Pass defense remains a major issue for Eagles

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Pass defense remains a major issue for Eagles

What must Eagles improve on vs. Denver?

September 22, 2013, 11:00 am
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The Eagles have allowed 1,021 passing yards, or 340 per game, so far this season. (AP)

Last year’s Eagles pass defense made history. Not in a good way.

This year’s Eagles pass defense is also making history. In a worse way.

Most of the names have changed, but the issue remains the same.

The Eagles’ secondary is awful.

In the opener, Robert Griffin III – who’s averaged 226 passing yards per start in his NFL career – threw for 320 yards against the Eagles.

In Week 2, Philip Rivers – who’s averaged 249 passing yards per game in his NFL career – threw for 419 against the Eagles

On Thursday night, Alex Smith – who’s averaged 187 passing yards per start in his NFL career – threw for 273 against the Eagles.

So all three quarterbacks the Eagles have faced so far have passed for at least 86 more yards against the Eagles than their career average.

It’s not all on the secondary. A lot goes into pass defense. But three games into the 2013 season, the Eagles are allowing passing yards at a nearly unprecedented pace. And whiffed tackles, missed assignments and blown coverages by the D-backs have been at the heart of all of it.

They still haven’t faced Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers or Tony Romo, but the Eagles have allowed 1,021 passing yards, or 340 per game.

The 969 net passing yards they’ve allowed is 16th-most in NFL history through three games, 116 more than any previous defense in Eagles history and 451 more than last year’s horrible unit.

Griffin III, Rivers and Smith are only the second trio of quarterbacks to throw for 270 or more yards against the Eagles in consecutive weeks in the last 25 years. Donovan McNabb, Peyton Manning and Kerry Collins did it in 2010.

The Eagles, 1-2, are allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete a staggering 67 percent of their passes.

With Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher replacing Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique-Rodgers Cromartie, Patrick Chung replacing Kurt Coleman and Nate Allen replacing Nate Allen, it’s been a disaster so far for the Eagles’ rebuilt secondary.

“Pass defense, I've said before, is everybody,” head coach Chip Kelly said Friday. “It's generating the pass rush, not letting the quarterback feel comfortable, being close in coverage. It's a combination of all those things.

“They're growing, they're learning. It's a new system. It's a lot of new faces. It's something we'll continue to work on and coach them.”

There are a lot of new faces and a new scheme and new coaches, but a lot of teams over the years have had new faces, new schemes and new coaches.

But only 15 teams in NFL history have ever allowed more passing yards the first three weeks of the season.

And the three quarterbacks the Eagles have faced so far were ranked 21st, 22nd and 34th in the league last year in passing yards per game.

“You just have to understand that it’s a long season and that it’s any given Sunday – if you don’t execute, you don’t turn the ball over, you don’t get key stops on third downs, then you’re more prone to losing,” Williams said.

“We have to shore up some things. We have to go back to the drawing board, but we don’t give up.”

They’re already one of the worst pass defenses in NFL history through three games, and Peyton Manning is up next.

After a four-day break, the Eagles return to practice on Tuesday, and they’ll fly to Denver Saturday to face Manning and the Broncos on Sunday.

They’re already ranked 32nd in the NFL in pass defense, and they’re about to face a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Manning’s 96.1 passer rating is fourth-best in NFL history, his 60,256 yards are third-most in NFL history and his 445 touchdown passes are second.

“It's a huge challenge,” Kelly said. “He's one of the all‑time great quarterbacks in the history of the league, not just this season, he's done it for such a long time.

“He prides himself on his preparation. I think it's a huge challenge. … We got a chance to practice for two days with Tom Brady. I think that was a great experience for this football team. Get a chance to go play against someone like Peyton Manning is a huge challenge.

“If you're a competitor, you get excited about that opportunity.”

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