Eagles must fix pass defense in a hurry or face the consequences in coming weeks
PHILADELPHIA — Malcolm Jenkins wasn’t having any of it. The veteran safety — and heart and soul of the Philadelphia Eagles defense — bristled at the theory that the 27 points his team gave up against the Washington Redskins on Sunday could have been more if quarterback Case Keenum didn’t overthrow Terry McLaurin, who was running all alone on a fly pattern, in the third quarter.
The Eagles had just battled back from a 17-0 deficit to go ahead by one point when it happened, and they held the lead the rest of the way.
“Almost doesn’t count in this game,” Jenkins said. “So for us, we gave up one big play [on a McLaurin 69-yard TD pass in the second quarter] and we’re not panicking about that. That was just us being aggressive. Nobody was beat or no coverage was blown. They’ve got a good, fast guy, they threw it into his space, we vacated the back end of the field and they made a play.”
What Jenkins can’t dispute is that playing at home against a one-dimensional offense without its top lineman,
the Eagles gave up 380 passing yards and 27 points while not getting a turnover and logging only one sack.
He also can’t deny that when they go on the road Sunday night against a desperate and more balanced Atlanta Falcons squad, they’ll be up against much more potent weapons, starting with quarterback Matt Ryan and explosive wide receiver Julio Jones.
To be sure, the Eagles know they’ll need a better defensive effort to keep their offense from having to score half a hundred to get out of there with a win.
Jenkins and his teammates believe they’ll execute the game plan to contain their opponents better than they did in Week 1.
Nevertheless, a review of Sunday’s most damaging plays by Washington’s offense revealed some alarming shortcomings.
On McLaurin’s 69-yard TD reception, the blitz was delayed, giving Keenum extra time behind a max-protection scheme right at the start. And the coverage plan to try to have their slowest corner, Rasul Douglas, match up against a rookie receiver who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds at the NFL scouting combine was suspect, at best.
Earlier, when tight end Vernon Davis rumbled to the end zone with a 48-yard reception, he hurdled over Ronald Darby and then broke tackle attempts by Andrew Sendejo and Rodney McLeod, who arrived with alleged help at the same time.
On a 22-yard completion to McLaurin that helped set up a field goal as time expired in the first half, Darby had tight coverage using inside leverage, but McLaurin rose up and made the play anyway.
The Eagles defense tightened considerably after intermission, but there were still some breakdowns that likely would be costly against better teams.
On the play that Jenkins boasted did not count, Sidney Jones was spun around like a top in single coverage without even biting on the play-fake. The Eagles lined up on that firstdown play with nine men in the box and McLeod in deep center field. But when wide receiver Paul Richardson started in motion to his left to circle behind the line of scrimmage, McLeod came sprinting out of his spot to cover him in the left flat, leaving the middle of the field free for McLaurin to run straight past Jones, whose hips were made to look stiffer than they are because he was indecisive on which way to turn. McLaurin had three steps on Jones by the time the ball sailed over his head, just out of range of his fingertips.
A touchdown there likely would have changed the entire complexion of the game.
“First game, everybody has something to improve on, whether it’s tackling, coverage or mental errors,” Jones said. “But that’s all fixable. We’ve just got to go back and execute it and come out next week and prove it.”
Jones didn’t have one play in training camp as bad as that incompletion on Sunday, so he could be right.
Finally, the Redskins converted a fourth-and-12 late in the fourth quarter on their way to a touchdown that would enable them to cover the 10-point spread and make those who gambled on the Eagles furious.
The big gain happened when running back Chris Thompson went 18 yards with a screen pass after being able to get outside due to poor pursuit angles by Nigel Bradham and Douglas.
“It wasn’t a great game for the defense,” Jones admitted. “We’ll get it right. First-game jitters, first-game stuff, whatever it is, getting the calls, settling in. We know our standard, we know we have to start faster and keep that same energy.”
Vernon Davis of the Redskins scored on this play Sunday when he hurdled the Eagles’ Ronald Darby, right, and broke the tackle attempt of Andrew Sendejo.
Vernon Davis of the Redskins runs past Rasul Douglas of the Eagles on his way to a touchdown in the first quarter on Sunday.