All-22: On Davis, Allen And the Talent On Defense


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Billy Davis made sure he spoke with conviction. He knew hesitating for even a split-second would allow the public to draw its own conclusions.

Asked if he’s still confident in Nate Allen, the Eagles defensive coordinator responded quickly: “Absolutely confident in Nate Allen. No question.”

Davis was grilled earlier this week about the big plays the Eagles’ defense allowed against the Cardinals. He offered a passionate defense of Allen, sticking up for the veteran safety who had been blamed by many for the Eagles’ second loss of the season.

The specific play in focus was the 75-yard touchdown to John Brown. The Eagles were in quarters coverage, meaning Allen and Cary Williams were dividing the top half of the field; each was responsible for a quarter.

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At first, it looked like the Cardinals were running a “levels” concept with two in-breaking routes at different depths. But Brown was setting Allen up for a double move, and Allen bit as the wide receiver got vertical in a hurry.

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There’s no doubt that Allen was at fault. Right after the game, he accepted responsibility. Carson Palmer made a fantastic throw, and Brown did a tremendous job of tracking the ball down before making an over the shoulder catch.

It didn’t help either that Williams was too shallow and provided no safety net for the double move.

“Cary could have got higher quicker for the insurance, if you do take the wrong step,” said Davis. “[Allen] took one false step and got beat big.

“The spotlight is on you, and that’s part of being in the secondary, but Nate has thick skin and we as a defense, collectively, blew it at the end. I could have had a better call. There are a lot of things.”

That wasn’t the only big play. Earlier, the Cardinals had a good call to beat the Eagles’ blitz, and Larry Fitzgerald went 75 yards for a touchdown.

“The blitz that we ran where they got the touchdown on us, we knew they had that pick route,” Davis said. “They’d shown it probably three or four times in that game, some after the touchdown, some before, but we’d practiced that. We knew what was coming.”

The problem? Bradley Fletcher was incredibly slow to react and failed to make the tackle after Fitzgerald caught the ball.

“At the end of the day we really just need to get to the up-field shoulder and tackle it,” Davis said. “We didn’t touch him and we should have. We had two-on-two and the first guy was inside – the ball was out before the contact with Malcolm [Jenkins] hit, so I can see why they didn’t call [a penalty]. We just have to get a tackle.”

There’s a reason why Davis has staunchly defended his guys. This time it was Allen. A couple weeks ago, it was Fletcher. Davis has to work with the hand he’s been dealt, and it makes no sense to publicly criticize players who have limited ceilings.

Allen has started 61 games in his career; Williams 56; and Fletcher 45. Players can improve, but each has thousands of plays on tape. When Allen was a free agent last offseason, he didn’t draw much interest and ended up returning to the Eagles on a one-year deal.

The problem with the Eagles’ defense has nothing to do with coaching or scheme. Davis has done a really good job this year, and his unit ranks eighth in DVOA, according to Football Outsiders. The front seven has reached an impressive level of consistency. The defensive linemen and linebackers seem to understand the scheme and their roles. They play together well, show great effort and execute their assignments.

The issues have come largely on the back end, and that’s a talent issue more than anything.

Howie Roseman and Chip Kelly made the offseason determination that they were willing to go with Allen, Williams and Fletcher as starters. On some weeks, they hold up OK. But there are going to be a lot of games where those players make mistakes, and it will cost the Eagles. Davis is maximizing the talent he has at his disposal, but the defense has clear holes. That’s the reality of the situation right now.

So in the coming weeks when Williams gets beaten deep or Fletcher is called for a costly penalty or Allen bites on another double move, they will get ripped by the fans and the media. But the reality is those players have limitations.

Maybe Roseman and Kelly just didn’t see a lot of defensive backs they liked in free agency. Perhaps the draft unfolded differently than they were expecting. But ultimately, they put the roster together and are responsible when the lack of talent in certain areas shows up on gamedays.