Eagles' challenge is avoiding second defensive collapse

Calvin Johnson pulls in one of his three touchdown receptions against the Eagles on Thursday. Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles' loss in Carolina raised the question. The Eagles' losses since then have answered it.

The question: Did the loss to Panthers mean the Eagles defense was on the verge of a collapse like the one it experienced in 2014?

We all remember the sight of cornerback Bradley Fletcher chasing helplessly after Dez Bryant last December. An Eagles defense that shut out the New York Giants in October and dominated the Panthers in a 45-21 win in November had crumbled. It was ineffective in three consecutive losses to Seattle, Dallas and Washington. Those games cost the Eagles a chance to go to the playoffs.

Against Carolina this year, the Eagles allowed 204 rushing yards in a 27-16 loss. They allowed 27 points in Dallas a week later, but managed to win that game, 33-27, in overtime.

“Too many points,” Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin said after the win in Dallas.

The Eagles followed that with a 20-19 loss to Miami. The defense held Miami to 20 points, 99 rushing yards and 289 total yards. It looked at that point like the Eagles were good enough on defense to keep their season on track.

Then came their last two games: 90 points, 10 touchdown passes, 951 total yards. All against Tampa Bay and Detroit, teams with a combined record of 9-13.

The thorough defensive collapse would be bad enough. As the second season in a row it has happened, you have to think it’s now a characteristic of Chip Kelly’s tenure. The discussion about time of possession is not new. Kelly would argue that it is settled. He doesn’t believe it means anything.

But here are the Eagles: They were last in the NFL in time of possession last year and their defense collapse in the second half of the season. They are last in the NFL in time of possession this year, and their defense is in the first stages of an even more thorough collapse.

The Eagles average 26 minutes, 24 seconds of time of possession per game. Of the seven teams at the bottom of the time of possession list, all seven have losing records.

The last couple weeks, the Eagles defense hasn’t done anything well. It isn’t pressuring quarterbacks. It isn’t creating turnovers. It isn’t stopping the run. It isn’t covering wide receivers or tight ends.

“All of us got ourselves into this and all of us will get ourselves out of it,” defensive coordinator Bill Davis said after Thursday’s game in Detroit. “We have the right group of men. There's no excuses. We have to get it fixed.”

A year ago, Davis and his players could not get it fixed. The consequence was a round of personnel changes in the offseason. To avoid similar changes, possibly even in Davis’ office, the defense needs to get it fixed this time.

Considering their next game is at New England, that won’t be easy.