The State Of the Eagles’ Secondary

Philadelphia Eagles CB Brandon Boykin.You may (or may not) have noticed that we didn’t post a review of the Eagles defensive backs after the Ravens game.

The reason is the All-22 tape is especially valuable when looking at cornerbacks and safeties. So instead of posting something a day or two after the game, I’ll take a look at those positions later in the week.

Here’s a player-by-player look at the Eagles’ secondary, heading into Sunday afternoon’s game against the Cardinals. Note that the cornerback target numbers come from having charted opponents’ throws with the coach’s tape.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – Here are the numbers through two games:

Targets
Completions
Yards
13363

He’s playing at a high level. Rodgers-Cromartie shadowed Torrey Smith all over the field last week. He was targeted five times and gave up two catches for 51 yards, including one 40-yard bomb. But his coverage was a big reason why Joe Flacco had nowhere to go with the football all day. The Ravens quarterback went just 8-for-25 in the second half. Three of the 13 passes targeted at Rodgers-Cromartie this year have resulted in interceptions – two by him, and one by Kurt Coleman. Today, the Eagles will have to decide how to contain Larry Fitzgerald. If Rodgers-Cromartie isn’t on the All-Pro wideout, he’ll go up against speedy third-year receiver Andre Roberts.

Nnamdi Asomugha – The numbers:

Targets
Completions
Yards
10227

The numbers don’t tell the whole story here. Asomugha looks comfortable, pressing at the line of scrimmage and playing a lot of man coverage. Last week, he was matched up with Anquan Boldin and Jacoby Jones for much of the game. It should be noted that Flacco actually targeted Asomugha more than Rodgers-Cromartie (six times, by my count). While he only allowed two completions, one of them was a 21-yard touchdown. And Asmougha was flagged on two other occasions. The 25-yard touchdown to Jones was called back for a questionable offensive pass interference penalty. There was one other play where Asomugha forced an incompletion, but Rodgers-Cromartie was called for a penalty. In other words, the Ravens either got a completion or drew a penalty on four of six balls thrown Asomugha’s way.

The issue of ball skills goes back to last season. When Asomugha has been even with the receiver, he’s struggled to find the ball and given up some big plays. Unlike Rodgers-Cromartie, he relies on slowing the receiver at the line of scrimmage, because Asomugha doesn’t have the same make-up speed.

As Tim detailed, Asomugha has had success against Fitzgerald in the past. I think you’ll see the two veterans matched up quite a bit today.

Brandon Boykin – The numbers:

Targets
Completions
Yards
9213

He’s simply been lights-out in his first two games as the Eagles’ nickel corner. Boykin’s played 56.1 percent of the snaps through two games. Remember, his playing time is completely dependent on what kind of personnel the opponent uses. Last week, the only completion Boykin allowed was a bubble screen that went for no yards. Overall, he’s given up just two catches for 13 yards on nine targets. Those are impressive numbers.

Today, Boykin will take on experienced slot receiver Early Doucet. The Eagles will also need a plan for what to do when Fitzgerald lines up inside. The Cardinals move him around quite a bit.

Nate Allen - Considering how well the Eagles cornerbacks are playing, it makes sense that opponents will try to target the Birds’ safeties and linebackers in coverage. With Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie playing man, teams can move their wide receivers to one side of the field and isolate an Eagles safety in coverage on the other side. For example, take a look at the photo below.

Philadelphia Eagles Safety Nate Allen.

Here, the Eagles are in base personnel with three linebackers, two corners and two safeties. The Ravens have two wide receivers, two tight ends and one running back. They split tight end Dennis Pitta out to the left, creating a favorable matchup against Allen, while Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie shadow the receivers on the other side of the formation. The Ravens did this all game long, and Pitta was the team’s most-targeted receiver (15). By my count, Flacco was 4-for-11 for 46 yards on throws to Pitta with Allen covering him. In other words, the safety won his share of battles, and the defensive line did its job in disrupting Flacco’s timing.

Looking ahead to today, Cardinals tight end Todd Heap is the team’s leading receiver, with eight catches for 94 yards through two games, but he’s listed as questionable with a knee injury. Arizona’s other two tight ends – Jeff King and Rob Housler – have combined for three catches for 15 yards.

Kurt Coleman – He’s had some ups and downs. Coleman had a chance to bring Ray Rice down in the open field, but couldn’t make the play last week. A 13-yard run turned into a 43-yard run. He blitzed in the second half, but quickly noticed Rice releasing into his route for what turned out to be a 37-yard gain. The Cardinals have gotten nothing from their run game in the first two weeks, but one big play to Fitzgerald could be the difference between a win and a loss. Coleman and Allen will have to be ready to help when called upon.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.