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.
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.”