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AP: Philly's vaunted secondary has problems


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By ROB MAADDI, AP Sports Writer


November 3, 2005

Philadelphia Eagles safety Brian Dawkins (20) reacts after a third quarter interception of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick in the NFC Championship game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia in a Sunday, Jan. 23, 2005 photo. Celebrating with Dawkins are teammates Dhani Jones (55) and Lito Sheppard (26). The Eagles' star-studded secondary that sent three players to the Pro Bowl last year and had two All-Pros is having plenty of problems.

AP - Nov 3, 3:21 pm EST

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- The Philadelphia Eagles' star-studded secondary has been picked apart.

A unit that sent three players -- cornerback Lito Sheppard and safeties Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis -- to the Pro Bowl and had two All-Pros last year has allowed 13 touchdown passes in the last five games.

They gave up just 16 touchdowns passing last season, and have allowed an average of just 17.2 per year since Jim Johnson became the defensive coordinator in 1999.

``For us to be giving up touchdown passes and big plays, it's very unusual and it's hard to pinpoint,'' Johnson said Thursday. ``Part of it is pressure, part of it is coverage and part of it is I have to put them in better position as far as the coverages I call.''

Jake Plummer tossed four TD passes in Denver's 49-21 win over the Eagles last Sunday, including a 44-yard strike to Todd Devoe that gave the Broncos a 35-21 lead in the fourth quarter after the Eagles had scored three straight TDs to close within seven points.

The defense blitzed on a third-and-11, but Plummer connected with Devoe on a short slant to the inside and cornerback Rod Hood couldn't make a tackle after falling on the rain-soaked turf. It was just the latest example of a quarterback beating an Eagles blitz in a crucial spot.

``Just like we look at the tendencies of offenses and try to take advantage of them, they look at the tendencies of our defenses and take advantages of those,'' Dawkins said. ``It's a chess match and when they find that out, Jim moves us around and does different things to not let them catch up with that.


``To me, we have to continue to do what we do and play with a certain hunger and mentality that this team is not going to score on us. That is something that is lacking a bit right now, especially on the road.''

Drew Bledsoe threw three TD passes against the Eagles in Dallas' 33-10 victory on Oct. 9. Oakland's Kerry Collins had 345 yards passing and two TDs, including a 27-yarder to Doug Gabriel in the final minutes that tied the game, in Philadelphia's 23-20 last-second win on Sept. 25.

Overall, the Eagles are giving up 232 yards in the air per game. Last year's average was 200.8 yards, but that number was inflated because the Eagles won nine games by double digits and teams were forced to pass to catch up.

In their last five games, the Eagles have given up 20 passing plays of 20 yards or more, including six against the Broncos.

``For whatever reason, we are giving up too many big plays,'' said Dawkins, a four-time Pro Bowl selection. ``That is something we are not known for as a defense and we are not going to allow ourselves to be known for.''

The secondary's success last year was a mild surprise considering the Eagles had to replace five-time Pro Bowl cornerback Troy Vincent and nine-year starting cornerback Bobby Taylor.

Sheppard, a first-round pick in 2002, had a breakthrough season, earning All-Pro honors and his first trip to the Pro Bowl. Sheldon Brown, a second-round selection in '02, probably should've gone to the Pro Bowl.

Meanwhile, Lewis emerged as one of the best strong safeties in the league in just his second full season as a starter.

``We have good cover people,'' Johnson said. ``I think they're a confident group. They're playmakers. We just have to make sure they stay with it, they execute the scheme of the defense and we'll be fine.''

The defensive line's inability to harass quarterbacks certainly isn't helping the secondary. Defensive ends Jevon Kearse and N.D. Kalu have four sacks combined and the line has just 8 1/2 of the team's 15 sacks.

``The pressure can be better,'' Johnson said. ``No question we have to get more pressure up the middle.''

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I'm probably the only Eagles fan who isn't a huge fan of Michael Lewis either. Sheldon Brown is one of the top 3 CBs in football. He is THAT good. I hate Lito. Every play, he is looking into the backfield, hoping to make a huge Sportscenter play. Then he gets burnt.

Agree with this totally.

Lito is great with the ball in his hands. He is a playmaker, but not a pro bowl type corner. He can't shut anyone down. If he gets the ball though, he can take it to the house.

Dawkins is great but Lewis is overated. Nice player, very solid. Just not a pro bowler.

Sheldon Brown does everything well. Solid, Solid player. The real pro bowler at corner.

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It all starts with pressure up front. If a qb is given time, pro wide receivers are going to eventually get open no matter who is covering them. And so far the Eagles just have not gotten constant pressure.

That being said I do think Lito is the weak link out of the two corners. Sheldon was very good last year, and so far has been even better this year....I'm hoping he sees more time vs Moss this week than Lito.

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