All-22: The Good (And Bad) Of Eric Rowe

Eric Rowe and Calvin Johnson. (USA Today Sports)

Eric Rowe and Calvin Johnson. (USA Today Sports)

After Nolan Carroll broke his right ankle on Thanksgiving, Eric Rowe stepped onto Ford Field and didn’t quite believe his eyes. Opposite of the rookie, on just his second snap, was Calvin Johnson.

“It was kind of surreal because I’m like, ‘This is Calvin Johnson, one of the greatest,'” Rowe said.

The safety-turned-corner played 52 snaps in the Eagles’ 45-14 loss, including 14 against Johnson in which he allowed four catches and two touchdown passes. In a game where the Eagles gave up 45 points and five touchdown passes for the second consecutive week, Billy Davis had to insert the second round pick at outside corner. Read more »

Wake-Up Call: Matthews Training With the Best

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Pro Bowl is the mandate. We’re not here just to play football. We’re here to dominate.

That’s the motto that floated off the lips of Tom Bender when speaking of his Atlanta-based program, which trains anywhere from 25-35 NFL players at a time during the offseason. It sounds a bit bold until you consider that his clientele includes the likes of Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green and Demaryius Thomas, arguably the top three receivers in the game.

This is the environment Jordan Matthews has nestled into for the past week, and where he’ll remain until the Eagles open training camp.  Read more »

Eagles’ Change Approach; Megatron, Lions Bust Loose

The plan heading into Sunday’s game against the Lions was to switch up the looks on Calvin Johnson to keep him guessing. That tactic was used sparingly early on. By our count, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie lined up over Johnson just three times in the first half. Nnamdi Asomugha was in charge of Megatron the rest of the time.

Johnson ended the half with one catch for 28 yards.

“I was on him most of the game,” said Asomugha. “I think when we got to the fourth quarter there was a lot more trying to give him a different look, give him something else so that he doesn’t get comfortable with one guy. There were sometimes, especially in the fourth quarter, when Dominique would go to him.”

Unofficially, Rodgers-Cromartie was on Johnson 11 times overall — eight of which came after intermission.

Following the opening 28-yard reception, Johnson was held without another catch until that fourth quarter. From there, he racked up five grabs for 107 yards as the Lions overcame a 10-point deficit to edge the Eagles, 26-23 in overtime.

Johnson had three grabs for 68 yards on a drive early in the fourth that ended in a one-yard Matthew Stafford touchdown run and cut the Eagles’ lead to three. Johnson’s 20-yard pick-up got Detroit down to the goal line. The Eagles’ were in zone coverage on that play and Nate Allen, who it turned out was playing on an injured hamstring, ended up on Johnson and got beat.

Rodgers-Cromartie was primarily responsible for Johnson on the key 17-yard reception in overtime. Juan Castillo dialed up a blitz on the play, sending Kurt Coleman, who did not make it to the quarterback. While much of the talk will be about the lack of blitzes called by the defensive coordinator, the belief by some in the locker room afterwards seemed to be that the blitzes late did more harm than good.

“We brought a little bit [of pressure] today, and they got us on a couple of them,” said Andy Reid. “We have to do better when we do blitz, and obviously we have to get more pressure on the quarterback.”

The decision to blitz late and use more of Rodgers-Cromartie on Johnson in the fourth represent two critical changes in approach that arguably damaged the team’s chances of winning. There was an interesting exchange between a reporter and Asomugha after the game exploring that subject.

As a player, when things go so well for three quarters, is there a sense of wanting the other team to prove they can beat what you’re doing before you change things up?

Asomugha paused for a moment, then said, “Um, yeah.”

As a veteran, is that a spot where you go to your coaches and say, ‘Hey, this is working, let’s try to use more of what’s working?’

“Um, yes.”

Asomugha continued.

“I don’t know if we changed what was working, I’ll just say that I know we blitzed a lot more toward the end of the game. We didn’t do as much blitzing the first three-and-a-half quarters, then we wanted to get after him. We did, and [Stafford] found the spot that he wanted to go to.”




Twitter Mailbag: Dion Lewis On the Move?

Every Thursday we select a few of your Twitter questions and provide the long-form answers they deserve. For a chance to have your question published on Birds 24/7, send it to @Tim_McManus.

From @hense83: How do you see the Eagles DB’s plan on covering CJ?

As I wrote about here, the Eagles will be using plenty of double teams if history is any indicator. Nnamdi Asomugha gave some further insight on Thursday when talking about the defense’s approach to Calvin Johnson. If you remember, the original plan heading into the Arizona game was to have Asomugha shadow Larry Fitzgerald, but they ultimately decided to have the corners just play their respective sides instead. Fitzgerald ended up with nine grabs for 114 yards and a touchdown.

“I think we learned from that a little bit,” said Asomugha. “There will be different things that we do. It’s not going to be a generic gameplan. You’re talking about one of the best receivers out there. Whatever we didn’t do against Larry, I think we’ve learned from that.”

I wouldn’t expect too much Brandon Boykin on Johnson. Then it’s a matter of whether Asomugha or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie draws the assignment, or if they split the duties.

From @MrJustinPowell: The RB play throughout the league is weak, why don’t the Eagles consider moving Polk for something? An OL perhaps?

I think your head is in the right place, but maybe focused on the wrong guy. LeSean McCoy is never off the field for long and the Eagles aren’t exactly a ground-and-pound offense, so it was always a bit unnatural to carry four running backs and a fullback on the roster. The problem was, the Eagles saw talent at the running back position and wanted to keep the best players, so they held onto Dion Lewis, Bryce Brown and Chris Polk. Brown has since jumped over Lewis on the depth chart and Polk is a rookie with some upside that can play special teams.

Where does that leave Lewis, exactly?  The Pitt product did not fare well as a kick returner last season and otherwise doesn’t play special teams. He was inactive for the first four games and was unspectacular in limited play against the Steelers.

I am not sure you can find a trade partner, but if you can get a low pick for Lewis and free up a roster spot in the process, why not do it? The trade deadline is October 30.

@riggitty: can we just call Brandon Graham Jerome McDougle already?

Riggity, this is the exact wrong time to try and bury Graham. He made the most out of his limited opportunities early in the season, and has jumped Phillip Hunt in the rotation as a result. Graham was the most efficient defensive lineman against the Steelers. As Sheil lays out here, he had 11 pass-rushing opportunities on Sunday and generated a QB hurry on five of those for a rate of 45.4 percent. Consider that Trent Cole and Jason Babin were in a combined 102 plays  and had just three hurries between  them. Graham was on the field for just 18 snaps.

He will be a bigger factor moving forward, and he’s earned it.

From @KobeThe Boat:  is castillo at least discussing more of a blitzing style to create more pressure?

I expect Castillo to dial up a few more blitzes but I wouldn’t anticipate any significant changes. In one respect, they feel like they are at a strategic advantage with opponents keeping in extra guys just to deal with their four-man rush. Maybe the sack totals go down, but they win the numbers game in coverage as a result.

The overall philosophy is somewhat conservative on defense. They want to keep everything in front of them and seem willing to sacrifice making a big play in order to prevent the offense from getting one on them.

“The important thing is that you want to keep the score down,” said Castillo Thursday. “Last year [during] the last four games, we were giving up less than two touchdowns. That’s what we’re trying to get back to. Really, if you can do that, it might not guarantee a win, but you have a chance.”


Calvin Johnson Expects Eagles To ‘Box’ Him In

Will it be Nnamdi Asomugha or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on Calvin Johnson Sunday?

That might not be entirely the right question, because it won’t be a solo mission.

“There’s only been like, not even 10 to 15 snaps this year where I’ve had one-on-one [coverage] or something like it,” said Johnson.

The 6-5, 236-pound freak they call Megatron is always the defense’s primary concern. Despite the attention, Johnson has 29 catches for 423 yards with one touchdown through four games. To try and get him loose, the Lions have been lining Johnson up in the slot a good bit this year, though that does not rid him of the heavy coverage.

“We do a lot of it. And a lot of times there is, call  it a box coverage, where they will play four over two or three in the box,” said Johnson. “The deepest take the deepness, the shallow guy takes the flat, one guy takes the inside and one guy takes the deeper out. I think they’ll probably box us up. That’s what they’ve been doing on film so far.”

Though it will be a joint effort, the Eagles still have an interesting decision to make as to who will primarily line up over Johnson.  Asomugha was initially going to shadow Larry Fitzgerald against Arizona but that plan was ultimately aborted. Rodgers-Cromartie has followed receivers across the field on a couple occasions this season, including Mike Wallace of the Steelers last week. Wallace finished with two catches for 17 yards.

Johnson was asked what type of corner he will typically draw: a press guy like Asomugha or more of a speed defender like DRC.

“From the past I saw a lot of the press guys, they just try to slow you down off the ball a little bit,” said Johnson.

“[Asomugha] likes to press. Rodgers more so likes to play off but he’s good from press as well. It depends a lot on situation in the game and the call their defensive coordinator makes. But for the most part, Nnamdi is up close.”

When the Eagles and Lions played in Detroit back in 2010, Johnson had four catches for 50 yards and a touchdown. Overall, he has six grabs for 108 yards against the Eagles.

“When they give you the nickname Megatron, that means you’re pretty good,” said Andy Reid. “He’s a good player. A real good player.”