Eagles Seek Safety Solution

| February 26, 2012

Despite all of their free agency additions a year ago, Philadelphia’s safety position was left largely unaffected. The Eagles decided to go with youth and potential on the back end of their secondary, hoping a strong group of defensive lineman and corners could hide their deficiencies. In practice, however, the safeties were exposed and the standard of play was simply not good enough for a team that was “all in”.

Since Brian Dawkins left in the 2009 offseason, Quintin Demps, Sean Jones, and Jarrad Page have all seen themselves penciled-in as starters. None of them have worked out and they’re now no longer on the team. Third-year men Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman remain, but are they good enough? And what of 2011 second round pick Jaiquawn Jarrett? Let’s take a look at their performances to date.

 

 

The Returning Players

Nate Allen

Year Stop % Tackling efficiency Yards/Cov snap Cov snaps/rec QB rating allowed
2011(62 players) 4.1 (42nd) 10.2 (20th) 0.46 (15th) 35.1 (9th) 48.8 (4th)

Allen had a fantastic start to his NFL career, picking off a pass in three of his first four games. We even went so far as to put him top in our Race for Rookie of the Year through four weeks. Things went downhill after that, though, as Allen seemed to hit a very early rookie wall which saw him give up five touchdowns in five consecutive weeks. Only a neck injury suffered against the Colts interrupted that. If that wasn’t enough, Allen saw his rookie year cut short due to a nasty knee injury, an issue that would linger into his second season.

Allen started the 2011 season off as you’d expect for a man who was still suffering the effects of a torn patellar tendon in his knee–inconsistently. He didn’t start the first three games and then played poorly against the 49ers. A run of average games culminated in one of the worst safety performances you’re likely to see against the Patriots where Allen missed tackles and blew coverages like they were going out of fashion. You’re unlikely to see a more wide open player than Wes Welker was after Allen bit on what was a pretty tame play fake by Tom Brady.

Having said that, Allen’s performances late in the season can give Eagles fans hope going into 2012. Following that New England debacle, he graded positively in each of the last five games, amassing a grade of +7.2 in that span. Overall, he finished at +3.8, good enough for 15th in the league last year. He looks ready to break out if he can remain fully healthy in 2012.

 

Kurt Coleman

Year Stop % Tackling efficiency Yards/Cov snap Cov snaps/rec QB rating allowed
2011 (62 players) 6.9 (21st) 7.8 (44th) 0.99 (57t) 21.1 (38th) 105.2 (47th)

Coleman is a guy you can’t help but want to succeed. He’s an old school, physical safety who lacks the athleticism of most players at his position, but has done his utmost to compensate. Coleman didn’t see the field much as a rookie in 2010 and looked uncertain of himself when he did. He managed a -1.5 grade against Washington in just two snaps because he failed to maintain deep responsibility in the Eagles three-safety package. The former Ohio State standout had further troubles in coverage against the Redskins (in the rematch) and the Packers in the NFC wildcard game. He really struggled to deal with Keiland Williams (not the most fearsome of receiving backs) and then looked generally lost in zone coverage against the eventual Super Bowl champions. There were some positives, as he made impressive plays against the run, especially in the Eagles’ rematch with the Giants, but these were few and far between.

Rather than improve in 2011, Coleman seemed to take a step back. There are a few plays that stick out in my mind. Frist there was his inability to get off a Danny Amendola block that saw Steven Jackson running the full length of the field in Week 1. Then there was that missed tackle against Victor Cruz that saw him hit the bench for a couple of games. And, finally, there was the double move against the Cowboys which left him in no man’s land and Laurent Robinson celebrating in the endzone. It’s all very well picking off Rex Grossman four times, but those aren’t the plays that win you championships.

The most concerning aspects of Coleman’s play for me are the missed tackles and his inability to stay with tight ends and backs in man coverage. His tackle efficiency rate of 7.8 (11 misses) simply isn’t good enough for a guy who is going to give up his fair share of receptions and has to play in a scheme that will often leave gaping holes for runners. With the emergence of great receiving tightends like Jimmy Graham, Jermichael Finley, and Rob Gronkowski, your strong safety can no longer be a liability in coverage and that’s exactly what Coleman is. Overall, he graded out as -6.9 (-5.3 in coverage) which had him ranked 45th in the league. Rather than being mental mistakes (which could be corrected) his primary problem is physical. For that reason, I feel it would be a mistake to expect significant improvement from Coleman next year and beyond.

 

Jaiquawn Jarrett

Year Stop % Tackling efficiency Yards/Cov snap Cov snaps/rec QB rating allowed
2011 (147 players) 4.7 (85th) 6.3 (128th) 1.00 (136th) 20.0 (75th) 107.2 (120th)

Jarrett was perceived as a reach when the Eagles drafted him in the second round a year ago and he’s done nothing to dispel those early impressions. He was on the outside looking in from the moment he entered training camp as the coaches were clearly reluctant to give him any playing time despite the struggles of Page and Coleman.

Jarrett didn’t exactly seize his opportunity when it was offered to him either; missing a tackle against the Bears and giving up a first down in coverage. He didn’t improve in his first start against the Cardinals, grading out at -2.7 and making the crucial mistake of allowing Larry Fitzgerald to get behind him with the game in the balance inside two minutes. The local Temple graduate’s next contribution was almost comically bad as he took a horrible angle in his one snap against the Seahawks resulting in a long Marshawn Lynch touchdown. His final opportunity to shine came with a start in Week 17 against the Redskins and to say he disappointed would be an understatement. Jarrett missed another tackle and showed no ability to cover running backs, fullbacks, or tight ends, finishing with an overall -8.6 grade in just 254 snaps. It would be foolish in the extreme to expect a sudden turnaround in 2012.

 

Exploring the Options

Having drafted two players in the first two rounds and with the youth they have, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense for the Eagles to add a rookie to the mix, rather a lower end free agent could be the perfect solution. Let’s take a look at some guys who could contribute.

 

Mike Adams, Cleveland Browns

Year Stop % Tackling efficiency Yards/Cov snap Cov snaps/rec QB rating allowed
2011 (63 players) 3.3 (45th) 10.5 (18th) 0.36 (5th) 36.8 (5th) 51.2 (5th)

I’m not sure what type of market Adams is going to have when he enters free agency, but he would make a lot of sense for the Eagles. While he likely wouldn’t help their run defense (-4.4 in that facet of the game), he is a very sure tackler and one of the best cover safeties around. The Eagles generally use their safeties interchangeably so he wouldn’t necessarily have to spend a significant amount of time in the box. If anything, I think Allen fits better there, where he can match up in man while doing what he can to help fill against the run.

 

Brodney Pool, New York Jets

Year Stop % Tackling efficiency Yards/Cov snap Cov snaps/rec QB rating allowed
2011 (81 players) 5.8 (44th) 5.6 (80th) 0.38 (10th) 28.4 (23rd) 60.4 (10th)

Pool had some significant issues with his tackling in 2011, but that’s more of an aberration than a normality. He does have some durability concerns, but that’s OK for the role he’ll likely be asked to fill. Pool did extremely well as the deepest man in the Jets’ multi-defensive back package and has the coverage skills to succeed as a starter. He graded out just below average last year at -0.4.

 

Craig Steltz, Chicago Bears

Year Stop % Tackling efficiency Yards/Cov snap Cov snaps/rec QB rating allowed
2011 (81 players) 7.4 (25th) 20.5 (6th) 0.35 (7th) 24.1 (35th) 108.3 (66th)

Steltz is probably the most risky of the potential additions, but also has the most upside. He played remarkably well for Chicago last year, grading above +1.0 in every facet of the game. At the very least, he can contribute on special teams where standout Colt Anderson unfortunately tore his ACL. While his QB rating allowed is high, his yards per coverage snap allowed is impressively low. Steltz would certainly be an intriguing option.

 

Dwight Lowery, Jacksonville Jaguars

Year Stop % Tackling efficiency Yards/Cov snap Cov snaps/rec QB rating allowed
2011 (81 players) 3.2 (66th) 8.6 (48th) 0.79 (66t) 18.7 (64th) 85.4 (35th)

While Lowery’s numbers don’t stand out, he is a very serviceable cover safety. Starting life as another of those defensive backs with Rex Ryan, he played well in limited snaps before being given a starting job by the Jaguars. He came through that test reasonably well and would be a solid veteran addition.

 

Gibril Wilson, Cincinnati Bengals

Year Stop % Tackling efficiency Yards/Cov snap Cov snaps/rec QB rating allowed
2011 (147 players) 10.0 (23rd) 6.3 (129th) 0.11 (21st) 122.0 (2nd) 70.8 (62nd)

Wilson was something of a forgotten man in Cincinnati this year playing behind Chris Crocker and Reggie Nelson, but he’s better than just a reserve. He played well in his starting years in Miami and is capable both against the run and pass. Just like Pool, his poor Tackle Efficiency rating is probably more to do with the small sample size than anything else.

 

The Conclusion

The strategy the Eagles should employ with regards to safety in 2012 should be the same as the one they employed in 2011. The key difference has to be that, rather than adding Jarrad Page, they add a player of quality to the mix. With Coleman now entering his third year, there is hope he can become an every-down NFL starter, but the likelihood is he’s nothing more than a special teamer and good reserve. If that turns out to be the case, and Jarrett doesn’t start looking like an NFL player, the Eagles’ season could hinge on having the right guy behind them.

 

 

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