In 2012, the Philadelphia Eagles had the second-lowest, 16-game regular-season takeaway total in NFL history. During the final 10 games of the year, the defense intercepted only a single pass. They surrendered a league-high 33 passing touchdowns and Pro Football Focus concluded that four of their five worst defensive players were the starters in the secondary.
As a result, former Pro Bowl cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are gone, and it looks as though starting safeties Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman have been replaced.
Only 11 weeks after the incredibly disappointing 2012 season came to an end in Philadelphia, the Eagles don't just have a new coaching staff and new schemes on both offense and defense, but they also have a completely new starting secondary.
A lot could still change between now and September, especially with the Eagles holding the No. 4 overall pick in the draft, but at this very moment, these are the favorites to start in the defensive backfield for Philly in 2013.
No. 1 cornerback: Cary Williams
I call him the top guy because he's being paid like one, but I'd imagine defensive coordinator Bill Davis will actually end up using Bradley Fletcher on top opposing wide receivers more often than Williams, who has proven that he struggles covering big wideouts downfield.
Williams had six interceptions in 20 regular-season and playoff games in 2012, which is almost as many as the entire Eagles defense had in the same time frame. That's good. What's bad is that his coverage isn't consistent enough.
Give him credit for a decent showing in the playoffs, as well as solid performances early in matchups with A.J. Green and Dwayne Bowe. He also helped shut down Mike Wallace, but Pittsburgh didn't have Ben Roethlisberger in either of those games.
In back-to-back weeks in October, Andre Johnson and Dez Bryant combined to catch 10 passes on 10 targets against Williams, with Bryant scoring two touchdowns. Against those two monsters and DeSean Jackson, Brandon Lloyd, Eric Decker, Greg Little and Pierre Garcon, he surrendered 34 catches on only 39 throws. That's an 87 percent completion clip for opposing quarterbacks.
That concerns me. How will he deal with a healthy Hakeem Nicks? And now, he has to face Bryant twice, as well as Garcon. And keep in mind that he had a lot of support from a solid D in Baltimore.
Williams is a good player and probably deserves to start, but don't be expecting a shutdown corner here.
No. 2 cornerback: Bradley Fletcher
Here's an underrated cover guy. Fletcher comes cheap, which is awesome because he's the kind of corner this team's been hoping for. He flew under the radar on the open market because he fell out of favor in St. Louis after the Rams invested so much in Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins, but that had little to do with his play.
Opposing quarterbacks posted a combined passer rating of only 55.8 against Fletcher in 2012, which was the seventh-lowest average in the league. The only players to fare better in that category: Richard Sherman, Tim Jennings, Darius Butler, Greg Toler, Casey Hayward and Lardarius Webb. He also gave up only 0.52 yards per coverage snap, which was the lowest average in the entire league.
Fluke, right? He wasn't on the field much. Maybe not, but he also only gave up completions on 47.1 percent of the passes thrown his way in 2011 and 51.8 percent in 2010. He also had four picks that season. He's given up only six touchdowns in 43 career games. Williams, for the sake of comparison, has surrendered 10 in his last 32.
Fletcher also seems to be a pretty solid tackler, and Williams is at the very least a tough guy who plays with a mean streak. Considering how soft Rodgers-Cromartie and Asomugha were, I think Eagles fans will appreciate that.
Free safety: Kenny Phillips
Phillips is a Pro Bowl-caliber, jack-of-all-trades safety. He's a former first-round pick, and he's only 26 years old. So how the hell did the Eagles land him on a cheap, one-year deal? It's all about those knees. The former Miami Hurricane has missed large chunks of two of the last four seasons due to left knee surgery (2009) and an MCL sprain in his right knee (2012).
When he was healthy in 2010 and 2011, Phillips was one of the best safeties in the game. He had five takeaways in 15 games in 2011 and was stellar as both a pass and run defender in both seasons. He was rated by Pro Football Focus as the 10th-most efficient tackler at the safety position in both campaigns and ranked in the top 12 in terms of coverage each year.
If he stays healthy, he'll be the best safety this team's had since Brian Dawkins.
Strong safety: Patrick Chung
Coleman and Allen missed a combined 45 tackles the last two seasons, with 28 of them coming in 2012. Chung missed just three tackles last year and has missed only nine in his last 20 games since the start of 2011. He's fast, strong and known for his strong run defense, something Allen has really struggled with.
The Eagles need some more physicality from the back end of the defense, and Chung can provide that. He might not be overly reliable in coverage, but he's an experienced safety who is still probably more trustworthy than the aforementioned incumbent safeties.
The former second-round pick is only 25 years old, and like Phillips and Williams, he has spent his career in a winning atmosphere. The Eagles have to bring in someone to push Chung this summer, creating a healthy competition, but I'd still consider him to be the favorite to start in place of Allen in 2012.
The reserves: Brandon Boykin (nickel corner), Curtis Marsh (fourth corner), Nate Allen (backup safety), Kurt Coleman (backup safety) and Colt Anderson (backup safety)
Boykin showed glimpses as a rookie, and at least Allen, Coleman and Anderson have experience. Expect either Allen or Coleman to be released and they'll also probably cut Marsh in favor of another free agent or a 2013 draft pick.
Stay tuned next week for an X's and O's-style breakdown of both new corners.
* All coverage stats via Pro Football Focus
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