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.”

What you need to know for Eagles-Vikings tailgate

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What you need to know for Eagles-Vikings tailgate

Several parking lots outside the Linc will open as early as 11:30 a.m. Sunday for fans who require extra time preparing for kickoff for the NFC Championship Game.

The Wells Fargo Center lots as well as the M and N lots — located just east of the stadium — and the P lot, next to Citizens Bank Park, are scheduled to open at 11:30 a.m., the Eagles announced.

The Linc's K lot, just north of the stadium, will open at 1 p.m.

The Citizens Bank Park lots are scheduled to open at 3 p.m.

Gates to the Head House Plaza open at 3:30 p.m. and the inner gates to the stadium open at 4:30 p.m. Located on the north end of the stadium, The Head House Plaza offers outdoor bars, food stands, live music and numerous other pregame activities for fans arriving early. It also includes an entrance to the Eagles Pro Shop.

The Eagles and Vikings kick off the NFC Championship Game at 6:40 p.m.

Eagles-Vikings NFC Championship Game predictions

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Eagles-Vikings NFC Championship Game predictions

Another week, another game with the Eagles being the underdog.

After a dominant defensive performance in a 15-10 win over the Falcons in the divisional round, the Eagles will welcome the No. 2 seed Vikings to the Linc for the NFC Championship Game (6:40 p.m. on FOX).

Despite the Eagles being the No. 1 seed and having home-field advantage, Minnesota is the favorite to advance and play the Super Bowl on their home field in Minneapolis.

Our analysts all had the Birds winning last week. This week, we’ll see who has the Eagles advancing to Super Bowl LII.

Reuben Frank (15-2)
Two great defenses blah blah blah. Underdogs blah blah blah. Carson Wentz got hurt blah blah blah. Forget all the storylines you've heard this week, and say these 16 words out loud with me: "Case Keenum is not going to come into the Linc and win the NFC Championship Game." OK, LOUDER: "CASE KEENUM IS NOT GOING TO COME INTO THE LINC AND WIN THE NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME." Maybe I'd feel differently if the Vikings were home or if a future Hall of Famer like Drew Brees were coming to town, but you're talking about a relatively inexperienced quarterback who plays his home games in a dome coming into South Philadelphia and dealing with crowd noise, changing weather, a hostile environment and a ferocious defense that's allowed five touchdowns and 9.2 points per game in its last six home games. I don't think Case Keenum can handle what he's about to face Sunday afternoon. I think we're all headed to Minneapolis. 

Eagles 18, Vikings 9

Dave Zangaro (14-3)
I never thought this day would come, if I'm being honest. If you told me in the summer the Eagles were going to be in the NFC Championship Game, I wouldn't have believed you. 

If you would have told me they were going to be in the NFC Championship Game without Carson Wentz, Jason Peters, Jordan Hicks, Darren Sproles, Chris Maragos and Caleb Sturgis, I would have told you that you were crazy. 

Now, I'm the crazy one. Because despite all of that and despite the Eagles' technically being the underdogs in this game, I think they're going to win it. 

Had the Saints won last Sunday, I probably wouldn't think that. The thought of Brees coming to town would have been enough for me to pick against the Birds. But then the Minnesota Miracle happened and as great as it was for the Vikings, it could end up being great for the Eagles too. 

Sure, the Vikings are a really good team and maybe they have the best statistical defense in the league and maybe Case Keenum will never come back to Earth. But the Eagles have a pretty good defense too, a good defense that's even better at home. Nick Foles doesn't need to be Wentz, but he will need to make some big-time throws Sunday; I think he does. I think the defense clamps down at home. I think this improbable run somehow keeps going. 

I think the Eagles are going to the Super Bowl. 

Eagles 18, Vikings 13

Derrick Gunn (14-3)
These two teams mirror each other so much. Both are guided by quarterbacks who were backups on their depth charts when this long journey began. Both have defenses that can clamp down on opposing offenses. Both with identical records. And both have never won a Super Bowl (Vikings 0-4, Eagles 0-2). 

For Foles, it's imperative that he stays within himself. Stick to the short, high-percentage passing game and hopefully get some much-needed help from the run game. 

Against the Falcons, the Eagles had 49 yards rushing in the opening quarter but only 47 the rest of the game against Atlanta's ninth-ranked run defense. 

Minnesota's defense is ranked No. 1 overall, No. 2 against the run, No. 2 against the pass and No. 1 in points allowed. 

The Eagles' defensive front has to get to Keenum before he can find Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Both are excellent route runners with exceptional hands. What a matchup up this is. Pat Shurmur's offense against Jim Schwartz's defense. 

I've gone back and forth all week on who will win this game in what could be your basic backyard brawl. So what I came up with is this: In the final seconds of the game, the Eagles will be down one point when Jake Elliott gets the call and nails a 50-yarder as time expires. Eagles win and dance their way to the Super Bowl.

Eagles 23, Vikings 21

Ray Didinger (15-2)
Offenses are scoring at a record pace and yardage totals keep mounting. The typical NFL Sunday is all about the point totals climbing and fantasy owners cashing in. But now we're in the post-season and this is when the defense flexes its muscles. This is when scores go down and hitting picks up.

When the Eagles and Vikings meet for the NFC championship, it will be all about defense. The Vikings allowed the fewest points (15.8 per game) and fewest yards (276 per game) during the regular season. The Eagles allowed the fewest yards rushing (79 per game) and allowed just 26 points in the last three games, including the 15-10 win over Atlanta in the divisional playoff.

The Vikings had the best defense in the league on third down allowing 25.2 percent conversions. The Eagles defense was equally stingy at home (26.6 percent). The key to winning this game on the offensive side will be avoiding negative plays. A sack, a penalty, anything that creates a third-and-long situation will kill a drive. A five-yard run will be a big play in this game.

I think the Eagles pressure will eventually get to Keenum and that will be the difference.

Eagles 16, Vikings 13

Andrew Kulp (14-3)
The Vikings are a vastly better team than the Falcons in 2017-18, so I'm not sure I quite understand the confidence in the Eagles locally. Nonetheless, I tend to agree with the notion that it's hard to pick Keenum at Lincoln Financial Field in the NFC Championship.

Home-field has and will continue to be a big advantage for the Eagles. The crowd will rattle Keenum the way it did Matt Ryan last week, while simultaneously allowing Foles and the Birds' offense to communicate protection calls against the Vikings' exotic pressure packages.

Compare the two rosters side by side, and they're relatively close in terms of talent. It's pretty much a coin flip. The fans are what move the needle here. Plus, the way this entire season has gone, how can anybody around here possibly pick against the Eagles?

Eagles 26, Vikings 17

Corey Seidman (12-4)
Equal QBs. Eagles have the run game advantage. Vikings have the better WR group. Eagles have the better TEs and offensive line. Vikings have the better secondary. 

This one feels like an extremely close game. But with homefield advantage and a better kicker, I’m 52 percent confident the Eagles pull it out and advance to the Super Bowl. 

(Wouldn’t it be the most Philly thing ever, though, if the Jaguars upset the Patriots, Eagles fans go crazy, and then the Birds lose?) 

Eagles 13, Vikings 10