Eagles Wake-Up Call: Secondary Shuffle

Photo courtesy of USA Today

Photo courtesy of USA Today

There was a change in approach and personnel Sunday, but the results were in many ways the same.

The struggling Bradley Fletcher was inactive for the regular-season finale in New York (Chip Kelly said he suffered a hip injury in practice during the week), moving Nolan Carroll into a starting role and rookie Jaylen Watkins into the rotation. Because of the new pieces, Billy Davis opted to have Cary Williams shadow Odell Beckham Jr. instead of keeping the starting corners on their respective sides as is custom. And to try and minimize the amount of big plays, Davis went with more split-safety looks.

The Giants, though, still racked up 429 passing yards and the Eagles yielded five plays of 20-plus yards through the air, adding to their league-leading total.

“A couple of them we had them doubled,” said  Davis. “We talked about a lean over the top of it, doubled it most of the time. There was a lot of scheme things where we stayed in a lot of split safety probably more than we usually do. Went more nickel than we usually do, went more dime than we usually do, and they still…we didn’t do a good enough job.”

The insertion of Carroll into the starting lineup was certainly no cure-all. On the Giants’ first possession, Carroll and Nate Allen were in coverage when Eli Manning found Reuben Randle for a 43-yard pickup. Manning hit Randle for an 18-yarder on the very next play (again with Carroll in coverage) that set up Andre Williams’ one-yard touchdown plunge. There appeared to be some miscommunication between Carroll and Malcolm Jenkins on a long third-quarter Randle touchdown that was negated by a holding penalty.

Carroll got locked up with Beckham on a couple occasions. He gave the rookie standout a large cushion on a 17-yard pick-up late in the first quarter but otherwise did OK.

Brandon Boykin had a good showing both against Beckham and overall. Still stuck in the nickel role despite the absence of Fletcher, Boykin made the most of his opportunities. His biggest play came in the end zone midway through the second quarter. Drawing Beckham on third-and-goal from the two-yard line, Boykin stayed tight in coverage and knocked a Manning pass away to force a field goal. Later, Beckham burned past Boykin on a fly route but Jenkins bailed him out with a nice pass break-up down field.

A head injury knocked Carroll out of the game for a spell in the third quarter.  Watkins, who saw his first action of the season on defense, played on the outside when the Eagles were in dime and for the brief time that Carroll left the lineup. He made a nice play along the right sideline in the latter stages of the second half, spoiling a leaping catch by Beckham by knocking the ball loose. Beckham got his revenge on the next series as Watkins slipped in coverage, allowing Beckham to turn a short reception into a 63-yard touchdown.

A miscue or two aside, Watkins believes he can use this experience as a springboard.

“Yeah, because going into next year it would have been like my rookie year, still haven’t played a down, a snap of real meaningful defense. I played a lot of snaps today, I gave up a play today, I made some plays, so now I have something to build on,” he said.

As for Davis, he feels the defense grew in just about every area this year except one.

“We’ve got to get those deep balls stopped. That’s the whole focus and passion of the offseason,” he said.

“We will look at absolutely everything and we will grow this secondary to where we get it right. We’ll get it.”


Sheil’s instant observations following the Eagles win over the Giants.

The first chunk of Zone Read covers LeSean McCoy‘s outlook on his future with the team.

Owner Jeffrey Lurie spoke optimistically about Year 2 under Chip Kelly even after missing the playoffs.


Rueben Frank of CSNPhilly.com points out some surprising statistics about Mark Sanchez‘s play this season:

3. If Mark Sanchez didn’t throw interceptions he’d actually be pretty good. He wound up setting a franchise record this year with a 64.1 completion percentage and tied the franchise record with his fifth 300-yard game … in half a season. But he just can’t help the INTs.

4. Whoever found Trey Burton on the undrafted scrap heap deserves a lot of credit. The kid has been a Pro Bowl-caliber special teamer this year. His touchdown Sunday on a blocked punt return was the Eagles’ 11th return TD this year, third-most in NFL history. The Seahawks had 13 in 1998 and the Cardinals had 12 in 2010.

8. Watching Beckham and Randle and knowing that the Giants are going to get Victor Cruz back should be enough for the Eagles’ brass to really get the message that they have no choice but to rebuild this secondary from the bottom up. At all costs. That means look at everybody. If the Eagles are going to compete with the Redskins with DeSean Jackson and the Cowboys presumably with Dez Bryant and the Giants with these guys, they’re going to have to put together a first-rate secondary, and that is going to take a ton of resources and smart decisions.

9. I have unearthed the single most absurdly insignificant and deceiving stat in NFL history: Sanchez set an Eagles franchise record for passing accuracy at 64.078 percent. Nick Foles held the mark at 64.039 percent from last year.

Paul Domowitch of the Daily News is predicting a complete overhaul of the Eagles secondary:

There’s a good possibility safety Malcolm Jenkins will be the only returnee from a not-so-fab four that has given up the league’s fourth-most touchdown passes (29) and the second-most pass plays of 30 yards or more (25).

Cornerback Bradley Fletcher will be a free agent, and, well, he has a better shot at winning the Nobel Peace Prize than being offered another contract by the Eagles.

Jenkins’ safety partner, Nate Allen, also will be a free agent. While the odds of him being asked back aren’t quite as high as Fletcher’s, they’re still pretty high. He played a little better in his second year in Bill Davis’ system than in his first. But his lack of instincts too often made him a coverage liability.

The other starting corner, Cary Williams, still has a year left on his deal. But his salary-cap number will jump from $6.4 million to $8.1 million, and unless he’s willing to take a sizable pay cut, he also probably won’t be back.


Kelly speaks at 8:30 this morning, then we’ll talk to the players as they clean out their lockers.