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.

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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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Cheat Sheet: Eagles’ Defense Vs. Cowboys’ Offense

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

1. When looking at the Cowboys’ offense, you’ll notice many of the same issues that have plagued the Eagles in the last year and a half. Dallas is sixth in yards per game (382.5), tied for eighth in yards per play (5.8), and Football Outsiders has them ranked 11th. Yet the Cowboys are averaging just 18.8 points per game, tied for 25th. The reasons? Turnovers and failures in the red zone. The Eagles, meanwhile, rank 19th in scoring defense, allowing 22.9 points per game. Football Outsiders has them ranked 14th – 13th against the pass and 11th against the run. The Eagles are coming off two bad defensive performances against the Saints and Falcons. The Cowboys are coming off a 13-point outing Sunday night against Atlanta.

2. Now, back to the turnovers. Dallas has given the ball away on 20.2 percent of its offensive drives (per Football Outsiders), second-most in the league to the Chiefs (28.7 percent) and slightly worse than the Eagles (20.0 percent). Tony Romo leads the NFL with 13 interceptions, which is three more than he had all of last year. When he’s not turning it over, Romo’s been pretty good. He’s completing 66.4 percent of his passes (seventh) and is averaging 7.5 yards per attempt (tied for ninth). Romo has 26 pass plays of 20+ yards (tied for 13th). The Eagles, meanwhile, have created just 10 turnovers all season (26th). The last two weeks have not been good, as Matt Ryan and Drew Brees completed 76.8 percent of their attempts against Todd Bowles’ unit. Overall, the Eagles rank seventh in opponents’ completion percentage (57.4) and tied for 10th in yards per attempt (6.8).

3. The run game hasn’t been much of a factor for the Cowboys. DeMarco Murray is out, meaning Felix Jones will carry the load. Jones is averaging just 3.6 yards per carry, and Dallas is averaging 3.6 yards per carry as a team, tied for 31st. They haven’t been trying to run the ball much with just 23.4 attempts per game. Last week, the Saints ran all over the Eagles (25 times for 140 yards, 5.6 YPC). The linebackers didn’t do a good enough job of getting off blocks, and missed tackles have been an issue all around.

4. Jason Witten leads the team in receptions (58) and targets (81). He’s averaging a career-best 7.3 catches per game. The Eagles have gotten worse at covering tight ends this year. In 2011, they ranked fourth, according to Football Outsiders. Through eight games this season, they rank 17th. Part of the reason is Nnamdi Asomugha hasn’t been used a lot on tight ends in 2012. He was a factor in keeping Witten in check (eight catches, 52 yards in two games) last season. We’ll see if he gets a shot at him on Sunday.

5. The Cowboys offensive line features Tyron Smith (LT), Nate Livings (LG), Ryan Cook (center), Mackenzy Bernadeau (RG) and Doug Free (RT). Smith, a 2011 first-round pick, will get matched up against Trent Cole. Cole’s had a disappointing season, but he was active against the Saints with three hurries and a season-high seven tackles. Jason Babin and Brandon Graham will line up opposite Free. Babin had one of his more active games vs. New Orleans, with a sack/forced fumble and a pair of hurries. Graham had a sack/forced fumble last week too. According to reports, the Eagles pursued Free in free agency in 2011, but he re-signed with Dallas. The right tackle has struggled this season and is tied for the league-lead among tackles with 10 penalties, per PFF. Smith’s not far behind with nine. As a team, the Cowboys have only allowed 14 sacks on the season.

6. Miles Austin battled an injury-plagued 2011 season but is playing well so far this year, averaging 79.6 receiving yards per game and 15.5 yards per reception. He’s fifth in the league with 11 catches of 20+ yards. Austin lines up in the slot 70 percent of the time, per Pro Football Focus, meaning rookie Brandon Boykin has a tough task ahead. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will likely also get a shot at Austin. He got off to a strong start this season, but has fizzled. Rodgers-Cromartie leads all cornerbacks with eight penalties and at times looks like he has no interest in trying to get off blocks. Dez Bryant has 42 catches for 503 yards. He’ll likely see a lot of Asomugha. Kevin Ogletree’s played 52.2 percent of the snaps. He has 24 catches for 344 yards.

7. When the Eagles promoted Bowles, some thought he’d blitz more, but that hasn’t really been the case. And when he’s dialed up extra pressure, the results have not been good. Ryan and Brees were 9-for-11 for 111 yards (one sack) against the Eagles’ blitz. Part of that is on Bowles, but part of it is on the players for failing to execute. For example, one blitz last week freed Cole up for a shot at the quarterback, but he got juked by Brees, and the result was a big play to Lance Moore. Those are the kinds of things Bowles is referring to when he says the players are in position to make things happen. Romo, meanwhile, is completing 65.3 percent of his passes against the blitz. Given Dallas’ weapons in the passing game, I wouldn’t expect to see Bowles blitz a lot Sunday afternoon.

8. Romo’s improvisation can lead to turnovers, but it can also lead to big plays. I’m talking about the plays that cause announcers to make statements like, “This guy’s just having fun out there!” For example, last week against the Falcons, Asante Samuel initially had good coverage on Ogletree in the end zone.


But Romo escaped the pocket (and a possible sack by Kroy Biermann) to buy time.


That allowed Ogletree to shake free for the 21-yard touchdown.


By my count, Romo had the ball in his hands for about 5.7 seconds. It’s pretty much impossible to cover for that long. The defensive backs need to be disciplined when Romo improvises, but more importantly, the Eagles linemen need to finish when given the opportunity, something they have not done all season.

9. Play-action has given the Eagles problems all season long. Part of the reason why is that the safeties have responsibilities in the run game. The Birds get Nate Allen back this week after he was sidelined against the Saints. And while they’ll still need to avoid big gains off play-action, they probably won’t see a lot of those throws. Romo’s only run play-action 9.2 percent of the time, per Pro Football Focus, the lowest percentage of any starting quarterback in the league.

10. The Cowboys rank 27th in red-zone offense, scoring touchdowns 44 percent of the time. The Eagles’ defense is fourth, allowing touchdowns 40.7 percent of the time. …Dallas is ninth in third-down success, converting 42.6 percent of the time. The Eagles are sixth in third-down defense, allowing conversions 34.7 percent of the time. …Joe Buck and Troy Aikman will call the game for Fox.

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Eagles Midseason Grades (Defense)

We handed out evaluations for the offense earlier. Here are grades for the Eagles’ defense at the midpoint of the season.

Defensive Line: D

The Eagles’ defensive philosophy as an organization was to form one of the top pass-rushing units in the league and make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks. Prior to 2011, they signed Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins. They also brought Jim Washburn on board. A year after tying for the league-lead with 50 sacks, the Eagles weren’t satisfied. They used two of their first three draft picks on Fletcher Cox and Vinny Curry.

But the results just haven’t been there. The defensive line still affects games, but this unit was expected to dominate, and it hasn’t done that. Last year, Eagles defensive linemen accounted for 46 of the team’s 50 sacks. This year, they’re on pace to total just 20. Only the Jaguars have fewer. It’s true that teams have come up with ways to negate the Eagles’ pass-rush – keeping extra blockers in, designing game-plans that allow the quarterback to get rid of the ball quickly, etc. But it’s also true that the defensive linemen aren’t winning enough one-on-one battles, and we’ve seen a decrease in quick sacks where the quarterback is hit before he has a chance.

Trent Cole has just 1.5 sacks and hasn’t looked as good against the run. Jason Babin leads the team with 3.5 sacks, but hasn’t been nearly as effective as he was in 2011.

If the Eagles have any hopes of salvaging their season, the defensive line will have to turn things around in the second half.

Linebackers: B

Of all the moves the Eagles have made in the past two seasons, trading for DeMeco Ryans might be the best. The Birds’ starting middle linebacker has been better than advertised, leading the team with 83 tackles (62 solo). He’s got 10 tackles for loss (more than any Eagle had in all of 2011), one sack, two hurries and an interception. Ryans has had a few issues in coverage, but overall, has been an excellent three-down linebacker.

Mychal Kendricks is tougher to evaluate. He started out well, but has had some issues during the four-game losing streak.

“We’ve got to get off blocks,” defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said yesterday. “We can’t be satisfied and standing in our gaps. Once we get in our gaps, we’ve got to use our hands, we’ve got to play sound football and we’ve got to get off on blocks.”

I think one of the players he was probably talking about was Kendricks. In coverage, the Eagles rank 17th against tight ends and 12th against running backs, according to Football Outsiders. Kendricks needs to improve, but he’s certainly flashed potential and shown great athleticism. The rookie gets one mark against him for missing a team meeting and being benched at the start of the Falcons game.

Akeem Jordan has been average at the WILL spot.

Cornerbacks: C-

Through six games, it looked like the Eagles’ corners were finally playing up to their potential. The team was limiting opposing quarterbacks to a 52.7 completion percentage (the best mark in the league) and 6.2 yards per attempt (tied for second-best). The last two games have been a different story. Matt Ryan and Drew Brees picked the Eagles apart, completing 76.8 percent of their passes and averaging 8.9 yards per attempt.

Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie have been too inconsistent. Asomugha lacks the catch-up speed to avoid big plays. When he gets beat early in the route, chances are, a big play is coming. He’s also struggled at times to make plays when the ball’s in the air.

Rodgers-Cromartie is the fastest and most athletic player in the Eagles’ secondary, but he’s still struggling to put it all together. According to Pro Football Focus, his eight penalties are the most of any cornerback in the league. And Rodgers-Cromartie is a liability in the run game, often getting stuck on blocks against opposing wide receivers. A free agent at the end of the season, Rodgers-Cromartie will either earn himself money or cost himself money with his performance in the final eight games.

Brandon Boykin has had some missteps, but overall, he’s played well as the nickel corner.

Safeties: C-

I don’t know how to properly grade Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman. My expectation was that they would be average, and that’s pretty much what they’ve been. They don’t make a lot of plays, and they’re not great in coverage. They’re also put in tough spots sometimes, asked to have a run-first responsibility, while also not biting on play-action (which has been a major problem).

Somehow, the Eagles failed to address safety in the offseason, instead choosing to start Allen and Coleman. Jaiquawn Jarrett turned out to be a bust and was released. And the Eagles failed to address their safety depth. That cost them in the Lions game when Colt Anderson had to fill in for Allen. Now Anderson has been replaced by David Sims, who had never played a defensive snap in the NFL prior to Monday night.

I have a tough time giving Allen and Coleman a worse grade because I don’t think it’s a matter of them failing to live up to their potential. It’s more a case of the front office not adding enough talent.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Bowles: Players Are In the Right Positions

Philadelphia Eagles secondary coach Todd Bowles.Through six games, the Eagles’ pass defense looked like a much-improved unit from the one that took the field in 2011.

That’s why when Andy Reid decided to fire Juan Castillo and promote Todd Bowles, it made sense on some levels. Bowles, after all, was the man in charge of the secondary. At the time, the Eagles led the league in opponents’ completion percentage (52.7) and were tied for the second-best mark in yards per attempt (6.2).

Results have not been so good in the last two games, as the Eagles have allowed five touchdowns and come up with no interceptions. Matt Ryan and Drew Brees did whatever they wanted, completing a staggering 76.8 of their passes while averaging 8.9 yards per attempt. So what’s been the problem?

“In this last ballgame, we’ve got to make plays,” Bowles said. “We’re in position. Pass coverage involves linebackers and sometimes D-linemen [not just the secondary]. We’ve got to make plays. Each individual guy, we’ve got to step up and make plays. That’s all this game is about.”

While Bowles and some players are reluctant to admit it, part of the problem has been adjusting to a new coordinator halfway through the season. The explanations in the locker room are that much of the defense is unchanged, but of course, Bowles is adding his own wrinkles, some of which Tim broke down in an earlier post.

“We’ve been in a lot of positions to make plays and just haven’t been able to,” said safety Kurt Coleman. “We’ve also changed up a lot of our defense a little bit so we’re still trying to get acclimated as far as knowing everything – right gaps, right people to execute – so we’re still getting acclimated to that. When it comes down to it, the players have to play better. We have to play better.”

What, specifically, has changed?

“We’re making a lot more different calls,” Coleman said. “There are a variety of things, and we haven’t had as much practice as we used to have. We’re just getting our bearings around everything, getting used to it, and I think everyone’s going to be able to fly around and play better.”

One criticism of Castillo was that he was too predictable, so it makes sense that Bowles would be trying to add a level of complexity to the defense. And while it is easy to blame the defensive coordinator, the truth is there’s quite a bit of evidence to back what he and the players are saying. A few examples from last week:

  • A first-quarter blitz where Trent Cole was left unblocked but got juked by Brees. The Eagles went from a potential sack to allowing a 38-yard completion.
  • Nnamdi Asomugha missing a tackle, allowing what should have been a 9-yard run to turn into a 23-yard gain.
  • David Sims missing a tackle near the line of scrimmage and the Eagles allowing a 7-yard run.

Blown assignments were an issue against the Falcons. Last week, it seemed to be players just failing to execute when given the opportunity. A couple fundamental issues that are hurting the defense have been poor tackling and a failure to get off blocks (detailed in the All-22 breakdown).

“There are players that are going to miss tackles that are good tacklers, and then there are some players that just aren’t good tacklers, and you can fix that with fundamentals,” Bowles said. “You can fix that with attitude. Attitude’s the main thing.”

The truth is, players like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha were poor tacklers before they got to the Eagles and continue to be poor tacklers.

When asked if it was possible to fix tackling, given the Eagles’ in-season practice schedule, Bowles said he believed it was.

“Attitude should be the same all the time,” Bowles said. “You can have the right drive and mindset and miss a tackle, but you’ve got to have body control. You’ve got to have fundamentals. You’ve got to be able to tackle.”

Given that the Eagles have lost four in a row and stand at 3-5 at the halfway point, the margin of error has grown increasingly slim.

“We can’t have the same mistakes creep up every week, and we’ve got to rectify that,” Bowles said. “From that part, it’s a little disappointing, but we’ve got the guys in this room that can turn it around.”

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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All-22: Diagnosing Issues For the Eagles’ Defense

I know many of you don’t care to re-live Monday night’s loss to the Saints, but here are a handful of plays that caught my eye when I watched the All-22 film of their defensive snaps.

Play 1: Trent Cole rarely gets a free shot at the quarterback. But Todd Bowles’ blitz call gave him an opportunity to sack Drew Brees in the first quarter. First, check out the pre-snap look.


The Eagles show six at the line of scrimmage, and the Saints have an empty backfield, meaning someone’s going to be unblocked. The protection slides to the right, leaving Cole with a direct path to the quarterback. There’s no chip, no double team, nothing.


But Brees, as he so often does, is able to create space for himself. He delivers a little pump-fake, gets Cole to rush right past him and slides to his left. The Eagles, meanwhile, have single coverage on all five receivers since they blitzed six. Look at all the space Brees has when he finally gets rid of the ball.


The result is a 38-yard completion to Lance Moore, who was being covered by Brandon Boykin. Boykin was also called for pass interference on the play.

Cole had a pretty active game, but he missed an opportunity here, and the result was a big play.

Play 2: Plenty of blame to go around on the Chris Ivory 22-yard touchdown run. Let’s start with Brandon Graham, who gets caught inside. And Mychal Kendricks, who can’t get off his block.


Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie may have had a shot, but he’s blocked too, as you can see below.


David Sims is the only person with a chance, and he can’t make the tackle.

One more note: Look at where Rodgers-Cromartie still is. This is the fastest guy on the defense. He’s being blocked by 6-1, 184-pound receiver Joseph Morgan. Maybe Morgan delivered a good block. But Rodgers-Cromartie has shown on several occasions that he has little interest in making plays against the run. Not a good showing on this one.

Play 3: Another big run here. The left tackle lets Cole through. But in Jim Washburn’s system, you play the run on the way to the quarterback. Cole has a chance for a tackle for loss.

But since he’s not sure if it’s a run or play-action, he’s just a split-second slow in attacking the ball-carrier, and Thomas sidesteps him.

Meanwhile, the Saints have blocks set up on Kurt Coleman, DeMeco Ryans and Rogers-Cromartie.

Sims hustles to the ball and eventually brings Thomas down after a 19-yard gain.

But look at Rodgers-Cromartie again unable to get off his block. He’s blocked out of bounds when the play is over. Talented cover corner, but not really much of an upgrade over Asante Samuel against the run.

By the way, I don’t think this is a matter of Rodgers-Cromartie quitting. He’s always played like this. The issues just become more obvious when the team is losing and the defense isn’t playing well.

Play 4: Graham did a nice job on the sack/forced fumble in the third, but the coverage was key. Take a look.

Brees wanted to go to the end zone, but the Eagles had Rodgers-Cromartie and Coleman on the lone receiver to that side. Meanwhile, Akeem Jordan did a nice job on the running back in the flat. Graham was able to get to Brees in (unofficially) 2.2 seconds to create the turnover.

Play 5: The Eagles gained some momentum in the third, cutting the lead to 21-13. On the ensuing drive, the Saints faced a 3rd-and-7, and Bowles went with a look we’ve seen multiple times this year with the defensive ends standing up as rush linebackers and the defensive tackles shifting out.

The Eagles often blitz out of this look, but here, they just sent four, and they got zero pressure. Brees had all day to find Moore for a 23-yard completion. Babin got to his feet, but wasn’t able to bring the quarterback down.

Brees had about 3.9 seconds to find his receiver. That’s way too much time, especially in a key third-and-long situation like this.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Andy Reid And the New Blood

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy ReidWhat does the Andy Reid drama mean to a recent import, exactly?

Everyone in this town knows the tale backwards and forwards. Every win and every loss is a piece of a larger mosaic. We know where it fits and what it signifies. Do trade acquisitions and free-agent signings, plucked from one culture and plopped into another, appreciate what this all means? Do they understand the magnitude of this season?

Probably not. And therein lies the value of building through the draft. Players who are reared in one place are more likely to have an appreciation and loyalty towards the men who guard the walls. It’s just not the same if you are a transplant.

That is not to say that the new crop –which includes Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, DeMeco Ryans, Cullen Jenkins and Jason Babin — all lack perspective or an emotional attachment to their coach.

“One of the things when I got traded here, I was mad at the time — not really mad, but I didn’t understand why I was traded. But when I got here the first thing I realized was the history of the Eagles, coming into a winning organization. And you can credit Andy Reid for that,” said Rodgers-Cromartie. “Just looking at him as a coach, just here two years, I can appreciate everything he does. That’s why you want to get them games, the games you are supposed to get. You want to go out and fight that much harder.”

The Eagles are 3-4. If Jeffrey Lurie means what he says, Reid will not be back for a 15th season if they continue on this trajectory. While that may be an acceptable outcome for a large contingent of the fan base, most players find significant value in Reid — even the new ones.

“First and foremost, Coach Reid has done a fantastic job. He is one of the best coaches in this league. Guys around the league want to come to Philly and play here because he’s such a great coach, it’s such a great organization,” said Ryans. “You want to go out and make things happen. I feel like if we do our job, everything will take care of itself.”

And does the coach’s job being on the line provide extra motivation?

“First you play for yourself, that’s always. Then you find other reasons,” said Rodgers-Cromartie. “You’ve got family, kids. But then another reason has to be Andy Reid because the type of coach he is, you know what he’s doing and you know all around he’s a good guy and a good coach. You don’t get that too often, and we’d love to keep that around.”

Some would suggest that if the players are that desperate to preserve their head coach’s job, they have a funny way of showing it. The Eagles are now a game under .500 over the last two seasons. Are there too many foreigners and not enough locals? Did recent draft miscalculations, which forced in a wave of  outside talent, water down the Reid culture?

It is one of the working theories.

Bottom line, there are nine games left to save that culture.

“It’s pretty simple: It’s trickle-down,” said Babin. “Everybody wins, everybody does good and everybody’s life and situation is good. When you lose, that trickles down as well. Nobody wants that.”

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