Five Leftovers From Eagles-Bengals

Here are five leftovers from the locker room after the Eagles lost to the Bengals last night, 34-13.

1. As we’ve discussed on multiple occasions, this team has some major decisions to make in the secondary this offseason. Nnamdi Asomugha, who would be owed $4M if released, was asked if he thinks some of the players (presumably on defense) have shown in the past two weeks that they deserve to be back.

“Here’s the thing that I know. Everybody wants to be back,” Asomugha said. “We don’t know how it’s going to shake out, but I can tell you everybody believes in this team and knows the direction that we’re going. We think it’s up. So I know everybody wants to be back.”

I understand what Asomugha was saying. He’s pointing out that the defense has improved the past two weeks. And I know the players in the locker room have to try to stay confident. But to say the direction is pointing up after the ninth loss in 10 games just seems a little off to me.

2. The other starting corner, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, is a free agent after the season. He shadowed A.J. Green all game and won his share of battles. Green finished with six catches for 57 yards and a touchdown on 10 targets. After the game, Rodgers-Cromartie was asked about playing for a contract.

“I ain’t playing for money. That’s going to come. I’m not worried about that. My main thing is I’m just trying to go out and finish strong,” he said.

“I know what I have in me. I know what kind of player I am. If nobody can see it, then that’s just them.”

Evaluating Rodgers-Cromartie is going to be one of the most difficult things this front office has to do. He’s got talent, he plays well in stretches and by all accounts is a good teammate. He holds himself accountable and is only 26. There’s no question that Rodgers-Cromartie has a (multiple) Pro Bowl ceiling.

But there’s a reason why he could be on his third different team before he turns 27. He’s incredibly inconsistent, often shies away from contact and is a terrible tackler. That’s why whoever’s coaching this team in 2013 has to be the one who decides whether or not Rodgers-Cromartie is worth keeping around.

3. And then there’s the guy coaching Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie: Todd Bowles. If there’s one person who has a lot to gain from the final two games, it’s him. Remember, this is someone who was considered to be on a path towards being an NFL head coach before the season. In six weeks with Bowles as defensive coordinator and Jim Washburn as defensive line coach, the Eagles allowed opponents to complete 76.3 percent of their passes. In the past two weeks, without Washburn, that number is 44.3 percent.

With a strong finish, it’ll be pretty easy to sell the Washburn was the problem narrative. Of course, there’s no telling where he’ll be coaching next. Bowles’ name has been mentioned in connection with the Temple head coaching job.

“It was good. It’s my alma mater.,” Bowles said of his conversation with the Owls. “We had a good talk. We had a good conversation. … We’ll see how it goes.”

4. I still need to re-watch the game, but Andy Reid and Nick Foles seemed to offer different explanations for the third-quarter interception.

“He’s got a real strong arm,” Reid said. “You can put his arm up against anybody in this league. You just have to make sure that he’s taking time to look people off, and you have to make sure you don’t spend too much time doing that. You have to make sure you get your feet around and that you have enough momentum to get your body and legs into the throw.”

Reid’s explanation makes sense. He also indicated the issue was one of mechanics. Foles had an issue of staring down receivers in his first couple of starts. We pointed out last week how he did a better job of looking safeties off against Tampa.

But Foles seemed to just think he threw a bad ball.

“I just made a horrible throw,” he said. “The ball came out bad and it had a little bit of wobble to it. You really have to cut it and I didn’t do that. I just have to spin it and it started fluttering towards the end. I underthrew Jeremy and the guy came back and made a play. So it’s a bad throw. It’s one that I can’t have. But it happened, and I just have to, next time it happens, just really throw it out there.”

According to STATS, Inc., Foles is just 3-for-16 on balls that have traveled more than 20 yards from the line of scrimmage. That’s certainly one area for improvement.

5. As for some of the other mistakes, Reid said Marvin McNutt was where he was supposed to be on the punt block. Ryan Rau was supposed to be in, but Clay Harbor made a heads-up play and filled in for him. That had nothing to do with the block though. McNutt just got manhandled.

Cedric Thornton took responsibility for the fumbled kickoff return. It’s funny. I remember at training camp watching some of the offensive linemen and defensive linemen fielding kicks and wondering: Why are they wasting their time with this? Now, I understand.

“Definitely should have been a fair catch,” Thornton said. “That was my fault. I was running, looking to make a big play and should have fair caught it. That was my fault. Next time I will be more focused and I will call a fair catch.”

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Cheat Sheet: 15 Things About Eagles-Bengals

Eagles quarterback Nick Foles.The Thursday night game has us off our regular schedule this week, so we’ll combine the two cheat sheets into one. Here are 15 things to know about how the Eagles match up with the Bengals.

1. If the season ended today, the Eagles would pick fourth. It seems highly unlikely that the Birds will catch either the Chiefs or Jaguars, who have two wins apiece. The Raiders have three wins and host the Chiefs. The Titans (four wins) host the Jets on Monday Night Football. The Panthers (four wins) travel to San Diego to take on the Chargers. And the Lions and Cardinals (both four-win teams) face each other. In other words, there’s going to be a lot to sort out next week. As for odds, the Eagles have a 0.1 percent chance of landing the top pick, according to Football Outsiders. But they have a 17.1 percent chance of landing a top-three selection.

2. Offensively, the Eagles are tied for 27th in scoring offense, averaging 18.5 points per game. Football Outsiders has them ranked 24th – 24th in passing and 23rd in rushing. The Birds are coming off their first win in nine games and are averaging 26 points per game in their last three. The Bengals, meanwhile, are 15th in scoring defense, allowing 21.5 points per game. Football Outsiders has them ranked 20th – 12th against the pass and 26th against the run. Cincinnati has allowed 20 points or fewer in five straight games.

3. For Eagles fans, all eyes will be on Nick Foles. The rookie quarterback completed 32 of 51 passes for 381 yards and a pair of touchdowns last week. He also ran for a score. In the last two games, Foles has completed 63.5 percent of his passes, averaged 7.4 yards per attempt and tossed three touchdowns with no interceptions. Opponents are completing 63.7 percent of their passes against the Bengals (26th) and averaging 6.8 yards per attempt (11th).

4. Foles and the Eagles’ offensive line will face a stiff test against the Bengals’ pass-rush. Cincinnati leads the NFL with 42 sacks. The one player to keep an eye on is No. 97, defensive tackle Geno Atkins. The third-year player is tied for sixth in the league with 10.5 sacks. He’s the only DT who ranks in the top-38. The next closest is Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh, who has 5.5. Atkins is a physical force, who will test the interior of the Eagles’ line in Jake Scott, Dallas Reynolds and Evan Mathis. Mathis has an ankle injury, but is listed as probable. He’s playing the best football of his career. Scott had been playing well, but had issues last week vs. Tampa. Reynolds too struggled against the Bucs. King Dunlap could have his hands full with right defensive end Michael Johnson (questionable – toe), who is second on the team with 8.5 sacks. And Dennis Kelly, who had a disastrous performance last week, will match up with talented defensive end Carlos Dunlap.

5. The Eagles couldn’t get anything going on the ground last week against Tampa’s strong run defense. Bryce Brown had just 6 yards on 12 carries, after piling up 347 yards and averaging 8.1 yards per carry in the previous two games. He’ll have more room than last week, going up against a Bengals defense that’s allowing 4.2 yards per carry (14th). The Bengals go with fourth-year player Rey Maualuga at middle linebacker, undrafted free agent Vontaze Burfict on the weak side and veteran Manny Lawson on the strong side. DeMarco Murray averaged just 2.5 yards per carry on 21 attempts against the Bengals last week.

6. Foles completed passes to eight different receivers last week. He was 9-for-13 for 104 yards on attempts to Jeremy Maclin and 7-for-10 for 133 yards on throws to Jason Avant. Clay Harbor gets the start in place of Brent Celek, who suffered a concussion last week. Harbor caught all six balls thrown his way for 52 yards against Tampa. The Bengals are 28th in the league against opposing tight ends, per Football Outsiders. Their starting corners are Leon Hall and Terence Newman. Newman’s in his first season with the Bengals after having spent nine with the Cowboys. Hall, a first-round pick back in 2007, is in his sixth season with the Bengals. Adam Jones will be on the field in nickel. Cincinnati’s safeties are Chris Crocker and Reggie Nelson.

7. Defensively, the Eagles are coming off of their best performance since Todd Bowles took over. They forced Tampa to punt on seven straight possessions to start the game and nine of 12 overall. The defense allowed two scoring drives of 77 and 75 yards in the second half, but got a stop in the fourth quarter to give the offense the ball back. Overall, the Eagle are 25th in scoring defense, allowing 26.2 points per game. Football Outsiders has them ranked 25th – 31st against the pass and 11th against the run. The Bengals, meanwhile, are 11th in scoring offense, averaging 24.7 points per game. Football Outsiders has them ranked 14th – 15th in passing and 12th in rushing.

8. In his second season, Andy Dalton’s numbers are up across the board. He’s completing 63.4 percent of his passes (11th), averaging 7.16 yards per attempt (16th) and has thrown 25 touchdowns (tied for 5th), compared to 14 interceptions (tied for 6th-most). Dalton doesn’t throw downfield a ton – 11.4 percent of his attempts have traveled 20 yards or more downfield, per Pro Football Focus. In Bowles’ first six games as defensive coordinator, opponents completed 76.3 percent of their passes against the Eagles. But Josh Freeman completed just 41.2 percent of his attempts last week.

9. The Eagles will have to deal with one of the best receivers in the game in A.J. Green. The second-year player is sixth with 1,151 yards and eighth with 79 receptions. He’s first among wide receivers with 10 touchdowns and tied for 11th with 14 catches of 20+ yards. According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles rank 31st in the league against opposing No. 1 receivers. Nnamdi Asomugha fought through an injury last week, but did not play well. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had been struggling, but turned in one of his best games of the season. Safety Nate Allen feels less pressure to account for both stopping the run and defending play-action with the changes up front. And Colt Anderson will get his second straight start in place of Kurt Coleman.

10. Behind Green, the Bengals don’t have a lot of firepower in the passing game. Tight end Jermaine Gresham has 55 catches for 636 yards and five touchdowns. Jamar Chaney took over at the SAM spot last week and played well. The Eagles rank 17th at covering opposing tight ends, according to Football Outsiders. Brandon Boykin will have to deal with slot receiver Andrew Hawkins, who has caught 45 of the 69 balls thrown his way.

11. Dalton’s been sacked 32 times on the season, tied for third-most behind Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers. The Eagles have scrapped Jim Washburn’s system for the most part. They didn’t get much pressure on Freeman last week, although Fletcher Cox and Cullen Jenkins both notched sacks. With Mike Patterson out, the Eagles will go to a four-man rotation at DT – Cox, Jenkins, Derek Landri and Cedric Thornton. Brandon Graham and Trent Cole will start at defensive end. Phillip Hunt, Vinny Curry and Darryl Tapp will also mix in.

12. A quick sidebar on the Patterson issue. This quote from Jim Washburn during training camp stuck in my mind:

“He doesn’t have to come to these rookie meetings at night, in the afternoon. He doesn’t have to be there. I said ‘Mike, you don’t have to be there.’ He said, ‘Well I like to be there.’ He likes football. He’s a good one, god dangit, we miss him now.”

And this one from Patterson, when asked why he didn’t just decide to retire:

“I just think it has to do with my personality. I just love this game so much. It’s just real fun to me, I enjoy it. When it first happened, people would say ‘no [don't go back],’ but when everything’s all said and done, the doctor said I was able to play still.”

We know football’s a business, but it’s tough to defend the Eagles over $150,000 on this one.

13. Back to tonight. The Bengals run the ball with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who is 26 yards away from reaching the 1,000-yard mark for the second time in his career. Green-Ellis is averaging 4.1 yards per carry and has six runs of 20+ yards. The Eagles tightened up their alignment up front last week, but Doug Martin still had 128 yards and averaged 4.6 yards per carry. Keep an eye on Mychal Kendricks. The rookie linebacker was moved to WILL last week and turned in one of his best games of the season.

14. Special teams once again let the Eagles down last week as Damaris Johnson’s muffed punt led to a Bucs touchdown. Overall, Football Outsiders has the Birds’ special teams ranked 21st. On average, the offense has started drives at its own 24.5 yard line (28th). Opponents have started drives at their own 30.48 yard line (31st), although part of that is obviously due to turnovers on offense. Alex Henery boomed a 58-yard attempt last week, but it hit the post. He also missed from 31 yards away. The Bengals, meanwhile, are eighth in FO’s special-teams rankings. They’re starting drives at their own 30.28 yard line (2nd), and opponents are starting at their own 25.22 (5th).

15. Leftovers: The Eagles are seventh in red-zone defense, allowing opponents to score touchdowns 48.84 percent of the time. The Bengals are 11th in red-zone offense, scoring touchdowns 56.25 percent of the time. …The Eagles are 27th in red-zone offense, scoring touchdowns 46.34 percent of the time. The Bengals are 17th in red-zone defense, allowing opponents to score 52.94 percent of the time. …The Eagles are -19 in turnover differential. Only the Chiefs are worse. The Bengals are dead-even with 21 takeaways and 21 giveaways on the year.

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All-22: What the ‘D’ Looked Like Without Washburn

From Mychal Kendricks to Fletcher Cox to Colt Anderson, here’s an All-22 look at what the Eagles’ defense looked like Sunday against the Bucs.

Play 1: Here’s what Jamar Chaney told Tim yesterday about the changes on the defensive line.

“It’s better for the linebackers. If you ask any linebacker what scheme or how they would want to do it, they would want the linemen to hold up the blocks and they go make the plays.”

And here, we see why Chaney said that. First, let’s take a look at the pre-snap alignment.


The Wide-9 lines the defensive end up outside the tight end. Here, you can see that’s not the case with Brandon Graham. Take a look at a photo of Jason Babin from a game earlier this season against the Giants to see the difference.


To be fair, the Eagles had not been lining up in the Wide-9 on every play, even with Jim Washburn still here. And it doesn’t appear to be completely dead, as you’ll see below.

On this play, you can see Chaney has no offensive linemen to deal with as he makes his way towards Doug Martin. Same for DeMeco Ryans.


Chaney does a good job finishing, as he and Nnamdi Asomugha tackle Martin after a 1-yard gain.


It should be noted that the Eagles were not getting gashed against the run this year. They were 13th in the league, allowing 4.1 yards per carry, going into this game. Martin ran for 128 yards in this game, averaging 4.6 yards per carry, although I thought the run defense held up pretty well.

The effect goes beyond the numbers though. The Eagles had been horrible in coverage the previous six games. Blown assignments, safeties with run responsibilities biting on play-action, etc. We’ll see if the change up front improves the pass defense in the final few games.

Play 2: Nice job here by the Eagles’ two second-round picks. Mychal Kendricks was moved to the WILL spot, and Vinny Curry got reps at right defensive end.


Kendricks blows up the play and helps force Martin back inside, while Curry hustles from the back side.


Curry finishes, dropping Martin for a 1-yard loss on 3rd-and-1.


Play 3: A couple things to note on this third-down play in the second. One, the Wide-9 is not completely dead. Look at where Trent Cole is lined up.


And two, there’s been a lot of discussion about what the Eagles’ secondary is going to look like in 2013. One question that needs to be answered: Can Brandon Boykin play outside? The rookie’s been mostly used inside this season. But against Tampa, the Eagles kept Asomugha (and Curtis Marsh when Asomugha was injured) on Vincent Jackson when Jackson moved to the slot.


Boykin fared well on this play (and in this game). A lot of teams are moving their No. 1 receivers inside at times to gain an advantage. We saw it with Calvin Johnson earlier this season. In the offseason, the Eagles have to decide whether Boykin is an every-down player who can play outside, or just a nickel corner.

Overall, the Eagles were much better in coverage, limiting Josh Freeman to 41.2 completions. In the previous six games, opposing quarterbacks were completing 76.3 percent of their passes against the Birds.

Play 4: Fletcher Cox can thank Marsh, Kendricks and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for his second-quarter sack. Cox and Cole ran a stunt up front.


It didn’t result in immediate pressure on Freeman. Here you can see he’s got a pretty nice pocket actually.

But the Eagles’ coverage on the back end was outstanding.


And Cox did away with left tackle Donald Penn.

Play 5: Many of you have asked about Colt Anderson. In coverage, the Eagles parked him deep on many passing plays and didn’t ask him to do too much. Against the run, when he avoided blockers, he showed could make plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. But if an offensive player gets a hand on him, he has to prove he can still be effective.

For example, in the fourth, Anderson made a nice read on a Martin run.


Cullen Jenkins did a nice job disrupting the play, and you’ll notice Graham is not caught upfield. Anderson flies in and stops Martin for no gain.


But later in the game, on Martin’s touchdown run, Jackson gets to Anderson and provides a key block for the score.


Kurt Coleman is unlikely to play Thursday night so Anderson should get another shot.

Other notes:

* Kendricks really played well. He was active throughout, totaling seven tackles (according to team stats) and playing well in coverage too.

* Rodgers-Cromartie played one of his best games in a long time.

* Credit to Asomugha for fighting through the injury, but he gave up too many plays in coverage.

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Instant Observations: Eagles 23, Bucs 21

Here are my instant observations from the Eagles’ 23-21 win over the Bucs.

OFFENSE

* Nick Foles is going to win some people over with this performance. With 2:44 left in the fourth quarter, Foles drove the Eagles 64 yards and threw the game-winning score to Jeremy Maclin from 1 yard out. It was the Birds’ first win in nine games. The Eagles faced a 4th-and-5 on the drive, and Foles hit Jason Avant for 22 yards. The offense rushed to the line of scrimmage and spiked the ball with two seconds left before the touchdown. Foles also hit Maclin for 23 yards on a 3rd-and-14 on the drive.

* Overall, Foles went 32-for-51 for 381 yards and three touchdowns (one rushing). Avant had seven catches for 133 yards. Maclin had nine receptions for 104 yards.

* Foles was sacked six times. He had only been sacked twice in the previous two games. The offensive line had trouble with Tampa’s stunts up front. King Dunlap struggled. It looked like he was responsible for two of the sacks. Dennis Kelly gave up a sack to Michael Bennett on the Eagles’ final drive.

* Foles made a beautiful throw to Maclin for 22 yards in the fourth. And he did a great job of escaping pressure and finding Avant for 39 yards down the right sideline late in the first half. On his first touchdown pass in the fourth, Foles scrambled to his right and threw on-target to Clay Harbor from 11 yards out.

* Bryce Brown couldn’t get anything going on the ground. He tried to get outside all game long and had no success, finishing with 6 yards on 12 carries. Brown had averaged 8.1 yards per carry in the previous two games.

* Avant made one of the best catches you’ll see all year, leaping into the air and coming down with a one-handed grab near the sideline to beat the blitz in the second.

* Foles appeared to have Marvin McNutt open deep in the first quarter, but he overthrew him. Former Eagles third-round pick Daniel Te’o-Nesheim pressured Foles on the play. Te’o-Nesheim later had a sack.

* Brent Celek was knocked out of the game with a concussion on the Eagles’ first offensive play from scrimmage.

* Alex Henery crushed a 58-yard field goal at the end of the first half, but it hit the left post and was no good. In the second half, he missed a 31-yarder.

* Special teams was unkind to the Eagles once again. Damaris Johnson muffed a third-quarter punt, leading to the Bucs’ first touchdown. They also gave up a 30-yard punt return.

* Maclin fumbled a WR screen in the third, but the refs blew the whistle early and ruled it incomplete.

DEFENSE

* It was a tale of two halves for the defense. In the first, the Eagles shut the Bucs out and limited Josh Freeman to 5-for-16 on 61 yards. The defense gave up just 79 yards through two quarters. They were handed horrible field position (the 5-yard-line) in the third, but then allowed touchdown drives of 77 and 75 yards, respectively. Freeman finished 14-for-34 for 189 yards and a pair of scores. Opposing quarterbacks had been completing 76.3 percent of their passes against the Eagles in the previous six games, but Freeman completed just 41.2 percent of his attempts.

* Doug Martin ran 28 times for 128 yards, averaging 4.6 yards per carry.

* The Eagles switched up their starting linebackers. Jamar Chaney got the start at SAM, and Mychal Kendricks moved over to WILL, replacing Akeem Jordan. Kendricks had a tackle for loss after a completion behind the line of scrimmage in the first. And he nearly had a couple interceptions. Chaney had an early tackle against the run and broke up a pass intended for the tight end.

* The Eagles gave up a 13-yard touchdown to Vincent Jackson in the fourth. Horrible tackling attempt by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the play. Rodgers-Cromartie otherwise played one of his best games of the season.

* Nnamdi Asomugha did not play well. He got beaten by Mike Williams for a 1-yard touchdown in the first and later gave up a completions of 28 and 40 yards, respectively. Asomugha made a nice play breaking up a pass intended for Dallas Clark in the first half, but landed hard and was slow to get up. He went to the locker room and was replaced by Curtis Marsh before returning.

* Did you notice Dick Stockton twice saying that Gangnam Style had taken the world by storm as the camera showed a kid doing the Dougie? That was my favorite part of the first half – by far.

* Fletcher Cox dropped Martin for a 6-yard loss on a screen in the second quarter. Cox sacked Freeman late in the first half. He also had another tackle for loss and a QB hit.

* Nice play by Marsh, breaking up a deep ball for Williams down the far sideline late in the first half.

* John Lynch called out Rodgers-Cromartie and Asomugha for their lack of effort last week against the Cowboys.

* Ryan Rau was active and made a tackle in kickoff coverage in the second.

* Cullen Jenkins had a sack late in the first half after Brandon Graham pressured Freeman.

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Cheat Sheet: Eagles’ Defense Vs. Bucs’ Offense

Philadelphia Eagles LB DeMeco Ryans.Here are 10 things to know about how the Eagles’ defense matches up with the Bucs’ offense.

1. As always, we start with what’s important: draft positioning. If the season ended today, the Eagles would have the fourth overall pick. The teams ahead of them are the Raiders, Jaguars and Chiefs. Oakland already lost Thursday night and is 3-10 going into the final three. Kansas City is at Cleveland, and Jacksonville hosts the Jets. Those are the two early games to keep an eye on (as you chat with us during Eagles-Bucs, of course). According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles have an 8.6 percent chance at getting the top pick and a 48 percent chance of landing a top-three selection.

2. The Bucs enter Sunday’s game fourth in the NFL, averaging 27.8 points per game. Football Outsiders has them 10th in overall offense – 11th in passing and eighth in rushing. Tampa is coming off back-to-back losses to the Falcons and Broncos. The Eagles, meanwhile, have lost eight in a row and are coming off a 38-33 loss to the Cowboys. They are 26th in scoring defense, allowing 26.7 points per game. Football Outsiders has the Eagles ranked 25th defensively – 31st against the pass and eighth against the run. According to their numbers, only the Raiders have been worse against the pass this season.

3. Tampa’s offense starts with rookie running back Doug Martin, who is third in the NFL with 1,106 yards. Only Adrian Peterson (17) and C.J. Spiller (11) have more runs of 20+ yards than Martin (9). According to Pro Football Focus, Martin has broken 47 tackles, tied with Peterson for most in the league. Only Arian Foster and Marshawn Lynch have carried the ball more than him (236 attempts). Martin’s coming off a pair of sub-par outings against the Falcons and Broncos, where he averaged just 2.7 yards per carry on 39 attempts. Opponents are averaging 4.1 yards per carry (13th) against the Eagles.

4. Most of Martin’s runs (67.4 percent) have come out of two-back sets, according to STATS, Inc. He’s averaged 5.6 yards per carry on those attempts. That means the Eagles will be in their base personnel for much of the game. DeMeco Ryans has shown up every week, but he didn’t play particularly well against the Cowboys. Akeem Jordan played poorly. And Mychal Kendricks was up-and-down. The Eagles will be without Mike Patterson (illness). Asked if the defense will still rotate defensive linemen, coordinator Todd Bowles said, “They’ll rotate. You still have to let Coach [Tommy] Brasher get comfortable with the guys and then we kind of react and go from there as he gets more comfortable with them at the end of the week, seeing what they can and can’t do from his own eyes. I’d like to give him a fresh perspective on that.”

5. Josh Freeman ranks 31st in the NFL, completing just 55.9 percent of his passes. But he’s in luck because opponents are completing 76.3 percent of their passes against the Eagles since Bowles took over. Freeman’s averaging 7.74 yards per attempt (sixth). He’s tossed 23 touchdowns (sixth) and just eight interceptions. In the last six games, the Eagles have given up 16 touchdown passes and come up with no interceptions. On the season, opponents are completing 62.2 percent of their passes against the Eagles (17th) and averaging 7.8 yards per attempt (26th). Only four defenses have allowed more touchdown passes than the Birds (23).

6. Vincent Jackson is one of the league’s premier vertical threats. He’s got 50 catches for 1,014 yards in his first season with Tampa and is averaging 20.3 yards per reception, which is tops in the NFL. Only Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas and Reggie Wayne have more catches of 20+ yards than Jackson (19). While the Bucs like to run the ball, they’ll take plenty of shots downfield. According to Pro Football Focus, 15.9 percent of Freeman’s attempts have traveled 20 yards or more downfield. That is third in the league, behind only Joe Flacco and Andrew Luck. Eagles safeties Kurt Coleman and Nate Allen have played poorly all season. Coleman’s out with a chest injury, and Colt Anderson will get the start. The Eagles will try to avoid complete breakdowns in the secondary for the first time in weeks.

7. Third-year receiver Mike Williams has also been productive with 43 catches for 718 yards (16.7 yards per reception) and six touchdowns. As for the Eagles, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie seems to be getting worse every week.

“As I look at film just from a personal standpoint, in my head I have a whole lot of wows,” he told Tim last week. “Like, ‘Wow, what are you doing?’ At some point, I think as the season keeps going bad, bad, you try to fight so hard and don’t want to do wrong until you end up just doing wrong and you don’t allow yourself to just go out and be [yourself].”

Not only is Rodgers-Cromartie giving up too many big plays, but he continues to consistently shy away from contact. And according to Pro Football Focus, Rodgers-Cromartie leads all cornerbacks with 11 penalties.

8. Up front, left tackle Donald Penn has started every game for Tampa since the start of the 2008 season, and he made the Pro Bowl in 2010. He’ll go up against Trent Cole, who was not a factor last week against the Cowboys and has just two sacks on the season. Vinny Curry played just 19 snaps last week. That number needs to increase. Tampa is without All-Pro guard Carl Nicks. The Eagles’ pass-rush was non-existent in the second half of last week’s loss to the Cowboys. Fletcher Cox, Curry, Phillip Hunt, Cullen Jenkins, Derek Landri, Darryl Tapp and Cedric Thornton combined for no sacks and no hurries. Brandon Graham had 1.5 sacks, four hurries and eight tackles – the most by any Eagles defensive end in a single game all season. Freeman has been sacked just 17 times all season.

9. The Eagles have just 10 takeaways through 12 games. That’s the second-fewest total in the league, ahead of only the Colts. The Bucs, meanwhile, have just 12 giveaways. In the NFC, only the Redskins have fewer.  Overall, the Eagles are minus-18 in turnover differential. Only the Chiefs (-21) are worse.

10. Leftovers: According to Football Outsiders, opponents are starting drives at the 30.28 yard line against the Eagles, the second-worst mark in the league. …The Eagles are sixth in red-zone defense, allowing opponents to score touchdowns 45 percent of the time. The Bucs are the second-best red-zone offense in the league, scoring touchdowns 66.7 percent of the time. …Tampa is converting on 34 percent of its third-down chances (26th). The Eagles are 21st in third-down defense, allowing conversions 39.7 percent of the time.

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All-22: More Breakdowns From the Eagles’ Defense

An All-22 look at what we saw from the Eagles’ defense last week against the Cowboys.

Play 1: DeMarco Murray had not touched the ball in seven weeks. But on his first carry against the Eagles, he picked up 14 yards.


Trent Cole is upfield and gets blocked by Tyron Smith. Akeem Jordan gets manhandled by the fullback. Nnamdi Asomugha (not pictured), who actually was pretty active in run support, couldn’t get off of Dez Bryant’s block as Murray bounced it outside.

Play 2: On a day when Tony Romo went 22-for-27 for 303 yards and three touchdowns, he couldn’t have left any big plays on the field, right? Wrong. I have no idea why Romo didn’t pull the trigger on this pass to Jason Witten (red circle), who appeared to be wide open in the first.


Not positive, but it looks like Kurt Coleman needs to drop back deeper in coverage there. Romo scrambled and ended up dumping it off to Murray for a 1-yard loss. The Cowboys missed out on a big play here (although there were obviously opportunities for several more, as you’ll see below).

Play 3: DeMeco Ryans did not have his best game, but here, he puts on a clinic on how to play middle linebacker.


Ryans moves swiftly and decisively towards Murray, who takes the toss left. Ryans doesn’t need to worry about getting off a block, since he doesn’t allow the center to even get a hand on him.


And when he gets to Murray, Ryans executes the tackle flawlessly.


The result? His 15th tackle-for-loss this season, the most of any Eagles defender during the Andy Reid era. Ryans shows up every week.

Play 4: The call from Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth on this play was classic. They couldn’t believe the Eagles would leave Witten so wide open.


Coleman turns his back to the middle of the field and heads towards Dez Bryant on the outside, while Asomugha bails deep. That leaves Witten all alone.

As easy a 28-yard gain as you’ll see all season.

Play 5: I would love to be in the room when a play like Bryant’s 28-yard touchdown is shown to defensive players. It’s one thing to give up the completion, but another to fail in such an epic manner in bringing Bryant down.


Bryant is in a crowd of five defenders around the 8-yard-line. There’s no way he’s scoring here, right?


Wrong. Allen somehow runs right past Bryant, while Coleman and Jordan do the same from the other side. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie doesn’t make much of an effort to get to Bryant, and Mychal Kendricks overruns him too.

Play 6: If you want to identify players who are still hustling and giving full effort, start with Brandon Graham. He’s at his usual spot at left defensive end to start this play.


It’s a handoff to the opposite side, but Graham hustles around Doug Free and chases the ballcarrier.


Look who ends up making the tackle for no gain.


Really nice effort from Graham here.

Play 7: Another bad play for Allen on the 27-yard touchdown to Miles Austin. The Eagles set up in Cover-3, as Asomugha, Allen and Rodgers-Cromartie divide the deep part of the field into thirds.


Allen’s in good position to pop Austin as soon as he catches the ball.


But the wide receiver makes a subtle move, and Allen goes flying by. Rodgers-Cromartie delivered a little swat around the 5-yard-line as Austin scampered into the end zone.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Under Bowles, Eagles Secondary In Tatters

A sad and maybe symbolic scene unfolded in the Eagles locker room just before reporters were ushered out late Sunday night. A pained Kurt Coleman, who needed assistance getting his shirt off moments before, walked up to Nate Allen and humbly asked if he would be able to put his deodorant on for him, as he was unable to lift his arms to do it  himself. Allen sustained a shoulder injury in the game and was also limited. But using his good arm, he dutifully performed the task for his fellow safety.

Officially, Coleman was listed with a chest contusion. But he was hurting bad, and it wasn’t all physical.

“It’s a little bit of everything right now,” said Coleman, his voice unable to get above a whisper.

“This sucks. It just sucks. I can’t piece one thing…it just sucks right now…We knew what we were doing, we knew what they were doing. It’s inexcusable really. We’re trying as hard as we can but that’s not enough, we have to be able to execute all the time.”

Coleman and Allen have contributed to a secondary that has fallen apart since Todd Bowles took over as defensive coordinator for Juan Castillo back in mid-October. The numbers are disturbing: Through the first six games, the Eagles were holding opponents to 52.7 percent completions – the top mark in the league. In the following six games under Bowles, that number has shot up to 76.3 percent with 16 touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Tony Romo was 22-of-27 for 303 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 150.5 quarterback rating. He did not have a single incompletion in the second half.

Communication breakdowns. Missed tackles. Lost battles. It all contributed to yet another meltdown.

“As I look at film just from a personal standpoint, in my head I have a whole lot of wows,” said Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. “Like, ‘Wow, what are you doing?’ At some point, I think as the season keeps going bad, bad, you try to fight so hard and don’t want to do wrong until you end up just doing wrong and you don’t allow yourself to just go out and be [yourself].”

Rodgers-Cromartie appears to have gone backwards under Bowles as a cover corner. As a result, his deficiencies as a tackler stand out more. There were multiple occasions Sunday night when these vulnerabilities came to light, including on Dez Bryant‘s six-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter where the receiver bullied his way right past the former Pro Bowler.

“[Second]-and-goal, I’m playing off him and I read screen, and I just have to keep running my feet. I know he’s a big, strong guy but me going low on him does no justice, so I tried to wrap up, stay high and push him out of bounds,” said DRC.

“I can tackle. Aggressive like a safety? No. But I can tackle.”

The safeties have been having their own issues, to put it mildly. Coleman has been victimized by play-action far too much, and he and Nnamdi Asomugha continue to struggle to get onto the same page. Allen has not fared much better.

“Sometimes, some things are going to happen. It’s part of the game,” said Allen. “You just have to put yourself in the right position to make plays.”

But they haven’t been. They haven’t forced a turnover since November 5 against the Saints. That’s a month-long drought.

“It shouldn’t happen,” said Andy Reid. “I go back and it’s a combination of things. Coaching and playing. We’re all in this together.”

The losing, the ineffectivess, has taken its toll. Coleman stood by his locker after the game unable to undress himself and emotionally taxed. DeMeco Ryans called over to him, and Coleman just shook his head as tears began to well in his eyes. It is a team, a defense, in dire straits.

“This is a team that’s too good not to execute on all cylinders,” said Coleman, pain rolling through his voice. “But I trust my guys, I believe in them. I’m going to continue to push them, and them me, just because I know this team really is good. It just sucks that it hasn’t been able to play out that way.”

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Offseason Makeover Likely For Eagles’ Secondary

Early on during today’s press conference, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles was asked about potentially making personnel changes in the Eagles’ secondary.

“We have possible lineup changes, and people compete everyday,” Bowles said. “There are no spots set in stone. We’re playing our best guys. If there was somebody that was stepping up to play better, they would be playing.”

Bowles didn’t mean it as a slight on the Eagles’ depth, but his comment spotlights the team’s lack of young talent at cornerback and safety.

You probably know the numbers by now, but just in case you need a refresher, opposing quarterbacks are completing 75.2 percent of their passes and averaging 9.7 yards per attempt against the Eagles in the last five games since Bowles took over. They’ve thrown for 13 touchdowns and no interceptions.

“There’s not one thing to point to,” said safety Kurt Coleman. “Sometimes it’s somebody just thinking somebody’s going to be there, and they’re not. We’re on two different pages. It’s inexcusable at this level.

“Bottom line is it’s players being able to do their job and relying and trusting other guys to be able to do their job. I think the trust factor’s there. It’s just, we’re on two different pages. You saw that in the Washington game and you saw it last week.”

In the summer of 2011, the Eagles looked like they were in good shape in the secondary. They still had Asante Samuel and added Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha. They had just spent a second-round pick on Jaiquawn Jarrett and still had Nate Allen.

But times have changed.

At cornerback, Samuel’s in Atlanta. Rodgers-Cromartie is only 26 and the most talented of any of the Eagles defensive backs. But we’ve seen in the past two seasons why the Cardinals were willing to part with him. To put it bluntly, he’s an inconsistent player and a poor tackler.

As for Asomugha, he’ll be 32 at the start of the 2013 season and has a reported cap hit of $15.3M. The Eagles could restructure his deal or lose $4M and cut him.

Brandon Boykin has been up and down, but he seems to project mostly as a nickel corner. And Curtis Marsh, a 2011 third-round pick, is a complete unknown. He’s played a total of 18 defensive snaps this season.

Safety is a giant question mark as well. In addition to Coleman and Allen, here are the safeties who have seen action the past two seasons: David Sims, Colt Anderson, Jarrett and Jarrad Page. In other words, it’s not like the Eagles have a bunch of young talent they are waiting to develop. Allen and Coleman could be backups in 2013, or they could be gone altogether.

Priority number one this offseason will be finding a coach to replace Andy Reid. Priority two will be deciding on a quarterback. And after that, the Eagles will have to figure out how to fix a secondary that appears to be broken.

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Cheat Sheet: Eagles’ Defense Vs. Panthers’ Offense

Here are 10 things to know about how the Eagles’ defense matches up with the Panthers’ offense:

1. The Panthers rank 27th in scoring, averaging 18.4 points per game. Football Outsiders has Carolina’s offense ranked 19th – 17th in passing and 20th in rushing. The Eagles rank 22nd in scoring defense, allowing 25.2 points per game. Football Outsiders has them ranked 17th – 23rd against the pass and seventh against the run. The Panthers have lost seven of their last eight. But six of their eight losses on the season have been by 7 points or fewer. Carolina is coming off a 27-21 overtime loss to the Bucs. The Eagles have lost six in a row. Their last four defeats have been by an average of 17 points. They are last in the NFC with a point-differential of -90.

2. So, what exactly is the significance of this game? According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles have a 0.2 percent chance of making the playoffs. Raise your hand if you’re still holding out hope for a turnaround. Didn’t think so. The 2-8 Panthers, meanwhile, have a less than 0.1 percent chance. OK, so no playoffs. What else is there? Well, draft positioning. Carolina has a 3.8 percent chance of landing the top pick and a 24.2 percent chance of getting in the top three. The Eagles have a 2.4 percent chance of landing the top pick and a 23.4 percent chance of finishing in the top three.

3. Cam Newton’s numbers are down from his rookie campaign. He’s completing 57 percent of his passes (29th), but averaging 7.98 yards per attempt (third). The Eagles’ pass defense has been horrible the past four weeks. Opposing quarterbacks are completing 78.4 percent of their passes for 910 yards, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. That’s truly remarkable when you consider they led the NFL in opponents’ completion percentage (52.3) through the first six games. And the Eagles have suffered no injuries in the secondary, aside from Nate Allen missing one game. The Juan Castillo/Todd Bowles move seemed like a good one at the time. Instead, it’s turned out to be a complete disaster.

4. Despite his struggles, Newton can still get the ball downfield. He’s tied for sixth with 23 completions of 25+ yards. And according to Pro Football Focus, 51.4 percent of Newton’s attempts of 20+ yards have been on-target (either completed, or dropped by a receiver). That’s the second-highest-number in the league, behind only Peyton Manning. Allen and Kurt Coleman have struggled for much of the year. Coleman failed to make a play on the ball on a 61-yard touchdown to Santana Moss last week. Allen cheated up, leaving Aldrick Robinson wide-open for a 49-yard score. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has played poorly after getting off to a good start. And Nnamdi Asomugha admitted on Friday that he’s been disappointed with his own play.

5. We know this team has huge decisions to make at coach and quarterback in the offseason. After those, the priority has to be on fixing the secondary. As recently as last summer (2011), it looked like the Eagles were in great shape with Rodgers-Cromartie, Asomugha and Asante Samuel. Now? They may have to start from scratch. Rodgers-Cromartie is a free agent at the end of the year. Asomugha’s deal could be restructured if the new coach finds him valuable, or he could be let go. Coleman and Allen have not proven to be good enough as starters. Aside from Brandon Boykin, who’s had ups and downs but shown potential as the nickel corner, we could be looking at quite a few new faces. Getting Curtis Marsh some playing time before the year’s up might not be a bad idea.

6. The Panthers’ biggest receiving threat is veteran Steve Smith, who’s got 44 catches for 710 yards, including nine grabs of 20+ yards. He’s averaging 16.1 yards per catch, 10th in the NFL. Tight end Greg Olsen leads the Panthers with 45 catches (539 yards). And Brandon LaFell leads Carolina with 12 catches of 20+ yards. He’s averaging 16.9 yards per catch (seventh). Newton leads the NFL in average yards-after-the-catch for quarterbacks (6.5). The Eagles are 29th in the league against opposing teams’ No. 1 receivers, per Football Outsiders. And they have one of the worst-tackling secondaries in the NFL.

7. Newton is the team’s leading rusher with 394 yards on 74 carries (5.3 YPC). Last year, Newton ran for 14 touchdowns. This year, that number is four. The Panthers gave Jonathan Stewart a six-year, $37.8M deal in the offseason ($22.5M guaranteed). He’s averaging 38.6 yards per game and 3.6 yards per carry. Meanwhile, DeAngelo Williams got a five-year, $43M deal ($21M guaranteed) last offseason. He’s averaging 27.1 yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry. Now that’s what I call value. One of the major reasons Carolina fired GM Marty Hurney during the season.

8. The Eagles are allowing 4.3 yards per carry (20th). DeMeco Ryans has been outstanding against the run with 77 solo tackles (13 for loss). Fletcher Cox is coming off a 10-tackle performance against the Redskins and leads all Eagles defensive linemen with 50 tackles on the season (per team stats). The Eagles limited Alfred Morris to 3.8 yards per carry last week, but Robert Griffin III had 12 runs for 84 yards. They’ll face a less-imposing option attack against the Panthers.

9. Up front, the Panthers go with Jordan Gross (LT), Amini Silatolu (LG), Geoff Hangartner (center), Garry Williams (RG) and Byron Bell (RT). Gross has started 145 games for the Panthers since 2003. He’ll go up against Trent Cole, who has 1.5 sacks on the season and none since Week 3. Vinny Curry will see his first action of the season, likely spelling Cole at RDE. Silatolu is a rookie second-round pick out of Midwestern State. He leads the team with eight penalties. Williams has started 14 games in four seasons. He could have a rough time with Cox. Bell, an undrafted free agent in 2011, has started 21 games the past two seasons. He’ll get matched up with Jason Babin and Brandon Graham. Babin had one sack and one hurry against Washington, but was more active than he had been in previous weeks. Newton’s been sacked 26 times this season (tied for fifth-most).

10. Leftovers: Special teams continue to be a disaster for the Eagles. Bobby April may want to start with just getting 11 players on the field at the right times. According to Football Outsiders, the Panthers’ average starting field position has been their 23.48 yard line, second-worst in the league. The Eagles, meanwhile, are allowing opponents to start drives at the 30.87 yard line, third-worst. …The Panthers are sixth in red-zone offense, scoring touchdowns 62.5 percent of the time. The Eagles are fifth in red-zone defense, allowing touchdowns 42.4 percent of the time. …Carolina is 19th in third-down offense, converting on 36.1 percent of its opportunities. The Eagles are 10th, allowing conversions 36 percent of the time.

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Instant Observations: Cowboys 38, Eagles 23

Here are my instant observations from the Eagles’ 38-23 loss to the Cowboys.

OFFENSE

* Nick Foles saw his first action of the season, going 22-for-32 for 219 yards, a touchdown and an interception. His pass to DeSean Jackson bounced around and was eventually intercepted by cornerback Brandon Carr, who returned it 47 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. With the Eagles down 7 and backed up in their own end zone, Foles was sacked and fumbled. The Cowboys recovered to go up, 38-23. Earlier, Foles bought time and found Jeremy Maclin wide-open for a 44-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

* Foles entered the game with 7:41 left in the second quarter after Michael Vick went out with a concussion. Can’t say for sure, but it looked like Vick’s concussion was sustained when former Eagle Ernie Sims came on a third-down blitz. Vick had LeSean McCoy wide open, but sailed the throw to him. We’ll get more details after the game. Vick was 6-for-9 for 70 yards before leaving.

* The day started out on a positive note for the Eagles. They put together a 10-play, 81-yard drive to start the game. Vick hit Riley Cooper on a fade from the 2-yard-line. Cooper made a great one-handed catch. Jackson took a screen 31 yards to set up the score. On the first play, Brent Celek started out in the backfield, faked like he was going to chip DeMarcus Ware and went out into his route for a 17-yard gain. Vick was 4-for-5 for 59 yards on the first drive. The Eagles called six passes and four runs. They got the Cowboys to jump offsides twice on third downs.

* LeSean McCoy had a nice 23-yard run in the third. It looked like Dallas Reynolds had the key block. Cooper did a good job blocking downfield. McCoy finished with 16 carries for 82 yards (5.1 YPC).

* A Morris Claiborne penalty negated a pick-six by Foles in the fourth. It looked like Dennis Kelly got beaten badly on the play, and Foles tried to throw the ball in the flat.

* Maclin got hit while he was in the air and landed awkwardly on his upper back/neck/head in the first. He took awhile to get up, but eventually walked off under his own power. He was tested for a concussion, but returned. Jason Avant left the game in the second with a hamstring injury and did not return.

* Horrible clock management at the end of the first half. With the Cowboys setting up to punt, the Eagles chose not to call timeout, even though they had two left. After two runs, they threw the ball, and Stanley Havili ran out of bounds. The Eagles had to eventually punt near their own end zone, which was completely avoidable.

* Terrible game for King Dunlap. He had a couple illegal hands to the face penalties. He also ran into Maclin on a wide receiver screen and failed to stay on the field for a field-goal attempt, forcing the Eagles to use a timeout.

* Foles found Damaris Johnson for a 32-yard gain late in the fourth. Havili got in the end zone from 1 yard out.

DEFENSE

* Overall, it wasn’t a bad showing by the defense. Remember that 21 of the Cowboys’ 38 points came on defense and special teams.

* The Eagles gave up a 13-play, 80-yard drive to start the game. The Cowboys scored on an 11-yard Tony Romo touchdown pass to Felix Jones. I counted five missed tackles (Nate Allen, Nnamdi Asomugha, Darryl Tapp, Brandon Graham and Kurt Coleman) on the play. Romo finished 19-for-26 for 209 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He did not throw an interception.

* Special teams continue to kill this football team. With the game tied in the fourth quarter, the Eagles gave up a 78-yard punt return to Dwayne Harris. They also had the Dunlap miscue I mentioned above. And Alex Henery missed an extra point in the fourth.

* Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie got beaten by Dez Bryant for a 30-yard touchdown in the third quarter. He was called for pass interference on the play. The touchdown was reviewed and upheld. Earlier, Rodgers-Cromartie gave up a 49-yard completion. It looked like the Eagles were blitzing on the play. On the Cowboys’ scoring drive in the third, they were facing a 3rd-and-5, and multiple Eagles had chances to sack him, but Romo escaped and found Miles Austin for 25 yards.

* The Eagles’ pass-rush was more effective, thanks in part to some blitzing. Brandon Graham’s pressure led to a Mychal Kendricks sack in the second. On the next play, Fletcher Cox sacked Romo. The Eagles blitzed on both plays. Cox had a couple hits on Romo in addition to the sack. He had only two hurries in his previous four games. Cullen Jenkins also added a sack.

* The Cowboys entered the game averaging 3.6 yards per carry, tied for 31st in the league. But they ran all over the Eagles (14 attempts, 80 yards) in the first half. They finished with 97 yards on 22 carries (4.4 YPC).

* Let the receiver catch the ball, but tackle him short of the sticks on third down. That’s the new DeMeco Ryans special. He seems to make that play every game, and he did it at least twice today.

* Kendricks tackled Jason Witten for a loss on a screen in the third. He had seven tackles (all solo) in the game.

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