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Is Nate Allen good now, part of the Eagles’ future beyond this season?

Dec 3, 2013, 3:50 PM EDT

source:  One of the more incredible developments this season has been the emergence of the Eagles’ bend-don’t-break defense, which has now made it eight straight games holding opponents to 21 points or less. It’s quite the reversal from a year ago, when the Birds’ D did not allow fewer than 21 over their final 11.

What’s maybe most amazing of all—besides the fact that this is taking place in the first season of a transition from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4—is it’s a lot of the same personnel. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis has done an amazing job making what he was told were square pegs in Trent Cole and DeMeco Ryans fit into round holes, while the development of several second-year players has been top notch.

Cole and Ryans are football players though, we really shouldn’t be surprised to see them excel regardless of scheme or position, and young players are supposed to improve. Davis’ most impressive work to date might be turning Nate Allen into a competent safety when it appeared all hope was lost.

The consensus opinion on Allen entering this season was that of a well-established second-round bust, but the Eagles didn’t really have any choice but to give him one last look. He was under contract, and after all, there are only so many holes a 4-12 team can plug in one offseason.

Safety wasn’t one of the priorities. The front office signed low-level free agents Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips and used a fifth-round pick on Earl Wolff. Allen emerged from training camp as one of the starters by default, the last remaining link to a secondary that surrendered 11 passing plays over 40 yards and a 99.6 opponents’ passer rating in 2012.

Truth be told, Allen’s 2013 didn’t get off to a much better start when he was exposed in Week 2 by the San Diego Chargers. The fourth-year veteran was directly on the hook for two of Philip Rivers’ three touchdown passes, as he was picked on throughout the quarterback’s 419-yard performance. The Birds lost by a field goal in the closing seconds when the defense couldn’t put together a stop on the final three drives.

Allen rebounded from that nauseating experience though. In a matter of months, the former 37th-overall pick has transformed from complete liability to solid hand. He’s become one of the most efficient tacklers at safety in the NFL this season—ranked fourth by Pro Football Focus—and you don’t see the Eagles’ defense getting beat over the top for big passing plays too often, so he must be playing a good centerfield.

Philadelphia was finally rewarded for its patience on Sunday when Allen undercut Cardinals receiver Michael Floyd to intercept an errant Carson Palmer pass, which he then got up and returned for 43 yards. It was the 26-year-old’s first pick since 2011.

So is Nate Allen supposed to be good now? He certainly hasn’t been bad, and at the very least is playing at an above-average level over the past couple months. No. 29 was everywhere against Arizona, often the first man on to the scene anytime a receiver caught the ball in the Birds’ secondary.

Allen finished the game with eight tackles, giving him 71 on the year—two shy of his career high. He also has six pass breakups, a sack and a forced fumble this season.

Why such drastic and sudden improvement? It may be as simple as Allen has been put in a better position to succeed. Back in the offseason, Davis discussed how the previous regime’s scheme put a lot on the safeties’ plates. They were had serious responsibility in run defense due to the Wide-9 front, yet somehow were simultaneously asked to serve as the last line of defense.

“It’s a completely different scheme with some of the same players,” Davis said. “We’re trying to maximize the part of what they do best. In the secondary, any time you ask the secondary to be primary B or A-gap run defenders, you’re asking for trouble on play-action and deep balls.

Whatever the reason, the bigger question is becoming what happens to Allen after this season when he’ll be a free agent? Wolff has played well and appears to be the immediate future at one of the safety spots, but that still leaves a hole to fill if Allen departs. Chung has been downright awful in relief of the injured Wolff, and the coaching staff won’t replace him with Kurt Coleman or Colt Anderson—also free agents—which tells you all you need to know right there.

The Eagles can probably test the market for themselves. It could be a deep free-agent class with Buffalo’s Jairus Byrd and Cleveland’s T.J. Ward among the top names who could be available. The front office will no doubt look to the draft for another body as well, although that doesn’t necessarily mean a prospect in the first round.

Then there’s Allen, who knows the scheme and is undeniably improving right now. If nothing else, he’s certainly putting himself in the mix for consideration. Who would’ve imagined that at the beginning of the year?

  1. yishmeister - Dec 3, 2013 at 4:02 PM

    His contract situation makes me think he’s playing above his normal level just to earn a contract extension. What will his effort be once he signs the extension?

    Reply
    • Andrew Kulp - Dec 3, 2013 at 4:12 PM

      I don’t think it’s that at all. There’s absolutely no evidence Allen’s struggles were for lack of effort.

      I added these graphs BTW which helps explain the improvement:

      Why such drastic improvement? It may be as simple as Allen has been put in a better position to succeed. Back in the offseason, Davis discussed how the previous regime’s scheme put a lot on the safeties’ plates. They were had serious responsibility in run defense due to the Wide-9 front, yet somehow were simultaneously asked to serve as the last line of defense.

      “It’s a completely different scheme with some of the same players,” Davis said. “We’re trying to maximize the part of what they do best. In the secondary, any time you ask the secondary to be primary B or A-gap run defenders, you’re asking for trouble on play-action and deep balls.

      Reply
    • willh888 - Dec 4, 2013 at 8:33 AM

      Yeah I agree I don’t think his problem was effort, maybe in fact the opposite. He’d bite on anything.. very Coleman-like. Over run and taken out of a play. He seems to understand the value of ‘safe’ in safety. Some guys take that much time to improve. Sadly this never happened to Kurt

      Reply
  2. will - Dec 3, 2013 at 4:28 PM

    should be earl thomas back there.

    Reply
    • mattcrwi - Dec 3, 2013 at 5:04 PM

      Even Earl Thomas wouldn’t look good in that defense last year. Especially playing next to Coleman.

      Reply
    • willh888 - Dec 4, 2013 at 8:31 AM

      Or even Demarius Thomas, or Dez, or Gronk. Woulda coulda. Graham has a high motor though! Cool term Mel

      Reply
  3. docdeath20 - Dec 3, 2013 at 5:59 PM

    one key ingredient is Davis ability to coach to his players strengths past few years both Coleman and Allen looked and played lost and couldn’t tackle me. Maybe the change benefited Allen because in my opinion he has played a lot better. Still think they need to address in draft.

    Reply
  4. Chris - Dec 3, 2013 at 6:22 PM

    Has everyone forgot that Nate Allen actually looked good in his rookie year before he got injured? He had like 4 picks in 8 games (I’m going off memory, I don’t feel like googling it). I know he has been horrible the past couple of years and injury is no excuse, but like Andrew said above scheme and coaching is a huge part and Andy’s regime in his last years here were HORRIBLE!!!

    Reply
  5. sfsu - Dec 3, 2013 at 10:19 PM

    Nate Allen is not good Because Andy Reid Drafted Him

    Reply
    • edwr3r000 - Dec 4, 2013 at 3:35 AM

      Andy Reid drafted Foles, so I guess Nick Foles isn’t any good also huh?

      Reply
      • willh888 - Dec 4, 2013 at 8:41 AM

        facetious comes to mind. I believe that’s what’s going on there

  6. Colin Firth - Dec 4, 2013 at 7:36 AM

    Another trash article from a trash “writer”. More like a bro wanna be who drinks natty ice out of a bucket on the weekends. Kulp needs to go ASAP!!!

    Reply
    • 2sentz - Dec 4, 2013 at 9:10 AM

      Sarcasm should be funnier, wittier, or both.

      Reply
  7. Lol - Dec 4, 2013 at 12:57 PM

    Ooh, I hope they resign Colt.

    Reply
  8. yishmeister - Dec 4, 2013 at 3:12 PM

    Not trying to be a troll guys, all good points made here to my comment, anyway I am just concerned.

    Reply
  9. Leenie - Dec 4, 2013 at 4:44 PM

    Nate Allen is a smart player and exceptional athlete among the pros. I was at first happy for Nate to be drafted an Eagle and he had a great rookie year with multiple interceptions in his first games and key plays. Then I felt sorry for him coming back to the crappy Eagle defense after a freakin’ FRACTURED PATELLA- WAY WORSE INJURY than your daily ACL ruptures! The crappy coaching that made him look bad because he was supposed to be playing up front and cover the back at the same time…was impossible for anyone. The pathetic Eagles coaching and crazy new defense schemes were tragic for Nate and ALL the defensive players. Now you can see what Nate is capable of doing with a logical defense and coordinator. Hopefully the silly Philly-hate-bloggers can come out of scapegoat mode that they like to dwell in and see that Nate is an asset that will continue to improve as he gains more confidence in his knee and experience. It can actually take 2 years to get complete recovery from his type of injury. I look forward to lots more good from Nate Allen. He is a hard worker and smart player. Dawkins agrees. :)

    Reply
    • 2sentz - Dec 4, 2013 at 4:55 PM

      Hope you’re right Leenie. If you are then his use in the first 5 games will be quite an indictment on our coaching staff. Dude took a freakin BEATDOWN by every fan, reporter and pundit for 5 solid weeks.

      Reply

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