DRC Takes Up For Castillo

Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo.Several players this week have suggested that Juan Castillo‘s defense was predictable, and therefor vulnerable in the fourth quarter when the opposition deciphered what was coming.

Though it may have some truth to it and even come from a good place, it sure can  sound like blame-shifting after a while. As in, Juan was the issue and the issue is gone, so we can now realize our potential with Todd Bowles at the helm.

Not everybody is on board with the notion that Castillo was a hindrance, or buying into the “predictability” line of defense when rationalizing back-to-back fourth-quarter lapses.

“Of course that’s what you’re going to say, man, when things start to go bad. You’re going to pinpoint something,” said Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. “I don’t feel that way. If you look at the statistics, shoot, we’re still in the top of the running. That was a decision that was made and I can’t do nothing about it, but I didn’t see no problems.”

As for pointing blame in Castillo’s direction?

“I feel like every man should be accountable for themselves,” said Rodgers-Cromartie. “I learned in life that anytime things go wrong it’s easy to say, ‘He did this. He did that,’ instead of saying, “I did this. I did that.'”

Most of the players have had fond words regarding Juan Castillo the man, but few have stood up for him as a coach quite like DRC did on Thursday. Rodgers-Cromartie revealed that it was Castillo that transformed him into a press corner, working overtime with him to make sure the 26-year-old went through the change as smoothly as possible.

“No question. He changed my game. He turned me into a press corner,” said Rodgers-Cromartie. “He’s one of the guys that took the time with you, to make you understand the weakness in your game and keep you after practice and make you work on it. This is the NFL, you’re accountable for yourself. Not too many people are going to say, ‘Hey, you need to do this and make sure you do it.’  They tend to let you do it on your own.”

Rodgers-Cromartie is having a Pro-Bowl season. He has three interceptions and five passes defensed through six games. Opposing quarterbacks have a collective quarterback rating of 28.7 when throwing in his direction according to Pro Football Focus, good for second in the entire NFL.

The message about predictability is coming directly from Bowles, according to a couple of the players. The new defensive coordinator was asked about it on Thursday.

“I don’t think it’s excuse-making on my part. I think predictability comes from self-scouting,” said Bowles. “Every coach in the league when they self-scout on the bye week sees a lot of predictable things that are glaring to them that they try to fix. I think the miscommunication was in that part. It’s definitely not an excuse. The guys play hard and we lost because we lost and because we didn’t make enough plays to win the game. It’s not because we were being predictable or unpredictable.”

If that was the point Bowles was making, it may have been lost on a few of his new pupils.

Cheat Sheet: Eagles’ Defense Vs. Falcons’ Offense

Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Trent ColeHere are 10 things to know about how the Eagles’ defense matches up with the Falcons’ offense.

1. The Falcons are averaging 28.5 points per game, sixth-best in the league. In the offseason, they brought in Dirk Koetter as their new offensive coordinator. Matt Ryan runs a lot of no-huddle and is completing 67.8 percent of his passes, tied for fourth-best in the league. He’s thrown 14 touchdowns and six interceptions. Atlanta is a high-efficiency passing team. Football Outsiders ranks their offense 10th overall – ninth through the air and 24th on the ground. Even though the Falcons are 6-0, the offense is not clicking on all cylinders just yet.

“We definitely have not played our best football on offense yet,” Koetter told reporters recently. “We studied ourselves across the board in every situation. We need to get better across the board and I’m confident that they guys will try to do that.”

Before the bye, the offense turned in a shaky outing against the Raiders. The scoreboard showed 23 points, but one of those touchdowns was courtesy of an Asante Samuel pick-six, and a field goal was the result of a fumble return to the Raiders’ 2. Ryan threw three interceptions in that game, and Michael Turner averaged just 3.0 yards per carry. Koetter, Ryan and the rest of the Falcons’ offense will try to get on track against the Eagles’ defense and new coordinator Todd Bowles.

2. Let’s talk about Ryan. While the Falcons’ offense is more prolific than past seasons, Ryan still does not throw the ball downfield a lot. According to Pro Football Focus, just 10.2 percent of Ryan’s passes have gone 20 yards or more downfield. That ranks 20th in the league. Overall, the Falcons have 17 pass plays of 20+ yards; that’s tied for 24th. Atlanta chooses its spots with the deep ball, but relies on completing a high percentage of the short and intermediate throws. Ryan has completed 69.2 percent of his throws under 10 yards, according to Stats.com. He gets to the line of scrimmage, checks out the defense and has the ability to call the play. The Eagles, meanwhile, are holding opponents to a league-low 52.7 percent completion percentage. Quarterbacks are averaging just 6.2 yards per attempt against the Birds, tied for the second-lowest mark in the league. Overall, Football Outsiders has the Eagles’ defense ranked eighth – eighth against the pass and 11th against the run.

3. Ryan distributes the ball pretty evenly to his top three weapons: wide receivers Roddy White (53 targets) and Julio Jones (54), along with tight end Tony Gonzalez (54). White leads the Falcons with 553 receiving yards. In his eighth season, the veteran is averaging a career-high 92.2 yards per game. Known as more of a possession receiver, White is stretching the field more this year with a team-high seven catches of 20+ yards. He’s also averaging a team-high 14.9 yards per reception. White is good at adjusting to the ball in the air, and Ryan trusts him to make plays even when he’s not open. This will be Bowles’ first game calling the defense so it’s difficult to predict how he’ll use Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha against the Falcons’ receivers. More on that below.

4. “They definitely have two outstanding corners,” Koetter told reporters this week. “Unless they are going to play three corners, they can’t put a corner on all three of our guys. Matchups are one of the key parts of this game. Every game has some plus and minus matchups for both sides. They have two awesome corners and they’ve been matching them on wideouts. I haven’t seen them matching them on tight ends this year, but anything is possible.”

Which brings us to Gonzalez, who leads the Falcons with 43 catches. He’s caught 79.6 percent of the balls thrown his way, a ridiculous number. At the age of 36, Gonzalez is on pace for a career-high in receptions and is averaging 71.7 yards per game. He had seven catches for 83 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Eagles last year. On the Falcons’ game-winning drive vs. the Raiders a couple weeks ago, Ryan targeted Gonzalez on three straight attempts, completing two for 23 yards and setting Matt Bryant up for the game-winning 55-yard field goal. The Eagles have been OK against opposing tight ends this year, ranking 13th, per Football Outsiders. They’ve used a mix of coverages that has included linebackers and safeties. Last year, we saw the Eagles use Asomugha on tight ends in certain situations, but that hasn’t happened yet in 2012. One key here will be how the Eagles use rookie Brandon Boykin. Will he shift outside in certain spots and allow Asomugha to cover Gonzalez? Boykin played outside for the first time all season vs. Detroit. Will Boykin (5-9) be on Gonzalez (6-5)? Will Brandon Hughes or Curtis Marsh get a shot? That didn’t work out so well against the Lions. Keep in mind that Gonzalez almost never stays in to block. On pass plays, he’s used as a receiver 90.6 percent of the time, per PFF.

5. Jones was the deep threat last year, averaging 17.8 yards per reception, but that number is down to 12.5 this season. He still has six catches of 25+ yards though. Jones (6-3) is a well-rounded receiver, capable of hitting on plays downfield, picking up yards after the catch and coming down with the ball in traffic. He has six red-zone receptions, including four touchdowns. If he’s healthy Harry Douglas (23 catches for 149 yards) will line up in the slot. Douglas has been on the field for 58.1 percent of the snaps, per PFF. He didn’t practice Wednesday because of a knee/ankle injury. Jacquizz Rodgers (15 catches for 117 yards) will catch the ball out of the backfield.

6. Veteran Michael Turner is averaging 4.3 yards per carry. But he got a big boost from running all over the Panthers (13 carries, 103 yards) in Week 4. Take that game away, and Turner is averaging just 3.6 yards per carry. In the past two games, he’s got 100 yards on 29 attempts (3.4 YPC). The workhorse days appear to be over for the 30-year-old. Turner averaged 19.8 carries per game from 2010-2011, but that number is down to 14.0 this year. The Eagles will still have to pay attention to him though. Turner gashed them for 114 yards on 21 carries in last year’s meeting. The Birds’ defense has not been great against the run the past couple weeks. The Lions piled up 138 yards and averaged 4.9 yards per carry against them. And Rashard Mendenhall averaged 5.2 yards per carry the previous week. The Eagles’ defensive tackles have under-performed as a unit, and while DeMeco Ryans has been great (eight tackles for loss), the other linebackers have had some issues against the run. Scheme has played a role at times as well. Turner’s complement is Rodgers, but he hasn’t been a great option, averaging just 2.5 yards per carry with a long run of 9.

7. The Falcons have experience on the offensive line – a unit that is middle-of-the-pack. Left tackle Sam Baker had a a rough 2011 and has battled back issues. Trent Cole abused him in last year’s meeting with a sack and season-high eight hurries. Cole has not had a great year, but is tied for the team lead with 23 hurries. He has not been as good as usual against the run.

Justin Blalock gets the nod at left guard. He’s started every game for the Falcons since 2008. Derek Landri and Cedric Thornton have combined for just five hurries in the last four games. Center Todd McClure is in his 13th season as the Falcons’ starter. Cullen Jenkins and Fletcher Cox will match up with right guard Garrett Reynolds (limited practice participant Wednesday). Jenkins had a pair of sacks in last year’s meeting. Cox has been the team’s best defensive tackle. The rookie has excelled against the run and shown flashes as a pass-rusher. His 14 hurries are the most among Eagles’ DTs.

Jason Babin and Brandon Graham will match up against right tackle Tyson Clabo. Clabo has started every game for the Falcons since 2008 and made he Pro Bowl in 2010. According to Pro Football Focus, Clabo has allowed five sacks, tied for fourth-most in the league this season. Babin is tied with Cole for the team-lead in hurries (23), and he leads the Eagles with 2.5 sacks. He had a sack and four hurries against Atlanta last year. Graham has made the most of his opportunities with 13 hurries and half-a-sack, but hasn’t seen a real bump in playing time. The same five guys have started all six games for the Falcons this season. Atlanta has been called for the fewest offensive holding penalties (five) and fewest false start penalties (three) in the league.

8. The key to the game could very well be how Bowles manages to get the Eagles’ pass-rushers free. And that won’t be easy when you consider some of the things the Falcons do up front. Atlanta often spreads it out and relies on Ryan to get rid of the ball quickly. According to Stats, Inc., 77 percent of Ryan’s pass attempts have come on plays with at least three receivers out wide, and 53 percent have come with four receivers (note: one of those is usually Gonzalez). In other words, the Eagles’ backup corners and safeties are going to have to cover a lot in this game. On the play below, the Falcons go with an empty backfield and five wide receivers (including Gonzalez) against the Raiders.

You’ll notice four of the five receivers run short-to-intermediate routes that are 11 yards or less from the line of scrimmage. The only guy going downfield is Gonzalez (yellow circle).

Ryan hits Douglas for an 8-yard completion. By my unofficial count, the ball was out in 1.8 seconds. In Week 6, the Eagles did a really good job on the short throws against Matthew Stafford. Going into the game, he was completing 77.1 percent of his passes between 0 and 10 yards. Against the Eagles, he completed just 12 of 22 (54.5 percent). Look for Bowles to be even more aggressive on those passes. Finding a way to force Ryan to hold onto the ball will help the front four get to him.

One of the sacks Ryan took against the Raiders was the direct result of the Raiders aggressively shutting down those shorter routes. Here, he looks for Gonzalez (top of the screen), but the tight end is covered so he has to hitch once.

He may have had to a shot to hit White over the middle (other red circle), but didn’t pull the trigger. Unofficially, Ryan held on to the ball for four seconds here and took a sack.

9. While the Falcons will spread it out quite a bit, they’ll also show a variety of looks. For example, take a look at how they set up on this first-quarter play against the Raiders.

You see 10 of the 11 offensive players in this shot. The only person missing is White, who’s lined up out wide to the left. The Falcons have an extra lineman and two tight ends. Typically, this is not the kind of formation you’d be throwing downfield out of, but that’s exactly what the Falcons do. Ryan hits White down the sideline for a 25-yard gain. The blocking actually wasn’t great, as Baker, the left tackle, and Blalock, the left guard, had trouble, but you can see that the Falcons have certain looks in their back pocket if they’re worried about the Eagles’ pass rush.

10. It’ll be interesting to see how much Bowles dials up the blitz vs. the Falcons. In last year’s meeting, the Eagles only blitzed twice. Ryan is completing 62.5 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and one interception against the blitz, according to Stats, Inc. Only two of his 13 sacks have come on plays where the defense sent extra pressure. In other words, there’s evidence that you can get to Ryan with a four-man rush. The message from the Eagles seems to be that the defense might not blitz a lot more, but it will choose its spots better and be more effective when it does send extra pressure.

Leftovers: The Falcons excel at a lot of the little things. They’re fourth in red-zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns 64 percent of the time. They’re fourth in starting field position, beginning drives on average at their own 30.03-yard-line. They’re averaging just 1.2 turnovers per game, tied for sixth-fewest. And Atlanta leads the league in fewest penalties (three) and penalty yards (25.3) per game… The Eagles have the third-best red-zone defense in the league, allowing touchdowns 35 percent of the time. …This is a different offense, but the Falcons max-protected 15 percent of the time last year, fourth-most in the league, per Football Outsiders.

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

Asomugha Right To Question Blitz Calls?

Philadelphia Eagles CB Nnamdi Asomugha.An obvious question following the Eagles’ meltdown against the Lions is: What changed with the defensive approach at the end of the game?

Through three quarters, Matthew Stafford was 7-for-21 for 91 yards, and the Lions had managed just two field goals on nine possessions. In the fourth quarter and overtime, Stafford was 15-for-24 for 220 yards as the Lions rallied for a pair of touchdowns and two field goals.

While many of the Eagles defenders said after the game that they’d have to look at the film to figure out what exactly went wrong, Nnamdi Asomugha was more forthcoming. He told Tim and some other reporters that a couple things changed.

One, the defense switched up how it covered Calvin Johnson. For much of the game, Asomugha was on Johnson with safety help. And he did an excellent job. But in the fourth, the Eagles used Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on Johnson and also played some zone.

The other point Asomugha made was that the Eagles blitzed more late in the game, and it cost them. But was that really the case?

I went back and looked. Overall, the Eagles blitzed just six times on 51 Stafford dropbacks, or 11.8 percent of the time. They blitzed on three of Detroit’s first 40 passing plays and then three more times on the final 11. So yes, the Eagles blitzed a little more down the stretch, but it’s a stretch to say that was the major change that caused the meltdown.

In the fourth quarter and OT, Stafford was 3-for-4 for 36 yards against the blitz. When the Eagles didn’t send extra pressure, he was 12-for-20 for 184 yards. In other words, he was lighting up the defense against four-man rushes too.

As for Asomugha, who played probably his best game of the season, the guess here is that two plays stuck out in his head when he made those post-game comments. One was a 17-yard completion to Johnson on the Lions’ final drive of regulation. The other was a 17-yard completion to Johnson that essentially put the Lions in position to hit the game-winning field goal in overtime. On both plays, Stafford beat the Eagles’ blitz for big plays. But again, it’s not as if the Birds were shutting him down when they went with the four-man rush.

Perhaps more significant is that Rodgers-Cromartie was on Johnson for both of those 17-yard completions, and it’s tough to figure out why Juan Castillo and Todd Bowles made that decision. Asomugha had done a good job on Johnson for much of the game, and on both those routes, he lined up in the slot. We know from last year’s failed experiment that Rodgers-Cromartie struggles in the slot. Asoumugha, meanwhile, had been lining up inside all game. He said afterwards that the idea was to give Johnson different looks, but clearly those looks didn’t work in the end.

Johnson had one catch for 28 yards after three quarters, but finished with six grabs for 135 yards. By my count, Asomugha allowed three catches for 81 yards; Rodgers-Cromartie gave up two catches for 34; and the Eagles were in zone with Nate Allen nearby for one 20-yard completion.

With the game on the line, the defense fell apart against Stafford, Johnson and the Lions. The result was a 26-23 loss and a 3-3 record going into the bye.

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

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.”

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