Eagles All-22 Wake-Up Call: Secondary Concerns
Despite the Eagles’ win Sunday night, their pass defense had one of its worst games of the season. They gave up season-highs in opponent passer rating (105) and touchdowns through the air (three), and Matt Cassel had his best game as a Cowboy.
Both Cole Beasley and Dez Bryant surpassed 100 receiving yards while reaching the end zone, and their quarterback averaged 7.9 passing yards per attempt.
“[Beasley] is a tough matchup for a lot of people because he’s so good at getting in and out of breaks,” Chip Kelly said. “The tough matchup is that is that they also have [Jason] Witten and they also have Dez at full speed, so who are you going to double?
“You can’t double three of them; if you do, you don’t have enough guys. Sometimes they caught us when we were doubling Witten or Dez, and now Beasley is in a one-on-one. That’s what happens when you have three really good weapons in their offense.”
The Eagles did have their bright spots in coverage, however, including Jordan Hicks’ pick-six. Byron Maxwell also continued his improvement and turned in another good performance, while the pass rush disrupted Cassel or brought him down several times.
But between Philadelphia’s struggles on Sunday and Hicks’ season-ending injury, how much concern should there be about the Eagles’ defense going forward? We turned to the tape to find out.
JENKINS AND HIS CONCUSSION
Jenkins played his worst game of the season Sunday night as he allowed five receptions for 56 receiving yards and two touchdowns. However, while discussing his concussion yesterday, he mentioned that it probably affected his play.
We previously wrote about how good of a route Beasley ran on his first touchdown (shown below) and the miscommunication on his second score, but if you ask Jenkins, he’ll admit he had a tough time against the speedy receiver even before his injury.
“Beasley is just a good receiver,” Jenkins said. “He did a good job of creating space and making plays. So no, I wouldn’t blame [the concussion].”
In the second half, Billy Davis inserted E.J. Biggers to cover Beasley instead. In 24 snaps in coverage, Biggers allowed two receptions for 33 receiving yards, and had a crucial pass deflection in the fourth quarter. While facing 3rd-and-6 at Philadelphia’s 23-yard line with three minutes left in the game, Cassel threw the ball to Beasley over the middle.
“That was a really good play because he’s supposed to have help inside, but it never comes,” Jenkins said. “He’s supposed to be outside, which makes that really hard because Beasley is running away from the leverage. Getting the ball down, not getting a flag and stopping him on third down? That was huge.”
Before Sunday, the last time Bryant played the Eagles, he dominated as he caught six passes for 114 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Although Philadelphia’s secondary is much improved from last year, it was still a bit surprising when Carroll said last week they didn’t plan to double-team Bryant much.
With their final matchup of the season complete, Carroll elaborated on their reasons for that.
“We just didn’t want to give him a lot of attention,” Carroll said Wednesday. “Really, the attention was on Witten because we thought they wouldn’t really try to throw it outside.”
However, Bryant caught Cassel’s first two throws of the game Sunday night, and his second reception went for 51 yards. The two-time Pro Bowl receiver finished with five catches for 104 receiving yards and one touchdown.
“On his second one, I should’ve been outside more,” Carroll said. “I figured he would go underneath because of his alignment so I tried to cut him off, but he got me at the line and got over top.”
Despite Bryant’s big day, a few secondary members said they were still happy with their strategy because elements outside of their coverages factored into Bryant’s production.
“I thought it played out well,” Jenkins said. “His big play was more run after the catch and missed tackles than anything, and the other was a hail mary throw it up. Maxwell did a good job of disrupting him at the line of scrimmage pretty much the whole day. We didn’t feel the need to double him as much as we doubled [Odell Beckham] when we played the Giants.”
Jenkins was spot on about Maxwell as the cornerback played one of his best games in an Eagles uniform. Maxwell allowed just one reception and was targeted twice in 50 snaps of pass coverage. Carroll, on the other hand, was targeted nine times in the same number of snaps, allowing six receptions for 102 yards and one touchdown.
“[Maxwell] is starting to prepare and practice a lot better, and it’s showing up,” Jenkins said. “His technique is better and better, and he did a good job at the line of scrimmage against Dez. That’s what you need to defeat good receivers like Dez, you have to be good at the line so the quarterback doesn’t have the confidence to throw it over there. Even at the end, Maxwell was in good position and he was just getting bad calls, to be frank. Giving up one catch over there, that’s great.”
REPLACING JORDAN HICKS
Mychal Kendricks showed some rust in his first game back from injury against the Panthers, so it’s no surprise Kiko Alonso displayed similar signs on Sunday. Alonso appeared to overrun a couple of plays (including the one below), but Davis was happy with Alonso’s progression.
“Kiko was good for the first time back,” Davis said. “He really was. He’s very natural. I’ve said that before in here. You know, it takes a while to get everything going and playing back into that zone, like we were talking about with Mychal, it’s two to three weeks. So he had a good phase one of it, or game one. Hopefully he takes a step this week, and by game three back, hopefully he’s where he left off.”
With Hicks out and DeMeco Ryans’ status unclear, Davis was asked who would wear the headset on defense because Hicks did so the last two games. According to Davis, both Alonso and Kendricks are capable of wearing it, communicating the calls and helping their teammates line up. He also said it’s not a major concern because they rely on headsets less as they’re a no-huddle defense and often use signals from the sidelines.
Regardless of who wears the headset, the Eagles will have to figure out how they’ll replace the number of snaps Hicks played. Alonso was on the field for 29 (37 percent) of the defense’s snaps Sunday while Hicks played 56 (72 percent) snaps.
Davis was asked Tuesday if Alonso is at the point where he can play 60 to 70 snaps.
“I don’t think yet. I really don’t,” Davis said. “I think that’s a process to come. I think we played him about the right amount the other night and we’ll take it in the right way, because again, you’d rather pull him for just a couple less snaps and say, ‘Well, we probably should have played him more,’ than overloaded him and then you lose him again. With all the guys that are injured, we try to be a little bit more on the conservative edge, so we have them for longer.”
Kendricks, meanwhile, looked better than he did in Carolina and played the same number of snaps as Hicks. He was also one of two Eagles who recorded multiple tackles for loss, including one that was three yards in the backfield in the middle of the third quarter.
“This is one of those plays where you’re like ‘No, no, no… yes!’” Jenkins said. “Because I don’t know what his technique is and that definitely isn’t the defense, but Mychal Kendricks just saw the gap, was aggressive and made the play. You can’t coach that or explain it, you just gotta say, ‘Good play, Mych.’”
WHAT YOU MISSED
Notes from yesterday’s practice, including an interesting video of DeMarco Murray.
“Not a daze, but in kind of a fog.” Malcolm Jenkins admits he hid his concussion Sunday.
“It’s the best feeling you’ve ever felt.” Brandon Graham is still adding new parts to his game.
Watch: Tim and I examine what to expect from the second half of the Birds’ season.
Jenkins returned to practice Thursday morning after being cleared for contact.
The Dolphins’ expensive defensive line has struggled all year, which could spell success for the Eagles’ run game.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Sam Bradford is finally starting to get comfortable in the Eagles’ offense, writes Sam Donnellon.
Throughout his struggles this season, Bradford has avoided embracing the excuses provided for him by others, specifically that he was shaking off the rust of two mostly inactive seasons. But after Kelly publicly embraced that broad rationale following Bradford’s best performance as an Eagle Sunday, the quarterback answered a question about whether the game had finally slowed down for him like this:
“The more you do something,” he said, “the more reps you get, the better you feel. And that’s kind of how this process has been for me. The more I’ve been out there, the different looks I’ve seen from defenses against certain plays, the more comfortable I feel running this offense.”
Thanks to Bill Lazor, the Dolphins’ offense is flecked with Chip Kelly’s influence, says Jeff McLane.
The Dolphins, who travel to face the Eagles on Sunday, won their first two games under [Dan] Campbell in blowouts, but were similarly beaten badly in the next two games. Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said that he still sees a lot of the familiar in Lazor’s offense, but Kelly said there aren’t many similarities.
“I think [Lazor] has his offense that’s probably more similar to what he was doing when he was at Virginia than what he was doing when he was here,” Kelly said Wednesday.
[Ryan] Tannehill said Lazor had him watch a lot of Eagles film when he first came aboard last spring. He estimated that 25 percent of the offense was based on Kelly’s first-year system. But just as the Eagles’ scheme has evolved over the last three years, so has the Dolphins’ offense.
We’ve got this week’s installments of Eagle Eye and Opposition Research, as well as the injury report in the afternoon.