Lunch Break: Secondary concerns
The Eagles' defense allowed six pass plays of at least 20 yards, four of 30 yards and two of 40 yards against the Vikings. (AP)
The one thing the Eagles’ defense was best at this year killed them in Minnesota.
And it could very well kill them again this Sunday against the Bears if they don’t get their act together.
In their first 13 games, the Eagles allowed only 14 pass plays of 30 yards or more. That’s about one per game and going into Minnesota, that was tied for the eighth-fewest in the NFL.
One of the fundamental tenets of defensive coordinator Bill Davis’ scheme is that you play deep, keep everything in front of you, allow short stuff but don’t give up so-called chunk plays.
So much for that.
Matt Cassel took aim at the Eagles’ secondary, and after three hours of blown coverages and missed tackles, the Eagles had been decimated by six pass plays of at least 20 yards, four of 30 yards and two of 40 yards -- a 42-yarder and a 57-yarder.
For the sake of comparison, during the nine-game stretch starting with the first Giants game and continuing through the Lions, the Eagles allowed only 11 pass plays of 30 yards or more.
Cassel is the first quarterback with at least six completions of 20 yards or more against the Eagles in nine years.
“I’ve got to give him some credit, he made some great throws, but most of those, we’ve just got to be in better position as players,” Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans said.
“Some of those things were just missed tackles, things like that, and as players we just have to make a play, you know? I give him credit, he made some good throws, but overall we haven’t been giving up those big plays because we’ve been able to apply pressure and get to the quarterback and that combination of pressure and coverage has been working for us, but this time it wasn’t, and Cassel was able to step up and make a play.”
The Eagles went into Sunday’s game among the best in the NFL at not allowing big plays.
Through 12 games, they had allowed just 11 plays of 30 yards or more, 11th-best in the NFL, and seven plays of 40 yards or more, seventh-best in the league.
But they got buried Sunday. Breakdowns in coverage, missed tackles and a lack of pass pressure combined with some big throws by Cassel added up to a nightmare for the Eagles’ defense, and the Vikings stunned the first-place Eagles 48-20.
Davis calls plays of 20 yards or more “X plays,” and the Vikings had six of them -- eight if you count penalties.
“We gave up too many big plays, six 'X plays,'” Davis said. “Three of them were thrown for over 20 yards. We did not make those plays. The others were thrown for under 20 and we missed tackles, and they became big plays.
“Pass interference calls, we haven't had a lot of those being called. Put them all the way down inside the goal line. We did not take care of keeping the big pass off of us like we had been. We only had one turnover where in the past we had a couple more.
“The big part of that game, the disappointment we had, was the big plays through missed tackles.”
The Vikings’ six offensive snaps of 20 yards or more are the most the Eagles have allowed in a game since October of 2011, when the 49ers had seven. That was not a good game for Jarrad Page.
But two of the 49ers’ big plays were Frank Gore runs. Cassel’s six completions of at least 20 yards are the most the Eagles have allowed in a game since 2004.
That would be the 2004 playoff win over the Vikings, when Daunte Culpepper, who was honored at halftime of Sunday’s game, had six completions of at least 20 yards -- three to Marcus Robinson and one each to Jermaine Wiggins, Randy Moss and Nate Burleson.
“The last couple months, we’ve been finding a way to come up with a play to get off the field before we even get in the red zone,” Ryans said. “We’re able to make a play to get off the field.
“But Sunday, it wasn’t clicking. We weren’t oursevles. We’re just working to get behind us and get back to how we play ball. It was disappoiting, but I know we can play a lot better. Some of those these things, we can control.
“Yes, they made some plays, but most of that stuff we can control as players. And when it’s, ‘OK, we can fix that,’ it’s not such a downer like they just kicked our butts. It’s stuff that we can fix, which gives you some confidence and hope to build off.
“We feel like we can bounce back because it wasn’t them outdoing us, it was mainly us continuing to shoot ourselves in the foot and beat ourselves. It was more what we did and not what they did.”
The Eagles face the Bears at 8:30 p.m. Sunday at the Linc. The Bears are seventh in the NFL in offense, fifth in passing offense and third in the league in offensive big plays -- 15 of 40 yards or more, thanks mainly to explosive wide outs Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall.
Ryans knows the same effort will lead to the same result.
“Man, we’ve got a chance to come back and respond off a down week, a game we felt we should have won,” Ryans said. “We have a chance to play a really good football team and prove who we really are.”