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 NBA: Curry, Warriors demolish Cavaliers, 126-91, at home

Best of NBA: Curry, Warriors demolish Cavaliers, 126-91, at home

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors certainly looked ready to trade some more blows with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers come June.

The two-time reigning MVP hit five 3-pointers and had 20 points while matching his season best with 11 assists in Golden State's 126-91 rout of the defending champs Monday.

Klay Thompson scored 26 points with five 3s, and Curry made four steals. Draymond Green produced his third triple-double of the season with 11 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists while matching his career best with five blocks -- and had another dustup with King James in the process.

James had 20 points on 6-of-18 shooting and eight rebounds, and he and Green became the talk once more as their relationship turned even more testy.

Kevin Durant added 21 points, six rebounds, five assists and three blocks for the Warriors in a much-hyped matchup merely weeks after Golden State lost 109-108 in Cleveland on Christmas (see full recap).

Thomas explodes for 17 in fourth quarter to lift Celtics over Hornets
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas scored 17 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter, and the surging Boston Celtics beat the Charlotte Hornets 108-98 on Monday night for their ninth victory in 11games.

It was Thomas' 25th straight game with 20 or more points. He's been putting up big final quarters of late -- scoring 20 or more three times this season. No other NBA player had done it more than once entering Monday.

Al Horford had 22 points, while Kelly Olynyk and Jae Crowder added 15 apiece for Boston, which has won all three meetings with Charlotte this season.

Kemba Walker scored 24 points and Marvin Williams 21 for the Hornets, who lost their fifth straight -- all on the road.

Thomas scored 13 straight points, pushing Boston ahead 93-83 with his 3-pointer from the left wing with 7 minutes left.

Boston led 80-71 entering the final period (see full recap).

Wizards remain hot with win over Trail Blazers
WASHINGTON  -- Bradley Beal scored 25 points and John Wall had 24 as the Washington Wizards took a page from the Portland Trail Blazers' playbook by hitting 13 3-pointers in a comfortable 120-101 victory on Monday afternoon.

The Wizards, who rely less on the 3-pointer than almost any NBA team, were 13 of 23 from beyond the arc in their 12th consecutive home victory. The 3-pointer-heavy Trail Blazers shot 8 of 26 on 3-point attempts.

After Washington coach Scott Brooks called Portland guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum as good as any backcourt in the league, Beal and John Wall outplayed them. Lillard led the Blazers with 22 points and McCollum had 12, but they combined to shoot 11 of 29 from the floor.

The Wizards have won four of their last five games (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Penguins halt Capitals 9-game streak with wild 8-7 OT win

Best of NHL: Penguins halt Capitals 9-game streak with wild 8-7 OT win

PITTSBURGH -- Conor Sheary scored 34 seconds into overtime and the Pittsburgh Penguins ended the Washington Capitals' nine-game winning streak with a wild 8-7 victory Monday night that included nine second-period goals.

Sheary had two goals and an assist for the Penguins, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Evgeni Malkin picked up his 11th career hat trick during a frenetic second period, and Sidney Crosby collected his NHL-leading 27th goal to go with two assists. Bryan Rust and Nick Bonino also scored for Pittsburgh, and Matt Murray got the win despite allowing seven goals on 28 shots.

The Penguins trailed 3-0 before scoring six goals in less than 11 minutes in the second period, more goals than the Capitals had allowed in a game all season. Pittsburgh led 6-5 after 40 minutes.

Lars Eller scored twice for Washington, and T.J. Oshie, Brett Connolly, Nicklas Backstrom, Justin Williams and Andre Burakovsky also found the net. Philipp Grubauer made eight saves after coming on in relief of Braden Holtby, who was pulled during Pittsburgh's second-period deluge (see full recap).

Eichel scores twice to give Sabres' 4-1 win over Stars
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Jack Eichel scored two goals and the Buffalo Sabres defeated the Dallas Stars 4-1 on Monday.

Tyler Ennis scored 19 seconds into the first period. Ennis returned after missing 30 games with a groin injury that required surgery.

Jake McCabe also had a goal and Robin Lehner made 31 saves after missing the past three games with an illness.

The Sabres snapped a two-game losing streak and beat the Stars for the first time in four matchups.

Radek Faksa scored for the Stars in the opener of a three-game road trip. Kari Lehtonen stopped 25 shots. Dallas has lost two in a row and six of eight (see full recap).

Bishop anchors Lightning to 2-1 win over Kings
LOS ANGELES -- Brian Boyle scored the go-ahead goal late in the second period, and the Tampa Bay Lightning opened a six-game road trip with a 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Monday.

Ben Bishop made an early mistake that led to Kyle Clifford's goal for the Kings, but bounced back to make 31 saves in his second start back from a three-week absence with a lower-body injury.

Tyler Johnson scored in the first period for the Lightning, who won for just the second time in seven games.

Peter Budaj stopped 27 shots for the Kings.

Both teams played without stars due to illness. Kings captain Anze Kopitar missed his first game since Nov. 20, and All-Star defenseman Victor Hedman missed his first game of the season for Tampa Bay (see full recap).