Safety Nate Allen did lead the Eagles with 10 tackles, but also had a rough afternoon, getting called for a 15-yard facemask and briefly getting knocked dizzy before he began sharing time with rookie Earl Wolff. (USA Today Images)
The Eagles still have a safety dilemma.
They start Nate Allen, and the veteran doesn’t make plays. They sub in Earl Wolff, and he has good and bad moments. They scour the free-agent wire to see if there’s someone out there who can upgrade the position.
“Right now? There ain’t any safeties on the street,” Kelly said. “I can tell you that. So we're going to play with the ones we've got.”
Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis did precisely that again Sunday against San Diego, starting Allen but rotating in Wolff, the rookie from N.C. State picked in the fifth round. Wolff, who logged just eight snaps in the opener against Washington, saw an increase in playing time against the Chargers.
Wolff seemed to have better moments than Allen, who got steamrolled by Chargers running back Ryan Mathews on San Diego’s first play from scrimmage and somehow drew a 15-yard facemask penalty on the same play.
But nobody in the secondary, or from the front seven, can pat themselves on the back after the Eagles gave up 539 total yards and lost, 33-30 (see story). If there’s going to be a personnel change on defense before Thursday’s game against Kansas City, it’ll be Wolff starting over Allen and playing more reps.
Kelly said he and Davis would evaluate personnel like they always do but didn’t drop any hints of an imminent change.
“It's not just a defensive thing,” he said. “We left points out there offensively, too. We've got to do a better job of that, and we also missed a field goal. So I think our offense and special teams contributed to the loss just as well as our defense did [Sunday].”
After the game, Allen was asked if rampant platooning makes it tough for either safety to develop a feel for the game.
“That can happen sometimes,” he said, “but that’s why you gotta stay in it while you’re on the sideline. The main thing is staying in it, mentally.”
Allen came out in the first half after colliding with safety Patrick Chung while trying to tackle Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, who was a matchup nightmare for the entire Eagles defense. Allen said he felt woozy for a bit but was examined on the sideline, passed his evaluation, and eventually returned.
Wolff saw his most extensive action after Allen came out. He also came in when Chung played the slot after some injuries at cornerback. Suddenly, in his second career game, Wolff found himself guarding an all-pro tight end and reading the eyes of a Pro Bowl quarterback who was en route to a 400-yard passing effort.
"I worry about my assignment and try not to really get caught up in who the player is on the other side,” Wolff said. “Just go out there and focus on what I'm supposed to do on the play."
Allen actually led the Eagles with 10 tackles, although it’s usually not a good sign about the effectiveness of your overall defense when your safety leads the team in tackles. He also had a pass breakup. Wolff was credited with five tackles on defense and another on special teams.
"I felt pretty comfortable,” Wolff said. “I got into a pretty good rhythm, even though I was alternating in and out. I'm just trying to take advantage of each and every rep I get. It might be eight, it might be 30, it might be 50, so I’m always ready to go in."
Asked to grade his effort, Allen said he played, “OK.”
“There are things I can work on, things I can correct,” Allen said. “We all did some things well and some things not too well. I’m just going to keep learning from this and move forward.”