December 4, 2012, 9:00 am
There isn’t much more anyone can say about the Eagles' pass coverage. It is so laughably bad that NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger hit the pause button on the tape and asked: “Do they really practice this?”
Take any down-on-his-luck quarterback, any guy who has lost his confidence and isn’t sure he belongs in the NFL, let him play one game against this defense and he’ll be fully cured. Who needs Dr. Phil when the Eagles' secondary is open for business?
And it is open -- wide open -- 24/7.
Take Sunday’s game, for instance …
Tony Romo came into the game as the 29th-ranked quarterback in third-down passing efficiency. He was behind Mark Sanchez and Christian Ponder and just ahead of Blaine Gabbert and Brandon Weeden. Not exactly the kind of company a veteran quarterback wants to keep.
But against the Eagles on Sunday, Romo completed 7 of 8 passes on third down, including a 23-yard touchdown to Dez Bryant. Romo was 10 for 10 on pass attempts in the second half and finished the game with 22 completions in 27 attempts for 303 yards, a quarterback rating of 150.5.
It was the sixth consecutive game in which the opposing quarterback had a passer rating higher than 120. In that time, those quarterbacks have thrown 16 touchdown passes and completed more than 75 percent of their attempts. The Eagles' defense has melted down so totally it is almost impossible to tell whether it is zone or man coverage from one play to the next.
On the 23-yard touchdown to Bryant, for example …
At the snap, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha appears to blitz but then stops. Linebacker Akeem Jordan appears to be in man coverage but DeMeco Ryans, Kurt Coleman and Nate Allen are playing zone.
“What are they doing?” Baldinger said.
“It looks like they are playing two different defenses,” former Eagle Brian Westbrook said.
“I thought it might be a zone blitz,” Baldinger said, “but the (defensive) ends aren’t dropping off so it’s not that.”
“Cover three?” Westbrook said.
Baldinger shook his head.
“Darned if I know,” he said.
One thing everyone agreed upon: The Eagles were confused. Romo slipped out of the pocket and flipped a pass to Bryant, who ran through the stumbling Eagles for a touchdown to tie the score, 17-17. Six players had a shot at Bryant but none brought him down.
Which brings us to the matter of effort …
Andy Reid keeps insisting the Eagles are giving good effort but in every game there are examples of plays in which that is not the case. On Sunday, it was evident on fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Miles Austin and Bryant.
On the first play, Austin runs a crossing pattern. Allen, the safety, should squeeze the route but he is late coming up so Austin has a clear path to the ball. After Austin makes the catch, Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie converge from either side and they have a chance to hit him at the five. Instead, they pull up and Austin glides into the end zone.
At the time, the Eagles led 24-17. They actually had a chance to win the game, yet two of their veterans did little more than wave as Austin scored the tying touchdown.
“This shouldn’t happen,” Baldinger said, freezing the tape with Austin at the five and Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie on either side. “You make the tackle there and, OK, it is a big play but it’s not a touchdown. It is goal-to-go from the five. You still have a chance to hold them to a field goal.
“How many times do you see teams get stopped there? It’s not a gimme. They might get a penalty or fumble the snap. They might run the ball and get stuffed. If the Eagles hold them to three (points) instead of seven, it’s big. But Nnamdi and DRC just let him go. Nobody on this defense finishes a play.”
It happened again on the pass to Bryant, which put Dallas ahead for the first time. The Cowboys had 2nd-and-goal from the six when Romo hit Bryant with a bubble screen. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound receiver caught the ball and outmuscled the 6-foot-2, 180-pound DRC to get into the end zone.
“Dez catches the ball at the eight,” Baldinger said. “DRC has help from Allen and linebacker Mychal Kendricks coming from the inside, so he has to take Dez’s outside leg. If he takes the outside leg then it’s three (tacklers) on one. But he lets Dez get to the outside and Dez just walks him into the end zone.”
For the fourth consecutive game, the Eagles' defense failed to produce a turnover. For the sixth consecutive game, it failed to come up with an interception. The defense has just 10 takeaways for the season.
“Nobody strips the ball, nobody gets their hands on a ball,” Baldinger said. “I’ve never seen less of a playmaking group than this (defense). Combine that with all the mental mistakes and breakdowns, it’s deadly.”
NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger, former Eagles star Brian Westbrook and CSNPhilly.com’s Ray Didinger break down every game on “Eagles Extra” on Comcast SportsNet.
E-mail Ray Didinger at email@example.com.