Big plays haunt Eagles' defense again in loss to Ravens

Big plays haunt Eagles' defense again in loss to Ravens

BALTIMORE – They play great for a series. They play great for two series. Good pressure. Shut down the run. Big hits. Terrific tackling. Solid coverage.

They look like a real, live NFL defense.

Then, invariably, disaster.

Teams aren’t really grinding out long drives against the Eagles. They're crushing the Eagles with big plays.

The Eagles had already allowed the third-most plays of 30 yards or more in the NFL going into this weekend, and they allowed an offensively challenged Ravens team to hit on four more of them.

The Ravens had hit on just 16 plays of 30 yards or more in their first 13 games before clicking on four Sunday against the Eagles

So with two games left, the Eagles have allowed a staggering 30 offensive plays of at least 30 yards.

The Eagles actually passed the Browns, who allowed only one big play in their loss to the Bills, and moved into a tie for last in the NFL with the Raiders, who gave up one 30-yarder in their win over the Chargers.

So 14 weeks into the season, no team in the NFL has allowed more 30-yard plays than the Eagles.

“It’s never going to be perfect, but you can’t let the imperfections turn into 40-yard runs, 50-yard runs, 60-yard touchdowns,” Jordan Hicks said. “You can’t let that happen.”

The Ravens hit one big play in each quarter Sunday in their 27-26 win over the Eagles (see Instant Replay).

Michael Campanaro’s 39-yard run in the first quarter set up a field goal, Joe Flacco’s 34-yard pass to Steve Smith went for a touchdown, Terrance West’s 41-yard run opened up the third quarter, and Flacco added a 54-yard completion to Mike Wallace in the fourth quarter.

The Eagles neutralized the damage on the last one when Hicks picked off Flacco on what John Harbaugh said was the worst play call he ever saw.

But the point is no defense can keep allowing these sort of plays — chunk plays, X plays, whatever you want to call them — at this rate and expect to win football games (see Roob's 10 observations from the loss).

“If there’s one place that we can improve, it’s definitely the big plays,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “That’s in the run game and in the pass game. It’s not just one group, it’s the entire defense.”

True. Two of the Ravens’ big plays Sunday were runs. Two were passes. It’s not just the secondary, it’s not just the linebackers, it’s not just the defensive line.

When you’re this bad at preventing teams to strike deep, it’s definitely a group effort.

“If you play an aggressive-style defense, big plays are going to come,” Jenkins said. “So limit the ones that you do give up and find a way to get them on the ground and live to fight another day.”

But they haven’t been able to do that.

Teams aren’t hitting a ton of little plays against the Eagles but they’re killing the Eagles with big plays.

That’s why you have this seeming anomaly where the Eagles are actually allowing the 12th-fewest yards per game in the NFL but have allowed the most big plays.

Let’s take the Ravens on Sunday. They ran 57 plays and netted 340 yards. But nearly half those yards — 168 of them — came on four plays.

It’s all or nothing.

And all is winning.

The Eagles are 5-9 for a lot of reasons but allowing a staggering number of big plays is one of the biggest.

And they’re also among the top three in the NFL allowing plays of 40 yards or more (16) and 50 yards or more (nine).

This was all supposed to end when the Eagles upgraded their secondary and moved on from Bill Davis.

It hasn’t.

And if this is ever going to be an elite defense, these X plays have to stop.

The Eagles have allowed 26 or more points in five straight games for only the their time in franchise history.

You know what the culprit is.

“Yeah, man, it’s difficult,” said safety Rodney McLeod, who’s been on the wrong end of too many big plays lately. “I felt early in the season a few of those plays happened, but we were able to overcome them.

“But down the stretch, those plays have come back to haunt us. We have to figure out what we have to do to stop then. We just can’t allow them to keep happening.”

You expect inconsistency from the offense. They’re young, they’re banged up, they’re still learning.

This is a veteran defense. And a healthy defense. With a supposed elite front four.

They’re not supposed to be allowing big play after big play after big play.

“You want to play a solid game, where you’re not giving up big chunks,” said Hicks, who picked up his fifth interception in 22 career games Sunday deep in Eagles territory.

“Big chunks kill you. They flip field position and they’re huge for momentum. It’s big for us. It’s something we have to fix.”

Eagles snap counts: Rasul Douglas odd man out of secondary against Cowboys

Eagles snap counts: Rasul Douglas odd man out of secondary against Cowboys

For the first time since he was inactive in Week 1, Rasul Douglas didn't play a single defensive snap Sunday night against the Cowboys. 

Despite playing well over the last couple months, as expected, Douglas was the odd man out after the return of Ronald Darby. The fewest snaps Douglas played in any of the last eight games was 18. He rode the bench for Sunday's 37-9 win at AT&T Stadium (see Roob's observations)

Darby was able to play all 63 snaps, likely thanks to working on conditioning all week (see story). Darby took his snaps at the right cornerback position, while Jalen Mills manned the left side and also played all 63. Patrick Robinson played 43 snaps (68 percent). 

When Robinson wasn't on the field, Joe Walker was the Eagles' MIKE in their base package. He played 20 snaps (32 percent). 

Malcolm Jenkins and Nigel Bradham also played all 63 defensive snaps for the Eagles' defense. 

Derek Barnett had a strong game with two sacks. He played 32 snaps, just two fewer than starter Vinny Curry. 

On offense, LeGarrette Blount led the running backs with 30 snaps, followed by Corey Clement (19), Jay Ajayi (13) and Kenjon Barner (2). Barner made the most of his snaps, grabbing a huge catch and running for a touchdown (see story)

Ajayi actually played fewer snaps this week than he did in his Eagles debut (17 against Denver). 

This was the first time since Week 2 that Carson Wentz and all of his linemen played every snap. On Sunday that meant 64. 

Brandon Brooks - 64 snaps (100 percent)
Halapoulivaati Vaitai - 64 (100)
Stefen Wisniewski - 64 (100)
Jason Kelce - 64 (100)
Brandon Brooks - 64 (100)
Lane Johnson - 64 (100)
Zach Ertz - 60 (94)
Alshon Jeffery - 47 (73)
Nelson Agholor - 47 (73)
Torrey Smith - 42 (66)
LeGarrette Blount - 30 (47)
Brent Celek - 23 (36)
Corey Clement - 19 (30)
Trey Burton - 13 (20)
Marcus Johnson - 13 (20)
Jay Ajayi - 13 (20)
Mack Hollins - 10 (16)
Kenjon Barner - 2 (3)
Isaac Seumalo - 1 (2)

Malcolm Jenkins - 63 snaps (100 percent)
Jalen Mills - 63 (100)
Ronald Darby - 63 (100)
Nigel Bradham - 63 (100)
Rodney McLeod - 60 (95)
Mychal Kendricks - 56 (89)
Fletcher Cox - 46 (73)
Brandon Graham - 44 (70)
Patrick Robinson - 43 (68)
Vinny Curry - 34 (54)
Derek Barnett - 32 (51) 
Chris Long - 31 (49)
Tim Jernigan - 30 (48)
Joe Walker - 20 (32)
Destiny Vaeao - 20 (32)
Beau Allen - 15 (24)
Corey Graham - 10 (16)

Eagles unleash 4-headed RB monster vs. Cowboys

Eagles unleash 4-headed RB monster vs. Cowboys

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Forget the three-headed monster of 2003. The Eagles have somehow invented a four-headed monster. And somehow it works.

On Sunday, the Eagles got contributions from four running backs in their 37-9 demolition of the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium (see Roob's observations). And that’s not supposed to happen.

New acquisition Jay Ajayi again showed tremendous explosiveness, gaining 84 of his 91 yards in the second half, including a 71-yard scamper run to set up a third-quarter TD. LeGarrette Blount had his best game in a while with 57 yards on 13 carries. 

Rookie Corey Clement once again did his thing, rushing just six times for 50 yards and a touchdown and also catching a two-point conversion. And even Kenjon Barner had a role Sunday night, with a career-long 22-yard catch and then his first touchdown of the season to open the game.

Four backs in uniform. All contributed. Not easy to do.

"Those guys all bring a different skill set," Carson Wentz said. "They do such a good job. The big boys up front lead the way with that. We can spread those guys out and use them at what they're best at. They make my job a heck of a lot easier."

Ajayi was getting 20 carries per game with the Dolphins. He has only 15 in two games with the Eagles but has certainly made the most of them. 

He’s the third player in NFL history with consecutive games of eight or fewer carries and 77 or more rushing yards. Former Eagle Felix Jones did it for the Cowboys in 2009 and Warren Williams for the Steelers in 1990.

Ajayi is also the first Eagle since Ricky Watters in 1996 with runs from scrimmage of 45 yards or more in consecutive games.

“It’s different,” Ajayi said. “It’s definitely not what I’m used to, but at the same time, it’s exciting to see all of us make plays. For me, whenever the number is called, just make your plays count and take advantage of your opportunities."

Sunday’s game was the Eagles’ first in 56 years in which three running backs each ran for at least 50 yards.

Last time it happened was also in Dallas — at the Cotton Bowl. On Oct. 22, 1961, Billy Ray Barnes [89 yards], Timmy Brown [66] and Ted Dean [76] did it in a 43-7 win over the Cowboys.

“Everybody has their role,” Clement said. “I have a specific role, LaGarrette, (Wendell) Smallwood, Kenyon, Jay, we’re not selfish out there. To have four guys in the rotation, it means a lot because defenses really can’t keep up with the style of running that we have.”

When training camp began, Blount was the No. 1 back and Darren Sproles, Smallwood and rookie Donnel Pumphrey were next in line. Of that group, only Blount was even in uniform Sunday night.

And they still ran for 215 yards, including 180 in the second half.

Ajayi and Barner both joined the team during the season, and Clement just keeps earning more and more playing time and more and more touches as an undrafted rookie. Blount has the fifth-highest per-carry average in the NFL among backs with at least 100 carries.

It’s a unique group. They each have different skill sets and they each have different roles and they each seem to genuinely not care who makes the big play.

And judging by the laughs and good-natured ribbing and trash talk in the locker room after Sunday's win, they all genuinely like each other.

“We’re all focused on ‘we,’ we’re not focused on ‘I,’” Barner said. “We all understand our roles, we all want to see the other guys do well, and we’re all unselfish. It starts with (position coach) Duce (Staley), who really sets the tone in the (meeting) room.”

The Eagles are now second in the NFL with 145 rushing yards per game, second only to the Jaguars' 161. They're tied for fourth at 4.6 yards per run

Their 2,313 rushing yards are their most through 10 games since 1949, when they had 2,317.

And they're doing it all without anybody on pace to rush for 900 yards.

“It all starts with preparation and everybody knows their role,” Blount said. “Everybody has a significant role on this team. All the backs do — me, Jay, Wendell, Corey, Kenjon, all the way down. Everybody has a role and they’re good at it and they all embrace it."