Eagles Defense Thinks 'It Wasn't That Bad,' But Jaiquawn Jarrett Might Be

Eagles Defense Thinks 'It Wasn't That Bad,' But Jaiquawn Jarrett Might Be

When the starters came out 20 minutes into last Thursday's preseason opener versus the Steelers, the Eagles were down 10-zip. The offense went three-and-out on each of its two possessions, but the sample size is small, their track record relatively strong, so most of the concern there was contained to Michael Vick managing to hurt himself already. Don't worry, he's fine.

The defense, on the other hand, was not so fortunate to deflect criticism. Pittsburgh controlled the ball throughout the majority of the first quarter, then moved right down the field and punched the rock into the end zone for six on their second series. At first glance, it looked like an unmitigated disaster for defensive coordinator Juan Castillo's group, which has been picked apart ad nauseum since his promotion last year.

Castillo and his troops made headlines in recent days, their side of the story boiling down to, "It wasn't that bad," which turned a few heads. When you go back and examine it though, there is actually a little bit of truth to their line of thinking. There were a pair of dreadful performances by individuals -- none more outstanding than Jaiquawn Jarrett -- but collectively the unit did some good.

Take the opening series for example. A 16-play drive that goes 52 yards, requires a fourth-down conversion to continue, and ends in a field goal isn't exactly ripping it up. The Steelers also required Ben Roethlisberger to escape some heavy pressure on a pair of third downs and make plays on the move in order to keep things going. They didn't just march down the field, and there was only one really big gainer, a 17-yard passing play -- all of this without two starting defensive ends in the lineup.

I don't have any problem with this series, particularly against this offense and quarterback, and I'm not entirely sure why anybody else does for that matter. The defense bent, but didn't break, and did not go without their own opportunities. Here's the play-by-play if you're interested (note: ad/video plays immediately), but to put it in simple terms, the Eagles limited Pittsburgh to 3.25 yards per snap.

Something tells me that stop would have been viewed favorably had the second series not yielded far more in the way of breakdowns. However, even on the following possession, the defense had the Steelers' offense on the ropes until a penalty kept the drive alive.

The Eagles had Pittsburgh pinned on a 3rd and 16, and once again the quarterback was in trouble. Byron Leftwich pulled a Big Ben though and broke the pocket, only Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was on to him. Unfortunately, the 182-lbs. corner launched himself through the air at the 250-lbs. quarterback, which drew a personal foul penalty as a desperation pass harmlessly hit the turf.

The play was officiated properly, but everything up to that point was going fine, and as for the hit itself, it wasn't nearly as dirty as some have made it out to be. He led with his shoulder and did not appear to initiate contact at the head, but under the rules, leaving your feet is a yellow flag every time.

Here's Where Things Get Ugly...

The remainder of the series was the Jaiquawn Jarrett show, and network execs might have to consider pulling the plug on that production after all. Jarrett looked Jarrad Page-esque while taking bad angles to ball carriers on consecutive runs, resulting in a pair of big plays.

Three plays after the penalty, the Eagles had Pittsburgh in a 3rd and 13. The Steelers called a draw, and with linemen on their backs, neither Derek Landri or DeMeco Ryans could get a clean shot at the back. Jarrett came charging in from his safety position, whiffing badly on the runner, who then found enough room on the outside to pick up the first down. Had Jarrett been under control and forced the back to the inside, he had help from Kurt Coleman, and they could have shut this down short of the sticks.

The very next play, Jarrett did essentially the exact same thing. The Steelers bust another run into the Birds secondary, and Jarrett comes barreling in completely out of control once again. This time, not only does he miss the ball carrier completely, he takes out his own man -- Vinny Curry -- who was close to chasing the play down from behind. The run goes for 33 yards, all the way to the 3-yard line.

Sadly, Jarrett wasn't finished yet. The Eagles do a nice job stuffing the next two runs cold to set up a third down, but now Pittsburgh is going to exploit the safety in the passing game. The Birds are in zone coverage, and the Steelers run a couple of slants to Jarrett's side. Apparently confused over his assignment, Jarrett simply doesn't slide into his area, and it's easy pitch and catch in the end zone.

Obviously this was disappointing to watch, but it's not difficult to see where the source of the problem was. Everything negative that happened on this drive following the personal foul can be traced back to, or at the very least, was compounded by Jarrett, and that's not an exaggeration. Many believed the 2011 second-round pick was in danger of missing the final cut to begin with, and it's hard to argue any longer after a performance like this. With Nate Allen back from injury, Jarrett is already splitting time between second- and third-string.

As for the defense as a whole, I suppose we have no choice but to judge them based on what was out there, even if Jarrett's chances of ever seeing meaningful action again are dwindling. That said, I agree with their own assessment that they weren't that bad, particularly taking this into consideration. The Eagles' first-team defense had Pittsburgh in 3rd and long on five occasions, and while they were able to convert three of them, this is generally a recipe for defensive success in the NFL.

The pass rush was relentless, overall the linebackers were an improvement, and the corners looked comfortable. Despite all the criticism, there were indeed some positives to build on here.

Best of NFL: Redskins notch 1st win vs. Giants; Cowboys rout Bears

Best of NFL: Redskins notch 1st win vs. Giants; Cowboys rout Bears

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.  -- Dustin Hopkins kicked a 37-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter for his fifth of the game and the Washington Redskins avoid a near-disastrous 0-3 start with a 29-27 win over the penalty- and error-prone New York Giants on Sunday.

Kirk Cousins threw touchdown passes of 44 yards to DeSean Jackson and 55 to Jamison Crowder as the banged-up Redskins (1-2) handed new coach Ben McAdoo his first loss with the Giants (2-1).

Su'a Cravens ended the Giants' final drive with an interception in New York territory. It was Eli Manning's second pick of the quarter, with the other coming in the end zone by Quinton Dunbar after New York got to the Redskins 15 on a big play by Odell Beckham Jr.

This was a wild NFC East matchup that see-sawed the entire second half after Washington rallied from a 21-9 deficit (see full recap).

Prescott, Cowboys rout Bears on SNF
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Dak Prescott led scoring drives on all four Dallas possessions in the first half before throwing his first career touchdown pass, and the Cowboys beat the Chicago Bears 31-17 on Sunday night to snap an eight-game home losing streak.

With his second straight win, Prescott doubled the number of victories the Cowboys (2-1) had in 14 games without injured quarterback Tony Romo over three seasons before the rookie fourth-round pick showed up.

Prescott's first TD pass was a 17-yarder to Dez Bryant for a 31-10 lead in the fourth quarter, and he's up to 99 throws without an interception to start his career. Philadelphia rookie Carson Wentz has 102, and those are the two highest career-opening totals in NFL history.

Brian Hoyer had trouble moving the Chicago offense early with Jay Cutler sidelined by a sprained right thumb as the Bears fell behind 24-3 at halftime and dropped to 0-3 for the second time in two seasons under coach John Fox (see full recap).

Vikings stop Newton, snap Panthers' home win streak
CHARLOTTE, N.C.  -- The Minnesota Vikings keep finding ways to overcome injuries --and keep finding ways to win football games.

Sam Bradford threw a touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph, Marcus Sherels returned a punt for a score and the Vikings snapped the Carolina Panthers' 14-game home winning streak 22-10 on Sunday.

The Vikings put the clamps on Cam Newton, intercepting the league's reigning MVP three times and getting eight sacks, one of those resulting in a safety by Danielle Hunter. The eight sacks were the second-most ever against Newton.

"We have a great team -- the best team I have been a part of," said Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen, who had three sacks. "We come from every area on the field and we get sacks."

Said Newton: "They were dictating to us after they got the momentum."

The Vikings improved 3-0 despite losing running back Adrian Peterson and offensive tackle Matt Kalil to injuries last week. They lost starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the preseason (see full recap).

Bills bounce back with win over Cardinals
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y.  -- LeSean McCoy scored twice and safety Aaron Williams returned a botched field-goal snap 53 yards for a touchdown in leading the Buffalo Bills to a 33-18 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

Quarterback Tyrod Taylor also scored on a 20-yard run at a time the Rex Ryan-coached Bills spent the past week taking the brunt of criticism after opening the season 0-2.

The win also came on the heels of Ryan firing offensive coordinator Greg Roman and replacing him with running backs coach Anthony Lynn.

McCoy scored on 24- and 5-yard runs, and finished with 110 yards rushing after combining for just 117 in his first two games. Taylor had 76 yards rushing, including a 49-yarder, the longest by a quarterback in team history (see full recap).

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Doug Pederson: For the Eagles, 'this was a good benchmark'

Doug Pederson: For the Eagles, 'this was a good benchmark'

On his way to the locker room following his team's stunning 34-3 victory over the Steelers, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson reacted, well, like you probably did.

Pederson had to be surprised by what had just transpired. After all, this wasn't the Browns or the Bears. This was the Steelers, who entered the game with the second-best odds behind New England, per Bovada, of winning the Super Bowl (the Patriots were first). 

And the Eagles didn't just beat them. They clobbered them.

But minutes later, when Pederson met the media for his postgame press conference, he tried his best to act like it was no big thing.

“I told the team way back in OTAs that it just takes a little bit of belief," Pederson said. "Belief in themselves. Trust the process. Believe in the coaches and the coaches believe in one another. That’s what they did tonight. 

"Am I surprised? A little. But at the same time, I know that locker room, I know those guys and I know what they are building. By no means have we accomplished anything yet. The season is still extremely young. But what they did tonight just proves that they are coming together as a football team.”

Yeah, yeah. Sorry, Doug. It's OK to be surprised. Scratch that. Make that stunned. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year. But now? Forget that. 

At least for the next two weeks. The Eagles are on their bye week and don't play again until Oct. 9 at Detroit. 

“It is still a young season, only three games. This was a good benchmark," Pederson said. "That’s a good football team, the Steelers are a great football team. They are going to be there at the end, they always are. Coach (Mike) Tomlin always has those guys ready to play. 

"But for our guys, it is just a little glimpse of that belief that I have been saying since the spring and summer. If they just do their jobs, I just feel that good things can happen. We just protect each other in that dressing room in there and keep coming to work everyday.”

Pederson is the only head coach in team history to win each of his first three games. It's only the ninth time the Eagles have started 3-0.

And of course, a big reason they've done so is their prodigy quarterback Carson Wentz, who became only the second rookie in team history to record a 300-yard passing game (Nick Foles is the other).

More impressively, Wentz now has attempted 102 straight passes without an interception, the longest streak ever begin an NFL career (per ESPN). Dallas'  Dak Prescott is at 99 after the Cowboys beat up the Bears.

But don't ask Pederson to admit he's amazed by Wentz or the fact he had the presence of mind to make plays like the riveting 73-yard TD pass to Darren Sproles (much more on that here).

“You know, you just put on his college film. Just watch him," Pederson said. "We exhausted his college tape and those were the plays that he made at North Dakota State. That play tonight was just a tremendous play by both he and Darren Sproles. Those are the types of things that we know he can do. He just keeps gaining confidence every single week.”

As does the defense, which kept one of the league's most potent offenses out of the end zone

"They just weren’t going to be denied," Pederson said. "They just weren’t going to bow their necks. They weren’t going to let them in the endzone. It just came down to our will versus theirs and I was just so happy with the way the guys played. Just a great team effort.”