The Philadelphia Eagles' defense was supposed to make fewer mistakes this season. And while we don't want to overreact to one half of one preseason game, what took place Thursday against Pittsburgh felt a whole lot like what was happening in Philly last September. Let's take a look at some of the problems the Eagles had on specific defensive snaps against the Steelers.
Let's start with the first freakin' play of the game. Here's where it's obvious the play is going to Isaac Redman in the right flat. Look where Brian Rolle (52) and DeMeco Ryans (59) are.
Less than two seconds later, when Redman has already caught the ball and moved five yards, here's where Rolle and Ryans are:
How does that even happen? Rolle took a bad line to the ball and was easily blocked out of position, removing Ryans from the play as well. And boom, five-yard gain. Good linebackers don't let that happen.
A few plays later, on a 2nd-and-5. Just like Rolle, Jaiquawn Jarrett doesn't make a mistake, but he just doesn't pursue the ball-carrier well.
First, he bites on play-action and gets tied up temporarily by an offensive lineman.
And then he recovers just in time to get blocked out by Maurkice Pouncey, who manages to push Jarrett back a full five yards before he assists on the tackle. First down Steelers.
A few players later, this time on a big 4th-and-1. Watch Rolle, whom I've highlighted again:
The line gets good penetration up the middle, but everyone else bails. Rolle does a Superman impression, over-committing and leaving the ground. That opens things up for Redman on the left side. All he has to do is cut once and it's a first down.
And then later in the first quarter, Jonathan Dwyer takes a delayed handoff from Byron Leftwich. And again, the Eagles have linebackers and safeties in position to collapse on the ball-carrier for a short gain.
In yellow, I've circled two free Pittsburgh blockers, but the Eagles should have the advantage here. Their three defenders are as close to the line of scrimmage as Dwyer is.
Ryans gets through successfully but can't make the tackle, while the other two guys—Mychal Kendricks and Joselio Hanson—can't escape.
Dwyer's already got a positive run under his belt before Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie makes contact at the 21-yard line:
But Dwyer gets away from DRC and a handful of Eagle defenders, gaining an extra three yards before going down at the 24. Just bad tackling on the end of the play.
And then, of course, there was this blatantly illegal hit from Rodgers-Cromartie on the very next play:
Later on that drive but in the second quarter, we saw Pittsburgh's Chris Rainey take a routine handoff to this spot...
...and somehow end up in this spot...
Notice you can't even see the first-down line in the original shot? Rainey broke from two sure tackles and ended up with a 14-yard gain.
And we cap it off with the play that really epitomized Philly's defensive struggles Thursday. Right after Rainey broke free for that first down, Dwyer came back out for more.
There's Dwyer breaking free, but Jarrett is in a perfect position to make the tackle:
Unfortunately, Jarrett instead takes out teammate Vinny Curry and Dwyer dashes away for a 33-yard gain, leading directly to a Pittsburgh touchdown.
It should be noted that there were some quality plays from the "first-team defense," too. Mychal Kendricks looked good and showed off his range, Nnamdi Asomugha tackled well and Phillip Hunt and Derek Landri brought heat up front. But the purpose of this piece was to highlight some of the mistakes still being made.
The problem is that it's very difficult to teach fundamentals at this point. It's easy to point the finger at defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, but these examples showed a general lack of football instincts. The Eagles had far too many defenders who seemed lost Thursday, and that was also the case for much of the 2011 season.
They do have time to turn it around. Maybe we'll chalk this up to preseason rust, but there's a chance it goes beyond that. When the Eagles play New England Monday, there will be a lot of pressure on that defense.