Eagles’ issues in the secondary go beyond Jalen Mills in loss to Titans | Jeff McLane
Jalen Mills has become target No. 1 for many Eagles fans, but the Eagles' defensive struggles in their overtime loss to the Titans Sunday went much deeper than the cornerback.
NASHVILLE — Don't blame just Jalen Mills. Or Corey Graham. Or Sidney Jones. Or Ronald Darby. Or even Jim Schwartz for having Avonte Maddox at a position he had never played before.
The Eagles' secondary didn't perform well as a unit Sunday, and even if there were fingers to point following a brutal 26-23 overtime loss to the Titans, there were far too many to focus on one individual.
"I don't think anybody's going to look at this," safety Malcolm Jenkins said, "and feel like they played a clean game."
The Eagles coughed up a 14-point second-half lead and fell in the extra frame when Tennessee drove 75 yards on 16 plays. The Titans converted three fourth downs during the series — one from 15 yards — and won when receiver Corey Davis outjumped and outmuscled Maddox for a 10-yard touchdown with five seconds left.
It was a collective loss, particularly for Schwartz's defense, which surrendered 327 yards in the air and was often helpless as Marcus Mariota completed 70 percent (30 of 43) of his passes. If the Eagles' defensive backs were to shoulder some culpability for their coverage, the pass rush was just as responsible for failing to generate enough pressure.
But there were far too many blown coverages, missed tackles and penalties for the secondary not to go under the microscope. The Eagles suffered a blow when they lost safety Rodney McLeod following knee surgery last week. And Schwartz had to scramble. But personnel wasn't the reason the Eagles lost their second game on the road this season, according to Jenkins.
"Rodney's a great player," Jenkins said. "He's somebody who's played a lot of ball, who understands situations, communicates well. So anytime you lose anybody like that it's hard to replace. But I don't think there were plays we look at and say, 'Aw, Rodney would have made that.' "
Perhaps. But Maddox, who split time as the sixth defensive back in the dime package and at free safety, was in a tough spot down the stretch. And with Schwartz shuffling players in and out, depending upon the situation, there were obvious mistakes.
"There's going to be some communication issues that we've got to address," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. "There's going to be moving parts, moving guys around."
How else to explain the Titans' four 20-plus yard completions? In the first three games, the Titans were last in the league in explosive plays with three. Mariota has been dealing with an elbow issue, and even wore a glove on his throwing hand Sunday, but he looked like his 2016 self.
Mills and Darby allowed a few early completions, but the defense battened down the hatches into the second half. But with the Eagles up, 17-3, midway through the third, the secondary became unglued. A pass-interference penalty by Mills — his third in the last two games — set up Mariota's 2-yard touchdown run and Tennessee was back in business.
"I wasn't a fan of it," Mills said of the penalty. "Me and him are competing for a spot. I'm trying to get to the ball and then, at the end of the day, the ball was thrown out of bounds."
The Titans added another field goal and with 7 minutes, 55 seconds left in the game, Davis (nine catches for 161 yards) had a step on Mills on a deep post and pulled in a 51-yard grab. The third-year corner has had his ups and downs this season — seemingly more downs of late — but he said he remains confident.
"That's not a question," Mills said. "At the end of the day, I am who I am. Regardless, for [anyone] to ask that question, it's irrelevant."
Four plays later, receiver Tajaé Sharpe caught an easy 11-yard touchdown with Jones nearby.
"That was my guy," Jones said. "Zero coverage. My guy."
The Eagles tied the score, 20-20, and went ahead a field goal on the first drive of overtime, but the Titans were undaunted on the game-winning scourge. On fourth-and-15, the Eagles dropped into a zone, but Graham let receiver Taywan Taylor get behind him for a 19-yard pull before the sideline.
"In that situation, you've got to know that they've got to go deep," Graham said. "So there's no reason for me to be at normal 10 yards when you know they're going to throw it 15-20. They're going to throw behind the sticks. It was just a dumb play by me."
>> GRADE THE EAGLES: Eagles' overall performance gets an 'F' in loss to Titans | Paul Domowitch
The Titans faced two more fourth downs. They converted the first when Jones was called for pass interference, and on the second, they advanced 17 yards down to the Eagles 15 when running back Dion Lewis caught a screen pass.
Mariota nearly won the game when Davis got behind Maddox, but his receiver couldn't haul the pass in the end zone. But on third down, he lofted a jump ball to his 6-foot-3 receiver, who scaled over the 5-9 Maddox.
"I got off my feet a little bit," Maddox said. "Slipped in and he got inside on me and lobbed up there and caught it."
It would have been a tough cover for any cornerback, let alone a rookie playing safety for the first time ever. But Maddox said that he would bounce back. And Jenkins said the same of Mills, who has increasingly become a target for fans' ire.
"He's a resilient dude," Jenkins said. "A lot of times people will look at this from home and probably think he had a bad game. A lot of it wasn't necessarily his fault. He's the guy by the ball, but the way we run our coverages it wasn't all on him."
It was on everyone. And they all must get it fixed.
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