In this edition of Mosher’s Mailbag, I answer a question about comparing this year’s Eagles secondary to last year’s.
Q. On a scale of 1-10 what would you rate their secondary last year? What do you think they can be this year?
-- Donald McGettigan (@DonM409)
A. I realize the Eagles had the NFL’s worst pass defense last year (allowing just under 290 passing yards per game) but I wasn’t down on the Eagles’ secondary as much as others. I’d probably give the secondary a five, where others may not be so generous.
Outside of the Minnesota debacle and the first Giants game, the Eagles weren't roasted deep very often. They allowed only nine receptions of at least 40 yards in 2014. Fourteen other NFL teams gave up more. The middle of the field is where the Eagles were dissected last year, mainly because of sporadic coverage at the linebacker level along with issues at safety.
I think the corners were actually one of the brighter spots. Cary Williams was inconsistent and doesn’t always tackle well, but he still had three interceptions, which is one fewer than Nnamdi Asomugha’s two-year total as an Eagle. He plays tough and gets his hands on a fair number of balls. Bradley Fletcher surprised me. I thought he’d be below average and the guy broke up 15 passes and always seemed to come up with a breakup in the end zone. Brandon Boykin is clearly the star of the group as the slot guy, tying for second in the NFL with six picks in just his second season.
The biggest culprits of last year’s secondary were safety Patrick Chung and the knee injury that stunted Earl Wolff’s development, forcing Chung back into a starting role late in the season. Nate Allen was OK, nothing great, nothing terrible.
This year, with the subtraction of Chung and the additions of Malcolm Jenkins and fourth-round pick Jaylen Watkins, I think the Eagles can be a seven. I don’t expect Jenkins to wow us in the playmaking department, but I do anticipate him bringing much more poise and discipline to the position than Chung did. Allen probably will never dazzle us, but there’s room for him to take another step up from last season, which would be great for the overall defense.
At corner, new addition Nolan Carroll gives the Eagles better depth than they had a year ago if he doesn’t unseat Fletcher for the left cornerback job. Watkins could be a pleasant surprise and bid for some time in sub packages. The ceiling is much higher for this year’s secondary. It’s still short on game-changers, save for Boykin, but should be an upgrade over last year’s group.