This is the evaluation phase. That’s what Bill Davis called it. Sometimes, he said, the evaluation phase “looks painful, and sometimes it looks promising.”
So let’s evaluate. The Eagles gave up 42 points and an eye-popping 476 yards of total offense in a preseason loss to the Patriots last Friday. What did the defensive coordinator make of it?
“We had a couple in the second half that were misalignments,” Davis admitted. “We were structurally unsound as hell. It was guys lining up on the wrong side that hadn’t happened previous. So that was very disappointing that in that second half and particularly the third quarter, we had some misalignments and you had guys walking into the end zone because of our mistakes. Now, take nothing away from [the Patriots]. We’ve got to clean it up, but that was one of the issues that we’ve got to get fixed. There’s no excuse for it.”
In two preseason games, the starting defense has given up three touchdowns on six drives. The pass rush and the secondary looked particularly sloppy against the Patriots. The Eagles managed two sacks but didn’t put a ton of pressure on New England. The secondary, which was affected by injuries, looked far worse. Poor Curtis Marsh -- who was forced to play 76 snaps, more than any other Eagles defender -- was absolutely victimized. Three different quarterbacks threw a touchdown against Marsh. During one drive, Tom Brady threw at him five straight times. Marsh also had two penalties called on him.
Penalties were a big problem for the Eagles in New England. The Birds were flagged 15 times. They were called for illegal use of hands three times and defensive holding four times. Much of that was owed to the league’s new point of emphasis. Officials have been asked to closely monitor, and flag, any contact with receivers after the first five yards.
“Since the officials were here, we have been harping on it: You cannot grab cloth,” Davis said. “Once the receiver is beyond five yards, you can’t reach your arm out and even graze him. That’s what they’re calling. We know it. We have to stop it in practice. We have to stop it in the game. It’s 100 percent on us.”
They didn’t stop it in the game against New England, which allowed the Patriots to keep their offense on the field. During one drive in the first quarter, the Eagles were called for four penalties. Brady took advantage of the extra opportunities and eventually threw a 15-yard touchdown to Kenbrell Thompkins. Davis said players who fail to be mindful of the new point of emphasis will have their reps reduced.
“If a guy can’t adjust his game and ... the play is over here but over there you grab cloth and you just won’t adjust to the new rule, you can’t play, or we’ll never get off the field,” Davis said. “If we continually do the wrong thing and get penalized, even if we’re making plays defensively, we still have to play another down. The drive is extended. And we can’t have it. If you can’t adapt to the rule, you cannot play.”