Eagles problems are secondary to playoff hopes
Andy Dalton will remember this day when he is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Dallas Cowboys backup quarterback threw for 377 yards and three touchdowns against a desperate and depleted Eagles secondary Sunday. Dalton won't really make the trip to Canton to get his Gold Jacket but he won't often get to face a secondary as bad as the Eagles trotted out this week.
Eagles Pro Bowl defensive end Brandon Graham wasn’t ready to lay all the blame at the secondary’s feet.
“We don’t point fingers around here,” Graham said. “We all collectively just try to do our job up front. If we’re having issues in the back, we challenge ourselves to get the faster. We try to make it as easy as we can for the back end. I know when they’re struggling, we just need a spark.”
That spark never came.
The Eagles have used 11 different defensive backs as starters this season.
Michael Jacquet, the latest on that list, was the whipping boy against the Cowboys. An undrafted rookie free agent, Jacquet spent all of September unemployed. The 23-year-old spent October on the Eagles Practice squad. Sunday was his second-ever start and the Cowboys knew it.
Faced with few options, coach Doug Pederson and his staff tried to address it.
“We just try to coach the player,” Pederson said. “We try to get him calmed down. Try to figure out what he’ seeing and get him to relax and not play the game so fast. The game is so fast, we get him to slow it down and coach him up.”
Dalton zeroed in on the Eagles weakest link nine times. Dallas receivers caught seven of those targets for 182 yards.
Jalen Mills eventually bumped over to corner from his safety position.
“We made the adjustment, I ended up going to corner,” Mills said. “Then they started feeding Zeke.”
That’s Ezekiel Elliott for those unfamiliar with the Cowboys struggling running back. Elliott finished the day with 105 rushing yards, most coming as the Eagles tried to dig out of their deficit. Elliott played cleanup to a Dallas passing attack that saw Michael Gallup and Amari Cooper piled up 121 receiving yards each. CeeDee Lamb was held to 65. That’s over 300 of Dalton’s 377 yards on the day.
Jacquet deserves part of the blame. Not as much as he’ll face though. The Eagles 11-year vet knows better.
“Just keep working,” Graham said. “He’s a rookie. Not trying to make an excuse or anything. He didn’t have OTAs. Camp was what it was. He wasn’t a guy who was projected to be a starter. He got thrown in the fire. He’s going to be a really, really good player. In the future I promise.”
The Eagles defense fell apart right about the same time as Fletcher Cox left the game with an injury. Without the team’s best defensive player, every other battle on the field meant a little bit more. The Eagles lost more of those battles than they won.
“You have to win your 1-on-1s,” Graham said. “You have to go out there that’s the bottom line. We talk about that on the line. We talk about it as a defense. We know what we’ve got to do. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen that way.”
Contact Tom Rimback at email@example.com. Follow on twitter @RimbackBCT