The Cardinals’ punter is a fella named Blake Gillikin.
He’s a 25-year-old who spent the first two years of his career with the Saints but took over the Cardinals’ job in early October after Arizona decided to make a switch. Gillikin, an Atlanta native, went undrafted out of Penn State in 2020 and has been having a career year in 2023 with an average of 50.6 yards per punt and 42.7 net yards per punt.
I figured I’d use this space to tell you about Gillikin because you didn’t get to hear his name on Sunday. The Eagles and their beyond-broken defense gave him the afternoon off.
A lot went wrong for the Eagles in their disastrous 35-31 loss to the lowly Cardinals on Sunday at the Linc. But the way the Eagles’ defense collapsed in the second half was a fitting homage to Cards coach Jonathan Gannon, whose defense looked eerily similar in the second half of the Super Bowl LVII loss.
“We dropped the ball on this one,” edge rusher Haason Reddick said. “There’s no other way to put it.”
While the Eagles were being dominated in time of possession in the first half, the defense actually held the Cardinals to just six points on four possessions and actually outscored them thanks to a 99-yard pick-six from Sydney Jones.
But then it collapsed.
And this is nothing new for the Eagles. They have consistently had trouble putting teams away all season and it bit them in a major way in Week 17.
“It’s the NFL,” Brandon Graham said. “If you give them a little inch, sometimes people definitely start running miles on you. We should have buried them that first drive coming out. That was a big drive for us and we didn’t get it done. No excuses, but we just didn’t get it done.”
The Eagles had four defensive drives in the second half and gave up touchdowns on all four. They offered absolutely no resistance.
Touchdown: 10 plays, 75 yards, 6:18
Touchdown: 9 plays, 77 yards, 5:03
Touchdown: 8 plays, 77 yards, 4:29
Touchdown: 7 plays, 70 yards, 2:01
When the Eagles think back to this game, what will stand out most?
“That we just didn’t play well defensively,” cornerback James Bradberry said. “I feel like we had the game. I think it was 21-6 and we didn’t make stops when we needed to as a defense.”
We’re now three games removed from the decision — by Nick Sirianni or the front office or whoever — to demote Sean Desai and replace him with Matt Patricia. And the results just haven’t gotten any better.
“I have no comment. I have no comment for that,” Reddick said when asked about the lack of defensive success since the coaching switch. “I’m just doing what I’m told at the end of the day. Going out there, trying to play great ball and just trying to do what I’m asked to do.”
At least Desai seemed to make some effective halftime corrections. The only adjustment we saw from Patricia on Sunday was that the Eagles didn’t get carved up on third downs in the second half because they were giving up conversions on first and second down instead.
The Cardinals were 11-for-13 with two scores on SECOND downs after halftime and still allowed the Cardinals to convert 5 of 10 third downs in the game.
The move to Patricia in Week 15 reeked of desperation when the Eagles made it and now it looks even worse because of how ineffective the defense continues to be since the change.
“I would say it’s frustrating,” Bradberry said. “We knew at the end of the day, even before they made a coaching change, it was on us as players. We gotta go out there and make a difference. They made a coaching staff change and it’s still on us as players. We’ve got to figure this out.”
By the end of Sunday’s game, the Cardinals had put up 35 points, 449 yards of offense, 32 first downs, 221 yards rushing and controlled the clock for 39:39 to the Eagles’ 20:21.
This is an offense that hadn’t scored more than 29 points all season and the Eagles let them do after halftime on Sunday.
The Cardinals entered this game as the 27th-ranked offense in the NFL. They were averaging just 18 points and 306 yards per game and they obliterated those averages with season highs against the Eagles. And they did it without their top receiver Hollywood Brown, who went on IR this week.
Right now, this Eagles defense isn’t just bad.
It has no identity.
It’s completely lost.
And there are no answers in sight.
The biggest culprit on defense was the inability to stop the run. The Cardinals controlled the clock and finished with 221 yards on the ground. Even for an Eagles run defense that has collapsed since the bye week, that’s a season high.
Those 221 yards are the most the Eagles have allowed in a game since 2016.
“We have to watch the film, we have to assess what happened,” Jordan Davis said. “I can’t give you a definite answer on why or what happened. But at the end of the day, it’s unacceptable. We gotta do our part and we gotta make sure we fix everything.”
The Eagles couldn’t stop the run or the pass against the Cardinals and that doesn’t bode well for the playoffs, where the Eagles will likely be on the road.
“We just gotta make it through this little storm right now,” said Graham, an eternal optimist.
In reality, it’s more than just a little storm. This is a hurricane. Batten down the hatches and we’ll see if somehow, some way, the Eagles can figure out how to fix their broken defense before they limp into the playoffs.
Because whatever they tried on Sunday was woefully ineffective. The Eagles didn’t force a single punt on Sunday.
But don’t feel too bad for Gillikin. Because he holds for extra points too. And there were plenty of those against the Eagles.