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Battered secondary takes a beating

THE EAGLES entered Sunday night's game against Air Arizona with a first-hand knowledge of the Cardinals' ability to strike deep.

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Michael Floyd (15) makes a reception past Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Eric Rowe (32) during the first half at Lincoln Financial Field.
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Michael Floyd (15) makes a reception past Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Eric Rowe (32) during the first half at Lincoln Financial Field.Read more(Bill Streicher/USA Today)

THE EAGLES entered Sunday night's game against Air Arizona with a first-hand knowledge of the Cardinals' ability to strike deep.

Last October, they watched a late-game three-point lead over the Cardinals vanish into thin air when wide receiver John Brown managed to get behind the Eagles' secondary with a minute-and-a-half left and haul in a 75-yard game-winning touchdown pass from Carson Palmer.

That happened with disturbing regularity last year. The Eagles gave up a league-high 72 X-plays (completions of 20 yards or more), which was a big reason they failed to make the playoffs and why they blew up their secondary in the offseason and rebuilt it.

This year, with new starting corners and a new safety, they have managed to reduce the X-play flow a bit. They had given up 44 going into the Arizona game. Not great, but not awful either.

"We've been better than in the past, but not good enough yet," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said earlier in the week. "I think we're at four X-plays a game right now. We're just a hair above the league average. We'd like to get that down, but we're glad we improved over the last two years. But we still have some room to grow there."

As it turned out, the biggest issue in their lopsided 40-17 loss to Arizona Sunday wasn't X-plays. It was tackling.

"The tackling today was awful," Davis said. "That was more disappointing today than anything. It's something we work on all the time. No matter who's in there, they should tackle better than they did today."

The Eagles gave up just three pass plays of 20-plus yards Sunday, though that number would have been higher had Brown not dropped at least two deep balls.

Even after losing their two starting cornerbacks, Byron Maxwell and rookie Eric Rowe, to injuries, they still only gave up one touchdown pass to Carson Palmer.

But their tackling, both against the run and the pass, was atrocious. The Cardinals became the third team this season to rush for more than 200 yards against the Eagles, putting up 230 on 39 carries.

"If we had tackled better than we did, it wouldn't have been like it was," Davis said. "But we didn't play well or coach well at all today.

"Now we have to turn around and put all of our attention into (Saturday night's game against) Washington and get this thing going. We can't dwell on this one. It was a bad, bad night, starting with the tackling."

Cardinals rookie running back David Johnson rushed for 187 yards and three touchdowns against the Eagles. One of those touchdowns was a 47-yarder that featured about a half-dozen missed tackles by Eagles defenders.

"There were about five missed tackles on that play from where I was sitting," Davis said. "We fit it right. We just didn't tackle. In the run game, it was big-time tackling issue tonight.

"We've got to do better than that. We have done better than that. I don't know where it came from, but I'm going to stop it before we get to Washington."

The Cardinals came into the game with a league-high 59 pass plays of 20 yards or more. They had 10 receivers with at least one X-play, seven with at least three. Slot receiver Larry Fitzgerald had 16. Brown and the Cardinals' other outside receiver, Michael Floyd, each had 11. Rookie JJ Nelson had seven. Hell, even rookie running back David Johnson had four.

"We know Arizona's going to take six to eight shots a game," Davis said during the week. "That's what they do. That's part of the reason they are the No. 1 offense in the NFL in a lot of categories right now.

"We just have to play with more discipline and responsibility and take care of our own - like we did the other night - and make the plays. They make a lot of plays down the field. We've got to go up and make those plays."

The Eagles lost Rowe and Maxwell in the first half. Rowe suffered a concussion. Maxwell injured a shoulder.

With Rowe and Maxwell out, the Eagles found themselves trying to stop one of the league's most powerful passing attacks with journeyman E.J. Biggers at one corner, and Jaylen Watkins, who was signed off the Buffalo Bills' practice squad three weeks ago, manning the other.

Davis admitted neither Biggers nor Watkins got many reps at corner during the week.

"Not a lot," he said. "Most of it is scout-team stuff. You gotta get your starting corners most of the work. They went in there and scrapped and fought. But it wasn't good enough by anybody tonight."

Palmer completed 20 of 32 passes for 274 yards. He completed nine of his first 11 passes on the Cardinals' first two possessions, as they jumped out to a 10-3 lead.

He was 2-for-10 the rest of the first half, but completed nine of 11 in the second half, taking advantage of the soft coverage the Eagles were playing so that they wouldn't get beat deep.

"You already had matchups you had to concern yourself with (before the injuries to Maxwell and Rowe) because too many one-on-ones with any of their three star receivers (isn't good)," Davis said.

"We had to move our matchups and our doubles and our brackets around. Then when you start losing corners, you try to figure out who you can help and still try to stop the run game."

As it turned out on this particular evening, the Cardinals didn't really need a lot of long pass plays, because they were getting a lot of long run plays.

It looked like Tampa Bay II out there Sunday, particularly in the first half. Johnson played the role of the Bucs' Doug Martin. The Cardinals rushed for 140 yards on 17 carries in the first half.

In the second half, the Eagles' manpower problems in the secondary started to take their toll. Watkins gave up a 29-yard pass to Floyd in the third quarter that set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Johnson.

Later in the quarter, Biggers, playing way too soft in the red zone, let Brown catch a pass in front of him, then watched the speedy wideout zoom past him for a 16-yard TD.

On Twitter: @Pdomo