Eagles' D faces new test in pass-first Chargers

Eagles' D faces new test in pass-first Chargers

September 13, 2013, 11:45 am
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The Eagles haven't played the Chargers since 2009. (USA Today Images)

The Eagles are fast. Reporters and fans, players and coaches around the league -- that’s what people keep discussing. That’s been the story line all week. It hasn’t changed.

Except Philip Rivers thinks the platitudes used to describe the Eagles’ offense can also be applied to the Birds’ defense. When the Chargers’ quarterback addressed the San Diego media this week in advance of Sunday’s game at Lincoln Financial Field, he talked a lot about the speed of the Eagles’ defense and the challenges it might present.

“I know everyone’s talking about Philly’s offense, how fast they are and how fast they play, and their defense is the same way,” Rivers said. “The personnel is fast. They just fly around -- give you a lot of multiple looks, multiple fronts. It’s our first time on the road together in a regular season-type atmosphere. It’ll be a heck of a challenge.

“They’re just sound. They’re sound and they’re disruptive. They don’t ever want you to get comfortable. They don’t just line up and say, ‘Here we are, have at it.’ Their [linebackers] are active. They’re giving you multiple looks, playing a lot of different coverages. They try to never let you settle in and get comfortable.”

The Eagles' defense -- a unit that entered the season with countless questions at nearly every position -- did a fair job of making the Washington Redskins uncomfortable, at least early in the game. The Birds finished with two interceptions, three sacks and a safety. They also prevented the Redskins from converting eight of their 10 opportunities on third down.

In the first half, the Eagles held Robert Griffin III to just 53 yards on 5-for-11 passing. The second half didn’t go nearly as well. Griffin’s final numbers: 30 for 49, 329 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Defensive coordinator Billy Davis said the Eagles were trying to keep the Redskins “off balance,” though he hinted that his unit did a better job of that earlier in the game. Against the Chargers, the Eagles will likely employ the same approach -- mix-and-match blitzes designed to keep Rivers and the Chargers offense guessing.

“The scheme is built to where any member of the defense can be blitzing at any given time,” Davis said. “We have blitzes for every position: corners, safeties, nickels, dimes, mike backers. Anybody can be a blitzer, either through an active call or a check. So through the system and through the week, depending on what formations we're getting and what protections, there's so many things that go into it, but anybody can be a blitzer at any time.”

That’s the plan, though Davis said the Chargers have a “top, top offense” that would present an added challenge because “there's not a whole lot of tape on them” after one week.

“They've got a great passing attack and running game,” Davis said. “They've got [Antonio] Gates, a perennial Pro Bowler, [Philip] Rivers has been in and out of the Pro Bowl, they've got a new system. It's a great passing attack. They've got a very solid run game.”

A week ago, Rivers recorded four touchdowns. But he also completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes, and he threw a crushing interception in the fourth quarter that allowed the Texans to tie the game and set themselves up for a dramatic come-from-behind victory.

While Rivers has made the Pro Bowl four times in his 10-year career, he had a down season in 2012. A year ago, Rivers was only 17th in passing yards. He threw 15 interceptions (just four picks away from the most in the league), and his 88.6 quarterback rating was his worst mark in six seasons.

Gates also regressed last season. The 33-year-old scored seven touchdowns, but among tight ends he was just 19th in receptions and 19th in yards.

As for the running game, the Chargers are paced by Ryan Mathews, now in his fourth season. After a solid 2011 campaign (he averaged 4.9 yards per carry and totaled 1,091 rushing yards and six touchdowns), Mathews’ stats dropped considerably last year. In 12 games -- he battled various injuries throughout the season -- Mathews averaged 3.8 yards per carry and totaled 707 rushing yards and only one touchdown. Last week against Houston, Mathews carried the ball 13 times for 33 yards (2.5 yards per carry). He also added a receiving touchdown.

“The Chargers are a pass-first team,” linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. “Where as, the Redskins were a run-first, run and play-action type team. The Chargers, they want to spread us out, use the tight end and many positions, and spread us out. They want to throw it around … we have to be very cognizant of our depth and our pass coverage.”