The loss to the Panthers was predominantly the result of poor fundamentals from this football team. Blown coverages and missed tackles are typical of this defense and that was again the case on Monday night. The offense, meanwhile, were able to play a decent game but the lack of ball security really cost them any chance of improving their win tally to four. As the season progresses it's becoming more and more clear where the team needs to improve. Let's take a look at five specific areas.
1. Catching the Football
It sounds simple enough but, aside from Desean Jackson, the skill position players have really struggled hanging onto the ball. A lot of fans would have said this group of receivers was the strongest unit on the team at the beginning of the season but they've clearly underperformed and it's a big reason why the team is doing so poorly. The two men primarily responsible are Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek. The former has dropped five of 45 catchable balls, leaving him 29th in drop rate amongst 40 receivers with 50% of snaps*. The Eagles' starting tightend has been even worse, dropping eight of a possible 51. Such a poor catch rate leaves him 35th amongst 37 qualifiers. While those two have received a lot of criticism for their drops, Lesean McCoy has been fortunate to be overlooked. He's dropped three of 43 catchable and you have to remember most of his receptions are coming around the line of scrimmage.
It's not just the starters who have let crucial yards slip through their fingers either as Clay Harbor (3), Bryce Brown (1) and Stanley Havili have combined to drop five between them despite only attempting 26 catchable balls. Clearly the dropsies is contagious.
*All statistics courtesy of PFF
2. Offensive Penalties
In terms of penalties the Eagles' offense is better than just five other teams when number of snaps and yardage conceded is considered. They say a trademark of poorly coached teams is penalties and that's been one of the biggest issues this year. Even when linemen were successfully opening holes early in the year, there would be a downfield penalty costing the team a big play. Maclin has improved of late but four penalties is far too many. Only two wide receivers have committed more on a per snap basis. It's quite astounding that Demetress Bell has been able to commit nine penalties despite playing in just 462 snaps. He has Russell Okung to thank for keeping him from worst in the league. Overall King Dunlap is a solid player, but his height has led to a number of crucial hands to the face penalties in recent weeks, leaving him with a total seven in 2012. In fact of the offensive lineman only Todd Herremans has committed penalties at a less than average rate, and he's not playing again this season.
3. Big Plays From the Defensive Line
If we were to assign blame for this team's poor performance, only a small amount of it would go on the defensive line considering they've done a good job stopping the run and got consistent pressure. The sacks have been too few and far between however as the only player with more than three (Jason Babin) is now gone. Trent Cole hasn't been his normal beastly self, and he needs to start turning hits (11) and hurries (23) into more sacks (2, no halves). Too many times quarterbacks have been in almost impossible situations only to avoid tackles and create big plays. Cam Newton and Tony Romo have made this group look silly with some of the moves they've made. Fletcher Cox (one sack, four hits and 12 hurries) and Brandon Graham (two sacks, four hits, 16 hurries) have also missed opportunities. Another standout issue is the lack of batted passes. The defensive line has just three all year. To put that in perspective, seven 3-4 DEs have at least as many alone. Batted passes often lead to interceptions, and it should be an area of focus moving forward.
4. The Outside Linebackers' Run Defense
There was so much hope surrounding Mychal Kendricks when the Eagles drafted him in the second round this April but after a decent start he's hit a seemingly impenetrable rookie wall. Poor angles were a lowlight in the Carolina game but getting off blocks and making the play when he is in position are just as significant issues. Getting offensive linemen off him was a particular problem at Cal, and it's therefore unsurprising that he's struggling in that department in the NFL. Perhaps more disappointing though is all the missed tackle. Kendricks has missed five while making just 23 solo in the run game (and an even worse seven of 30 in coverage). Akeem Jordan has been nowhere near as bad, but he's not playing as well as he has in the past. His tackling has been solid, with just two misses in 16, but he can still do a better job of shedding blocks. Jamar Chaney and his issues in limited reps only emphasises the problem. He missed two despite only making five solo.
5. The Secondary's Tackling
This is probably the biggest problem area of them all. In total the starters have missed a whopping 34 tackles and made just 166. That's absurdly poor. Unsurprisingly the biggest culprit is Kurt Coleman who is now the fifth worst safety in the NFL when it comes to bringing runners down. He's missed an alarming 14 tackles in defensive snaps, to go with another two on special teams. Overall that's 16 misses compared to 56 completed stops, only slightly better than a miss every four attempts. Monday Night Football gave Coleman an "advantage" in the race for worst Eagle tackler, as Nate Allen surprisingly avoided missing any. Still ten misses of 57 possible tackles is nearly as terrible. Even the duo of Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie isn't even as bad. The former at least tries to bring runners down, although a miss every six attempts (30 made, six missed) means that's only occasionally a bonus. DRC meanwhile seems to want no part of tackling (what is it about Eagles' LCBs?) but four misses and 36 completed is at least decent.
The picture gets even worse when you look at backups as well though. Brandon Boykin has chipped in with four, David Sims had three when forced into action and Colt Anderson missed one but didn't make any. Those three guys have combined for just 27 solo tackles.
When you look at the numbers it's really stunning how poor this team is fundamentally. Few of the players can tackle or catch and many commit unnecessary penalties in crucial moments in games. If the old adage that well coached teams perform the fundamentals well is true then this team is the opposite of that. Perhaps there is something to the notion that the players have given up on Reid. The numbers certainly suggest some of the players are hardly even trying.