Chronic Defensive Meltdowns? Cool It


No one enjoyed the Eagles collapse late in the game on Sunday (except Kenny Britt, I suppose). It was brutal in its historic ineptitude.

But I've already seen, in multiple locations, this notion that the Eagles have been chronically bad late in the game. Is that a real trend or just the delusional musings of a couple of reactionary fans? Turns out, it depends how you look at it.

Start with average scoring by quarter -- the Eagles and their opponents -- through week seven's fiasco:

Eagles v. Opponents Points Scored by Quarter Week 1 to 7

Whoa, look at that, the Eagles are terrible at the end of games. Stagnant offense, but worse, a crumbling defense that gives up twice as many points as they average over the first three quarters. No wonder everyone's crying out for Sean McDermott's job. With such consistently terrible performance in the final quarter, how can he be kept on?

Unless... could Sunday's 27 points scored by warping the numbers a little bit? Let's look at the previous six weeks of Eagles point differential:

Eagles v. Opponents Points Scored by Quarter Week 1 to 6

So, chronic breakdown problem, or a bad day? This graph shows us just how much Sunday's fourth quarter skews the results. Yes, prior to that, the last few minutes were the only time that the Eagles did not outscore their opponents. But that's not entirely on the defense. Why is the offense flat out mediocre in the second half?

And when you're leading teams in the fourth quarter, as the Eagles clearly often are, wouldn't you expect the other team to score more? They'll be gunning it while the Eagles try to merely control the ball and the clock.

The point is not that the Titans game didn't expose a problem with the Eagles. Certainly Britt's transcendent performance showed that Ellis Hobbs and Nate Allen can be beaten by a powerful, explosive wide receiver. But that wasn't a problem before either. If the Eagles secondary has been this bad the whole season, McDermott deserves more credit than blame in protecting them so far. The unit had only allowed one 100-yard receiving day from a wide receiver before Britt came along.

Hobbs was bad, but could the aging Sheldon Brown have stopped Britt? Would Macho Harris have been better than Allen? Could even the late Jim Johnson have done much differently than McDermott toward the end?

I doubt the answer to any of those questions is yes.

Ultimately, the goal is not to be too reactionary. Sunday's game was worrisome, but not because it showed a persistent and immutable flaw with the Eagles defense or coaching. It does give a blueprint that other teams will try to copy, but one that the Eagles will have a bye week to examine and counter.

Let's call off the hounds -- for now. The time to worry, and call for the defensive coordinator to be fired, should only come if the Eagles can't plug the holes and prevent this kind of historic performance from happening again.

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