Let me get this out of the way right from the start: I don’t see the Eagles every day in practice. I don’t know nearly as much as the coaching staff, and I am not privy to the individual performance of each player on a daily basis nor do I know how each player truly grasps the concepts of the coaching staff.
Having said all that, I find it almost impossible to believe that Bradley Fletcher — and Cary Williams for that matter — is the best option to start at cornerback for the Philadelphia Eagles. Each and every game, we see Fletcher get exposed, whether it is through an inability to cover or his remarkable inability to get his head around, often leading to costly pass interference penalties — like the one that pretty much sealed the deal in the 24-14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks yesterday.
Say what you will about the call, but the fact of the matter is Fletcher didn’t get his head around. That impeded Doug Baldwin’s ability to get back to the ball, which is going to draw a flag every time. It did, and it cost the Eagles big time, as four plays later Russell Wilson connected with Baldwin again for the touchdown that put the game away.
Fletcher is not fast. He’s not fundamentally sound. And he is not a playmaker. The same can be said at times too about his counterpart, Cary Williams. Meanwhile, Brandon Boykin seems to make more big plays than any corner on the roster, and Nolan Carroll at least looks the part, if nothing else.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the Eagles’ defense would be infinitely better with Boykin and/or Carroll starting over either of the two cornerbacks, and let’s be honest, the loss to Seattle was more about Chip Kelly’s offense getting neutered by Pete Carroll’s defense, but enough is enough. If I have to see Bradley Fletcher failing to turn his head and make a play on the ball one more time, I’m going to lose my damn mind. And the Eagles will continue to lose games to the best teams in the league.
Sure, this team is good enough to beat good teams, but it’s not good enough to beat the likes of Seattle, Green Bay, New England and Denver. A lot of that has to do with the fact that the secondary simply is not good enough, particularly at the starting cornerback position.
Williams and Fletcher may not be the worst cornerbacks in the world, but they are most definitely the worst players on this Eagles defense.
And now, the five plays you may have forgotten in your Eagles- Seahawks hangover. I would have included Fletcher’s penalty, except absolutely no one will forget that.
The One Time The Spy Worked
Heading into the game, both Flethcer Cox and Connor Barwin talked about keeping Russell Wilson in the pocket and limiting the plays he could make on the move. Included in that was Barwin’s job to flip and back forth between rushing Wilson and spying him. Most of the plays in which Wilson was able to escape the pocket, he did what he usually does and made the Eagles pay.
However, on the second drive of the game for the Seahawks, Seattle faced a 3rd-and-5 at its own 34. Wilson got outside the pocket and headed toward the first-down marker. At first, it looked as though he had the angle to get to the sticks and extend the drive. That’s when Barwin came flying over, staying home on his spy duties, and wrapped up Wilson. His linebacking mate Mychal Kendricks came in to help clean up Wiison, who was stopped a yard short of the marker. On the ensuing play, Seattle punter Jon Ryan dropped a perfectly good snap, Zach Ertz recovered at the Seattle 14, and a few plays later the Eagles took a 7-0 lead courtesy of a Mark Sanchez pass to Jeremy Maclin and the extra point that followed. Big stop there by Barwin and Kendricks to get the Birds out to a lead.
What Lineman Downfield?
With the first half winding down and the Eagles somehow dodging bullets and keeping the game tied, Seattle faced a 3rd-and-13 at its own 30. Wilson had all day to throw and was scrambling around when he aired one out for a 50-yard completion to Doug Baldwin. Immediately, Chip Kelly was going bonkers on the officials — and rightfully so. Seattle offensive lineman James Carpenter was a good 20, 25 yards downfield, a clear penalty. Only the infraction went uncalled, Seattle gained a first down and flipped field position, and before the drive was through, the Seahawks added a field goal to take the lead into half.
Carpenter’s position had little to do with the actual play, but it was a clear penalty that went uncalled and extended a drive that led to points. That’s bad on the officials, but then again, what’s new there?
The Kickoff Coffin Corner
It’s no secret that the Eagles have the best special teams in the NFL, particularly in the return game. Josh Huff already has a 107-yard kickoff return for a touchdown this season, and yesterday he was able to get a lot of yards on the few return chances he had. That’s what made Steven Hauschka’s kickoff to begin the second half so valuable.
Wanting to avoid a return possibility on a cold, windy day, Hauschka drove a ball to the opposite corner Huff was lined up at, in effect squibbing it out of the end zone for a touchback and keeping the ball out of Huff’s hands. Instead of a possible good return or better field position, the Eagles began at their own 20 … and on the first play, LeSean McCoy fumbled, Earl Thomas recovered and two plays later Marshawn Lynch was left uncovered on a throwback for a touchdown. Just like that, the Seahawks had a two-score lead for their vaunted defense, and Hauschka’s ball placement played a huge role in that.
The Missed Receiver And The Missed Hold
Following the aforementioned killer pass interference by Fletcher that helped the Seahawks build a 24-14 lead, the Eagles desperately needed a good drive and some points on the board. Facing a 3rd-and-3, Mark Sanchez dropped back to pass. He had a wide open Zach Ertz past the sticks for a first down … only Sanchez looked off him too soon, missing a golden opportunity for a big play to keep the drive going and build some momentum. Instead, he went to Jeremy Maclin, who was blanketed by Richard Sherman. And by blanketed, I mean Maclin was being held pretty clearly, only the refs kept the hankies in their pockets, the pass was incomplete, and yet another drive was stalled before it could even really get started.
It’s pretty sad that the officials didn’t throw the flag after tossing that big one on Bradley Fletcher, but it would have been a moot point had Sanchez gone to the open receiver, Ertz, and gotten the first down with a completion instead.
Malcolm Jenkins’ No Good, Very Bad Drop
Malcolm Jenkins has been a revelation this season for the Eagles. He’s come up with big plays, timely takeaways and sound tackling. Without him, the Philadelphia secondary would be beyond a laughingstock. But yesterday was not one of Jenkins’ best days. He was beat several times in coverage — though he did have the difficult task of covering wide receivers one on one as a safety — including Baldwin’s touchdown grab. And when he had a golden opportunity late to flip the momentum and miraculously bring the Eagles within a field goal, he dropped the ball. Literally.
With just under eight minutes left and the Eagles trailing 24-14, Wilson unleashed a pass that Jenkins sniffed out immediately. He jumped the rout, and the ball was perfectly thrown to him. There was no one between Jenkins and the end zone. The pick six would have completely changed the game and given Philadelphia the first shot of adrenaline since early in the game, not to mention bring the Birds within a field goal. But Jenkins dropped it, and with that drop went any hopes of a comeback. As I said, Jenkins has been far and away the best secondary player for the Eagles this year, but he had a rough go of it yesterday.
The game was another sober reminder that the Eagles just aren’t quite there yet. They’re a very good team, no doubt, and have full control over their destiny. They are still the front-runners for the NFC East, and with a victory next week against the Dallas Cowboys, they have every opportunity to put themselves in a great position for the postseason.
But as the meltdown in Green Bay showed and yesterday’s performance reinforced, the Eagles can’t beat the best of the best just yet. They were defeated by a better team, plain and simple, and until they can beat the Packers and Seahawks of the world, the Eagles won’t be hoisting any Lombardi Trophies or even owning the conference. And they won’t be beating the cream of the crop with the likes of Fletcher and Williams starting on the outside.