Eagles Wake-Up Call: ‘Once Again, We Blew It’

Andy Reid, following the narrow loss to the Steelers a week ago, went on and on about the make-up of the 2012 Eagles.

“I like the grit of this football team. I like the toughness of this football team,” said Reid.  “They’re a competitive and tough bunch.”

That was the identity being cultivated through the better part of five games. Michael Vick engineered three game-winning drives; the defense successfully protected each lead. They stood toe-to-toe with the bully Ravens. Took down the Super Bowl champion Giants. A tough loss on the road to the Steelers? Given Pittsburgh’s level of desperation, acceptable.

The loss to the Lions puts everything into question. Detroit jabbed the Eagles in the nose, ripped the win from their loose grip, and pushed them to the ground for good measure.

“They wanted it more. They came out, made all the plays,” said Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. “I can’t say anything about it other than they wanted it more. We have to go out and fight. We had to win and once again, we blew it. Point blank, period.”

This year’s group appeared to have turned the page. The 2011 squad blew five fourth-quarter leads. This season, they were closing. But they have surrendered two leads late in as many weeks now, and the ghosts have been aroused.

“I said it last week, that if we keep playing these close games, the other team they get paid to make game-winning drives, too. We can’t continue to let teams hang around,” said Todd Herremans.

“This could be the type of game where it comes back to haunt you late in the year,” added LeSean McCoy. “You know how that sometimes affects you. Easy win…I won’t say easy win, but I felt like we had the game in control, I will say that. It’s like a sick feeling.”

Nnamdi Asomugha talked about how different the bye week will be now following the most painful loss of the season. With the team sitting at 3-3, he said the Eagles are now “behind the eight-ball.” They will have two weeks to stew over how they got there.

No one in the locker room wanted to say that this felt like last season, but it did. Talented unit, untimely letdowns. That will be the label on the 2012 squad for at least the next two weeks. It’s identical to the one they wore this time last year.

Herremans was asked about the offensive line play following the loss to Detroit. While he was speaking about his group in particular, the words can stretch across the entire team.

“It seems,” said Herremans, “like we have our breakdowns at the worst, most inopportune times.”

WHAT YOU MISSED

Sheil gives his instant observations from a head-scratching day at the Linc.

Vick was at a loss in the moments after the game.

Juan Castillo altered his approach in the closing minutes, and it backfired.

The defense was also stung by the loss of Fletcher Cox and Nate Allen down the stretch.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Brent Celek took responsibility for the loss. The veteran tight end had a pair of second-half miscues that hurt the Eagles’ chances. Via CSN Philly:

“This game, I take responsibility for it,” said Celek. “How we finished those two drives, both on me, the one I dropped and the one was a pass interference — whether it was or wasn’t, it was called. I’ve got to do better. I can’t put our team in that position. I’ve just got to do better. I’m disappointed in myself.”

Dan Graziano gives his take on the loss.

The patchwork offensive line is catching up with the Eagles. The Lions’ interior defensive line is very tough, and it made life difficult for backup center Dallas Reynolds and the Eagles’ guards. Quarterback Michael Vick was under pressure all day, and while he generally did a good job of avoiding the rush, he took two sacks in overtime that cost the Eagles field position and a chance to win the game after blowing the lead.

Phil Sheridan examines what this failure means for the Reid era.

After Sunday’s mind-searing loss against the Detroit Lions, the team is 3-3. That’s 37.5 percent of the season gone and the Eagles are .500 – the benchmark Lurie said would mean the end of the Reid Epoch.

So Reid has a bye week, then 10 games to prove that his 11-11 record over the past two seasons is a mirage of some kind. Ten games to prove the steady regression since 2008 is just a fluke. Ten games to transform Michael Vick into a championship quarterback.

COMING UP

Reid’s day-after press conference at noon. I’m sure it will be a delight. At 6, it’s Birds 24/7 on 97.5 the Fanatic.

 

Eagles’ Change Approach; Megatron, Lions Bust Loose

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

Johnson ended the half with one catch for 28 yards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Um, yes.”

Asomugha continued.

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

 

 

 

Eagles Wake-Up Call: Nnamdi Heat Linked To DRC

The argument isn’t (or shouldn’t be) whether Nnamdi Asomugha is playing well. For the most part, he is. It’s whether he is living up to the five-year, $60 million deal he signed last offseason.

Right now it’s difficult to build a case that Asomugha is earning his paycheck, considering what Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is doing on the other side of the field. DRC’s numbers are better, and he’s making considerably less coin.

Take a look at the side-by-side comparison of the two corners. The numbers are courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

Name
Asomugha
Rodgers-Cromartie
Times Thrown At2227
Receptions Yielded1212
Percentage Caught54.544.4
Yards After Catch6344
Touchdowns Allowed10
Interceptions03
Opposing QB Rating96.626.4

Rodgers-Cromartie has the edge almost across the board, further demonstrating what a tremendous season he is having to date. The opposing QB rating, which is third-best in the NFL, jumps out in particular.

“I think he’s done a nice job,” said Andy Reid. “We’ve asked him to play quite a little bit of man coverage — both corners. That’s a tough task in this league but they have done very well with it.”

Asomugha’a numbers are generally strong as well, though he would undoubtedly like the interceptions to go up and quarterback rating to go down. Still, the Eagles’ secondary grades out as one of the most competent in the league and Asomugha has been a key part of that.

“It comes with the territory,” said Brandon Boykin. “When you’re considered one of the best corners in the league everybody expects you to shut down everybody, not allow any pass attempts, and just be perfect every game. And that’s not going to happen, that’s not realistic for anybody, no matter who you are.”

The money issue is a bit unfair as well. Asomugha is making around $11 million this season compared to $2 million for Rodgers-Cromartie. But Asomugha is older and has gone through the free-agency process. Rodgers-Cromartie is set to hit the open market following this season.

” I think he’s playing,” said Rodgers-Cromartie of Asomugha. “Statistics wise, nobody’s really beating us down the field. Guys aren’t really completing passes like that, just dinking and dunking us, and we’re still fourth in the league in passing yards, so I could care less what they say.”

WHAT YOU MISSED

Michael Vick took some measures this week to try and curb his fumbling habit.

Sheil provides his cheat sheet for the Eagles’ defense against Calvin Johnson and the Lions attack.

The offense is deploying quite a bit of no-huddle.

DeSean Jackson and Marty Mornhinweg are still trying to figure out how to generate some big plays this season.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Despite his reported involvement in yet another traffic incident, Ndamukong Suh isn’t facing any discipline.

“The investigation is closed,” the department said in a released statement. “It was a minor traffic accident in which fault cannot be determined and there will be no charges to either party.”

Suh was accused of sideswiping another driver on Thursday and then opting not to stop.

Peter King likes the Eagles 26-24 in this one.

Alternate Universe Stat of the Week: Stafford/Vick totals: nine touchdowns, 10 interceptions. But this could be — could being the operative word, because monitoring vital safety Louis Delmas’ health is an exercise in futility — the week the important Lions safety returns, nine weeks after camp knee surgery. The Lions hoped he’d be ready to play on opening day, and they’ve been hoping since. Delmas is Detroit’s Ronnie Lott, both in spirit and in the anvil in his shoulder pads, so if he’s back at anything close to normal, the Lions will finally be competitive in the back end.

Eleven of  12 ESPN analysts like the Birds as well. Tom Jackson is the only one rolling with the Lions.

COMING UP

The Eagles have a mock game in the morning, their final piece of preparation for Detroit.

Cheat Sheet: Eagles’ Defense Vs. Lions’ Offense

Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Juan CastilloHere are 10 things to know about how the Eagles’ defense matches up with the Lions’ offense:

1. The Lions enter Sunday’s game averaging 25 points per game, tied for 11th in the NFL. Last year, this group averaged 29.6. Football Outsiders has Detroit’s offense ranked sixth overall – eighth in passing and 10th in rushing. Matthew Stafford stayed healthy for the first time in 2011 and lit it up with 41 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. The Lions can be one-dimensional, but when their passing game is clicking, they are tough to stop. Meanwhile, the Eagles’ defense has held opposing quarterbacks to just 53.6 percent completions, the second-best mark in the league. And opponents are averaging just 6.1 yards per attempt, tied for third-best.

2. While Stafford is completing an impressive 65.9 percent of his passes, the Lions are not picking up chunks of yardage through the air like they did last year. He’s averaging 6.8 yards per attempt, down from 7.6 in 2011. Stafford’s average pass length is 7.49 yards, which ranks 27th in the NFL. His average pass completion has gone 5.25 yards (29th). And according to Pro Football Focus, only 7.5 percent of Stafford’s pass attempts have traveled 20 yards or more downfield (30th). The point is that the Lions have not taken a lot of shots downfield through their first four games. It’s pretty much been Calvin Johnson or bust. On the flip side, last week against the Steelers, the Eagles allowed just one play of 20 yards or more, and it came on the final drive in the fourth quarter.

3. Megatron is obviously worth spending some time on in this space. The sixth-year receiver is coming off a monster season in which he set career highs with 96 catches, 1,681 yards, 16 touchdowns and 17.5 yards per catch. This year, he’s been targeted 43 times through four games and has nine catches of 20+ yards, second-most in the NFL. Johnson is averaging 105.8 yards per game, which ranks third. He’s scored 29 touchdowns in his last 35 games. A couple numbers are down for Johnson. He’s averaging 14.6 yards per catch, which is off of last year’s pace (17.5). And he’s averaging 3.2 YAC, down from 5.5 last year. Overall, he’s arguably the most dangerous receiver in the game.

4. Last year, Johnson led the league with 32 catches of 20+ yards and 10 catches of 40+ yards. As a result, you can expect defenses to play their safeties in another zip code against the Lions. The Vikings did that for much of the game a couple weeks ago. On the surface, it looks like they contained Johnson. He finished with five catches for 54 yards. But throw in the fact that he drew two pass interference penalties for 60 yards, and clearly Johnson had an impact. One thing the Lions have done this year is move Johnson to the slot. According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson has spent 38.7 percent of his offensive snaps in the slot this year, compared to just 18.9 percent last year. That will be a key on Sunday. The Cardinals moved Larry Fitzgerald all around the formation, and the Eagles played him straight up. They got burned in the process. What will Juan Castillo and Todd Bowles decide on against Johnson? He’d have a huge size advantage (eight inches) against rookie Brandon Boykin. Then again, Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie both struggled playing inside last year. Asomugha told T-Mac that the Birds won’t have a generic game plan. While they will clearly pay extra attention to Johnson, what exactly Asomugha means is unclear.

“I don’t want to give away what we’re going to do,” Castillo said Thursday. “Hopefully we can talk about it after the game, and you can say, ‘Juan, that was a good game plan that you all had.'”

5. Here’s a look at the problems Johnson can pose in the slot.

The Vikings are in zone, and the linebackers bite on a play-fake. Johnson fights off a jam from the slot corner at the line of scrimmage and finds space in front of the safety. Stafford delivers the ball on time, and the Lions pick up 19.

A similar play later in the game – this time in the red zone

Again, Johnson finds the hole in the zone, and Stafford throws the ball high so that he can use his size and go up and get it.

The Vikings safeties close here and sandwich Johnson with a big hit. He can’t hold on to the ball, and the Lions have to settle for a field goal two plays later. But you get the point.

6. Of course, to hit on big plays to Johnson, the Lions need to protect Stafford. Their offensive line is old, but experienced. The same five guys have played every snap together so far this season At left tackle, Jeff Backus will match up against Trent Cole. Backus has started every game for Detroit since the start of the 2001 season, an incredible streak of 180 in a row. Last year, he was called for seven holding penalties, tied for third-most in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders. Cole, meanwhile, is coming off a quiet game against the Steelers. He has 1.5 sacks in five games, but leads the team with 19 hurries. At left guard, Rob Sims has started every game for the Lions since the start of 2010. Dominic Raiola, the center, has started all but four games for Detroit since 2002. And right guard Stephen Peterman has been with Detroit for seven seasons, having started every game since 2010. Other than Cullen Jenkins, the Eagles’ defensive tackles were a non-factor last week. They’ll need to generate more of an interior pass rush this week. At right tackle, Gosder Cherilus, a former first-round pick (2008), will match up against Jason Babin. Babin has 2.5 sacks and 18 hurries on the season. Brandon Graham, who led the team with five hurries last week, will also see time at left defensive end. As a group, the Lions have only been called for four holding penalties this season, second-fewest in the league. No Detroit offensive lineman has been flagged more than once all year.

7. The Lions have not gotten much from their run game. Mikel Leshoure, Kevin Smith and Joique Bell will likely all see action. Leshoure is averaging just 3.2  yards per carry; Smith 4.0; and Bell 3.1. Leshoure fumbled after a 14-yard run against the Vikings. The Lions have zero runs of 20+ yards on the season. The Eagles’ run defense had been good until last week, when Rashard Mendenhall averaged 5.8 yards per carry against them. This week, it looks like Akeem Jordan will return to the starting lineup, replacing Jamar Chaney. The truth is, when the passing game is clicking, the Lions don’t have a lot of interest in running the ball. They called passes 67 percent of the time last season, tops in the league, according to Football Outsiders. If the running game’s not working, look for the Lions to rely on shorter, high-percentage throws instead, including ones to the backs. Bell, specifically, has looked good in that aspect with 12 receptions for 175 yards, including a nice 23-yarder against the Vikings.

8. Other than Johnson, the Eagles will have to account for Nate Burleson and tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who has been a limited practice participant with a knee injury. Pettigrew is second on the team in targets (35) and has 23 catches for 223 yards, but he’s also dropped five balls, according to Pro Football Focus. One of those drops came in the end zone against the Vikings a couple weeks ago. As a team, the Lions have dropped six balls on passes that have gone 10+ yards downfield, according to ESPN. Overall, the Eagles rank fifth in the league against tight ends and seventh against running backs, according to Football Outsiders. Meanwhile, Burleson has 22 catches for 200 yards. He’s lined up in the slot 46.8 percent of the time, according to PFF. And don’t be surprised to see an end around or reverse to Burleson. He has six rushes for 26 yards on the season.

9. The Lions went with an empty backfield 10 percent of the time last year, according to Football Outsiders, fourth-most in the league. But that doesn’t mean they will leave themselves vulnerable in pass protection against the Eagles. Take a look at this set-up from the Vikings game.

The tight end and running back line up next to the tackles and chip the defensive ends before going out into their pass routes. I’d guess Cole and Babin will have to deal with this look on more than one occasion.

10. Leftovers: Stafford’s thrown 20 interceptions in his last 20 starts, including four in four games this season. Two of those have been in the red zone. …Johnson is averaging a career-high 7.3 catches per game. …The Lions used a single back 81 percent of the time last year, second-most in the league. …They used three receivers or more 61 percent of the time, third-most.

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

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

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

Play 1: I mentioned yesterday how Brandon Graham led the team with five hurries, even though he only had 11 chances to rush the passer. Here’s one of them. He gets double-teamed by two Steelers offensive linemen.


But he fights through them as Fletcher Cox twists behind him.


And Graham hits Ben Roethlisberger as he throws the ball away.


Nice job all around by him.

Play 2: After re-watching the game, it became clear that the Steelers designed plays to help Roethlisberger get rid of the ball quickly. According to Pro Football Focus, 23 of his 32 passes were thrown within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. And he was just 2-for-9 on passes that traveled more than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. If you take into account Roethlisberger’s ability to escape pressure, along with the Steelers’ game-plan, I don’t think it’s time to panic about the Eagles’ pass-rush. The defensive line did not play great, but I think Jim Washburn’s group will be fine. Also remember, pressure doesn’t always lead to sacks. Check out this play near the end of the first half. It looks like Brown is past Boykin, and there’s no safety deep.


But because of pressure by Cullen Jenkins, Roethlisberger is forced to scramble.


Even if he’d seen Brown and got him the football, Willie Colon was called for holding on Jenkins. The defensive line clearly had an impact here that didn’t show up in the stat sheet.

Play 3: Another example of pressure impacting a play. Here, Roethlisberger is forced to step up and gets hit by Trent Cole.


He has nowhere to go with the ball and throws incomplete in Brown’s direction. It was a third down, and the Steelers were forced to punt.

Play 4: Many have questioned why the Eagles didn’t blitz more in the second half. One theory: Because on the few occasions when they sent extra pressure in the first half, they got burned. On this play, they blitz Ryans and Mychal Kendricks, creating a six-man rush.


The Steelers pick it up, and Roethlisberger gets rid of the ball quickly to Brown, who has Nnamdi Asomugha one-on-one. It’s only a 4-yard pass, but Asomugha doesn’t take a good angle to the ball, and Brown makes a nice move, turning it into an 18-yard gain.

Play 5: Not a good performance against the run. Here, Derek Landri and Jamar Chaney get blocked, leaving Kurt Coleman as the only defender in the way of Rashard Mendenhall and a big run.


Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders does enough to get in Coleman’s way, and Mendenhall picks up 17.

By the way, be sure to check out this Iggles Blog All-22 post with more details on the run defense in the second half.

Play 6: Asomugha’s taken a lot of heat this week. Roethlisberger clearly was not afraid to throw in his direction. But on some plays, you just have to give the other team credit. For example, look at Asomugha’s coverage here on a third down in the third.


You simply cannot have a receiver blanketed any better. Keep in mind, this image is from the moment when Roethlisberger releases the ball. The throw was perfect, to Brown’s outside shoulder, and so was the timing. The result was a 6-yard completion and a first down that extended the Steelers’ drive. Later in the game, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was on Mike Wallace on an almost identical play, but Wallace dropped the ball.

Play 7: This looked to me like some great improvisation by Roethlisberger in the third. Wallace runs a shallow crossing route, and Rodgers-Cromartie has him locked up.


But Roethlisberger gets pressured and steps up in the pocket. He presumably sees that there is all kinds of room behind Wallace and lofts one downfield, allowing the receiver to try and make a play, even though I don’t believe that’s where the route was originally intended to go.


Wallace gets a hand on the ball, but can’t come up with the catch. As you can see, the Eagles dodged a bullet. A reception here is almost certainly a 54-yard touchdown. Instead, the Steelers are forced to punt.

Play 8: The Eagles dodged another bullet in the fourth on a well-designed play by the Steelers. If I’m reading it correctly, this is disguised as a wide receiver screen to Brown.


It looks like Heath Miller is going to block Asomugha. That gets Casey Matthews to bite. But instead, Miller runs right past Asomugha and into his route.


Miller is open as Matthews tries to recover, but Roethlisberger’s throw is off-target, and the result is an incompletion. It helped here that pressure from Babin forced Roethlisberger to drift to his left as he made the throw. The Steelers had to settle for a field goal.

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

Eagles Wake-Up Call: DRC Vs. Megatron

 Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie talked about what goes into his preparation when getting set to face an opponent.

“I flip the book open and I look at each receiver. I look at speed first, that’s the first thing I do, and I see what they ran in the 40,” said Rodgers-Cromartie. “Then I look at the statistics and see how many times they’ve been thrown at.”

And what does Calvin Johnson clock in at?

“He is 4.38. Everybody else 4.5 or plus,” said Rodgers-Cromartie.

“For 4.5 and plus, I say in my head I’m going to beat you with my feet. I’m not really going to put my hands on you and try to slow you down because I know I’m quick enough to react. A guy like Calvin Johnson, I want to try to disrupt him, get up there put my hands on him and slow him down, not let him get going.”

Rodgers-Cromartie said that he has not only experience but success shadowing Johnson. The stats seem to back him up. In a meeting between the Lions and DRC’s old team, the Cardinals, back in 2009, Johnson was limited to three catches for 35 yards.

“The only tendency you can get on guys like Calvin Johson is you know they’re going to get the ball, you know it’s coming no matter what situation it is, first, second or third down,” said Rodgers-Cromartie. “Just go out and play. You might think they going to run a deep in because the formation says so but you still have to go out and cover.

“You know he’s the guy who can beat you. You know what he’s capable of, at the same time you have to line up and make him beat you. That’s the way I was always taught, make him beat you.”

WHAT YOU MISSED

Sheil activates the All-22 tape to see what worked and what didn’t on offense against the Steelers.

The latest national power rankings are in. The Eagles took a dip.

Casey Matthews made the most of his snaps Sunday. Is more playing time ahead?

 Calvin Johnson has an idea how the Eagles will try to defend him.

 Brandon Graham is making a push for even more playing time.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Marcus Hayes takes a look at Mychal Kendricks’ unique background and his tight ties to the arts.

“There’s two kinds of people in the world: cockroaches and ants,” Kendricks said. “When the lights come on, the cockroaches run. The ants? They just keep on working.”

Reuben Frank has a nice piece on Ricky Watters, who will serve as an honorary captain Sunday.

“That whole ‘For Who, For What,’ that was never what I was really about. I never felt that way about the fans or about the organization. I loved my time there. I want them to understand how much I loved being there.

Tommy Lawlor over at Iggles Blitz gives a detailed breakdown of the loss to the Steelers.

COMING UP

Preparation continues for the Lions. Marty Mornhinweg, Juan Castillo and Bobby April address the media today.

Calvin Johnson Expects Eagles To ‘Box’ Him In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eagles Wake-Up Call: Checking the Penalty Count

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT YOU MISSED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COMING UP

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

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

DRC And That Ooh-Op-Ooh

When Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie came up with the interception in the end zone early in the fourth quarter, he (against better judgment) declined to take a knee and instead looped to his left and up the sidelines before being forced out at the nine-yard line. The Pro-Bowl corner then made his way through the sea of  leaping green and settled in near midfield.

All the while, Juan Castillo was tracking him. The defensive coordinator tried to catch him when he first came off the field but was not  quick enough to the scene. So he ran and dodged his way through the sideline traffic until he found his man. Once he did, Castillo wrapped Rodgers-Cromartie in a hug.

“One thing I can tell you, Juan loves this defense, man. He’s got passion for this game,” said Rodgers-Cromartie. “Anytime someone makes a play, he’ll be overexcited. He’s going to find that person and just go all out with them.”

What made Castillo particularly amped is what happened on the play before that. With the Giants facing a 4th-and-1 at the Eagles 40-yard line, Eli Manning — his team down three —  lined up in the shotgun and found a wide-open Victor Cruz over the middle for a 30-yard pick-up, setting up a first-and-g0al. Cruz was Rodgers-Cromartie’s responsibility on that play, and he got beat. Badly.

“Oh, he gave me that Ooh-Op-Ooh,” said Rodgers-Cromartie, as if that term is universally understood. To a degree his audience knew exactly what he meant. But just to clarify: the Ooh-Op-Ooh?

“I go one way, he goes the other,” he said. “He beat me from the line. I was trying to be over-aggressive, missed him, it was curtains from there.

“Was I mad that he caught it? Yes sir. That was 4th-and-1. I gave up a fourth down and I was pretty heated. But I just stayed out there and fought.”

On the very next play, he came up with the pick. And Castillo went crazy.

“Everybody makes a mistake. The thing is, dont’ worry about it, and make a play,” said Castillo. “That was awesome because DRC was so upset because he lined up outside leverage instead of inside leverage and he knew exactly what he did when [Cruz] cut. What was awesome was, instead of losing his head — he was so pissed at himself — but instead of losing his head he went and made a play.”

There is greater meaning in this sequence because of the shift it represents. Last season this defense squandered five fourth-quarter leads. This year, they have already successfully defended three. They are showing more resolve, even when they get hit with the ol’ Ooh-Op-Ooh.

“I think the time we spent with each other in the offseason and going through that last year, we know how to overcome it,” said Rodgers-Cromartie. “We’ve gotten in that situation many times last year and we know how it feels. Our main thing this year is playing four quarters of football, and putting it all together.”

 

 

 

Plan For Nnamdi To Shadow Fitzgerald Aborted

Philadelphia Eagles CB Nnamdi Asomugha.Three different cornerbacks — Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Brandon Boykin and then Nnamdi Asomugha — took turns lining up over Larry Fitzgerald on the Cardinals’ first three plays from scrimmage. It was immediately evident that trying to contain the star receiver would be a group assignment.

That wasn’t the initial plan, however, as Asomugha laid out afterwards.

“We came into the week, I was going to shadow him,” said Asomugha. “We kind of had an idea, I think Coach [Todd] Bowles had an idea that that’s what they were figuring, so they were going to move him and put him in all sorts of different places. So we said let’s just let’s just stay on our sides and make sure that Boykin is at the nickel, keep Dominique on the outside. That was our plan, and they were able to do some things to take advantage of it.”

Bowles correctly predicted the Cardinals’ strategy, though his response to it can be questioned after Fitzgerald shook loose for nine catches, 114 yards and a score in Arizona’s 27-6 thumping of the Eagles Sunday in the desert. As we laid out earlier in the week, Asomugha has had success against Fitzgerald in the past. Fitzgerald had two catches when Arizona and Oakland met in 2010 and, despite finishing with seven catches for 146 yards and two scores against the Eagles last year, did not manage a catch when Asomugha was locked up on him.

One question that floated through the Philadelphia locker room afterwards: Shadow or no, why not just blanket Fitzgerald with double teams and have the other, less formidable Cardinals skill position players try to beat you?

“Look, we have two of the best corners in the league with Nnamdi and DRC,” Kurt Coleman responded. “There were times when we did, there were times when we didn’t.”

A double-team was called on Fitzgerald’s 37-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter that gave the Cards a 17-0 lead. Asomugha started over top of him and ran with Fitzgerald down field but played it as if he was expecting help over the middle. That help never came.

“We were in a Cover 4 scheme. I was playing the front-side receiver, and something happened back side,” said Nate Allen. “I think it was miscommunication on the back side, and it was tough to do that.”

Coleman was the man out of position. He and Asomugha were seen having a lengthy discussion about it on the sideline following the play. The safety accepted blame afterwards.

“My fault, my fault,” said Coleman. “I’ll take the heat for that. We’ll get better next week, come back stronger.”

The defense adjusted the game plan and limited Fitzgerald to two catches for nine yards in the second half. But the damage had already been done.

“Towards the second half we started getting after him, we started going man,” said Rodgers-Cromartie. ” But at the end of the day, man, you’ve got to execute.”

 

 

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