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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Don't be fooled - Eagles defense may be in trouble

The New York Giants were many people's selection as the Super Bowl favorite entering the 2009 - 10 NFL season, and if not that then nearly the consensus pick to win the NFC.

Considering that the Eagles hung 40+ points on the 2007 - 2008 champions in a season sweep this year is encouraging. It's not a surprise then that many outlets are elevating the Eagles as the chic pick to run through the NFC as the outsider with the best chance to knock off the Vikings and/or Saints.

Not so fast, I say, after watching a clearly flawed defensive performance in Sunday night's victory over New York - the fourth in a row in the series in favor of Philly.

Some of the defensive lapses were surely due to the fact that it was a primetime game against a rivalry with heavy playoff implications, but that does not excuse the Eagles from every misstep they made Sunday.

The missed tackles - on both sides - were the most obvious culprit of the onslaught of big plays for both teams. After back-to-back drops by Hakeem Nicks (he was bailed out on both plays by questionable illegal contact calls by Quintin Mikell), the rookie receiver out of North Carolina broke through the secondary like a bulldozer into cardboard boxes on his way to the end zone for a 68-yard touchdown.

Nicks's drops, as well as some other blown opportunities by the Giants - such as Mario Manningham's failure to get both feet in the end zone on a play originally called a touchdown before being reversed, thus delaying a score and wasting precious seconds in the fourth quarter - may point critics to the Eagles' secondary as the reason for the Giants wideouts to be able to get open so frequently throughout the night. The real reason, however, has more to do with the battle in the trenches - one that the Eagles clearly lost.

Eli Manning felt little pressure all night and was seemingly given three or more seconds to throw at least once on every set of downs. With all that time, it's no wonder that Manningham, Nicks and Steve Smith were able to get open so frequently. Even an average NFL receiver can only be covered for so long. Look no further than Brandon Jacobs' assault on the defensive line as evidence that the Eagles front four may have trouble getting pressure on quarterbacks in the playoffs.

If that means that Philly will have to use elegant blitz packages sending six or seven men at a time to get any pressure on the opposition's passing game, Drew Brees and Brett Favre would likely have a field day against the Eagles, especially at home in their respective domes. That would mean the Eagles would have to win another shooutout, this time most likely without punt (DeSean Jackson) and fumble (Sheldon Brown) returns for scores to hold off an equally-potent opposing offense.


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