With the season-ending neck injury to nickel cornerback Ellis Hobbs(notes) and the four-game suspension doled out to nickel-and-dime back Joselio Hanson(notes) for taking a banned diuretic, the Philadelphia Eagles' pass defense suddenly looks a bit vulnerable.
According to Football Outsiders, Philly ranks first overall in opponent-adjusted pass defense, but it's where they're best that tells you something about their sub-packages. They're third in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, FO's primary stat, explained here) against #1 receivers, 10th against #2 receivers, and #1 overall against receivers designated at #3 and below. This indicates that while starting cornerbacks Asante Samuel(notes) and Sheldon Brown(notes) are doing their jobs, the Eagles are also very strong when they expand their pass defense formations. Hobbs and Hanson will be replaced by Jack Ikegwuonu(notes) from their practice squad and Ramzee Robinson(notes), who the Eagles picked up after Hobbs' injury.
It's a bad time to come up short, roster-wise. Not only is Philip Rivers(notes) lighting up the NFL with big, fast receivers Vincent Jackson(notes) and Malcom Floyd(notes) and tight end Antonio Gates(notes) (Legedu Naanee(notes), who sees favorable matchups with all the attention on the stars, could be in for a big day if the replacements can't hold up), the Chargers have also gone away from the balanced attack they had when LaDanian Tomlinson was at his peak to a more aerial-intensive attack. Through Week 9, only the Arizona Cardinals have run the ball fewer times than the Chargers' 182, and no team is worse per carry than their 3.1 -- that's over a yard below the NFL average of 4.2. The Eagles will be challenged by Rivers and his pals when they hit the field in sunny Southern California, but there's one thing head coach Andy Reid and chief playcaller Marty Mornhinweg could do to stem the tide -- run the ball!
The Chargers' primary weakness is their run defense. Without nose tackle Jamal Williams(notes), San Diego has allowed 4.29 yards per carry overall, and 5.11 up the middle. Reid and Mornhinweg generally prefer to throw the ball at a 60/40 clip at the very least, but they should consider putting the triad of Brian Westbrook(notes), LeSean McCoy(notes) and Leonard Weaver(notes) on the front burner and controlling the clock. The best way to stop Rivers and the Chargers from blowing up all over Philly's defense is to keep them off the field altogether.