LANDOVER, Md. - For six games in each of at least the next few seasons, the Eagles, barring something unforeseen, will be tasked with defending Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham Jr., or DeSean Jackson.
As if it weren't obvious enough before this past weekend, Saturday's 27-24 debacle of a loss to the last-place Redskins heavily reinforced the Eagles' need to upgrade their secondary. Bradley Fletcher was torched by his man for the second time in 7 days, the third in a six-game span.
"I just didn't get it done," the embattled cornerback said before leaving the visitor's locker room at FedEx Field on Saturday, about 24 hours before yesterday's Cowboys' 42-7 win over the Colts officially eliminated the 9-6 Eagles from postseason contention.
In addition to quarterback, corner will be among the team's big question marks when it enters the looming offseason. The Eagles have struggled to consistently contain the opposition's top receivers throughout Chip Kelly's second season, from the Redskins' Jackson in Weeks 3 and 16, to the Packers' Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb in Week 11 to the Cowboys' Bryant in Week 15.
On Satuday, Robert Griffin III targeted Fletcher 10 times and completed a whopping eight of those passes for a total of 164 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. Washington's output signified the second-most yards Fletcher has surrendered all season, second to only the Eagles' loss at Green Bay, according to the web site that tracks such statistics.
After benching Fletcher, who is a free agent at season's end, in favor of Nolan Carroll II late in Saturday's loss, Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis didn't commit to a starter for Sunday's season finale against the Giants. He said he didn't regret starting Fletcher, despite the two biggest plays of the game, Jackson's receptions of 55 and 51 yards, coming at the 28-year-old cornerback's expense.
"I make plans based on what I see and make decisions on what I see," Davis said. "I don't regret one minute of it. Like all players, you've got to give him a shot to get out of a slump when they're in a slump or you just end up bailing on everybody every time one play goes bad. You can't play ball that way or build confidence that way. I made the switch when I thought it was time to make a switch and unfortunately it didn't work out."
Davis maintained the Eagles have enough talent in the secondary to get the job done.
"Absolutely," he said. "Yes we do. We have enough talent. We've played well at times. It's just lately we haven't made the plays."
The latter of Jackson's big plays led to Fletcher's benching, a move Davis had admitted he considered after the Packers game, but one he had yet to pull the trigger on, even after the previous week's dominant three-touchdown performance by Dallas' Bryant.
But Saturday's 55-yard reception by the former Eagles burner was the one that spurred a change. When Washington took the field for its first possession of the fourth quarter, Carroll, typically used only in the dime formation and on special teams, entered the game and lined up opposite Jackson. Fletcher came back in to play on the outside only in dime situations, when Carroll rotated back to his normal spot.
"He's had 2 bad weeks. I was hoping he'd get out of that slump and he didn't," Davis said of Fletcher. "They went at him deep. They made the plays on him so I made a switch."
On both of Jackson's deep catches, Fletcher couldn't stick with the receiver's blazing speed. The first, late in the opening quarter, led to Alfred Morris' 28-yard touchdown run, the second, in the third quarter, preceding the second of Darrel Young's 1-yard rushing scores.
In terms of his technique, Fletcher's miscues differed on either play, Davis said.
The cornerback was matched up one-on-one without safety help in each. Both times, outside linebacker Connor Barwin dropped in coverage against a receiver or tight end, a matchup Malcolm Jenkins said a safety would tend to drift toward more than a cornerback one-on-one against a wide receiver.
"You try to get some help over the top in certain coverages and get matched up with [Jackson]," Kelly said. "We felt like our corners could stay with him and obviously they didn't."
Fletcher recorded one pass deflection in the game, and it came on the late thrid-and-12 play intended for Santana Moss that bounced off the cornerback's helmet. When he did get assistance from a safety in the fourth quarter on a play in which the defense was in dime, Nate Allen intercepted Griffin's underthrown deep ball.
"It's a league where you've got to perform," Jenkins said. "Sometimes things don't go your way and you've just got to stop the bleeding and maybe try somebody else. But I don't think anybody on this team points fingers or looks at anybody to blame.
"Everybody can look at some point in this game and see how they contributed to this loss. I can look at the fact that I dropped another interception for a touchdown that could have helped us win the game. We have a bunch of penalties on third down. We miss two kicks. We have two turnovers. We had a big kick return when we needed it, they brought it out past the 20 or wherever it came to.
"You can look at a bunch of different plays. Everybody had a hand in it. You can pick one and blame them if you want to, but for us nobody came out of this game clean."