The first thing I did after San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers was finished authoring his 419-yard masterpiece against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday was check the date. No, we have not traveled back through time—the year is actually 2013, not 2010.
2010 was the last time Rivers had eclipsed the 400 milestone in a game, the last time Rivers was any good for that matter. He’s spent the better part of the past two seasons on his back or chucking the ball to the other team, largely as a result of a deteriorating offensive line and dwindling number of weapons in the Bolts offense.
Clearly, reports of Rivers’ demise have been overblown. The 10-year veteran proved in Week 2 that when provided the time and space in which to operate, he is still perfectly capable of dissecting a defense.
Take for example Rivers’ very first pass attempt in the 33-30 win over Philly, a 19-yard completion to Malcom Floyd.
The Eagles got more or less what they wanted here. Cornerback Brandon Boykin (top) is defending the boundaries, so when Floyd breaks to the inside on his post pattern, Nate Allen can come crashing down from his position as the high safety to break up the pass.
Let’s get a closer look inside that pocket, though. Don’t worry about Trent Cole coming in from the left—he got held up in traffic, and Rivers is already mid-release. This is what you call a veteran quarterback’s comfort zone.
Rivers is able to put everything on the pass, and Allen has virtually no chance to make a play on the football. Could Boykin’s coverage be tighter? Maybe, but the execution by the offense is flawless.
We’re going to talk a lot about the breakdowns that occurred in coverage for this piece, but make no mistake, the Eagles’ pass rush—or lack thereof—was complicit in Rivers’ huge performance. By my own unofficial count, the Chargers’ signal-caller was 24-of-32 for 295 yards and two touchdowns on dropbacks where there was a “clean pocket.”
It doesn’t matter who is lining up for the secondary. If defensive coordinator Bill Davis intends to put a stop to these types of huge days, the Eagles are going to have to make quarterbacks feel a little less comfortable—otherwise safeties and corners are just sitting ducks back there.
The Trials and Tribulations of Nate Allen
Of course, Nate Allen isn’t exactly somebody you’re depending on to come up with a big play to jar the ball loose either. The fourth-year safety was an easy target on Sunday, both for Rivers and the abuse of Eagles fans (and writers) alike.
Allen was at least partially responsible on two of the three touchdown passes to wide receiver Eddie Royal, who, by the way, had not hauled in more than three touchdowns over the course of an entire season since his rookie year in 2008. How on earth does that happen?
Well, the first score was simple in its design—when Allen is isolated in man coverage, it turns out you can re-route him rather easily. The Chargers just ran a “pick play” of sorts to running back Danny Woodhead two plays earlier to convert on a 3rd-and-3 inside the red zone. Now they’re going right back to a variation of it for six.
By the time Royal hauls in Rivers’ pass in the flat, Allen has managed to navigate San Diego’s trap, but the defensive back is going to lose an 11-yard race to the pylon.
This is a well-designed route combination that works every week in every stadium across the country, although it seems as if it works against the 37th overall pick of the 2010 draft with a bit more frequency. For what it’s worth, the pick plays were a success against Earl Wolff as well, the fifth-round rookie the Eagles hope can replace Allen this season.
But that wasn’t the worst of it. Royal’s second TD is going to happen as a result of a busted coverage, and while Allen might not be 100 percent to blame for the breakdown, his hand was most certainly caught in the proverbial cookie jar.
Here the Eagles are going to rush three and drop eight into zone coverage on 3rd-and-10 from their own 24-yard line, so it stands to reason there should be enough defenders for every blade of grass. Allen is the high safety in the middle of the field—the other players of note are linebackers Connor Barwin and DeMeco Ryans.
Royal (slot) runs right up the seam, then once the linebackers are cleared, he’s going to make a left-hand turn and head for the pylon again. If either Barwin or Ryans are supposed to continue dropping, neither does, which leaves Allen.
It’s OK because he’s reading the quarterback’s eyes.
Except Allen makes a poor read. He doubles up on Cary Williams’ assignment—unless the corner is the one out of place—with Patrick Chung also in roughly the same neighborhood, while there isn’t a linebacker within so much as 15 yards of where Royal catches the ball either. Oy.
As much as we’ve picked on Nate Allen here, it’s not all his fault. The pass rush was almost non-existent as we already mentioned. Tight end Antonio Gates made linebacker Mychal Kendricks look like a child. Cary Williams was flagged three times for pass interference. Everything about the pass defense was a mess.
That said, it could not be clearer, Allen is in over his head in every phase of the game. The Eagles better hope they can rattle opposing quarterbacks in the future, or Earl Wolff develops light-years faster than it currently appears he will—otherwise, this group can’t be salvaged.