Missed chances: A departure from the Philadelphia Eagles’ positivity train

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /
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Philadelphia Eagles
Philadelphia Eagles /

Despicable D

This secondary is absolutely pitiful. The Eagles lost this game due to several factors, but the struggles all season have stemmed from this area. We were all excited because the secondary “looked good” in the first half today, but Cam Newton only threw the ball nine times.

The Panthers only possessed the ball for 10:46 and most of that came via Christian McCaffrey, Cam, and company running the ball. Clearly, Ron Rivera didn’t get the memo that you simply have to call as many passing plays as possible and you’ll eventually burn this Eagles defense.

The first drive in the fourth quarter seemed harmless, though it featured seven completed passes in nine attempts out of 11 total plays, and Graham Gano missed an extra point. Sure, the shutout was over but we still had the game in hand.

The next Panther possession Cam started to really pick apart this hapless pass defense. First, he bullied Mills on a pass to Torrey Smith on the sideline. Jordan Hicks followed that up with a miserably failed attempt to pick up Jarius Wright, allowing him to run wide open down the middle of the field as he and Newton connect for a gain of 25.

Two players later, Devin Funchess literally broke Ronald Darby’s ankles as Darby fell to the ground after biting on a double move, stumbling to regain his footing while Newton floated the ball to a wide open Funchess in the end zone for the score. Carolina completed the two-point conversion and the game now separated by a mere field goal.

It’s at this point that I really started to worry.

After a quick Eagles three-and-out, the Panthers had the ball in their hands again. Three forced incompletions in a row by the Eagles secondary left me unwisely believing in them once more, the Panthers down to their last hope, gasping for air.

Carolina, on fourth-and-10 from their own 31-yard line, felt the heat as the Birds front four brought the pressure. Brandon Graham held Newton in his grasp for the sack, but the elusive quarterback escaped the rush and somehow got the pass off as Michael Bennett sent him into the ground and completed it to former Eagles Torrey Smith who eluded a wimpy grab from Mills and tacked on yards after the catch for a 35 yard gain to the Eagles 34.

To me, that’s when this game ended.

How in god’s name can you have Newton all but sacked twice in one play and make sure that everyone is covered? It’s fourth-and-10, rush the front four and sit everyone else back in coverage, right? Some may blame Schwartz for this one, and he did drop into a conservative defense all fourth quarter instead of stepping on the Panthers neck, but on this particular play he had everyone in the right position.

The play was a disastrous breakdown on behalf of two specific individuals. The first: linebacker Jordan Hicks, who came back with a strong performance last week against the Giants but faltered big time down the stretch today. First the mishap on the prior possession with Wright, now this.

Hicks was sitting in the middle of the field as the spy, there to act as the last resort should Cam break away for a run. All he had to do was sit at the first down marker and understand that he only storm towards Newton if he clearly beat the front four.

Fletcher Cox, Derek Barnett, and Bennett were all closing in on Cam when Hicks decided to leave his position and join the rush. At that time Newton was nine yards behind the line of scrimmage and he was still 16 yards away from the first down marker when he released the ball. Hicks should’ve camped out at the 40-yard-line and crowded the passing lanes forcing Newton to squeeze the ball through a tighter window.

The second player who allowed this monstrosity to occur was none other than Jalen Mills. Mills faces criticism week after week for poor coverage, too many penalties and generally lacking the necessary speed and athleticism to be a successful cornerback in the league. This was on display, front and center, on the fourth-and-10 debacle.

Mills lined up across from Smith and within five yards was burnt like marshmallow placed too close to the campfire as he stumbled to keep up with the speedy receiver. As he left the visible portion of the screen, Mills was an arm’s length away from Smith. Somehow, four Cam Newton steps later, Smith created nearly seven yards of separation.

All he could do was make an incredibly weak reach (not even close to a tackle attempt) after the catch with his left arm as Smith bullied Mills with a stiff arm, left newly acquired Dexter McDougle devouring his jock strap with one juke move and broke away for the additional yardage.

They had one last chance on another third-and-2 to hold the Panthers to a field goal and possibly force overtime, but again Hicks pounced towards the quarterback before realizing his man, McCafferty, already released and was en route to a 22-yard pickup and a first down at the Birds four.

Three plays later no one accounted for three-time Pro Bowler Greg Olsen, who was only in his second game back after nursing a foot injury, and the Panthers took every last bit of wind out of the roaring crowd’s sails along with the lead.

Yes, the Eagles missed Sidney Jones. They also missed Rodney McLeod again. But those two players would not magically fix this horrific pass defense. If this front office isn’t prepared to make a move for a corner or a safety, we are going to watch the same mistakes occur on repeat, week after week.

Rookie Avonte Maddox is a natural cornerback. Play him there. Jalen Mills is a natural safety. Now granted, I personally would rather not see the field at all, but if he’s going to play, play him at safety.  I guarantee you if Patrick Peterson is lined up at corner in that game, we win. I guarantee that if Karl Joseph is at safety and Maddox at corner, we win.

The only player outside of the front four that we must retain is Malcolm Jenkins. Everyone else is expendable and it’s time to start spending. Ronald Darby may be worth keeping but for every stellar performance, he squeezes in two questionably atrocious outings.

In Hicks’ first fully healthy season (knock on wood, knock on wood) some of his flaws are being exposed. The secondary can’t be resembling a skimpy slice of swiss cheese if your linebacking core isn’t a brick wall.

As I mentioned before, Schwartz’s decision to switch to a conservative prevent defense in the second half played a major role in the historic collapse, but if there are more competent players in the secondary perhaps the prevent defense is effective. I don’t by any means condone his toning back the rush from the beastly front four, but until this team makes a change in the secondary, it’s going to happen over and over again.

The craziest part of this whole debacle is that, despite the feeling of having your head shoved in a toilet and swirled for 13 minutes of football, the Eagles offense had one last chance to be the hero.