Dunlap Replaces Bell At Left Tackle

It turns out the Eagles will tweak their offensive line after all.

King Dunlap is back in, and Demetress Bell is out at left tackle, a team source tells Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com.

Dunlap beat Bell out for the starting spot during training camp and the preseason. He started the first two games of the regular season before suffering a hamstring injury. Dunlap was active the last two games, but Bell still started. Clearly, the coaching staff was hoping Bell would improve and be the man the rest of the way. But that never happened. He was OK against the Steelers, but really struggled against the Lions.

In Dunlap, the Eagles know what they have. He’ll get beat from time to time, but should be adequate. Perhaps something will click for Bell down the road, but Dunlap, if healthy, is the better option right now.

No other personnel changes have been made on the offensive line – for now. The team returns to practice on Wednesday.

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

Eagles Wake-Up Call: Taking Stock Of the O-Line

Philadelphia Eagles offensive line coach Howard MuddThe area where the Eagles are most likely to shake up personnel during the bye week is the offensive line.

The problem? They don’t have a lot of options. We’ll see if they sign someone or even make a trade. But given the way the roster currently stands, let’s take a look at all five spots to see where things could be headed in the final 10 games.

Left tackle: King Dunlap won the starting job out of camp and was the man the first two weeks before suffering an injury. Since then, it’s been Demetress Bell. The Eagles are looking for adequate out of this spot, not great. They know none of their current options is going to be Jason Peters. I thought Bell gave them adequate a couple weeks ago against the Steelers. But he struggled big-time against the Lions.

The key with Bell is this: Do you think he can be significantly better a few weeks from now? If the answer is yes, you stick with him. After all, this is the guy the Eagles targeted in the offseason to fill in for Peters, and he comes with a track record of having started 24 games prior to 2012. But if you anticipate him playing more games like last week, you have to make a change. One option, and probably the most likely, is to go back to Dunlap. The other (and a longshot) would be to throw rookie Dennis Kelly into the mix.

Left guard: Evan Mathis has not been as consistent as last year, but he’s the least of the concerns on the offensive line. The Eagles took a look at Chris Williams yesterday. He started nine games at left guard for the Bears last year.

Center: Jason Kelce’s injury has simply been devastating. He started the first two games, and since then, it’s been Dallas Reynolds. The offense had a pair of botched snaps last game, one of which resulted in a turnover. You can live with Reynolds missing blocks and getting beaten, but errors like the snap that sailed past Michael Vick will kill this team.

The Eagles have veteran Steve Vallos on the roster, but all signs indicate they’re not too confident in him. Remember, Reynolds beat out Vallos in the preseason. And even though the Eagles brought Vallos back, he’s been inactive the past two games. Instead of having him dress as Reynolds’ backup, the Eagles have gone with Mathis. So if you’re looking for a truly outside-the-box idea, that might be it – give Mathis a shot at center.

Last week, when I was asked Todd Herremans why the Eagles have improved against the blitz, he pointed to preparation and mentioned that Mathis had been going to meetings with Reynolds and Vick. From a physical standpoint, Mathis is better than Reynolds. And going over the protection calls probably wouldn’t be a major issue. But there are two major red flags. One is that Mathis has never played center in the NFL (yes, that’s a big one). And the other is this: If you’re weakening left guard to potentially upgrade at center, then what’s really the point?

Right guard: Danny Watkins continues to be way too up-and-down in his second season, specifically in pass protection. Does he have his moments? Sure. Watkins did a good job pulling in front of a LeSean McCoy run last week, and I showed with the All-22 how he did a nice job on a 17-yard screen. But overall, just too many mistakes.

I know some are calling for him to be replaced, but Watkins doesn’t look any worse to me now than he did for much of last season. And the truth is, the Eagles don’t have a lot of options to replace him. Dunlap played a game at guard last season and held up well. But asking him to play there every week is a different story. Kelly played guard in the preseason, but it’s unlikely that the rookie would be able to step in and provide a significant upgrade. The Eagles signed Nate Menkin from the Texans’ practice squad, but he seems like more of a down-the-road option.

In other words, I think they stick with Watkins and hope that he improves.

Right tackle: Of all the positions, this is where the Eagles actually have some flexibility. Todd Herremans has been up-and-down this season. And you know he can play guard at a high level. But the only reason you move him inside is if you’re able to adequately replace him at right tackle. Would I consider Dunlap adequate? Probably. But I have concerns about him holding up for a 10-game stretch. If they really like Kelly, he could be an option too.

I’m not sure replacing Watkins with Herremans and Herremans with Dunlap/Kelly is a significant upgrade. If the Mathis-to-center move is an option, then perhaps Herremans moves to left guard. But that would mean three of the five spots would be occupied by new starters – probably too drastic a shake-up for Week 8 of the regular season.

I’d say it’s unlikely that Herremans gets moved back to guard at this point, but given the struggles of this group, my guess is all options are on the table for the final 10 games.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Even if he wants to, Andy Reid cannot replace Vick with Nick Foles. Tim explains why.

While we are well aware of the offensive line’s struggles, this week’s All-22 analysis shows that Vick left too many plays on the field Sunday.

Reid is getting slammed by the national media for his decision to fire Juan Castillo.

The link between Todd Bowles and Bill Parcells was formed during Bowles’ playing days.

What does the Castillo firing say about Reid? Tim takes a look.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

SI.com’s Don Banks has the Eagles 13th in his power rankings:

Well, I’d say Andy Reid finally understands the urgency of the situation in Philly. It’s win-or-surrender-your-parking-space time. Firing a coordinator and benching a quarterback are two of the biggest cards an embattled head coach can play in midseason to try to save the ship from going down. Reid just did one of those, and looks ready to do the other any minute now.

Joe Banner was introduced as new CEO of the Cleveland Browns yesterday and was asked how his current situation compares to taking over the Eagles. Per the team’s Web site:

“There are a lot of analogies. You’re in a market with a fan base that’s just tremendously passionate and frankly, in running a franchise there’s nothing more valuable than being in a place where they care that much and there’s that much passion and interest. That’s very analogous to what I had in Philadelphia. The challenge is how do we take advantage of that and how do we reward that quite frankly, whether it’s a gameday experience, getting from your car to the stadium or buying a hot dog at the concession stand or how you feel when you walk out of the building based on how the team performed. We’re going to evaluate every single aspect of that and that’s again similar to Philadelphia. There will be some places where a little incremental improvement can be made and there will some places, frankly, where you’ll see dramatic changes, but it will take time.”

COMING UP

You should know by now that Birds 24/7 doesn’t believe in the bye week. We’ll have plenty of content to get you through the day.

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

All-22: What We Saw From the Eagles’ Offense

Here’s what I saw from the Eagles’ offense after having reviewed the All-22 tape.

Play 1: My overall impression here was that there were plenty of opportunities for points, and the players on the field came up short. In other words, I probably put far less blame on Marty Mornhinweg than many of you for this one. But let me try to show what I mean. We start with the second Michael Vick interception, which really turned out to be a huge play.

The Eagles had everything work on the play except for the throw. They lined up in the I-formation and ran a play-fake that got the safety to bite. DeSean Jackson got open for what should have been a monster play, and pass protection held up.


The safety (No. 26) is barely in the picture, and Jackson has the cornerback behind him. If the ball is thrown towards the middle of the field, this is an 80-yard touchdown. But look at where the ball ends up.


It’s behind Jackson, forcing him to turn around, and allowing Chris Houston to pick it off. The Eagles go from a potential 80-yard touchdown to a turnover. Once again, we see that the offense is not hitting on big plays because it’s not executing. It has little to do with defenses taking those big plays away.

Play 2: Again, a game of missed opportunities. The offense just left way too many yards on the field. Both Vick and Andy Reid talked about how Jeremy Maclin was wide-open on the Eagles’ final drive in regulation. And they weren’t lying. Maclin did a good job of being physical against the defensive back and created all kinds of space.


That’s as open as you can hope to get on this route. The yellow circle identifies all the open field available with no Lions defenders. At the least, you’re looking at a 20-yard gain. If Maclin can make a defender (or two) miss, it’s a touchdown. But Vick’s pass gets batted down at the line of scrimmage by Ndamukong Suh, and the Eagles have to punt.

Play 3: The first interception was also a missed opportunity. It didn’t look to me like Vick made a bad decision, but he was late with the football. The first shot shows Jason Avant open, behind the linebacker and in front of the safety.


It’s not that Avant is covered when Vick throws the football. It’s that the pocket has changed because he waited. At first, he had a nice clean pocket.

But Dallas Reynolds and Evan Mathis have trouble with Nick Fairley. The next photo shows what the pocket looks like when Vick actually starts to get rid of the ball.


Can you even see him back there? How is Vick supposed to make an accurate throw with that crowd in front of him? The ball floats over Avant’s head and is picked off by Louis Delmas. Reynolds and Mathis take some blame here. But Vick does too for not getting rid of the ball sooner.

Play 4: Alright, before I get you too depressed and you stop reading, let’s get to some of the good plays. For a short time, it looked like the 70-yard touchdown to Maclin would be what everyone dissected this week. The Eagles’ biggest play of the game started before the ball was snapped.


Jackson is lined up in the slot to the right. ESPN’s NFL Matchup crew always does a good job of showing how quarterbacks use motion to identify coverages. Here, there are nine Lions defenders near the line of scrimmage. Vick motions Jackson to the left, and the defensive back goes with him.


That sets up a bunch look for the Eagles to the left. Three receivers against three defensive backs. The Lions take a huge gamble with a seven-man blitz. After the ball is snapped, the bunch look confuses Detroit as two receivers go with Avant, leaving Maclin wide open.


The result is a 70-yard score. If you’re looking for a bright spot with Vick and the offense, it’s that they’re much improved against the blitz. On Sunday, Vick was 10-for-15 for 157 yards against extra pressure.

Play 5: The Eagles’ screen game has been horrible for much of the season, but maybe there’s reason for hope. They scored the 2-yard touchdown to LeSean McCoy on an inside screen. And this one near the end of the first half had to be one of their best screens of the year.


Danny Watkins and Evan Mathis double-team one linebacker. Todd Herremans handles the other. And Brent Celek has a defensive back downfield. McCoy ends up with a nice 17-yard gain.

Play 6: Here’s why you can’t always blame play-calling. Vick has two receivers open in Celek (shorter crossing route) and Avant.


Vick chooses Avant, which is fine, except that the throw is behind him.


Give Demetress Bell some blame on this play too for allowing Kyle Vanden Bosch to hit Vick as he released the ball. A potential 16- or 17-yard gain results in an incompletion.

Play 7: And finally, perhaps because the Eagles have showed a more balanced game-plan in recent weeks, the Lions really geared up to stop the run on certain plays. Check out this look with eight men in the box on a 2nd-and-10 play in the first quarter.


Three linebackers and a safety right behind the four linemen. Even with the defense loaded up to stop the run, it looked initially like McCoy could have had a running lane. And if you can get past the defenders in the box, these runs can turn into monster gains.


But Mathis and Watkins can’t maintain the lane for McCoy, who actually runs into Watkins before absorbing a 2-yard loss.

He has just 75 yards on 30 carries the past two weeks.

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

OL Review: Watkins Continues To Struggle

Philadelphia Eagles right guard Danny Watkins.Here’s a player-by-player review of the Eagles’ offensive line after having re-watched Sunday’s game against the Lions.

Demetress Bell – Looked like a step backwards for Bell, who struggled throughout. He was beaten badly by Lawrence Jackson and allowed a hit on Michael Vick in the first. Bell ran right into LeSean McCoy on the 3rd-and-1 shovel pass that resulted in a 3-yard loss. Jackson beat him again in the second and hit Vick as he threw complete to Jason Avant. He got spun around and beaten by Kyle Vanden Bosch, who hit Vick on a third-quarter incompletion. Bell was beaten by Vanden Bosch again on a third down in the third. Jackson beat him to the inside, forcing Vick out of the pocket on a third down in the fourth. Bell did a poor job on Bryce Brown’s run that went for no gain on the second-to-last series. And he got steam-rolled by Vanden Bosch on the Eagles’ final offensive play. Early on, Bell was called for a false start. He’s tied for the team lead with five penalties on the season.

Evan Mathis – Up-and-down game for Mathis. He gave up a hit on Vick in the first as Sammie Hill was called for a personal foul. He got blown back on a Brown run that lost 4 yards in the third. Mathis was beaten by Nick Fairley on the second sack of Vick on the final drive. Fairley twisted outside, and I’m not sure if Mathis was expecting help from McCoy, who stayed in to block momentarily before releasing into his route. Vick held on to the ball for awhile before going down for a loss of 14. The next play could have resulted in a safety. After Vanden Bosch steamrolled Bell, Mathis held him pretty blatantly in the end zone before Vick threw the ball way. Had the refs thrown the flag, it would have been a safety. On the flip side, Mathis did a good job pinning the defensive tackle inside on Vick’s 2-yard touchdown to McCoy. And he had some good moments in pass protection.

Dallas Reynolds – Not a good showing for Reynolds. We know about how he snapped the ball before Vick was ready, resulting in a turnover. But the other fumble where he and Vick botched the snap might have been on Reynolds too. Despite a double-team, he and Mathis let a rusher break through and get to Vick on his first interception intended for Avant. Fairley beat him badly and dropped McCoy for a 5-yard loss in the third. Reynolds completely whiffed on his block on the screen to McCoy in the fourth that picked up 1. He and Bell had a good double-team on the linebacker on McCoy’s 2-yard touchdown in the second.

Danny Watkins – The second-year guard is really struggling. Fairley and Ndamukong Suh made it a very long day for Watkins. He got beaten by Suh and gave up a hit in the first quarter. Fairley got past him and hit Vick to force an incompletion in the second. He was slow to get to the linebacker on Brown’s 2-yard run in the second. Watkins got abused by Fairley, who hit Vick in the third. It was really a bad play. Vick was in shotgun and threw an 8-yard slant. The Lions only rushed four, yet he still got crushed. That’s unacceptable. Fairley beat Watkins and dropped McCoy for a 4-yard loss in the fourth. Suh got in Vick’s passing lane and batted down a ball on the second-to-last drive. He could have had Jeremy Maclin for a big gain. Not sure if that was on Watkins or Vick. On the Cliff Avril sack in overtime, Watkins got beaten by Suh. The bright spots? Good job in pass protection on the 70-yard touchdown to Maclin. Good job pulling on McCoy’s 6-yard run in the second. And good job blocking out in front of a 17-yard screen to McCoy in the second. But just too many issues throughout.

Todd Herremans – He actually held up really well in pass protection… until the final drive of the game. Herremans gave up a costly sack against Avril, letting him get around the edge. Other than that, I’m not sure he got beaten all day. Herremans made a nice block on the 17-yard screen to McCoy in the second.

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

Cheat Sheet: Eagles’ Offense Vs. Lions’ Defense

Philadelphia Eagles right guard Danny Watkins.Here are 10 things to know about the matchup between the Eagles’ offense and the Lions’ defense. And if you missed the first cheat sheet, click here.

1. The numbers show the Lions are allowing 28.5 points per game, but that’s a little deceiving when you consider they’ve given up four special-teams scores in the last two games. Football Outsiders has Detroit ranked 20th overall – 24th against the pass and 15th against the run. Like the Eagles, the Lions’ attack revolves around getting pressure up front with their defensive line. They’ve got talent at linebacker, but their cornerbacks are not on the same level as the Birds.

2. Let’s start with those defensive linemen. Don’t expect to see the Lions blitz a lot. Last year, they rushed four linemen 77.7 percent of the time, third-most in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders. And like the Eagles, Detroit will use a rotation. Against the Vikings, seven different players were on the field for at least 20 snaps. Cliff Avril is listed as questionable with a back injury. If he goes, he’ll match up with Todd Herremans at left defensive end. Avril led the team with 11 sacks and 27 hurries last year. Herremans had a poor outing a couple weeks ago against the Giants but was very good against the Steelers.

3. On the other side, Demetress Bell will see a lot of veteran Kyle Vanden Bosch. Vanden Bosch spent five seasons with the Titans, where he learned his trade from Jim Washburn, twice tallying double-digit sack seasons. Now 33-years-old, Vanden Bosch had eight sacks and 15.5 hurries in 2011. Bell has been far from perfect, but he has improved and held up well for the most part in pass protection last week against the Steelers. One key matchup to watch will be right guard Danny Watkins against Ndamukong Suh. Suh had just four sacks in his second seasons, but Football Outsiders had him down for 24 hurries. Watkins continues to struggle in pass protection. Defensive tackle Corey Williams is out with a knee injury.

4. Confusion was an issue for the Eagles up front last week. And while the Lions won’t blitz a lot, they present some challenges for Howard Mudd’s group. Here’s one look from Week 4 where three linemen had their hands on the ground.


Even though there’s a lot of space in between them, Avril is going to twist inside behind Suh.


As you can see, both Vikings offensive linemen block Suh, and Avril runs free. If you want to put this into Eagles terms, we’re talking potentially about Watkins and Herremans. The result is a third-down incompletion and a near sack.

5. Of course, the aggressive pass-rush and use of the wide-nine has its disadvantages, as we’ve seen with the Eagles from time to time. One of those is the run D. Opponents are averaging 4.1 yards per carry against Detroit. In Week 4, Adrian Peterson rumbled for 102 yards, averaging 4.9 yards per carry. The image below may look familiar to you.

Vanden Bosch is lined up wide, ready to get after the passer. But the Vikings call a run with Percy Harvin.

Vanden Bosch is caught way upfield, and Harvin has a huge lane to run through for 14 yards.

The Eagles have put together balanced game-plans in each of the past two weeks. And while LeSean McCoy’s numbers (16 carries, 53 yards) from the Steelers game won’t jump off the page, he ran the ball well. He should be able to do some damage on Sunday.

6. The Lions have some talent at linebacker with Stephen Tulloch, DeAndre Levy (WILL) and Justin Durant (SAM). Tulloch played in Tennessee for five seasons before joining the Lions, so the wide-nine is nothing new to him. Levy, a third-round pick in 2009, has started each of the past four seasons. Durant spent his first four years in the league with the Jaguars before joining the Lions in 2011. Levy’s blitzed 22 times in four games (per Pro Football Focus); Tulloch 15 times; and Durant 10 times.

7. Opposing QBs have completed 66.1 percent of their passes against the Lions and are averaging 7.4 yards per attempt. Detroit has allowed five touchdown passes and has yet to come up with an interception. Veteran Chris Houston and rookie third-round pick Bill Bentley will match up against DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin on the outside. The Eagles could look to take shots at Bentley deep. In the past two games, he’s been called for three pass interference penalties and one defensive holding. Jackson is averaging 4.8 receptions and 78.2 yards per game. Both would be career-highs if they held up the rest of the way. He’s also yet to drop a pass. Maclin hasn’t been able to get going with just 165 yards in four games.

8. Brent Celek could play a big role Sunday. Football Outsiders ranks the Lions 27th at defending the tight end. Vernon Davis had five catches for 73 yards and a pair of scores against Detroit. Tennessee’s Jared Cook had four catches for 77 yards and a touchdown against the Lions. As for Celek, he had a season-low 9 yards receiving last week, although one of his three grabs was a touchdown. Part of the reason was that Celek stayed in to block more – on about 34 percent of the team’s pass plays, compared to about 28 percent the first four games. On the season, Celek has eight catches of 20+ yards, tied for fourth-most in the NFL, and just one fewer than Calvin Johnson.

9. The Eagles have scored touchdowns on 43.75 percent of their trips to the red zone. That ranks 24th in the NFL. The main issue? C’mon… you know this one. That’s right, turnovers. Two Michael Vick fumbles, one Vick interception and one McCoy fumble have hurt the Eagles inside the 20. That’s of added importance this week, given that the Lions boast the top red-zone defense in the league, allowing touchdowns just 16.67 percent of the time so far this season.

10. Leftovers: McCoy has 49 carries for 268 yards (5.5 YPC) to the right and 33 carries for 128 yards (3.9 YPC) to the left. …Fullback Stanley Havili has played more than 33 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in each of the past two weeks. …So much for a larger role for Clay Harbor this season. He’s played 34.1 percent of the team’s snaps, compared to 33.6 percent last season. Harbor has just six catches for 50 yards. …Vick completed 11 of 15 passes (73.3 percent) against the blitz last week.

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

Eagles Wake-Up Call: Checking the Penalty Count

Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Nnamdi AsomughaThe Eagles had a sizable penalty advantage against the Steelers last week. The Birds were called for just five penalties for 35 yards, a season-low. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, had nine penalties for 106 yards.

On the season, the Eagles are averaging 6.8 penalties (19th, meaning 18 teams are averaging fewer) and 63.4 penalty yards (23rd). In 2011, the numbers were 6.7 (23rd) and 53.3 (19th), respectively.

So who have been the biggest culprits? Here’s a look:

 
Penalties
Penalty Yards
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie446
Nnamdi Asomugha433
Evan Mathis430
Demetress Bell428
Jason Babin310

Keep in mind the numbers count penalties that were declined. The team’s two starting corners, and perhaps the Eagles’ most consistent offensive lineman are tied with Bell for the team lead in penalties with four. Bell’s numbers are actually even worse when you consider he’s only played about 3.5 games. Dallas Reynolds, who has also played about 3.5 games, is the only starter on the offensive line who has not yet been called for a penalty.

Phillip Hunt, King Dunlap, Jeremy MaclinDanny Watkins and Todd Herremans have two penalties apiece.

In terms of types of penalties, a couple things stand out. Number one, the Eagles have been called for 12 offensive holding penalties, second-most in the NFL. So we should all concede that they’re at least trying to keep opponents away from Michael Vick.

Meanwhile, of the eight personal foul penalties, six have been called on defensive linemen (two on Hunt, and one each on Darryl Tapp, Babin, Cullen Jenkins and Trent Cole).

WHAT YOU MISSED

For the second straight week, in an attempt to boost special teams, the Eagles made a linebacker swap. Adrian Moten is out, and Jason Williams is in. Details here.

Were the Eagles linebackers responsible for the struggles against the run last week? Here’s the game review.

And here are notes on the running backs, wide receivers and tight ends, including details on how the Birds used Brent Celek.

Don’t forget to check out the podcast of Birds 24/7 Radio. We’re on the air on 97.5 The Fanatic every Monday from 6 to 7 p.m.

Steelers offensive lineman Willie Colon called the Eagles “cheap-shot artists.”

If you’re looking for a positive with Vick, he did a very nice job against the blitz last week.

SI.com’s Peter King and some others in the national media have brought up the idea of Vick getting benched for Nick Foles.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Ben Roethlisberger clarified that he doesn’t think the Eagles were playing dirty.

“I was never quoted as saying (the Eagles played) dirty,” Roethlisberger said, per Adam Caplan. “I think they’re a very physical team, they like to get after you. It might have been misunderstood when I said, ‘They get after it.’ Getting after me, we tell all those guys to get after the player. That’s just being physical and trying to make plays. If I call someone dirty, you’ll know it.”

Ryan Grigson and the Colts have signed former Eagles defensive tackle Antonio Dixon.

And finally, Tiki Barber went after Vick pretty hard in his USA Today column, advising Andy Reid to bench the quarterback.

The last thing a team needs is doubt and dissension. Confidence and trust in the plan — and the players executing it — are the underlying building blocks to wins and loses. But the Philly locker room could face disruption because players will be asked about Vick’s job security.

To a man, the Eagles will outwardly stand behind Vick. But make no mistake, the psyche of the team is changing. Maybe it’ll start with a group of two or three guys, disgruntled for one reason or another (maybe they’re not getting enough balls thrown their way).

After a couple more weeks of the same, it’ll be 15 to 20 guys. And if the Eagles lose games they’re supposed to win, the outward support will be gone. If a change isn’t made, faith in Reid will start to evaporate.

COMING UP

The Eagles are back at Novacare preparing for Sunday’s matchup against the Lions. We’ll have it all covered, along with some All-22 analysis.

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

OL Review: Eagles Shifting Offensive Philosophy?

When evaluating the state of the Eagles’ offensive line right now, it’s important to manage expectations.

A couple weeks ago, the coaches approached the Cardinals game assuming the offense would be just fine operating as it usually does. They tried little things to help Demetress Bell and Dallas Reynolds, who were making their first starts of the season. But overall, Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg believed this offense could still score points by hitting on big plays down the field in the passing game.

After a 27-6 loss, though, it appears they’ve made some changes. The offense is in a difficult spot. On one hand, the personnel – Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek – should thrive in a big-play offense. One in which safeties can never play deep enough because the Eagles just have too much speed. But such an offense requires pass protection that gives the quarterback time to wait for those routes to develop.

The truth is, the Eagles are not going to get that protection consistently with this line. Three of the five offensive linemen – Bell, Reynolds and Danny Watkins – are question marks.

So before the Giants game, the coaches made some fairly significant adjustments. Use fullback Stanley Havili and try to maximize production in the run game with LeSean McCoy. Choose spots to take shots down the field, and provide extra protection to let those plays develop. Have the wide receivers work the short and intermediate routes. Let them make plays after the catch. Give Vick options to get rid of the ball quickly.

It’s probably not the preferred style of play for Reid and Mornhinweg. But given the injuries to Jason Peters and Jason Kelce, the turnovers by Vick, the effectiveness of McCoy and the play of the defense, it’s the Eagles’ best chance to win games in 2012.

And so that’s what we saw for the second straight game yesterday. Later in the week, I’ll try to show some of what I described above with the All-22 tape. For now, here is a player-by-player breakdown of the offensive line after having re-watched the TV broadcast.

Demetress Bell – I think you can get by with Bell if he plays like he did on Sunday. In some ways, it was a King Dunlap-like performance. He wasn’t great, but he didn’t kill them. Overall, there seemed to be too many plays where general confusion among the offensive linemen led to pressure. For example, the Steelers fooled the Eagles on a third down in the third, showing six at the line of scrimmage, but only rushing four. Brett Keisel went right between Bell and Evan Mathis. Neither guy blocked anyone. Not good. Vick scrambled and threw the ball away. But overall, I thought Bell did pretty well in protection. He got his share of help, but was certainly asked to block people one-on-one at times. The Eagles ran to the left side a fair amount. Bell did a nice job on McCoy’s 10-yard run around the left edge in the first. Often times, a tight end lined up next to Bell to try and gain the edge on those runs. Bell did a poor job with his backside block on McCoy’s 2-yard run in the fourth. He didn’t block anyone on the inside screen to Clay Harbor in the fourth. He didn’t provide much of a block on Vick’s QB draw that lost 1 yard in the second. He offered a poor attempt at a cut block on McCoy’s 4-yard run in the second. And he was called for a false start on the first drive. Like I said, an OK performance. If he stays at left tackle, the Eagles need to continue to help him and see how much he can improve. I think the one thing Bell has over Dunlap is that his ceiling should be higher. In other words, if Mudd is seeing the right signs, significant improvement by the time November rolls around is possible.

Evan Mathis – He was OK, but this wasn’t Mathis’ best performance. I mentioned the confusion above. On another play, James Harrison twisted inside, and it looked like Bell was expecting Mathis to pick him up, but he didn’t. Harrison rushed cleanly and got a shot on Vick, forcing an incompletion. Mathis had an issue in pass protection on the throw to Maclin that drew a 31-yard pass interference penalty. Harrison beat him and hit Vick on a fourth-quarter incompletion to Celek. In the run game, Mathis did a good job on McCoy’s 6-yard run in the fourth.

Dallas Reynolds – Hate to repeat myself, but once again, confusion. The Eagles had seven to block four in the fourth, yet Lawrence Timmons ran right between Reynolds and Watkins to hit Vick. Reynolds and Mathis both picked up the linebacker on the play. One guess is Reynolds probably should have blocked Timmons, but Dion Lewis might have been responsible too. On another play, Reynolds had trouble with Casey Hampton, but recovered and took him to the ground as Vick stepped to his left. Overall, I thought Reynolds did a lot of good things. He made a nice block on Havili’s 5-yard run in the first. He did an excellent job of picking up a blitzer on the 10-yard completion to Maclin in the first. He made a nice block on Bryce Brown’s 4-yard run in the second. And he did a good job of switching off his man and picking up a blitzer on the 24-yard completion to Jackson. Again, it’s a matter of expectations. Reynolds is not going to make the Pro Bowl. But he appears to be improving.

Danny Watkins – It looked like he probably missed his assignment in the first. The Steelers rushed four. The Eagles had six in to block, and Timmons rushed Vick unblocked, leading to a sack. I’ll take a look at the All-22, but it seemed like Watkins was probably responsible. On another play, I’m not sure if Watkins was expecting help from Reynolds, but he let Steve McLendon go right past him and sack Vick in the third. Vick fumbled on the play, but Watkins recovered. He also got beat by Jason Worllds on the 2-yard touchdown to Celek. The good? Watkins made a nice block on the Vick QB draw that resulted in a fumble. And it looked like McCoy ran right behind him on the second fourth-and-one carry during the 17-play drive. The inconsistency, specifically in pass protection, remains an issue in Watkins’ second season.

Todd Herremans – Nice bounce-back game after Herremans had issues against the Giants. He was clean in pass protection throughout the game. And he did a nice job on the Vick QB draw that resulted in a fumble.

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

All-22: What We Saw From the Eagles’ Offense

Before we get started, thanks to everyone for the kind words in the comments, through e-mail and via Twitter. It’s been an amazing few days for the Kapadia family.

Also, a HUGE thank you is in order for T-Mac, who’s been flying solo and killing it with his Eagles-Giants coverage all week. Tim’s got a five-month old at home. Now I get to rack his brain about important topics, like how to get off diaper duty.

While I still am taking a couple days to get back into the swing of things, I did get a chance to take a look at the All-22 of Sunday night’s game. Here’s what I saw out of the offense.

Play 1: Last week, we talked a lot about how the Eagles’ game-plan against the Cardinals focused on downfield passes that required extended pass protection. Against the Giants? Adjustments. Take this second-quarter play, for example. Giants linebacker Michael Boley comes unblocked on a blitz.


Against Arizona, often in these situations, wide receivers would have their backs to the quarterback, making their way downfield, and Michael Vick would have to escape the pocket. Here, he finds Damaris Johnson, who is wide open.


Initially a 6-yard completion, but the rookie wide receiver makes a move towards the sideline, and suddenly the Eagles have a 17-yard gain. Good read, good throw by Vick. Good move after the catch by Johnson. And good design by Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg.

Play 2: I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say DeSean Jackson is playing some of the best football of his career. Think the Giants were worried about him getting deep? Take a look at the attention he draws on this first-quarter play (right of the screen).


Not one, not two, but three Giants defenders are around Jackson deep downfield. That leaves three Eagles open on one side of the field. However, Demetress Bell got beaten badly by Jason Pierre-Paul on the play, and Vick had to scramble to the other side for 3 yards. But just another example of how Jackson can open things up for his teammates.

Play 3: A lot to like about the Jackson touchdown in the second quarter. First of all, the overall concept is one that can work for this team on a weekly basis. The Giants send seven defenders after Vick. But the Eagles keep eight players in to block.


Only Jackson and Jeremy Maclin go out into pass routes. They were going up against three Giants defenders in the secondary. Stevie Brown (No. 27) has to hang out near the line of scrimmage in case Stanley Havili or Brent Celek goes out into a route. Overall, good protection. Below, check out where Jackson is when Vick releases the ball.


The safety is over the top to help, but the far side of the field is wide open, so he can’t cheat over early. Jackson runs a terrific route, making the cornerback look silly, and heads to the left corner of the end zone. Also, an excellent throw by Vick. He gets rid of the ball before Jackson is actually open. Great execution all around.

Play 4: A lot of talk about Maclin only having one catch (on three targets) for 7 yards. Reid offered his thoughts yesterday, but the game tape shows there were at least a few occasions where Maclin was open, but didn’t get the ball. Take a look at this 3rd-and-11 play early in the second quarter.


Maclin is open at the top of your screen (red box), with the corner back-pedaling. But Vick chooses to go to Jackson on the other side of the field. Not a terrible decision. He had some space too, but Vick’s throw was a little off-target because he had an unblocked blitzer hitting him as he threw.

Play 5: Another chance with Maclin. Here, Vick scrambles to his right, but look at who’s streaking down the sideline behind the defense, open for a potential touchdown.


These frames are from when Vick is just about to cross the line of scrimmage. Not an easy throw on the move, but then again, not a high-risk throw either, considering how much open space Maclin is working with. From another angle:


You can see Maclin’s got his hand up, calling for the ball. The Eagles ended up with the game-winning field goal on the drive, so maybe I’m nit-picking.

Play 6: Vick’s taken plenty of heat for holding onto the ball too long in the past. But there is also sometimes a downside to getting rid of it quickly. On this fourth-quarter play, Maclin gets open deep. But Vick has pressure from both defensive ends, steps up and takes a safe throw to Havili for 7 yards.


Let me be clear. Vick did nothing wrong here. It was first down in a tight game, the offense picked up 7, and he didn’t get hit. That’s a win. However, as you can see, Maclin’s route takes him to the sideline. Yes, there was safety help, but Vick would have definitely had a window to hit on a big play (maybe even a touchdown) had he been able to buy time, or had the protection been better.

As for Maclin, Eagles fans (and fantasy owners!) should not be worried. Had three different plays gone a little bit differently, we’d be talking about what a great game he had. He’ll get plenty of looks going forward, and even though he was coming off an injury, Maclin got open on several occasions in this one.

Play 7: A perfect example of how play-action can work in the third quarter. On the Eagles’ opening drive of the second half, they ran the ball down the Giants’ throats. LeSean McCoy had runs of 34 and 22 yards, respectively. On the next drive, the Eagles ran play-action on 2nd-and-10.

After the play-fake, two linebackers and a safety rush towards the line of scrimmage, leaving all kinds of open space for Celek. Vick makes one of his easiest throws of the day for a 27-yard completion.

Play 8: You really have to feel for back-side defenders who play against McCoy. Take a look at this fourth-quarter run.


McCoy’s going straight ahead, right? Look at that huge running lane. No back in his right mind would cut outside Jason Pierre-Paul in this situation.


The man sees things. McCoy has made a habit of making backside defensive ends look silly by reversing field or making one extra cut-back. Sometimes on these plays, he gambles and loses yardage. But often times, he picks up huge chunks – 13 yards in this case.

Play 9: For as good as McCoy was, am I crazy to say there were probably some plays he left on the field? For instance, this 4-yard run from the Giants’ 8 on the Eagles’ final drive looked like it was headed for the end zone.


McCoy is basically one-on-one with cornerback Prince Amukamara. That’s a matchup the Eagles will take every time. But Amukamara does a nice job slowing McCoy down and gets some help to stop him short of the end zone.

And finally, some other things I noticed:

* One bright spot here is that the offensive line did not play particularly well, yet the Eagles didn’t get greedy and put together a game-plan that made sense. In other words, they can win a lot of games with this formula the rest of the way.

* I thought Bell was very up-and-down. I’m not ready to say he’s clearly a better a option than a healthy King Dunlap. Also thought Todd Herremans was way too inconsistent Sunday night, particularly in the first half.

* Vick really played a good game. So far on the season, two pretty good games (throw Baltimore in there) and two poor ones (Cleveland and Arizona).

* The question at Lehigh was whether Havili could be an effective lead blocker in the run game. The answer Sunday night appeared to be yes. Good job on McCoy’s 34-yard run, and great effort on his 22-yard run. Probably not a bad idea to get him in the mix a little bit more.

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

Bell Or Dunlap? Reid Won’t Publicly Commit

Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid.Andy Reid was vague when discussing his left tackle situation Wednesday. King Dunlap is back practicing after sitting out the last two games with a hamstring strain. Closer to when the injury first occurred, it appeared the job would go back to Dunlap when he was healthy. Bell has made progress since then, however, and the coaching staff was pleased with his performance against the Giants.

All things being equal, who is the starter?

“Well the one positive is Bell really played well in our game,” is the way Reid chose to respond. “That buys me a little time to see how King is doing.”

Will Dunlap be working with the first team at practice Wednesday?

“He’s going to work today. I’m just going to see how he’s feeling,” said Reid. “We’ll just see how everything works out there.”

Judging by those comments, the smart money would seem to be on Bell getting the nod against the Steelers. We’ll keep an eye on it.

Reid said that Derek Landri has swelling in his knee and will not practice. Akeem Jordan (hamstring) will also be sidelined.

“He’s close,” said Reid of Jordan, “but he’s not quite there yet.”

Jeremy Maclin was not mentioned on the injury report and Reid said his lack of production Sunday night was not related to the hip injury that forced him to sit out against Arizona.

“It was just how things fell,” said Reid. “He had a few plays that were dialed up for him and they covered that area with their zone coverage so you had to go in a different direction. That was just by chance. Jeremy, he’s fine.”

 

Cheat Sheet: Eagles’ Offense Vs. Giants’ Defense

Here are 10 things to know about this weekend’s matchup between the Eagles’ offense and the Giants’ defense. If you missed the first cheat sheet, click here.

1. It’s been an up-and-down start for the Giants’ D. In Week 1, Tony Romo picked New York apart, completing 22-of-29 passes for 307 yards. DeMarco Murray piled up 131 yards, averaging 6.6 yards per carry. The Bucs put up 34 points against the Giants in Week 2, although Tampa’s defense played a role in that one, forcing three turnovers and scoring once. And last week, New York shut down Cam Newton and the Panthers on Thursday night. Overall, the Giants are allowing 21.7 points per game. Football Outsiders has them ranked 21st overall – 17th against the pass and 22nd against the run. New York has six interceptions in three games, tied for second-most in the NFL.

2. With the Giants, everything starts up front with Jason Pierre-Paul, arguably the most disruptive defensive player in the NFL. In his second season, Pierre-Paul had 16.5 sacks to go along with 14 hits and 25 hurries (all team highs), per Football Outsiders. And he’s not a one-dimensional player. Pierre-Paul consistently makes plays against the run and creates havoc. He rarely comes off the field, having played 88.3 percent of the Giants’ defensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Pierre-Paul lines up on both the left and right sides, meaning Demetress Bell (left tackle) and Todd Herremans (right tackle) will get matched up with him. Herremans played well last week against the Cardinals after an inconsistent first two games. Bell had all kinds of issues in his first start of the season, filling in for King Dunlap.

Pierre-Paul and the defensive linemen are able to make up for a lot of the Giants’ issues in coverage. For example, take a look at this first-down play against the Panthers. Newton clearly has tight end Greg Olsen open and wants to get him the ball.

But because of the Giants’ pressure up front, that doesn’t happen.

The Giants get good pressure from their defensive tackles, and look who’s standing in the way of Newton’s pass. Pierre-Paul, at 6-foot-5, with 34 3/4-inch arms, bats the ball down at the line of scrimmage. Keep in mind, Newton is about five inches taller than Michael Vick. The Giants were second in the NFL with 22 passes tipped at the line last year, per Football Outsiders. It’s another way for them to affect the game up front.

3. The Giants use a group of defensive linemen, but it’s not as much of a rotation as the Eagles. Along with Pierre-Paul, expect to see Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora at defensive end. Tuck will rush the passer from the interior as well. Rocky Bernard and Linval Joseph are the primary defensive tackles. Tuck had five sacks and 15.5 hurries last season. Umenyiora had nine sacks and 11 hurries. As a unit, the Giants’ defensive line has 4.5 sacks in three games. Pierre-Paul has 1.5, while Umenyiora, Bernard and Joseph have one apiece. As for the Eagles, Dallas Reynolds will make his second career start at center after committing his share of mistakes against the Cardinals. Evan Mathis has been solid, and Danny Watkins is coming off his best game of the season.

4. At linebacker, the Giants go with Chase Blackburn in the middle, Michael Boley on the weak side and Mathias Kiwanuka on the strong side. Jacquian Williams will see the field plenty as well. Veteran Keith Rivers is out with a hamstring injury. The Panthers went to tight end Greg Olsen all game last week, as he caught seven balls on 14 targets for 98 yards. Brent Celek is off to a strong start, averaging 86.0 yards per game and 18.4 yards per reception. He has seven catches of 20+ yards, second in the NFL to only Calvin Johnson. Last week, Celek was used as a blocker 36.8 percent of the time on passing downs, up from the first two weeks (25.8 percent). The Eagles might be better served using Clay Harbor in that role (more on that below) and allowing Celek to help Vick as a pass-catcher.

5. The Giants have been middle-of-the-pack against the run, allowing 4.1 yards per carry. As you might suspect, LeSean McCoy has been better on runs to the right (including to the right sideline), averaging 5.9 yards per carry on 28 attempts. To the left, he’s averaging 3.8 yards per carry on 20 attempts. In two meetings against the Giants last year, McCoy had 241 yards on 47 carries (5.1 YPC). However, for most of the second game, the Giants kept him in check. McCoy broke a 60-yard run on the Eagles’ final drive, but until that, had averaged just 2.4 yards per carry on 22 attempts. He’ll be looking for more than four first-half carries this week.

6. There’s been a lot of talk this week about whether the Eagles might play a little more conservative. Perhaps they’ll try to find a little more balance, but my guess is Marty Mornhinweg has had to stop himself from drooling as he envisions ways the Eagles can exploit the Giants’ secondary. At cornerback, Corey Webster is expected to start, but he’ll be playing with a cast on his right hand. Rookie corner Jayron Hosley is out with a hamstring injury. And 2011 first-round pick Prince Amukamara is scheduled to make his first career start. Meanwhile, safety Antrel Rolle is questionable after suffering a knee laceration last week. In other words, this is a banged-up unit. Opposing quarterbacks are averaging a league-high 9.3 yards per attempt against the Giants. Vick, DeSean Jackson and company will have plenty of chances to get the ball downfield, if (and it’s a big IF) the offensive line can give Vick time.

7. After seeing the Eagles’ issues against the blitz last week, you can be sure that defensive coordinator Perry Fewell will decide the risk is worth the reward on Sunday night. Last year, the Giants rushed five or more 20.8 percent of the time, which ranked in the middle of the pack (17th). The blitzed six or more 9.1 percent of the time (10th). When the Giants do blitz, the Eagles will have opportunities to burn them. But will they be able to take advantage? Take a look at one blitz the Giants used against Newton. Hosley attacks from the slot, and Boley goes after Newton too. Umenyiora drops back into coverage from his spot at right defensive end.


Newton has the tight end open.

But he doesn’t get him the ball, possibly because the blitz is coming from that side. Instead, Newton spins out of the pocket, scrambles to his left and throws incomplete. The Panthers are forced to punt.

Another play below: Boley blitzes and is unblocked, while Pierre-Paul gets good pressure off the edge.


The Panthers have an empty backfield, and the protection does not account for Boley. You can see that the left guard (No. 61) is blocking nobody. Everyone else has a one-on-one matchup, as the Giants send just one extra rusher. Boley and Pierre-Paul meet at Newton and sack him.


But look at how many receivers Newton has open on the play.


There are five receivers in routes. And every single one is open (some more than others). Newton has a shot to hit on a big play at the top of the screen with the receiver (circled in red), who is running free towards the sideline. But protection breaks down, and he never gets rid of the ball.

This happened consistently. On the very next play, the Giants send six. Newton has wide receiver Louis Murphy open on the post, but is late with his pass and throws behind the receiver for an incompletion. Otherwise, the Panthers are looking at a big play.

Newton has a receiver open at the top of the screen too.

This is all to show that Vick is going to have his opportunities downfield. Whether he capitalizes or not could determine the difference between a win and a loss.

8. You probably heard a lot this week about how the Cardinals blitzed the A-Gap, specifically in the second half last week. That simply means the gap on either side between the center and guard. Given that Reynolds was making his first career start, that made sense. Given that the Cardinals had success, it makes sense that the Giants will copy them, especially considering since it’s something they’ve shown on tape already this season. Here’s a look at a play from Week 2.


The Giants show seven at the line of scrimmage. Middle linebacker Chase Blackburn is going to blitz the A-Gap, and Antrel Rolle is coming off the edge. Mathias Kiwanuka drops back, so in all, the Giants are rushing six defenders. As you can see, Blackburn goes untouched.


The result is a sack. Vick was 0-for-7 with two sacks against blitzes of six or more last week. He can expect to see them again on Sunday night.

9. One way to help Vick, Reynolds and Bell is to keep running backs and tight ends in to block. For some reason, Clay Harbor only played 11 snaps last week, his lowest number of the season. In the first meeting against the Giants in 2011, Harbor played 44.3 percent of the snaps, his second-highest percentage of the year. Keeping him on the field in this one makes a lot of sense. Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Celek should be able to get open, even if they’re outnumbered.

Look at how the Bucs blocked the Giants on a deep pass attempt in Week 2.

The Bucs have seven blockers going up against five Giants rushers. They double-team Pierre-Paul (No. 90) with a tight end. The running back cleanly picks up the blitzing linebacker. They double-team one defensive tackle and block the other two rushers one-on-one, giving Freeman time to take a shot deep. This kind of protection makes a lot of sense for the Eagles on Sunday.

10. Leftovers: It’s not just the tackles that will have to block Pierre-Paul. He’ll stunt inside, where Reynolds, Watkins and Mathis will have to pick him up. …Opponents have scored touchdowns on 66.7 percent of their trips inside the red zone against the Giants. …Vick was 10-for-13 for 141 yards in the first meeting last year when the Giants didn’t blitz. …Jackson had six catches for 88 yards in the second meeting last year, but lost a 50-yard reception when he flipped the ball at Fewell and drew a penalty.

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