Philadelphia Eagles: Corey Graham’s mistakes cost Philly a win

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

In his first start of the season at free safety, Corey Graham was a major liability for the Philadelphia Eagles defense in their overtime loss.

When Rodney McLeod went down with a season-ending MCL tear, we knew the Philadelphia Eagles were going to miss him, but boy, who expected this?

In his first start in midnight green, after joining the Eagles last summer, Corey Graham received a major uptick in playing time in the Eagles’ overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans and consistently found himself in the wrong position play after play.

Filling McLeod’s role as a deep center fielder, Graham routinely inched forward from his spot, often finding himself out of position as a result.

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And when a deep safety is out of position, you’re going to give up some big plays.

Not once, not twice, but three times receivers flew down the field for would-be big plays with no over the top help for one-on-one corners to be found. Though two of these plays didn’t turn into catches, one resulted in an early flag, and the other gave Corey Davis a 51-yard completion on the way to a 161-yard game.

That’s just excusable.

But wait, there’s more. In overtime, on what should have been the final play of the game, Graham allowed his man to whiz past him on a fourth-and-17, resulting in a new set of downs that ultimately lead to a game-winning touchdown.

Final score 26-23 Titans.

Don’t get me wrong, Graham has at times been a very solid veteran presence in a relatively young secondary, but he typically does so on a pitch count. When logging roughly 30 percent of the defensive snaps, Graham’s versatility and experience playing both cornerback and safety can be invaluable, but when he’s asked to log 90 percent of the defensive snaps, his declining athleticism becomes a serious liability.

While safeties don’t necessarily have to be 4.3 speedsters, recovery speed is essential when playing in a single high formation. Though Graham’s instincts are sound, he simply doesn’t have the athleticism needed to fill McLeod’s role.

But unfortunately, if not him then who?

With only one other safety, Deiondre’ Hall on the roster, it’s not like Philly could simply spell him with a backup. Though they did try various combinations of defensive backs to keep the defense guessing, leading to Avonte Maddox‘s first interception as a pro, McLeod’s absence was on full display in overtime.

And the worst part? it doesn’t look like the situation is going to change anytime soon.

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With no true starter level replacement available on the open market, as Eric Reid just signed with the Panthers earlier this week, Eagles will likely have to look in-house for a schematic replacement that helps keep Graham and Malcolm Jenkins in roles they thrive in closer to the line of scrimmage.

Whether that be Hall, Rasul Douglas, or even a practice squad player like Tre Sullivan, if Philly’s going to win games down the stretch, they need to find a way to replace Rodney McLeod as soon as possible.

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Sure it was only one game, but does anyone really need to see more of Corey Graham at free safety to know he can no longer be a full-time starter? Philly, we may have a problem.