Eagles Wake-Up Call: Babin Laughed When He Got the Call

Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Jason BabinJason Babin hit the national media circuit after being cut by the Eagles on Tuesday.

Some of his most interesting comments came on ESPN radio, where he described his reaction when Andy Reid delivered the news by phone.

“One, anytime you see Andy Reid come across your caller ID, you know it’s probably not a good thing,” said Babin. “Two, all I could do was — I laughed. I was like, ‘Alright, Coach, if that’s what you’ve got to do.’ I don’t know, caught me off guard.”

Babin was told he was released so the young players could get a shot and so he could find a new home. He must clear waivers before becoming a free agent. If he is claimed, that team is on the hook for the remainder of his $5 million salary this season.

This is the top of the current waiver order: 1. KC, 2. JAX, 3. PHI, 4. OAK, 5. CLE, 6. CAR, 7. SD, 8. BUF, 9. TEN, 10. DET, 11. AZ, 12. NYJ.

Babin, 32, said that going to a playoff team “would definitely make things easier, that’s for sure.”

Jason La Canfora noted that the estimated $2 million cap hit to claim Babin might deter some teams like the Ravens, but that Baltimore could be very interested if he clears and becomes a free agent.

“I like to win, I like to compete and I like to sack the quarterback. I imagine there’s a team out there looking for that,” Babin told ESPN’s “NFL Live.”

The nine-year vet was signed to a five-year, $27 million deal prior to the 2011 season and went on to have an 18-sack campaign under defensive line coach Jim Washburn, who helped Babin flourish in their first stop together in Tennessee. The high-profile, talent-laden free-agent class that also included Nnamdi Asomugha and Cullen Jenkins never paid dividends in terms of wins, however.

NFL Network asked Babin if he is surprised that the assembled group did not get the job done.

“It’s real surprising, because honestly all the guys are great guys,” said Babin. “It’s not an issue of , ‘I’m doing me’ kind of thing. Everyone’s willing to work and put the time in, so I wish I could put my finger on it.”

WHAT YOU MISSED

Things were less than harmonious in the defensive line room. According to a source, Trent Cole recently walked out of a meeting.

Sheil looks at how the departure of Babin will affect how the snaps are distributed.

The hits just keep on coming on offense, as DeSean Jackson is now done for the year.

The Eagles will be evaluating not just talent, but character this offseason.

The Eagles could be in line for a quality first-round pick. Kapadia breaks it all down.

Todd Bowles talks about the depressing state of affairs on defense.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Dave Hanzus of NFL.com lists five potential landing spots for Babin:  The Falcons, Bears, Patriots, Lions and Broncos. Detroit would be a natural fit because they also run the Wide-9. Here is why Hanzus thinks New England could work.

Opponents of the Patriots are often playing from behind, consistently putting them in passing situations. This is a nice fit for Babin, who can pin back his ears and get after the quarterback.

Bob Ford believes the Babin cut should just be the start.

This was a statement move by Reid, and it had nothing to do with rookie defensive ends. The statement may simply be that his patience with those great guys on the field, the ones who dedicated this season to him, finally is exhausted.

If so, don’t make this the last stop on the train, Andy. Continue the purge by benching the entire defensive secondary, which can’t execute what Bowles termed “high school coverages.” Go right down the list. It would be better to watch Curtis Marsh miss a tackle than to watch either of the incumbent cornerbacks avoid making one. It would be better to find out whether David Sims can play safety than to be reminded again of the flaws of the current starters.

Anything different is worth a try. Even being up-front during a media briefing.

COMING UP

Eagles, minus Babin, begin preparations for the Cowboys. Practice starts at 1:50.

Eagles Release Jason Babin

In what can certainly be perceived as a shot across the bow, the Eagles released defensive end Jason Babin Tuesday.

“We appreciate everything that Jason has given this team over the last couple of years,” said Andy Reid in a statement. “We wish him all the best as he continues his career. By releasing him today, this gives us an opportunity to give more playing time to some younger guys in the defensive line rotation.”

Though there’s obviously much more to it than that.

It has been a rather dramatic fall for the 32-year-old after an equally sharp ascent. Teamed with Jim Washburn in Tennessee in 2010, Babin racked up 12 1/2 sacks after posting no more than five sacks in a season over his first six years in the NFL. He followed his defensive line coach to Philadelphia and had 18 sacks last year, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl in the process.

He had 5 1/2 sacks this season through 11 games. There is much more to the game and the position than sacks, of course, and one criticism of Babin is that he would sell out and neglect gap and run responsibility in the name of getting to the quarterback. He appeared to be out of position a good bit in Monday’s game against the Panthers.

Babin signed a five-year, $27 million deal in 2011 and was making a base salary of $5 million this season. The deal included just a $1 million signing bonus. According to multiple reports the Eagles do not owe Babin anything, as termination pay is a one-time benefit, and Babin collected when he was cut by Seattle.

With plenty of bodies at defensive end, the Eagles were going to part with Babin anyway this offseason in all likelihood. As the Reid statement suggests, this is a way to get more of the young guys, like Vinny Curry, some more playing time down the stretch.

However, it can also serve as a sign that nobody’s job is safe and that there will be consequences if a certain level of play is not reached.

Things have not been completely harmonious on the defensive front during this seven-game slide. According to a source, a frustrated Trent Cole walked out during a defensive line meeting recently. Behind the Wide-9, the defense compiled 50 sacks a year ago. This season they have just 18 — the same number Babin got all by himself last year.

Some players were apparently rubbed the wrong way by the Washburn-Babin relationship, feeling that he was treated a bit differently than the rest of them. Babin is now gone. And it’s very possible Washburn will be as well in the near future.

Become a fan of Birds 24/7 on Facebook.

From ‘Dynasty’ To ‘Dream Team,’ It Was All Talk

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Michael Vick

If nothing else, Eagles players have stayed on message over the past two seasons. They entered the 2011 campaign  bullish about the assembled talent (along with just about everybody else). And, despite an 11-15 record since, some continue to tout the team’s potency.

As the 3-7 Eagles get set to take on the 2-8 Panthers in a showdown of the two worst teams in the NFC, here is a “best-0f” compilation of quotes that prove confidence is not the issue on this club.

(There are surely some that we overlooked. Feel free to add them in the comments.)

July, 2011. The quote that started it all. Vince Young was asked to describe the talent being brought into the Eagles via free agency and trade.

“Dream Team.”

July 2011. Jason Babin, following the  free-agent frenzy:

“I feel like we are the Miami Heat of the NFL.”

July 2012. Michael Vick talks dynasty:

“When I look at our football team and what we have on paper, I think about when I was growing up and the great San Francisco 49er teams, the great Green Bay Packer teams, and the great Dallas Cowboy teams, how they just positioned themselves to compete and be one of the best teams out there,” Vick said.

“I think we have a chance to be that. I think we have a chance to develop a dynasty.”

October, 2012. Kurt Coleman believes defense can be best in Eagles history:

“Absolutely. I say it with a straight face. I believe it. I believe in the team that we have, the guys that I play next to. We can do it. We need to continue to build on this, and make our legacy.”

October, 2012. Nnamdi Asomugha after 30-17 loss to the Falcons:

“The game was bad, this team isn’t bad, though, This is a good team. Unfortunately, we show stuff like that and the question is, well, are you? But we believe in ourselves, we know we’re a good team.”

November 2012. LeSean McCoy isn’t talking dynasty, but uses the other “D” word on the heels of the Eagles’ fifth straight loss:

“I believe that once we get it all together, we should dominate. We have the players here and Coach [Reid] is a winning coach.”

 November, 2012. DRC says nobody has more talent than the Eagles following Sunday’s loss to the Redskins:

“Nobody has lined up and just beat us. No, it’s just mental mistakes.”

Become a fan of Birds 24/7 on Facebook.

Eagles Decline, By the Numbers

Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Jason BabinJeffrey Lurie was banking on a rebound season. He looked at the players on this roster and envisioned a rise in production across the board that would take this team out of mediocrity and back to elite status.

Instead, the output has dipped. Very few on the roster are even flirting with the possibility of having a career year. Some have fallen off dramatically.

To illustrate, we compared individual performances from last season with the projected totals for 2012. (The projected numbers are under the premise that the player would appear in the exact number of games this season as they did in ’11.) Some players are pulling their weight. Others, not so much.

First up, the rushing game.

2011 Rushing
Carries
Yards
Average/Carry
Touchdowns
LeSean McCoy27313094.817
Michael Vick765897.81

2012 Projections
Carries
Yards
Yards/Carry
Touchdowns
LeSean McCoy2661,1254.23
Michael Vick824435.41

LeSean McCoy is putting up good numbers, especially given the circumstances. But there is no doubt he misses Jason Peters and company. As you can see, Michael Vick‘s yards/carry was down pretty significantly prior to suffering the concussion.

Speaking of Vick, here are the passing numbers:

 
Completion %
Yards
TD
INT
Fumbles Lost
2011 Vick59.83,30318143
Projected 2012 Vick58.53,12716157

There is not one category that he was/is on pace to get better in. The lost fumbles really jump off the page.

Next up, the receiving game.

2011 Receiving
Catches
Yards
Touchdowns
DeSean Jackson589614
Jeremy Maclin638595
Brent Celek628115
2012 Projections
Catches
Yards
Touchdowns
DeSean Jackson661,0373
Jeremy Maclin526496
Brent Celek668142

DeSean Jackson is seeing a statistical rise post-contract, though the big play and touchdown totals are lower than desired. Brent Celek looks to be having a similar year, but this doesn’t account for his seven drops.  Jeremy Maclin‘s numbers are the most alarming considering that 2011 was the stronger campaign, and it was a season where he was dealing with a health scare for much of the year.  Maclin was expected to break out this season, but he went the other way.

The sharpest statistical decline can be found along the defensive line. The defense had 50 sacks last year. They are currently on pace for 26 in 2012. That is due in large part to the dip in production from Trent Cole, Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins.

2011 Pass Rush
Sacks
Hurries
Trent Cole1144
Jason Babin1837
Cullen Jenkins5.525

2012 Projections
Sacks
Hurries
Trent Cole241
Jason Babin745
Cullen Jenkins327

It is interesting to note that the hurries from last year to this season are pretty similar, but the sacks are way down. Like many of their teammates, they are not finishing the job.

Become a fan of Birds 24/7 on Facebook.

DL Production: Cole Gets Shut Out

Here’s our weekly look at the Eagles’ defensive line production.

The Eagles had quite a few “close but no sack” moments against Robert Griffin III. In fairness to Jim Washburn’s unit, Griffin makes defensive linemen look silly on a weekly basis.

Here are the numbers. Sacks, hurries (a stat kept by the coaches) and pressure percentage (frequency with with each player notches a sack or hurry, given the opportunities).

 
Pass-Rushing Opportunities
Sacks
Hurries
Pressure Percentage
Trent Cole16000%
Jason Babin151113.3%
Fletcher Cox13107.7%
Cullen Jenkins12000%
Mike Patterson120216.7%
Brandon Graham80112.5%
Derek Landri70228.6%
Darryl Tapp70114.3%
Cedric Thornton2000%

We know the Eagles are not looking forward to facing Griffin for years to come. I’m guessing they’re not going to enjoy going up against left tackle Trent Williams either. Williams held Trent Cole to no sacks and no hurries. Cole has a total of seven hurries in the last four games. He doesn’t have a sack since Week 3 against the Cardinals.

Jason Babin was actually very active. He had one sack and was really responsible for the other one. Babin’s pressure forced Griffin to step up, and Fletcher Cox was the first person to touch him. Babin also had four tackles.

My upcoming All-22 post is going to focus a lot on Cox. He is coming on strong. The rookie had 10 tackles. He’s had two double-digit tackle games in the last month. No other Eagles defensive lineman has one all season. Cox was all over the place against the Redskins, even though it might not show up in the numbers here.

Brandon Graham only had eight opportunities, but he hasn’t done much in the last two games (one tackle, two hurries). This was the most active Mike Patterson’s been since returning (two hurries, three tackles). Derek Landri had two hurries in his previous five games, but notched a couple in this one. Darryl Tapp had five tackles.

Going forward, it looks like Vinny Curry is going to get a shot against the Panthers, per a CSNPhilly.com report by Geoff Mosher. So who does he bump? The Eagles could go with five defensive ends and sit Cedric Thornton, who’s being phased out anyway. Or they could have Curry take Tapp’s place behind Cole.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
Become a fan of Birds 24/7 on Facebook.

Cheat Sheet: Eagles’ Defense Vs. Redskins’ Offense

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

1. The Redskins are averaging 25.1 points per game (11th). Football Outsiders ranks them 14th overall – 18th passing and second rushing. The Eagles are giving up 24.6 points per game (22nd). They are 13th in Football Outsiders’ rankings – 13th against the pass and 14th against the run. Washington has managed just 25 points in the past two games (both losses) against the Panthers and Steelers. The Redskins have lost three in a row and four of their last five. They are coming off a bye. The Eagles have lost five straight. Both teams enter the game with a 3-6 record.

2. With Washington, we must of course start with Robert Griffin III. The second overall pick in last year’s draft is completing 65.6 percent of his passes (eighth) and averaging 7.61 yards per attempt (seventh). He’s thrown eight touchdowns and been intercepted just three times in 262 attempts. Among NFL starters, only Tom Brady is being picked off at a lower rate. The Eagles have just seven interceptions all season (tied for 19th). We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the giveaways. But the Eagles have produced just 10 takeaways. Only three teams in the NFL have fewer.

3. While Griffin has a healthy yards-per-attempt number, that doesn’t mean he’s chucking it downfield a lot. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. According to Pro Football Focus, only 6.9 percent of his attempts have traveled 20 yards or more from the line of scrimmage. That’s the second-lowest percentage in the NFL, ahead of only Christian Ponder. And 189 of Griffin’s 262 attempts, or 72.1 percent, have been within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. The Eagles’ passing defense has been picked apart the last three games, allowing opponents to complete 75.6 percent of their passes. Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Tony Romo averaged 8.7 yards per attempt and tossed seven touchdowns without an interception.

4. Eagles players and coaches talked this week about needing to be disciplined. One reason is the Redskins’ use of play-action. Griffin’s run play-action on 36.3 percent of his throws, the highest percentage in the league, per PFF. It’s been incredibly effective too. Griffin’s completing 66.7 percent of his play-action passes and averaging 11.3 yards per attempt (third-highest). The Eagles have been susceptible to play-action all season long. Teams have not had much success blitzing Griffin. According to STATS, Inc., he’s completing 59.6 percent of his passes and averaging 9.1 yards per attempt (5 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) against extra pressure. The Eagles had some success blitzing Romo last week. One look had Nnamdi Asomugha rushing the passer.

5. Griffin could have an even higher completion percentage, but the Redskins have dropped 24 of his passes on the season, per PFF. Josh Morgan leads the Redskins with 29 catches and 42 targets. Leonard Hankerson leads the team with 342 receiving yards (41 targets). Griffin spreads the ball around. Washington has four different receivers with 20+ catches and five receivers with at least 200 yards. Eight different receivers have at least two catches of 20+ yards; Hankerson and Santana Moss lead the team with five apiece. Moss leads the team with five touchdown catches; no other receiver has more than one. The Redskins lost tight end Fred Davis (24 catches, 325 yards) to an Achilles injury. Pierre Garcon, who has only played in three games, could return from a foot injury. For the Eagles, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has struggled as of late. He leads all cornerbacks with nine penalties, per PFF.

6. The Redskins are one of the top rushing teams in the league. They average 31.3 runs per game, second-most in the NFC. Their 5.3 yards-per-carry average is second to only the 49ers. And the Redskins have run for 12 touchdowns (second-most). Griffin leads all quarterbacks with 529 rushing yards and is averaging 9.0 yards per attempt. Griffin has three runs of 20+ yards, but has fumbled eight times. Alfred Morris, a rookie sixth-round pick, is seventh in the league with 793 rushing yards. He’s averaging 4.8 yards per carry. The Eagles are allowing 4.2 yards per carry. The last two weeks, the Saints and Cowboys came out and ran all over them early in the game. This week poses a much bigger challenge.

7. The Redskins’ offensive line features Trent Williams (LT), Kory Lichtensteiger (LG), Will Montgomery (center), Chris Chester (RG) and Tyler Polumbus (RT). Williams, the fourth overall pick in 2010, will match up with Trent Cole, who has not produced at his usual level this season. The Redskins have allowed 21 sacks. Jason Babin has one hurry and no sacks in his last three games. Fletcher Cox had his best game as a pass-rusher last week with a sack and six hurries. Rookie Vinny Curry continues to wait for a chance to play. He’s one of two second-round picks yet to see the field this year (the other is 49ers RB LaMichael James).

8. Let’s get back to the theme of staying disciplined against this offense, using an example from the Redskins-Panthers game. Look at how Washington is set up pre-snap.


Eight blockers at the line of scrimmage with Griffin and the running back directly behind him. The Panthers have to respect the run. But Griffin executes a nice play-fake.


You can see Griffin’s back is to the defense as Panthers players react to a possible run. Meanwhile, tight end Logan Paulsen leaks out into his route.


The outside receiver runs a deep out, attracting the only two defenders on that side of the field. Griffin rolls to his left and hits Paulsen for a 12-yard gain.


9. The Eagles will see a lot of Washington’s triple-option attack. That means pressure particularly on the defensive ends. Take a look at this play from the Panthers game.


Griffin fakes the handoff to the tailback and gets pretty much the entire defense going that way.


Again, the key is the defensive end. You can see he’s still attacking the tailback even after Griffin has gotten outside. The Redskins now have a major numbers advantage. There’s one linebacker in the picture. Griffin can either keep it or toss it to the right. The linebacker looks to funnel the play inside where he has help.


Meanwhile, Chris Cooley is out there to block him when he finally does try to attack the ball. The result is a 9-yard gain, as Griffin slides feet-first and avoids contact.

Really good breakdown of the Redskins’ triple option attack right here on HogsHaven.com.

10. The Redskins are 14th in red-zone offense, scoring touchdowns 53.6 percent of the time. The Eagles are seventh in red-zone defense, allowing touchdowns 41.4 percent of the time. …The Redskins have been terrible on third down, converting just 28.6 percent of the time (31st). …The Eagles’ third-down defense is eighth, allowing conversions 35.1 percent of the time. …Good job here by Chris Brown of Grantland, explaining how the Redskins have adapted their offense to fit Griffin’s strengths.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
Become a fan of Birds 24/7 on Facebook.

Eagles DL Production: Cox Provides a Bright Spot

Here’s the weekly breakdown of how the Eagles’ defensive line performed against the Cowboys.

You should know the deal by now, but just in case, “hurries” are tracked by the coaches. Pass-rushing opportunities are charted by Pro Football Focus. And pressure percentage measures how often a player notches a sack or hurry.

 
Pass-Rushing Opportunities
Sacks
Hurries
Pressure Percentage
Trent Cole22029.1%
Fletcher Cox221631.8%
Jason Babin21014.8%
Cullen Jenkins19105.3%
Cedric Thornton8000%
Brandon Graham70114.3%
Derek Landri70114.3%
Darryl Tapp7000%
Mike Patterson4000%

It was just last week in this space that we wrote about Fletcher Cox being in a pass-rushing rut. The rookie went through a four-game stretch in which he managed no sacks and just two hurries. Cox has been the Eagles’ best defensive tackle against the run all season. But, as we wrote, the key to the second half of the season was to hone his pass-rushing skills.

Well, he’s off to a good start.

Cox had a sack and six hurries against Dallas. Statistically speaking, it was the most productive game any Eagles defensive tackle has had as a pass-rusher all season. Details on that below, but Cox’s development is one of the few positive storylines to follow with this team the rest of the way.

Jason Babin and Trent Cole combined for just three hurries all game. Eagles defensive ends as a group combined for just four hurries (and no sacks).

Jenkins had a sack. But once again, the Eagles got nothing from their backup defensive tackles. It’s probably well past time to tighten the rotation and give Cox a significant increase in snaps.

Here’s the player-by-player breakdown:

Jason Babin – Babin was not effective against inconsistent right tackle Doug Free. He had no sacks, one hurry and zero tackles. In his last three games, Babin has one sack, four tackles and four hurries. The Eagles simply have not gotten the production from him they were counting on this year. Against Dallas, Babin and Cole pressured Tony Romo in the second, forcing him to step up on an incompletion. Both he and Jenkins had a shot at Romo on the 25-yard completion to Miles Austin in the third. As I detailed with the All-22, that was a huge, game-changing play.

Trent Cole – No sacks, but Cole was OK in this one. He pressured Romo, but the QB scrambled to his left and found the fullback for a 17-yard pickup in the second. It looked like Cole hit Romo on the 49-yard completion to Dez Bryant. And he got a hit on Romo on 3rd-and-1 in the second. The Cowboys picked up 15 yards with a draw right at Cole in the second. Those seem to work about 95 percent of the time against the Eagles. Overall, Cole had two hurries and four tackles.

Cullen Jenkins – He probably should have gotten the sack on Romo in the second. The Eagles got pressure from all directions, and Romo just went down. It looked like Jenkins and Cole touched him first, but Cox got credit for the sack. Jenkins got a sack later on a well-executed twist with Cox. He failed to bring Romo down on the 25-yard completion to Austin. Jenkins got knocked to the ground on a Lance Dunbar 5-yard run at the end of the first quarter. Overall, one sack and three tackles.

Fletcher Cox – I mentioned him at the top. Cox got credit for a sack in the first, although it could have just as easily gone to Jenkins or Cole. He got a hit on Romo, who was forced to step up in the second. Nice twist with Jenkins, pressuring Romo into a sack in the third. Great hustle, instincts and athleticism in the third, rushing Romo, recognizing he was going to scramble and finishing with a hit as the quarterback threw the ball away (pictures of the play in the All-22 breakdown). As well as Cox played, he somehow let Romo out of his grasp on the 25-yard completion to Austin in the third. He twisted outside and pressured Romo on the touchdown to Bryant. Overall, the numbers are starting to show up for Cox. A couple weeks ago against the Falcons, he had 11 tackles – the most of any Eagles defensive lineman this year. Overall, he leads all Eagles linemen with 40 tackles. And he’s tops among the team’s tackles with 20 hurries (to go along with a pair of sacks). Keep your eye on No. 91 the rest of the way.

Brandon Graham – Strange snap breakdown for Graham. Overall, he was on the field for 24 plays, just four fewer than Babin. But 17 of those 24 were running plays. He only got seven chances to rush the passer. Graham got blocked by Jason Witten on the toss to the right that picked up 5 yards in the first. Good hustle, but missed the tackle on Felix Jones’ touchdown. He was pretty much unblocked, but still got to Romo quickly, helping lead to the Mychal Kendricks sack in the second. If the Eagles are going to start looking ahead to 2013 at some point, Graham should be playing more than Babin.

Darryl Tapp – Zero sacks, zero hurries and four tackles. Tapp also missed a tackle on the Jones touchdown. Later, he hustled to bring Jones down after a 4-yard run in the third. Tough to justify playing Tapp over second-round pick Vinny Curry at this point.

Derek Landri – No sacks, one hurry and five tackles. It sure seems like teams have had a lot of success running in Landri’s direction this season. The veteran got handled on Jones’ 13-yard run in the first. Later, he deflected a Romo pass up in the air.

Cedric Thornton – Nothing as a pass-rusher, but finished with five tackles.

Mike Patterson - No sacks, no hurries and one tackle. Of course, probably not realistic to expect Patterson to make an immediate impact, given how much time he’s missed.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
Become a fan of Birds 24/7 on Facebook.

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.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
Become a fan of Birds 24/7 on Facebook.

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.
Become a fan of Birds 24/7 on Facebook.

 

DL Review: Cox In a Pass-Rush Rut

Here’s the weekly breakdown of how the Eagles’ defensive line performed against the Saints.

You should know the deal by now, but just in case, “hurries” are tracked by the coaches. Pass-rushing opportunities are charted by Pro Football Focus. And pressure percentage measures how often a player notches a sack or hurry.

 
Pass-Rushing Opportunities
Sacks
Hurries
Pressure Percentage
Trent Cole200315.0%
Cullen Jenkins19015.3%
Jason Babin181216.7%
Fletcher Cox13000%
Cedric Thornton12018.3%
Brandon Graham12108.3%
Derek Landri120N/AN/A
Phillip Hunt10000%
Mike Patterson8000%

Brandon Graham and Jason Babin both had sacks and forced fumbles. Other than that play, though, Graham was quiet as a pass-rusher with no hurries. Babin had a couple hurries, and Trent Cole had three.

The Eagles got nothing from the interior pass-rush. Rookie Fletcher Cox is in a pass-rushing rut. He had zero hurries and has just two (no sacks) in his last four games. Cox has one sack and 14 hurries on the season. He’s been outstanding against the run; Cox’s 38 tackles are tops on the team among defensive linemen. But the Eagles could really use more production from him against the pass.

No defensive tackle had more than one hurry. That’s a problem.

Mike Patterson saw his first action of the season. Phillip Hunt filled in for Darryl Tapp, who was with his wife, waiting on the birth of their first child.

Below is the player-by-player breakdown.

Jason Babin – He played hard and came away with a sack and three hurries. Babin beat the right tackle one-on-one and forced a Drew Brees fumble in the fourth. He got good pressure on Brees and hit him on a third down near the end of the first half. He did a good job reading screen and tackling Chris Ivory after a 2-yard pickup in the third. Against the run, the Eagles were hurt by counters to the defense’s left side all game long. Babin got caught inside on an 8-yard Ivory run in the second, but to his credit, he hustled to the ball and eventually made the tackle. He also got caught inside on a 7-yard counter by Mark Ingram in the third.

Trent Cole – Cole was active throughout, but as I pointed out with the All-22, he missed opportunities for a monster game. He had a season-high seven tackles to go along with three hurries. Cole dropped Ingram for a 3-yard loss in the first. He had a good bull-rush and hit Brees, helping to force an incompletion late in the first half. Cole tackled Ingram after a 3-yard gain in the third. And he stopped Pierre Thomas after a 2-yard run in the red zone in the third.

Brandon Graham – Tough to evaluate him in this one. Graham had the huge sack/forced fumble, but wasn’t a factor the rest of the time. He failed to recognize a 9-yard screen to Jimmy Graham in the second and got caught inside on Ivory’s 22-yard touchdown run. Later, Graham had a chance to bring Ingram down near the line of scrimmage, but couldn’t make the play on a 7-yard run. He drew a holding penalty in the second. On the sack, he got to Brees in about 2.2 seconds.

Phillip Hunt – After playing zero snaps against the Falcons, Hunt filled in for Tapp. He made a decent inside move to force Brees to his left on an incompletion in the first. Good hustle to bring Thomas down after a 7-yard run on the next play. And Hunt stopped Ivory for no gain in the third.

Cullen Jenkins – One hurry and four tackles. Jenkins got good penetration and helped cause a 3-yard loss on the first defensive play. He got past the guard and knocked Brees down on the next play. Jenkins also played some defensive end. Overall, a pretty quiet game.

Fletcher Cox – A quiet game for Cox too. He had four tackles – dropping Ivory for a 1-yard loss in the fourth and tackling Ingram after a 2-yard run in the fourth.

Mike Patterson – Patterson looked understandably rusty with zero tackles and zero hurries. He got blocked on Thomas’ 9-yard run in the red zone in the second.

Derek Landri – Not much of a factor. He assisted Cole in bringing Thomas down after a 2-yard run in the third. Other than that, didn’t notice him doing much.

Cedric Thornton – Three tackles, but didn’t give the Eagles anything as a pass-rusher with just one hurry.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
Become a fan of Birds 24/7 on Facebook.

 

« Older Posts  |  Newer Posts »