Philadelphia Eagles pass defense continues to be exploited

By Ed Kracz, The Sports Xchange
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) makes a catch during the second half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles on September 6 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Photo by Derik Hamilton/UPI
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) makes a catch during the second half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles on September 6 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Photo by Derik Hamilton/UPI | License Photo

It isn't easy these days to play pass defense in the NFL, with the new rules protecting the quarterbacks and defensive backs unable to so much as breath on a receiver without fear of being flagged for holding or pass interference.

The Eagles, though, must find a way to do it better than they have so far in allowing three receivers in four games to burn them for more than 100 yards. The latest was Corey Davis, who had 161 yards receiving in the Tennessee Titans' 26-23 overtime in over the Eagles on Sunday. He follows on the heels of Atlanta's Julio Jones (169) and Tampa Bay's DeSean Jackson (129).


"Until we can address it and fix it and get better at it and practice, as you guys know, teams will continue to do it," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said about team's throwing the ball all over his defense. "It's like if a team can't stop the run, keep running. And that's just where we are right now."


Pederson, who met with reporters at his Monday press conference, said he and his staff will evaluate certain defensive positions and players this week, but that is not something new. Conversations about personnel happen weekly. Now, though, the conversations may take on a heightened sense of urgency.

"We have to be careful that we are not just on a whim swapping people out," the coach said. "If you start doing that, it starts moving other people around as well. We're going to take these next couple of days and really evaluate everybody, evaluate us as coaches, too, and see if there's a change to be made, we'll make it. If not, then we'll leave it alone.

Expect a conversation regarding cornerback Jalen Mills, who once again was targeted often and failed to respond on throws of 28 yards and 51 yards from Marcus Mariota to Davis. Mills was also flagged for pass interference for the third time in the last two games.

Sidney Jones is a second-round draft pick from a year ago, and probably would have been a first rounder had he not ruptured an Achilles tendon in his pro day workout leading up to the draft. Jones, who is getting snaps at the inside slot corner spot, isn't immune to struggles. He was in bad position on one Mariota TD throw. But inside slot is a position Jones never played at the University of Washington, so he could be moved to his more natural home outside in place of Mills, who was a seventh-round selection in 2016.


Pederson has repeatedly stuck up for Mills and did so again on Monday.

"These corners are on islands a lot," he said. "I think I look at it from an offensive perspective. When you see a guy that maybe you can attack, you try to attack and that is what offenses are doing right now. ... he is working through it, he'll get better and we'll get better as a team."

Mills needs to get better quickly with the Minnesota Vikings set to visit Philly on Sunday. The Vikings have Kirk Cousins at the controls of an offense that has wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Cousins has thrown for 1,387 yards with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions this season for a passer rating of 103.6. Thielen leads the Vikings with 40 catches for 473 yards and two touchdowns with Diggs checking in with 27 receptions for 311 yards and three scores.

It didn't help the Eagles that they played their first game on Sunday without safety Rodney McLeod, who had knee surgery and landed on IR just days before the game in Tennessee. In his place, the Eagles had 33-year-old veteran Corey Graham play all 71 snaps with rookie cornerback Avonte Maddox getting his first NFL defensive snaps as a third safety ahead of the more experienced Deondre' Hall.


Graham, who was effective on last year's Super Bowl team playing just 36 percent of the defensive snaps, was beaten badly on a fourth-and-15 throw in overtime from Mariota to Taywan Taylor for a 19-yard completion that kept alive Tennessee's game-winning march.

Maddox, who played just corner at the University of Pittsburgh, was beaten by Davis on the game-winning touchdown throw.

Pederson said there is no plan at this time to add another safety from outside the organization. Pickings are slim, anyway, especially after Seattle's Earl Thomas broke his leg on Sunday and is out for the rest of the season.

So the Eagles may need to get creative or continue to go through Maddox's growing pains.

Pederson equated Maddox's learning on the job to offensive tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who was thrown into action as a rookie when Lane Johnson got suspended then took over midway through last year when Jason Peters tore an ACL early in the season.

"I go back to thinking about Big V (Vaitai) when he made his first start a couple of years ago," said Pederson. "It was shaky and then the next week he got better, and it just got better as the weeks went on. So that is kind of where Avonte is going to get to. He'll be better this week, he'll be better the next week the more reps he gets, better opportunities for him."


--WR Alshon Jeffery had eight catches for 105 yards Sunday in his first game since having offseason surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, marking the first time he eclipsed 100 yards as an Eagle. His 16-yard touchdown catch was his 13th since joining the Eagles last season.

--WR Jordan Matthews' 56-yard touchdown catch was his 20th overall as an Eagle, dating back to the 2014 season.

--TE Zach Ertz had 10 catches for 112 yards, which is franchise-record seventh career game with 10-plus receptions as well as his seventh career game with 100 more receiving yards.

--CB Avonte Maddox, a rookie fourth-round pick from the University of Pittsburgh, notched his first career interception and returned it 23 yards late in the fist half to set up a 27-yard field goal by Jake Elliott to give the Eagles a 10-3 lead.

--S Corey Graham played all 71 defensive snaps due to the season-ending knee injury to Rodney McLeod. Last year, Graham played just 36 percent of the defensive snaps.

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