan Mallett joined in the parade and tossed touchdown passes to receivers Marsh couldn't cover.

The Eagles' problems were hardly limited to Marsh. Boykin and linebacker DeMeco Ryans missed tackles. The front seven generated little push and Brady was pressured only once, by linebacker Connor Barwin. The Patriots converted all of their first seven third downs.

The Eagles finished 24th in the league on third down last season. They surrendered 153 yards through the air in Friday night's first half. Last year, they finished last in passing yards allowed.

But the unit, as a whole, did improve last season. Davis and company have one more preseason game to wipe the first two from memory and open the season ahead of where they were in 2013.

There were a few positives. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks made two strong stops against the run, although one was nullified by a penalty. Defensive end Fletcher Cox, who had been quiet for weeks, split double teams and made contacts on the ball.

Barwin shot into the backfield and forced Brady to make an errant throw, although that outcome was nullified by another penalty. Safety Nate Allen continued his sure-tackling ways and has a lock on the starting spot ahead of Earl Wolff.


jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane

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