Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles simply calls it "a messed-up situation." The pass-coverage lapses suffered of late by the Philadelphia Eagles aren't just embarrassing, they're bad enough to cause you to wonder if this secondary is committing football suicide.
Is anyone paying attention in practice? Does anybody care? Has Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie already hit free agency and are Nnamdi Asomugha, Brandon Boykin, Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman already beginning their offseason?
Defenses screw up, even the best of them. But usually those screw-ups take place more frequently earlier in the season and with inexperienced personnel. It's late in the season, and this secondary has been playing together nearly two years. Considering how often they've suffered similar blunders this season, there's no excuse for any of the following five plays from Monday night's debacle against the Carolina Panthers:
Screw-up No. 1: Cam Newton's 24-yard touchdown pass to Gary Barnidge in the first quarter
Bowles called this coverage "high school cover-3," which is why it's simply unbelievable that the Panthers were able to score so easily. With safety Kurt Coleman responsible for anyone coming into the deep middle, Cam Newton pump faked to Brandon LaFell as he broke in on what appeared to be a slant. I've marked the point of the pump with an X, along with the direction that sent Coleman with an arrow.
Screw-up No. 2: Newton's 43-yard touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell in the first quarter
This was as bad as it gets. Rookie nickel corner Brandon Boykin was lined up across from LaFell in the left slot, but Boykin blitzed and there was nobody in position to, you know, provide coverage.
More specifically, Allen wasn't there. He clearly had no idea what he was doing on this play, as he immediately went left to help Rodgers-Cromartie with Steve Smith, rather than to pick up LaFell. Coleman also blitzed on the other side, which apparently was also a mistake, but there was no reason for Allen to rush over to help DRC.
As a result, LaFell was left this open...
Screw-up No. 3: Newton's 55-yard completion to Louis Murphy in the third quarter
The Eagles' defense was embarrassed nationally twice Monday, but three other bad moments should be mentioned, too. The first came early in the third quarter on a big Newton-to-Murphy completion. This wasn't terrible coverage, but DRC and Coleman somehow let Murphy make the catch anyway.
And while Coleman is less responsible than Rodgers-Cromartie, his positioning on this play was brutal. So yeah, not a good day for either starting safety. Not a good season for either, actually.
Screw-up No. 4: Newtons' 19-yard completion to LaFell in the third quarter
This is a situation in which the Eagles essentially had three guys on one side to cover two Carolina receivers. Good, right? The problem is that all three ended up on Smith, with LaFell left alone in the flat to catch an easy checkdown and pick up 19 yards with his feet.
Screw-up No. 5: Newton's 31-yard completion to Steve Smith in the fourth quarter
OK, this one wasn't necessarily a mistake in coverage, but rather poor coverage in general. And considering what the Eagles pay Asomugha, it's pretty ridiculous. In this case, he had help from Coleman if Smith were to come inside, but a double move rendered Coleman's presence useless and Asomugha was caught in no man's land.
Over the last five weeks, this defense has allowed opposing quarterbacks to post a combined passer rating of 139.9 while completing 75.2 percent of their passes with a 9.7 average to go along with 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Should the Eagles have a completely new starting secondary in 2013?
To boot, those quarterbacks are 12-of-14 with a perfect passer rating and seven touchdowns against the Eagles on throws that travel 20 yards or more (based on numbers provided by PFF). That's the kind of thing that should get everyone involved—players and coaches—fired.
And that's what is wild about this. You can't isolate the problem beyond the secondary as whole, because it's on all of them. There aren't enough fingers to point without using both hands. Allen, Coleman and Asomugha are three of the four lowest-rated defenders on the team, according to PFF, and DRC, Boykin and Bowles should be just as ashamed.
The ax fell on Jason Babin Tuesday, but if the Eagles want to really put this miserable era behind them, they have to wave goodbye to everyone who's had a hand in the team's horrendous secondary play this season.