Reid Hints That More Moves May Be Coming

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy ReidThis may be just the start of the shakeup.

During his press conference to officially announce the firing of Juan Castillo and promotion of Todd Bowles to defensive coordinator, Andy Reid said, “This is one of the moves and we’ll see where it goes from here.”

The evaluation process is ongoing, the head coach said. The strong suggestion is that more changes could happen before the bye week is out.

“I can surely do a better job myself. I put Juan in this situation and things didn’t work out as I hoped here. I take full responsibility for putting him in that situation.”

Reid said that he delivered the news to Castillo in person and called it “one of the tougher things I’ve had to do as a head football coach.”

The Eagles’ defense started out strong but gave up two fourth-quarter leads the last two weeks against the Steelers and Lions. The unit coughed up five leads under Castillo last year.

“I started seeing trends come back that I was not real happy about,” said Reid.

He reiterated that Michael Vick is his quarterback “as I sit here today” but that he is still going through the evaluation process (more details on that here).

A switch at quarterback, taking play-call duties away from Marty Mornhinweg and making other personnel changes are all still on the table.

Reid said that he appreciated how Bowles approached the situation when he came in this offseason and “didn’t cut  [Castillo's] legs out from under him.” He believes Bowles has the respect of the players.

Reid doesn’t anticipate making any additions to the coaching staff right now. Bobby April III, already in-house,  will assist with the secondary.

As for what type of defense he expects from Bowles, Reid said: “I expect aggressive, emotional football. One thing I expect is as a football team you play for four quarters, you never let your foot off the pedal.”

 

‘Shocked’ Players React To Castillo Firing

Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Jamar Chaney.Jamar Chaney said the news trickled in through the media. Since it’s the bye week, there was no phone call placed or text sent from the team brass. Just a headline on SportsCenter announcing that Juan Castillo had been fired as defensive coordinator and had been replaced by Todd Bowles.

“I was shocked,” Chaney told Birds 24/7. “Our defense was playing better than it was last year.

“We had some really good games – against the Browns, the Ravens and Giants. The Ravens and Giant are considered some of the best teams in the league.”

The defense had yielded two fourth-quarter leads in as many weeks, however, and Andy Reid deemed the unit was not playing up to its abilities.

“We’re six games into the season and average isn’t good enough,” said Reid. “I know the potential of our team and insist on maximizing it.”

Bowles is highly-regarded among the defensive backs and has the respect of the defense as a whole. The other position players haven’t interacted with Bowles as much as the cornerbacks and safeties have, but the general sense is that he is well thought of in the locker room.

“I talk to him every now and then. I know he is a good defensive mind,” said Chaney. “He has a good background and knows what he’s talking about based on my interactions with him.”

Chaney said that Reid delivered a similar message to the players that he did to the media on Monday: that everyone was being evaluated and changes could be coming. The players were told to spend the bye week evaluating themselves as well.

Here are some players, past and present, reacting to the move.

Asante Takes Jab At Reid Over Castillo Firing

One person who voiced his opinion publicly soon after the Eagles announced Juan Castillo’s firing was Asante Samuel.

Here’s what he Tweeted:

 

The Eagles, of course, traded Samuel to the Falcons during the offseason. The second Tweet references an Inquirer story that reported Reid felt the cornerback was in steep decline, and that was a major factor in dealing him.

Samuel and the Falcons visit the Linc after the bye.

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

Eagles Fire Castillo, Promote Bowles

Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Juan CastilloThe Eagles announced this morning that Juan Castillo has been fired, and the team has promoted Todd Bowles as defensive coordinator.

“I want to make it clear that I have nothing but the ultimate respect for Juan Castillo as a coach and as a person,” Andy Reid said in a statement. “He’s one of the finest football coaches that I have ever worked with. He has served this organization extremely well for 18 years and letting him go was a difficult decision. I know he will continue to be a successful coach in this league and wish he and his family nothing but the best.

“We’re six games into the season and average isn’t good enough. I know the potential of our team and insist on maximizing it.”

The moves come on the heels of the defense blowing a fourth-quarter lead Sunday to the Lions. It was the sixth time in the last two seasons that the Eagles have entered the fourth quarter with a lead only to lose it. The defense has allowed 77 points in those defeats.

Reid shocked everyone before the 2011 season when he announced that Castillo would be moved from offensive line coach to defensive coordinator. Bowles was added as the team’s secondary coach this offseason.

Through six games, the Eagles’ defense ranks 12th in yards per game and 13th in scoring defense (20.8 PPG). Last year, they finished 10th in scoring defense (20.5 PPG) and eighth in yards.

While this unit has certainly improved since 2011, the Eagles allowed Larry Fitzgerald to light them up in a 27-6 loss to the Cardinals. And after limiting the Lions to two field goals through three quarters Sunday, the Eagles gave up 20 points in fourth quarter and overtime.

Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha questioned Castillo after the loss.

All along, there’s been a question about what Castillo’s role was. Jim Washburn handles the defensive line by himself. And this year, it seemed that Bowles was in charge of the secondary. Castillo appeared to be responsible for overall management of the defense and game-day calls.

Asked Monday if Castillo would continue to make the game-day calls, Reid said, “That’s the way I’m looking at it right now. That’s the way I’m looking at it as I stand right here.”

Castillo served as the team’s offensive line coach from 1998 to 2010. Before that, he spent a season with the tight ends and another season as an offensive assistant. In all, he was with the organization for 17-plus seasons.

Bowles, meanwhile, served as the interim head coach with the Dolphins last year. He was Miami’s assistant head coach/secondary coach from 2008 to 2011. Bowles’ previous stops included the Jets, Cowboys and Browns. He played eight seasons in the NFL and served as defensive coordinator in the college ranks at Morehead State and Grambling State.

Despite the breakdowns against the Lions and Cardinals, the secondary has improved this year. The Eagles lead the league in opponents’ completion percentage (52.7) and are tied for second in yards per attempt (6.2).

Bowles has his work cut out for him right away as the defense faces Matt Ryan and the undefeated Falcons off the bye. The Eagles then travel to New Orleans to take on Drew Brees and the Saints.

Reid will address the media at noon. We’ll have it covered right here.

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

Eagles Wake-Up Call: Drastic Move Coming From Reid?

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy ReidAndy Reid’s fate in Philadelphia will be determined by what happens in the next 10 games.

Owner Jeffrey Lurie put a number on it during his preseason address, confirming that another 8-8 year would not be enough for the head coach to stay.

That means the Eagles need to go at least 6-4 (possibly 7-3) for Reid to stay put.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think Reid is overly concerned with his job security. If Lurie does let him go, he’ll find a job elsewhere. But yesterday’s comments made Reid sound very much like a guy who is willing to do something drastic during the bye week to get his team on track. There were words like pathetic and ridiculous, along with non-committal answers to questions about his coaching staff and his players. Reid didn’t sound like someone who believed his team would be just fine if it stayed the course.

Remember, this goes back to the offseason. The Los Angeles Times reported that Reid was ready to walk away if he didn’t get more control in personnel decisions. And there was also the split with Joe Banner, which the team tried to spin as no big deal. But the entire offseason had Reid’s stamp on it. There would be no excuses in 2012.

Now, six games in, his team is .500, just like last year.

So what could Reid possibly do to shake things up? It comes down to two areas – the coaching staff and personnel.

Let’s start with the latter. Some are calling for Michael Vick to be benched. I don’t see it for a number of reasons. For starters, this offensive line played as poorly Sunday against the Lions as it has at any time all season. While Vick has not played well, inserting Nick Foles gets you nowhere. The rookie won’t stand a chance with this group blocking (and yes, I know he played in front of a leaky line in college, but don’t see how that’s relevant here).

The other thing with Vick is that he’s actually improved in certain key areas – like against the blitz. After the Cardinals game, it looked like he may never get there. But in the past three games, he’s been outstanding making the right reads and right throws against extra pressure. Against the Lions, he was 10-for-15 for 157 yards against the blitz, by my count. And overall, he’s completed 63.2 percent of his passes the last three weeks. As we’ve discussed at length, it’s the turnovers that have killed him.

The area where it might be more likely to see a personnel change is along the offensive line. This, of course, would be far less drastic. Maybe King Dunlap or Dennis Kelly in for Demetress Bell? Steve Vallos in for Dallas Reynolds at center? What about shifting Evan Mathis to center? It’s probably a longshot, but he’s been the backup there the past two weeks. If there are any offensive linemen without jobs right now, the guess here is that the Eagles will at least make a call or two and bring them in for tryouts. I don’t know if any of those moves improves this unit, but I do know that the Eagles’ offense can’t get better with the group playing like it did on Sunday.

And then, there’s the coaching staff. Would Reid be willing to strip Juan Castillo of play-calling duties on defense and hand them over to Todd Bowles? Overall, the defense has played well. But in the last two years, the Eagles have blown six games in which they’ve led going into the fourth quarter. The defense has allowed 77 points in those defeats – the latest of which was Sunday’s meltdown vs. Detroit. Remember, in the offseason, Reid wanted to add Steve Spagnuolo to his defensive coaching staff, so a shake-up would not be completely out of nowhere.

And finally, there’s the offensive play-calling. Is Reid ready to snatch those duties back from Marty Mornhinweg? We’re six games in, and the Eagles are averaging 17.2 points per game. That’s second-worst in the league, ahead of only the Jaguars. Reid, an offensive coach, has to be embarrassed by that number. The only time it’s been worse during his tenure was in his first season here when the Eagles averaged 17 points per game. That team featured Doug Pederson throwing to Torrance Small and Charles Johnson. Not Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek and LeSean McCoy.

As Tim pointed out on Birds 24/7 Radio yesterday (on 97.5 The Fanatic every Monday from 6 to 7!), perhaps if Reid is going to go down, he goes down on his own terms and calls the offense once again.

Those are Reid’s options for a shake-up, as I see them. The players have the week off. When they return, we’ll find out which (if any) path Reid has chosen.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Tim’s got the full run-down from an irritated Reid during his day-after press conference. Reid had this to say to T-Mac about whether Vick would remain the team’s starting quarterback.

I put up the offensive line game review. Danny Watkins, Demetress Bell and company continue to struggle.

Jason Avant sounds as frustrated as any player in the Eagles locker room. He’s tired of hearing about how much talent this team has. Tim’s got the full story.

Was Nnamdi Asomugha right to question Castillo’s blitz calls? I went back and took a look.

Trent Cole said the Eagles got enough pressure on Matthew Stafford, even though the team doesn’t have a sack in the last three games.

And finally, a look at Eagles snap counts from Sunday’s game. Riley Cooper got back in the mix, and Phillip Hunt has nearly been phased out entirely.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

SI.com’s Peter King has the Eagles 15th in his power rankings:

The story about Michael Vick carrying the ball around the Eagles’ practice facility all week, reminding himself to not drop it so much, didn’t work so well in the loss to Detroit. He fumbled for the 30th time in his last 30 games, and threw two more picks. That’s 13 turnovers in six games. It has to stop or an 8-8 season will follow.

In his day-after dissection, Paul Domowitch of the Daily News makes a good point about the Eagles’ lack of safety depth:

The Eagles’ lack of depth at the safety position came back to haunt them Sunday after Nate Allen left the game in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury. He was replaced by Colt Anderson. Anderson is a terrific special teams player, but he’s not a guy you want on the field playing safety against a potent passing offense like the Lions.

COMING UP

The players get the week off, but we don’t. Plenty to discuss, analyze and report on Birds 24/7. So check back early and often.

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

Irritated Reid Leaves His Options Open

Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid.Andy Reid used the word “pathetic” to describe the last two offensive drives against the Lions Sunday. Deemed the league-high 17 turnovers his team has committed “ridiculous.”

The ever-even Reid rarely takes his criticisms to that level. This loss is clearly causing the head coach some extra irritation. Now starts a bye week where he will go back and evaluate and “tear things apart.”  What changes will come of it? Reid left his options open.

Asked specifically if Juan Castillo will continue to call the plays on defense, Reid said, ““That’s the way I’m looking at it right now. That’s the way I’m looking at it as I stand right here.”

And on offense: How much time will be spent evaluating the offensive play-calling?

“Listen, like I told you, I’m going to look at everything. I’m going to look at every aspect of it that we have. This covers it. I’m going to look at everything.”

Including his quarterback situation, as he told Birds 24/7 afterwards.

Reid’s comments about the final two offensive drives suggest that he was not overly-enamored with Marty Mornhinweg‘s play selection.

“The last two drives offensively were pathetic,” he said, “They were pathetic from a coaching standpoint and they were pathetic from a players’ standpoint. When you’re in a tight game and have an opportunity to score, you go down and you put it together. When it’s needed, when your back’s to the wall, and when it’s the fourth quarter or overtime, you put that together and you go take care of business. Both sides of the ball, we failed in that area.”

Reid acknowledged the offensive line didn’t do a good enough job, and implied that his team is too undisciplined.

It is as far as Reid will go in terms of public criticism. It will be interesting to see if any moves will follow.

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.

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.

DRC And That Ooh-Op-Ooh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Twitter Mailbag: Does Kolb Have the Inside Scoop On Eagles?

Every Thursday we select a few of your Twitter questions and provide the long-form answers they deserve. For a chance to have your question published on Birds 24/7, send it to @Tim_McManus.

 
Jason Kelce (6-3, 295) is a little lighter than Dallas Reynolds (6-4, 320), though both are athletic and of a similar body-type. Kelce  is exceptional at getting upfield in the run game. Reynolds will be hard-pressed to match his effectiveness at the second level.

My greater concern is how he handles his first start on the road. Kelce and Michael Vick were having their share of communication issues in Cleveland on a day where the quarterback took an absolute beating. Reynolds will be sharing pre-snap duties at the line like Kelce was, and you would think there will be a learning curve. Consider also that the Eagles will be working with a different left tackle in Demetress Bell. Evan Mathis will have a new teammate on either side of him. He was asked if it changes his approach at all.

“A little bit,” said Mathis. “I’ll focus a little more on communication to make sure we’re on the same page.”

Mathis added that the offensive line will  not alter what it does in the absence of Kelce and King Dunlap. They will try and do the same things. The University of Phoenix Stadium  roof will be closed, and it will be loud.  This Cardinals defense is proving to be formidable. Communication along the Eagles offensive front has to be the main concern going into Sunday.

That’s debatable. For a refresher, here’s what Kevin Kolb said after the Cards beat the Eagles 21-17 last November.

“During the two-minute drill, you almost feel guilty,” Kolb said.  “Mike’s sitting there giving the signals, and I’m standing there on our sidelines, screaming at our corners, ‘Hey it’s a go ball, hey he’s running a screen, hey he’s running a slant.’”

And here was Marty Mornhinweg‘s response: “That’s a story you can always anticipate, an ex-player that’s on another ballclub and who’s injured and wants so badly to be a part of a win. In the two-minute (offense) we only called two plays on the line. Completed the third down and then dropped a big one.

“I did check and it had absolutely no effect.”

I tend to side with Mornhinweg here. Kolb was likely burning to be a part of the win over his old club, but had minimal impact on the outcome. I would say Vick’s broken ribs and DeSean Jackson‘s absence may have had a little more to do with it.

You can count on this: the Eagles will make sure, following Kolb’s assertions, that  the signals are not identifiable to their former QB anymore, just in case.

Exactly right.

The early evidence suggests the former.

Brandon Weeden had a 5.1 quarterback rating against the Eagles and rookie Trent Richardson was limited to 2.1 yards per carry. Against the Bengals last week, the Browns racked up 439 total yards, Weeden threw for 322 yards with a pair of touchdowns (114.9 QB rating) and Richardson rushed for 109 yards (5.7 average) with a TD.

Similarly, a Ravens offense that hung 37 points and 430 yards on Cincinnati in Week 1  looked far more pedestrian against Juan Castillo‘s unit. Now, maybe the Bengals’ defense is just that bad. But both the stats and the eye test suggests that the Eagles’ “D” is pretty darn good.

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