Eagles' defense the chief concern
MUCH MORE important to Eagles fans than how Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb will be received tonight is the issue of how much of this Eagles defense you can fix in 4 days.
Sunday was shockingly bad.
Really, the last six quarters have been shockingly bad, worse than the mess the Eagles put out there down the stretch last season. The secondary seems confused and hestitant, and the transition to 3-4 doesn't seem to be going as well for the front seven as new defensive coordinator Billy Davis might have hoped. Pass-rush pressure eventually disappeared against a pretty ordinary San Diego offensive line, the line helped by Philip Rivers getting the ball out quickly.
Players interviewed this week talked as if simple adjustments would solve it all, but players always talk this way - nobody ever says, "Nope, we're screwed, we just can't play."
What do the Eagles miss more?
|Andy Reid’s coaching|
|Donovan McNabb’s production|
|Neither: They have moved on.|
|Total votes = 2411|
"We just need to get on guys . . . It's not magic, you've just got to do it," Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin said. "They can throw a lot of 'under' routes, a little short game, quick game. That's obviously the West Coast stuff, like San Diego did, so there's some carryover. This week, if they do complete it, we need to make it just a 5-yard catch, or a 6-yard catch, or a 3-yard catch - and not a 15- or a 20-yard play."
Pro Football Focus had the Eagles with an even dozen missed tackles against San Diego, which brought back an unwelcome taste of 2012, as did that stretch of nine third-down conversions in 11 opportunities in the second half.
Eagles coach Chip Kelly was asked about the effect of the way he rotated safeties Nate Allen and Earl Wolff on Sunday, which might have made syncing up with the corners in zone coverage problematic. Kelly suggested that everyone is still trying to sync up with everyone, on a unit that is playing a new scheme with new faces.
"When you have a transition, there are growing pains," Kelly said. "The only way you could is if we kept every player that was on last year's team and ran every defense."
Asked if he might eventually settle on either Allen or Wolff, the rookie whose snaps went from eight against Washington to 49 against the Chargers, Kelly said: "I don't predict the future. It's up to them and how they play. One guy running away with it continues to make plays and he'll continue to be on the field. If we're not getting the production, to do it just for the sake of continuity doesn't make sense for us."
Kansas City's Alex Smith is a different sort of quarterback than Rivers, who seemed to be channeling Peyton Manning on Sunday. Smith lacks Rivers' arm but might have better weapons and a better offensive line. He is more mobile, and he certainly has a more accomplished running back in Jamaal Charles.
Fans familiar with Reid's ways might discount the possibility of Charles being a huge problem - Andy? Run the ball? - but the coach has reinvented himself a little in a new environment. The Chiefs have rushed for 235 yards on 52 carries through two games, although 12 of the carries and 82 of the yards belong to Smith. Andy brought in former Nevada head coach Chris Ault as a consultant and is running a little of the pistol offense Ault pioneered, which the 49ers run with Smith's successor, Colin Kaepernick.
"They're running some pistol plays. I think that's playing to Alex Smith's strength - I think Alex is a mobile quarterback and a really smart guy . . . some of the passing concepts are similar to what he did here," Kelly said of Reid and his offense.
The pistol is sort of a sawed-off "shotgun," in which the quarterback is closer to the line of scrimmage, and the running back lines up directly behind him.
"The running back is basically hiding behind the quarterback," Eagles defensive lineman Bennie Logan said. "It gives the running back kind of an advantage, because he can come downhill, he can see the holes and cut quicker than he would normally do if he was in an offset back formation . . . You just have to control your block and locate the ballcarrier. You have to be patient" while waiting for the back to commit.
"You watch film, they run it a nice little amount, they pass it a nice little amount, but you really can't say going into the game what they're going to do."
Of course, Kelly could help his defense by controlling the ball more than the 19 minutes and 43 seconds the Birds had it against San Diego. But this is where we get into a philosophical tangle not unlike when Reid was here, and people would ask why he didn't run more to keep the defense off the field. Reid usually felt his best chance to win was by throwing - there were matchups he wanted to exploit, felt he had to exploit, to win. Kelly wants to run hurry-up, thinks this is the best way to score points and win, even when, as was the case Sunday, he gets a first down at the opponent's 14 with 2 1/2 minutes left.
Asked about that this week, Kelly sort of conceded that it would have been better to leave Rivers and the Chargers less than the 1:45 that remained following Alex Henery's tying field goal and kickoff. But he said his thinking was that he wanted to score a touchdown, on the first play after the first down, before the Chargers could adjust. Kelly didn't address the fact that while scoring then would have given the Eagles a four-point lead, it also would have put Rivers back out there with even more time left.
On Twitter: @LesBowen