To put it mildly, the fourth quarter wasn’t a stellar one for the Eagles defense.
There was the Giants game, where they gave up 38 points and over 500 yards of offense, including two 60-yard-plus passing touchdowns.
There was the Broncos game, where they gave up 20 second-half points and needed a ridiculous interception by Asante Samuel to keep that total from growing. Sure, they were in a couple tight spots in the second half, but after dominating the first, they looked terrible.
And then there was the Dallas debacle.
At least they had one good one—a three-sack, three-pick effort against San Francisco that, outside of an apparently sleepwalked-through third quarter, was quite a show. Yet still, it was the only time this year the Birds allowed a 100-yard rusher.
See what I mean? Even in victory, there were issues.
Let’s see how those issues grade out in our final defensive report card.
Previous Grades: B-minus, B-plus, B-plus
Current Grade: B-minus
Overall GPA: 3.0
At least we know the line caused havoc by getting at the quarterback…but the fourth quarter was a tale of two halves.
They recorded 10.5 sacks in four games and forced two fumbles against the Giants. That’s good.
On the flip side, they got NO pressure against Dallas, and both of their sacks of Tony Romo were more of a result of great coverage than a hellish rush.
They ended the year ranked ninth in rushing yards allowed, at 104.7 per game, meaning they also stopped the run fairly well in comparison.
But in the last four weeks, they finally got gashed for the magical 100 by Frank Gore, gave up 115 and a pair of scores to the Giants’ two-headed attack and were burned for 91 each by Marion Barber and Felix Jones in the finale.
That’s not progress—that’s a problem.
On the year, the Birds tied for third with 44 sacks overall and Trent Cole earned a Pro Bowl berth. The former Bearcat and his cast of contemporaries are going to have to get back to that if the Eagles have any hopes of deep postseason advancement.
Previous Grades: A, A-minus, A-minus
Current Grade: B-plus
Overall GPA: 3.66
Hey, every student has a bad semester, right?
The Eagles’ linebackers did about as well as you could expect this season given the constant revolving door.
Akeem Jordan, for instance, became the sixth different man to line up at the MIKE position this season when he took some snaps there in Dallas. Some teams only carry six linebackers total, yet the Birds used that many just in the middle.
Given how tumultuous things were, it’s almost fitting that Will Witherspoon—a guy acquired five weeks into the season—was fourth on the team in total tackles.
That lack of fluidity was horribly exposed against Dallas; Jeremiah Trotter couldn’t cover Jason Witten or Martellus Bennett, no one could stop the run and Fokou couldn’t do much of anything right to the point that Chris Gocong was pulled out of exile.
For the playoffs, Sean McDermott may have to mix and match his backers on every down to keep the best set in there. But whether it’s Witherspoon-Trotter-Fokou on run downs, Spoon-Jordan-Gocong on pass downs or Witherspoon-White in the nickel, they’re going to have to do a better job of adjusting on the fly.
Previous Grades: B-plus, A-minus, A-minus
Current Grade: B-minus
Overall GPA: 3.34
They were fourth in the league in picks this year.
The fourth quarter saw a resurgence of that power. Asante Samuel had two picks and five passes defensed en route to a Pro Bowl nod, while Sheldon Brown continued his evolution into a shutdown corner as a result.
That’s the good news.
They fell from No. 10 to No. 17 in pass defense, thanks in part to getting torched by Eli Manning and Tony Romo.
Manning in particular burned them deep on numerous occasions. And as for Romo, well, his day would have been much less successful if Asante Samuel didn’t try to think that he was a wide receiver on every play.
We know nine picks got you to the Pro Bowl, Asante, but sometimes you actually have to make tackles, too.
As far as the safeties go, Quintin Mikell had a rough few games (with blown coverages galore), Macho Harris committed a couple penalties that nearly threw the season (see also: his late hit on Kyle Orton that negated a huge interception and return by Samuel) and Quintin Demps is now doing a dead on impression of Sean Considine with much less field time.
Those five and nickel corner Joselio Hanson certainly weren’t the sextet of studs they seemed to be early in the year, but they’re going to have to be in the playoffs because the Eagles can’t count on outscoring everyone, if anyone, in the NFC right now.
Previous Grades: A-minus, A, A
Current Grade: A
Overall GPA: 3.92
David Akers was his usual self this quarter, making six of seven field goal attempts, with his only miss being a 52-yarder that just missed wide left and 10 of 11 extra points, with the lone failure the result of a block.
His kickoffs were good as well, and he was rewarded with another Pro Bowl berth.
Sav Rocca got a lot of work, booting the ball 20 times in the final four games, including seven punts against Dallas. While his fringe numbers (five inside the 20, three fair catches, three out of bounds) were a little weak, he did gross more than 44 yards per kick.
The coverage teams helped him out a lot, as opponents averaged only eight yards per return and no one broke loose.
On the other side, DeSean Jackson did very little and kick return was a revolving door. But D-Jax did take one to the house against the Giants, and his punt return prowess did earn him a trip to the Pro Bowl as both a returner and a receiver, although the former spot has since been vacated and given to Percy Harvin.
Another good season for Eagles special teams.
Previous Grades: B-plus, A-minus, A-minus
Current Grade: 3.18, so we’ll give them a B-plus
Overall GPA: 3.5
Wow. Good thing special teams counts, because otherwise the grade would be abysmal.
The Eagles defense in 2009 was the story of “don’t believe everything that you read.”
At times they were swarming, but lacked solid numerical evidence of greatness.
And at times, they had the numbers but looked highly overrated.
The numbers reflect that.
They finished third in the league in sacks, yet No. 17 in pass defense. Fifth in turnovers forced, but nineteenth in points allowed. Ninth in rush defense, yet couldn’t stop the run when it counted.
And somehow it all worked out to an 11-5 team with two defensive Pro Bowlers, three if you count Akers.
If they can hold it together and show the mettle they exhibited last season and against mediocre teams in this one, they can go far, especially if the offense is clicking.
If not, they’re due for a repeat of the Dallas debacle.
And that’s worth an 'F' all by itself.