Eagles need to work on fundamentals
Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker scores a touchdown past Earl Wolff in the Eagles' 52-20 loss on Sunday. (AP)
The easy thing would have been for Earl Wolff to shrug it off as a nearly impossible task to begin with.
A rookie fifth-round pick making his first NFL start against a first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback at the top of his game in a stadium where he’s only lost once.
To his credit, Wolff didn’t do that.
No easy excuses from the rookie safety, who was certainly put in a very difficult position Sunday when he made his first career start against Peyton Manning and the Broncos in Denver.
Wolff, who started in place of injured Patrick Chung, said he embraced the challenge and was disappointed in the way he and the secondary played.
“That’s where I want to be,” Wolff said. “I went up against one of the best and now I know exactly what I need to work on. I’m going to be better as an individual.”
Wolff played a career-high 64 snaps Sunday, all but nine of the Eagles’ defensive snaps (see defensive film review). Those went to Kurt Coleman in mop-up time at the tail end of a 52-20 loss to the Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Wolff’s playing time has increased gradually the first month of the season, from eight snaps in the opener to 49 and 44 in the losses to the Chargers and Chiefs to a team-high 64 Sunday.
It was a virtually impossible situation for the 23-year-old from North Carolina State, and not surprisingly, Manning went after Wolff in a few key spots, mainly in the second half.
“I made some mistakes that I know I can get better at, mistakes I can correct,” Wolff said.
“As a whole team, we have to be able to do better. For me and my work ethic, I refuse to make those same mistakes over and over again, so if I have to come in early and fix them, I will. If I have to stay late after practice, I will. They’re mistakes that can be fixed and will be fixed.”
Wolf’s biggest gaffe Sunday was being out of position on a deep ball from Manning to Eric Decker that turned into a 52-yard pass play.
According to Pro Football Focus, Wolf was targetted on five passes, and Manning completed all five for 95 yards and a touchdown.
“I love Earl's energy in running around, but he's still a young rookie, just like a lot of our rookies, and he made a few mistakes,” head coach Chip Kelly said.
“Should have been in the middle of the field on that deep pass down the middle. But I love Earl's energy, and he's going to fly around and he's going to give you everything he's got. But he's still learning on the job.”
The Eagles’ beleaguered pass defense is second-worst in the NFL in passing yards allowed (1,300, four fewer than the Vikings), second-worst in completion percentage allowed (70.2 percent), fourth-worst in TDs allowed (nine) and tied for 23rd in interceptions (two).
The Eagles, 1-3, have allowed three 300-yard passers, and all four quarterbacks they’ve faced have thrown for at least 277 yards, the first time four straight QBs have passed for 270 yards against the Eagles in 27 years (David Krieg, Jim Plunkett, Neil Lomax, Steve Pelleur).
Four games in, the Eagles have allowed 1,300 net passing yards, eighth-most in NFL history after four games.
“It’s tough,” Wolff said. “It’s tough, man. Because I feel like with the guys that we have, we can really be good. Honestly. That’s how I feel. That’s how the whole team feels.
“So when you look up there an we lose 50-to-whatever it was, when we lose that bad, that’s why it really hurts, because we put the work in and we have individuals that can really play football. And we’ve just have to be better, man. We have to be better.”
The Eagles, 1-3 with a three-game losing streak and two wins in their last 16 games going back to last year, face two winless teams on the road the next two Sundays -- the Giants at the Meadowlands and then the Buccaneers in Tampa.
They’ll be back at practice Tuesday morning, about 42 hours after the Broncos scored the last of their 52 points.
“It makes you work harder,” Wolff said. “For real. It makes you work harder. Because you don’t want it to happen again. Everybody hurts. We refuse to let this happen again.”