Monday morning cornerback, and the Report Card on Sunday's game
Regardless of whose fault it was on this long pass play or that, every member of the Philadelphia Eagles’ secondary, not to mention their pass rushers up front, had something to do with the egregious lack of coverage down the field in Sunday’s 38-20 loss to Minnesota.
The Vikings and embattled quarterback Kirk Cousins torched the Eagles for 333 yards and four touchdowns through the air. At times, it didn’t even look fair. And to be fair, it wasn’t. The Eagles’ pass defense was so outclassed by Minnesota in this game that the only viable fix would be to revamp half the roster, which obviously can’t be done until the next offseason. And the one after that. And the one after that.
But being stuck in the present until then, there is no escape.
A trade for a lockdown cover cornerback like Jalen Ramsey would perhaps reduce the bleeding, but not stop it altogether.
Getting deep threat DeSean Jackson would help the offense perhaps overcome the defense’s mistakes too at times, but having to score 30-plus points to win each week is no way to go through life and certainly cannot sustain in the postseason.
Unless the Eagles take drastic steps to work with the players they have now and take pressure off their relatively slow-footed corners, which also include the injured Jalen Mills, Cre’Von LeBlanc and Ronald Darby, they’re going to come out of this six-game stretch that they entered on Sunday completely out of the playoff race.
Even in quarters coverage (essentially a four-deep zone), they were burned for a long touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs on Sunday.
Nothing they did worked very well.
Cornerbacks Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones seemed to the naked eye like the biggest culprits, but they certainly weren’t the only ones to blame. Miscommunication and faulty instincts ruled on this day, when 11-year veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins admitted to a mistake a player with his experience is not supposed to make by vacating the middle on Stefon Diggs’ 62-yard touchdown reception.
Diggs would go on to finish the day with seven catches for 167 yards and three TDs. The second of those scores was a 51-yard bomb over Douglas, who threw up his arms in obvious exasperation as Diggs crossed the goal line.
His reaction gave the impression that he either expected deep help there as well or expected something to happen up front to force a quicker throw that wouldn’t be able to sail over his head.
Or both. Probably both.
When he had a chance to go on record about it, though, Douglas wisely kept his thoughts to himself.
“I’ve just got to guard him,” he said of Diggs’ first TD. Of Diggs’ second, he simply said: “My fault.”
Even though everyone knows he shouldn’t get full blame.
“Just stick your guy and just plaster,” Douglas said. “If [the QB] scrambles, just plaster. ... Get onto your guy and run with him.”
Douglas, by far their best available cornerback and probably their best even at full strength, couldn’t do that part very well, which is the most troubling aspect of Sunday’s implosion. After all, if Douglas’ best isn’t good enough, what does that say about Jones or Darby or Orlando Scandrick or Ryan Lewis or Craig James or Mills or LeBlanc?
There’s no button they can push or training method they can implement to make the players move their feet faster.
About the only thing the Eagles can do is change some things schematically, perhaps keeping two or three safeties, if necessary, all the way back without cheating up with one of them to try to stop the run. This way, they can’t be fooled as easily by play-action and wouldn’t be as susceptible to long plays.
In robbing Peter to pay Paul, it might mean they give up more rushing yards than they’re accustomed to allowing, but at least it would make opponents earn yardage in smaller chunks, keeping the Eagles from being dazed by the kinds of overhand rights they absorbed on this day.
Playing the way they did against the New York Jets in a 31-6 win the week before is totally unrealistic, according to Jenkins.
“I mean, what you saw last week is something you could go three seasons without seeing a game like that,” he said. "I don’t think we look at last week as the benchmark of who we are, but I think we need to play more consistently and find out who we are.
“With injuries every week, it’s hard to find out who you really are on defense. The biggest thing is having guys like myself and guys who makes plays have to do their job every time.”
Jenkins last season was faced with a similar situation involving lots of raw corners and safeties moving in and out of the lineup each week because of injuries. He eventually asked defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to simplify the system so everyone could better understand it.
Yet he looked almost puzzled when asked if he might consider doing the same this year.
“At the end of the day, we’re trying to figure out ways to win games,” he said. “I don’t think Jim needs to call anything different, I think we just need to execute better.
“... This game is not for suckers. So if you’re not competent on the outside, we can’t use you. We don’t mind that [opponents] are challenging the outside. We can do what we can to protect them from calls. But at the end of the day, our defense needs to be there for each other.”
That didn’t happen on Sunday.
If that trend continues, they might not win another game, much less make the playoffs. So forget all the players who are not part of the organization now. The fixes have to come from within.
Here’s how the Philadelphia Eagles graded out in their 38-20 loss at Minnesota on Sunday:
Offensive line: C
Once again opened up enough holes in the running game and did a decent job protecting the quarterback. But failures to recognize and/or pick up the blitz at times hurt. Carson Wentz was sacked twice, the second time when a blitzer came unchecked through a gap. Rookie Andre Dillard filled in well at LT after Jason Peters exited with an injury, although he refused to talk about it afterward.
Wide receivers: D
The best thing you can say about Alshon Jeffery is that he’s dependable. He had 10 catches, though they went for just 76 yards. Both tight ends averaged more, not to mention running back Miles Sanders, their only legitimate deep threat. Nelson Agholor appeared to lose track of another pass that could have been a touchdown.
Running backs: C+
As already mentioned, Sanders has emerged as the team’s top (and only) deep threat since DeSean Jackson went out with an abdominal injury. He caught three passes for 86 yards Sunday. He’s a rookie. Jordan Howard led the team with 49 rushing yards. Boston Scott averaged 7.5 yards on four attempts.
Tight ends: C-
The good: Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert combined for nine catches. The bad: Ertz lost a fumble inside the Minnesota 30-yard line with 6:04 remaining and the Eagles trailing by 18, ending any hope they had at a comeback.
Considering his wide receivers can’t get open deep anymore and the offense was forced to play from behind all day, Wentz did a pretty good job. He made enough throws to keep them in it and possibly even to pull it out. But he had limited firepower from the start, and then Ertz clinched it with his fumble.
“There were some shots today that we didn’t connect,” Wentz said. “There were some other things where I might have missed some guys and those types of things. But it’s a good defense and we really had to earn it today.”
Defensive line: D
This group continued to do the job against the run, helping hold the Vikings to 3.5 yards per attempt. It also continued to struggle to provide a pass rush. Brandon Graham’s sack, the only one of the game for the Eagles, was one of only three hits this group put on the quarterback all day. As our fearless leader would say: Sad.
Has Nate Gerry (six tackles, one for a loss) become the best of this group? Like better than Nigel Bradham? Starting to think the converted safety is. Zach Brown’s scathing criticism of Vikings QB Kirk Cousins didn’t reach Cousins’ ears until after the game, so there was no extra motivation. But he couldn’t have been more wrong if he tried.
Poor coverage was compounded by lack of communication and discipline on long, game-changing passes. Other than that, this group did a bang-up job. General manager Howie Roseman had better keep his cell phone charged.
“Have to make them move the ball down the field and earn it,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “Limit the big plays. With big scores, we can’t play red-zone defense, which is where I feel we are really good.”
Special teams: B
Kicker Jake Elliott (two field goals) and punter Cameron Johnston did good jobs. Rudy Ford (mindless holding penalty on Vikings’ first kickoff) and Miles Sanders (poor decision to bring the kick out) did not, leading to their opening drive starting at their 7-yard line. The failed fake extra point falls on the coaching staff.
The fake field goal that was intercepted at the end of the first half was ill-advised because they not only didn’t get the defensive formation they were expecting but they also weren’t going to get a touchdown anyway. For someone who keeps stressing how important fast starts are, why does head coach Doug Pederson keep putting his weakest unit (defense) out there first after winning the coin toss and deferring? Bad strategy, regardless of what the analytics say.
To his credit, Pederson on Monday said he’s changing his thinking on that and likely will take the ball if they win the opening coin toss from now on.
He also essentially guaranteed a win over Dallas next Sunday night during his weekly radio guest appearance on WIP, so we’ll see how smart that turns out to be.
This team can’t play the way the coaches need it to play. Regardless of who’s at fault for that, the results are undeniable. The 3-3 Eagles look like they are in for another grind like last season. And that’s the best-case scenario.
“Disappointed in a lot of things,” Pederson said. “But we’ve just got to look at this tape, we’ve got to be critical of each other, critical of myself, and we’ve got to fix what’s wrong.”
Nick Fierro writes for the Morning Call