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The Ryan King: Nate Allen and Why the Eagles Will Lose

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I’m putting the finishing touches on this as the final hour before the Eagles kick off their season against the Rams ticks away, and I’m hating myself for it. To speak poorly off the Eagles after the lockout, after the contract negotiations, after the huge free agent pickups, after the “Dream Team,” after Jeremy Maclin scared the stuffing out of everyone seems, well, un-Philadelphian. It’s the start of the NFL season, the Eagles are back. Shouldn’t that be enough to satisfy any true Birds fan? It should. It’s not.

The word “lose,” in this scenario, is a relative term. The Eagles are a far superior team to the Rams, even though the latter should be much improved this year. I’ll be much more concerned than I already am if we don’t come away with a victory this afternoon. But that’s the problem– I’m still concerned.

Let’s put our focus, for the moment, on backup safety Nate Allen. A rookie last year, Allen had his ups and downs as the Eagles’ starting free safety but showed tantalizing ballhawking tendencies and was set to emerge as a leader for this season in a relatively young group of safeties. As fate would have it, Allen tore his patellar tendon and missed the last few games of last season. All of a sudden, his future was a little less bright.

This year, Allen is fully recovered. He will not, however, be in the starting lineup when the Eagles take on the Rams. Nate Allen is the odd man out in the “Dream Team,” the man doomed by our preseason acquisitions to ride the pine. This fact, in itself, is not troubling. The three-cornerback tandem of Nnamdi Asomugha (which I was one letter away from spelling correctly on my first try, thank you very much), Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie can and should rule the secondary. Samuel, with his nose for the ball, makes Allen’s ballhawking skills fairly unnecessary in the starting lineup. So here’s the point: The Eagles attempted to force Allen into their starting lineup this preseason as a strong safety.

The absurdity of this statement is fairly clear upon a quick review of his game. He’s a small guy, only 210 pounds, fit for playing centerfield and certainly not for blitzing and stuffing the run. This was made all to clear in the Eagles’ preseason game against the Steelers, where Ben Roethlisberger twice took advantage of a blitzing Allen for a touchdown. In preseason, Nate Allen looked terrible. He looked lost. He was out of his element, Donnie. He was also playing the wrong position.

Allen is not nearly talented enough to make or break the Eagles season– at this point, the team is probably better with him on the bench. But as the team releases statements saying that “his knee injury is still holding him up,” it becomes clear to me that Nate Allen represents everything that is currently bothering me about the Eagles. For all the free agent acquisitions, for all the “Dream Team” talk, this team has some huge holes, holes that they think they can fill by making huge signings that create a surplus at the wrong position (see: cornerback, quarterback). The Eagles are incredibly green at safety. Their linebackers corps is a joke. As a solution, they add two all-pro cornerbacks. Will a ridiculously talented three-cornerback set help us against the pass? Sure, but the team will get absolutely gouged against the run. We are a team of mismatched parts, and we think we can fill out a starting lineup by haphazardly throwing players into positions they are ill-equipped to play. Player for player we may have the most talented roster in the league, but we have a coach who severely under-utilizes his star running back and regularly puts the whole game on his quarterback’s shoulders, albeit MVP candidate shoulders.

That said, we’ll kill the Rams. Go Birds.

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The Ryan King: Nate Allen and Why the Eagles Will Lose