Cheat Sheet: Eagles’ Defense Vs. Panthers’ Offense

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

1. The Panthers rank 27th in scoring, averaging 18.4 points per game. Football Outsiders has Carolina’s offense ranked 19th – 17th in passing and 20th in rushing. The Eagles rank 22nd in scoring defense, allowing 25.2 points per game. Football Outsiders has them ranked 17th – 23rd against the pass and seventh against the run. The Panthers have lost seven of their last eight. But six of their eight losses on the season have been by 7 points or fewer. Carolina is coming off a 27-21 overtime loss to the Bucs. The Eagles have lost six in a row. Their last four defeats have been by an average of 17 points. They are last in the NFC with a point-differential of -90.

2. So, what exactly is the significance of this game? According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles have a 0.2 percent chance of making the playoffs. Raise your hand if you’re still holding out hope for a turnaround. Didn’t think so. The 2-8 Panthers, meanwhile, have a less than 0.1 percent chance. OK, so no playoffs. What else is there? Well, draft positioning. Carolina has a 3.8 percent chance of landing the top pick and a 24.2 percent chance of getting in the top three. The Eagles have a 2.4 percent chance of landing the top pick and a 23.4 percent chance of finishing in the top three.

3. Cam Newton’s numbers are down from his rookie campaign. He’s completing 57 percent of his passes (29th), but averaging 7.98 yards per attempt (third). The Eagles’ pass defense has been horrible the past four weeks. Opposing quarterbacks are completing 78.4 percent of their passes for 910 yards, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. That’s truly remarkable when you consider they led the NFL in opponents’ completion percentage (52.3) through the first six games. And the Eagles have suffered no injuries in the secondary, aside from Nate Allen missing one game. The Juan Castillo/Todd Bowles move seemed like a good one at the time. Instead, it’s turned out to be a complete disaster.

4. Despite his struggles, Newton can still get the ball downfield. He’s tied for sixth with 23 completions of 25+ yards. And according to Pro Football Focus, 51.4 percent of Newton’s attempts of 20+ yards have been on-target (either completed, or dropped by a receiver). That’s the second-highest-number in the league, behind only Peyton Manning. Allen and Kurt Coleman have struggled for much of the year. Coleman failed to make a play on the ball on a 61-yard touchdown to Santana Moss last week. Allen cheated up, leaving Aldrick Robinson wide-open for a 49-yard score. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has played poorly after getting off to a good start. And Nnamdi Asomugha admitted on Friday that he’s been disappointed with his own play.

5. We know this team has huge decisions to make at coach and quarterback in the offseason. After those, the priority has to be on fixing the secondary. As recently as last summer (2011), it looked like the Eagles were in great shape with Rodgers-Cromartie, Asomugha and Asante Samuel. Now? They may have to start from scratch. Rodgers-Cromartie is a free agent at the end of the year. Asomugha’s deal could be restructured if the new coach finds him valuable, or he could be let go. Coleman and Allen have not proven to be good enough as starters. Aside from Brandon Boykin, who’s had ups and downs but shown potential as the nickel corner, we could be looking at quite a few new faces. Getting Curtis Marsh some playing time before the year’s up might not be a bad idea.

6. The Panthers’ biggest receiving threat is veteran Steve Smith, who’s got 44 catches for 710 yards, including nine grabs of 20+ yards. He’s averaging 16.1 yards per catch, 10th in the NFL. Tight end Greg Olsen leads the Panthers with 45 catches (539 yards). And Brandon LaFell leads Carolina with 12 catches of 20+ yards. He’s averaging 16.9 yards per catch (seventh). Newton leads the NFL in average yards-after-the-catch for quarterbacks (6.5). The Eagles are 29th in the league against opposing teams’ No. 1 receivers, per Football Outsiders. And they have one of the worst-tackling secondaries in the NFL.

7. Newton is the team’s leading rusher with 394 yards on 74 carries (5.3 YPC). Last year, Newton ran for 14 touchdowns. This year, that number is four. The Panthers gave Jonathan Stewart a six-year, $37.8M deal in the offseason ($22.5M guaranteed). He’s averaging 38.6 yards per game and 3.6 yards per carry. Meanwhile, DeAngelo Williams got a five-year, $43M deal ($21M guaranteed) last offseason. He’s averaging 27.1 yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry. Now that’s what I call value. One of the major reasons Carolina fired GM Marty Hurney during the season.

8. The Eagles are allowing 4.3 yards per carry (20th). DeMeco Ryans has been outstanding against the run with 77 solo tackles (13 for loss). Fletcher Cox is coming off a 10-tackle performance against the Redskins and leads all Eagles defensive linemen with 50 tackles on the season (per team stats). The Eagles limited Alfred Morris to 3.8 yards per carry last week, but Robert Griffin III had 12 runs for 84 yards. They’ll face a less-imposing option attack against the Panthers.

9. Up front, the Panthers go with Jordan Gross (LT), Amini Silatolu (LG), Geoff Hangartner (center), Garry Williams (RG) and Byron Bell (RT). Gross has started 145 games for the Panthers since 2003. He’ll go up against Trent Cole, who has 1.5 sacks on the season and none since Week 3. Vinny Curry will see his first action of the season, likely spelling Cole at RDE. Silatolu is a rookie second-round pick out of Midwestern State. He leads the team with eight penalties. Williams has started 14 games in four seasons. He could have a rough time with Cox. Bell, an undrafted free agent in 2011, has started 21 games the past two seasons. He’ll get matched up with Jason Babin and Brandon Graham. Babin had one sack and one hurry against Washington, but was more active than he had been in previous weeks. Newton’s been sacked 26 times this season (tied for fifth-most).

10. Leftovers: Special teams continue to be a disaster for the Eagles. Bobby April may want to start with just getting 11 players on the field at the right times. According to Football Outsiders, the Panthers’ average starting field position has been their 23.48 yard line, second-worst in the league. The Eagles, meanwhile, are allowing opponents to start drives at the 30.87 yard line, third-worst. …The Panthers are sixth in red-zone offense, scoring touchdowns 62.5 percent of the time. The Eagles are fifth in red-zone defense, allowing touchdowns 42.4 percent of the time. …Carolina is 19th in third-down offense, converting on 36.1 percent of its opportunities. The Eagles are 10th, allowing conversions 36 percent of the time.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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 Wake-Up Call: Five Thanksgiving Leftovers

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. Like many of you, I spent much of the day in front of the TV watching football. Here are five leftovers, with an Eagles slant:

1. Earlier in the week, we wrote about how the Eagles will have to make a decision on Jeremy Maclin in the near future. Whether they decide to keep him or not, this offense really needs to think about adding a physical pass-catching presence in the offseason.

With 7:38 remaining in yesterday’s first game, the Texans set up from their own 3, down 31-24. They put together a 15-play, 97-yard drive, taking 5:43 off the clock. Andre Johnson came up huge with four catches for 64 yards. Johnson (6-3, 230) has size. He can catch the ball in traffic. And he can work the middle of the field.

Entering Thursday’s game, Johnson had 23 catches in between the numbers within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage, per Pro Football Focus. That’s the same number as DeSean Jackson and Maclin combined. We see with the All-22 every week that Jackson consistently attracts safety help, opening up the middle of the field. But the Eagles don’t have anyone to take advantage of that. Brent Celek has been too inconsistent and has had too many drops (a team-high seven on the season). Jason Avant has great hands, but he’s 6-feet tall and doesn’t have much speed.

I know guys like Johnson don’t grow on trees, but the point is the Eagles would be wise to add a physical receiver – either in the slot, at tight end or replacing Maclin. Not only would it help them take advantage of the middle of the field, but it should help in the run game (where their current WRs are terrible blockers) and in the red zone (where the Eagles rank 30th offensively).

2. The whole “A rule’s a rule” defense doesn’t sit well with me, in reference to the play everyone will be talking about today from the Lions-Texans game. Justin Forsett’s knee was clearly down on the 81-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. But because league rules state that when a coach throws the challenge flag on a scoring it play, it negates the review, the call was allowed to stand.

As I Tweeted during the game, I simply can’t wrap my head around why that would be the punishment for breaking the rule. It’s fine to penalize Schwartz and the Lions 15 yards, but to not review the call? How does that make sense? Isn’t the point to get the call right?

It just seems completely unnecessary to me. If the rule states that all scoring plays are automatically reviewed, then go ahead and review it, get the call correct, and dock the Lions 15 yards for Schwartz’s mishap. Am I missing something here?

3. Robert Griffin’s last two games: 34-for-43 (79.1 percent) for 511 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception. After back-to-back wins over the Eagles and Cowboys, the Redskins are 5-6. They were 5-11 last season. If the Giants lose to the Packers on Sunday, Washington is suddenly one game back of first place in the NFC East, despite average talent at wide receiver and a shaky defense. Just another reminder why finding the right quarterback is more important than finding the right coach.

4. Late in the fourth quarter of the Redskins-Cowboys game, Washington safety Madieu Williams delivered a big hit on Dez Bryant and broke up a potential 56-yard touchdown. It got me thinking: When’s the last time an Eagles safety broke up a pass with a big hit? Has it happened this year? Did it happen last year?

After the 2011 season, it seemed clear that the Eagles needed to upgrade at linebacker and safety. At linebacker, they traded for DeMeco Ryans and drafted Mychal Kendricks in the second round. At safety, I really have no idea what their plan was. It never seemed that they believed Jaiquawn Jarrett could compete for a starting role. They showed some interest in Yeremiah Bell, but he signed with the Jets. They took a flier on Oshiomogho Atogwe, but he battled a hamstring injury.

So once again, they went with Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman. And that tandem hasn’t been close to good enough. They’ll be left to find a new safety (or two?) this offseason.

5. You have to wonder what the scene will be like at the Linc Monday night for Eagles-Panthers. A frustrated fan base. And a team that has put out a disappointing product week after week. But if the Birds do fall to Carolina, Jeffrey Lurie can call up Jets owner Woody Johnson, or even Jerry Jones. The Patriots dropped 35 points on the Jets – in the second quarter. A score on defense, a touchdown on special teams and three Tom Brady touchdown passes. In terms of embarrassment on national TV, that’s going to be tough to beat.

WHAT YOU MISSED

We took it easy on the holiday, but wanted to let you know how much we appreciate your support of Birds 24/7.

Plenty of links from Wednesday you might have missed:

DeSean Jackson had some candid remarks about the lack of leadership on this team.

Vinny Curry will see action for the first time Monday night. Safe to say he’s excited.

I highlighted the quality play of  Fletcher Cox and the uninspired play of the receiving corps with help from the All-22.

A look at some 2012 projections shows how much the play of some key individuals has gone backwards.

But at least DeMeco Ryans is playing well. Really well, actually.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

SI.com’s Don Banks has the Eagles 27th in his power rankings:

I always find it bemusing to hear players who talk so passionately about how much admiration and loyalty they feel for their embattled head coach, but then go out on game day and all but mail in another feeble effort on his behalf. That’s the actions-speak-louder-than-words stage we’re at in Philly, where everyone knows Andy Reid is as good as gone, but nobody’s doing anything about it.

Elliot Harrison of NFL.com likes the Eagles, 27-17, over the Panthers:

My brother used to try to get me to pick the worst player cards from all the teams in Strat-O-Matic Football and play an “All-Suck Bowl.” Why this Monday-nighter prompted that memory, I couldn’t tell you. What we do know is that these are two organizations that seem rudderless at the moment. The big factor determining who will win is health — namely that of Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy. If they suit up, I like the Philadelphia Eagles at home, given Cam Newton’s shaky play this season. If it’s a Foles Bowl, the Carolina Panthers improve to 3-8.

COMING UP

The Eagles return to practice at Novacare. Marty Mornhinweg and Todd Bowles will address the media.

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

All-22: The Emergence Of Fletcher Cox

Here’s the All-22 breakdown of the Eagles’ defensive performance against the Redskins. And since it’s the holiday season, I threw in some positives – primarily of Fletcher Cox, who turned in a 10-tackle/one-sack performance.

Play 1: Would you believe that on the Redskins’ first touchdown, Darrel Young wasn’t even the most wide-open receiver? Take a look at tight end Logan Paulsen (blue circle) in the back of the end zone. I mean, there’s not a single defender in the same area code.


Robert Griffin III ended up going to Young (yellow circle). It looked like he was Nate Allen’s responsibility, but the safety bit on the play-fake. As for Paulsen, I really have no clue who was supposed to be on him. But a complete breakdown on just the second defensive play of the game.

Play 2: Ok, I promised to throw in some positives. I had to watch this one a few times to make sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me. Check out where Cox is when the toss goes to Alfred Morris on the option.


In the next frame, he’s hustling, but it still seems unlikely that he is going to get in on the play.

Look at who makes the tackle near the sideline. Sure, it helped that the Eagles missed a couple of tackles, but this is why I have a bit of an issue with the whole “They’ve all given up” narrative. Cox clearly went all out on this play and showcased his athleticism.


Amid a season of disappointments, the rookie from Mississippi State is coming on strong. He has two double-digit tackle games in the last month. No other Eagles defensive lineman has one all year.

Play 3: This one’s going to really make you miss Jason Peters. If you’re not prepared for that, move on to the next play. Check out Redskins left tackle Trent Williams on DeMeco Ryans on a toss to Morris in the second.


Has anyone seen Ryans? Anyone? Oh, he’s behind Williams in this next shot?


And finally, Morris runs by for 12 yards.


Keep in mind, Ryans is having an outstanding year – specifically against the run. But here, he got manhandled by Williams. Eagles defensive linemen are likely not looking forward to facing Griffin twice a year for the next decade. I’m guessing the linebackers aren’t looking forward to having to deal with Williams either.

Play 4: It looked like the Eagles were in Cover 3 on the 49-yard touchdown. Here’s the pre-snap alignment.

Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are on the outside. Nate Allen is in the middle. They each take a third of the field deep. The Redskins fake a handoff and then an end around, but that’s not what gets Allen to bite. It is the receiver in the middle of the field.


Matt Bowen of the National Football Post does a good job of explaining the free safety’s responsibilities on this play:

The free safety is the top of the defense. He must honor his responsibilities and not chase any intermediate routes. Offenses will run a deep dig (15-yard square in) to entice the free safety to jump the route — while running a post from the opposite side of the field, leaving the corner naked and playing from outside in with zero help. A classic Cover 3-beater.

So the touchdown was clearly Allen’s fault. But take a look at Asomugha in the photo above. He’s got no other receiver to that side of the field. At this point, doesn’t he say “Uh-oh, Allen bit, I’ve got to bust it to keep up with this guy.” Maybe it’s difficult to adjust on the fly like that. Maybe players are taught to just focus on their jobs. But defense only works when all 11 guys are working together, not individually in a vacuum. Here’s where Aldrick Robinson ends up, with Asomugha nowhere near him.

Play 5: Ok, I think you need another positive before you stop reading. Let’s show some more of Cox’s athleticism. Here, on the bootleg, Griffin probably should have pulled the trigger. He had the receiver going downfield with the linebacker trailing. Look at where Cox is.

Instead, Griffin chooses to tuck the ball and run. It appears he has a pretty good running lane.

There’s no way Cox is catching up with him, right? This is probably the fastest quarterback in the league.

Wrong. Cox gets there, makes the tackle after a 1-yard run and forces a fumble. Impressive.

Play 6: Hey, remember when the Eagles bit on the WR screen against Atlanta and gave up a touchdown? I wonder if the Redskins saw that on film.

Nice touch by the wide receiver here to jump like the ball’s coming to him. Both cornerbacks (including Asomugha) bite, and Griffin hits Leonard Hankerson for a 21-yard completion.

Play 7: Ok, one more of Cox. Here, Griffin escapes to his left on a third-quarter run.

As Asomugha runs into Mychal Kendricks, Cox is still hustling downfield.

And look who finally pushes Griffin out of bounds.

Keep in mind, this is 23 yards downfield. Just an outstanding job of playing to the whistle and not giving up on the play.

On the season, Cox has 50 tackles (33 solo), the most of any Eagles defensive lineman, to go along with three sacks and 20 hurries. He’s only 10 games into his career, but it looks like the Eagles hit with this first-round pick.

Play 8: On the Santana Moss 61-yard touchdown, Brandon Boykin gets beat on a double-move.

This is as good a job in coverage as you’ll see out of Coleman. He hustles back, turns for the ball, gets there in time and doesn’t interfere. In other words, he does everything but actually make a play on the ball.

Of course, that’s the only part that really matters.

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

Eagles Wake-Up Call: The Buzz Is Back

When the locker room opened up to reporters Thursday afternoon, the place was humming. Nnamdi Asomugha and Kurt Coleman were engaged in a passionate conversation. Mardy Gilyard was chasing an unidentified victim around with a towel. Music blasted from Trent Cole‘s stall. (At one point an Oldies song came on and everyone began looking at Cole sideways. “It’s not me!” he said. “It’s Pandora!”)

There were signs of life for the first time in weeks.

Marty Mornhinweg foreshadowed these developments earlier in the day.

“There’s quite a bit of excitement, I think, in this situation, because of a couple things,” said Mornhinweg. “Number one, the situation we’re in. Can we get it done and make a run here? Secondly, with a rookie quarterback there is certainly some excitement there.”

There was a noticeable bump in energy when Foles entered the game against the Cowboys. It was short-lived, of course, as Dallas dried up all enthusiasm with a punt return and an interception for a touchdown. But the feeling is back this week.

“Everyone, especially on the offensive side, has to take their game up another notch just because Nick hasn’t seen all the different looks he’s about to see this week,” said Coleman. “Everyone has to raise their level of play just so they can help him out. It’s not that we weren’t playing hard, because Mike [Vick] does so much for this team and he’s able to play through so many different circumstances. But I think everybody’s level of play has to rise another notch because they know it’s going to be Nick’s first start. He’s not going to be perfect so we have to be able to take our game up another notch to try and help him out.”

Andy Reid told the players this week just to go back to having fun. Judging by this week’s atmosphere, they are heeding the advice of their coach.

“We’ve still got a chance, man, you have to be fired up,” said Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. “You get another chance to go out there and right all the wrongs.”

Added Coleman: “It’s been getting lost, because you go through a loss, a loss, a loss,  and you lose kind of your identity or what this game’s about. It becomes not fun playing when you’re losing. We’re not worried about trying to win, we’re not worrying about maybe if we lose,  we’re just worried about, let’s play our best ball and have fun.”

WHAT YOU MISSED

In my Twitter Mailbag, I try to answer this all-important question: Can Foles attract a big-name coach?

As Kapadia points out, finding a QB is more important than finding a head coach.

Bobby April points the finger at himself for the Cowboys’ punt return Sunday.

Foles has the second-biggest shoe on the team, and other fun facts courtesy of Trent Edwards.

Sheil takes a look at whether it’s finally Vinny Curry time.

DRC will not get a new deal before the end of the season. Here’s why.

The latest coaching buzz, including some quality insight into Chip Kelly.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Winston Justice chimed in on the state of the Eagles during a recent interview with an Indianapolis radio station. Via the 700 Level:

“I’m not really watching the games that much but you can’t help but hear them going through stuff and I mean every year there is always some type of drama with Philly. Something was going to happen. 

RGIII enters the matchup against the Eagles with a new title: Team captain. From the Washington Post.

Shanahan said he could not recall one of his teams ever electing a rookie as a captain previously.

“It’s very hard to vote a rookie to be your captain,” Shanahan said. “But midway through the season, you say, ‘Hey, he’s our leader.’ ”

COMING UP 

One last practice for the Eagles before the Redskins game. We’ll have you covered.

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.

 

Bowles: Players Are In the Right Positions

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

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

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

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

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

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

What, specifically, has changed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘We’re Not Going To Be Predictable Anymore’

Philadelphia Eagles secondary coach Todd Bowles.There were varying degrees of willingness to talk about the Todd Bowles/Juan Castillo shake-up in the Eagles’ locker room Monday. Jason Babin, for example, has never been more skittish about a subject in his two years in Philadelphia. Others forced you to read between the lines.

There were a few revealing moments, however.

The biggest one came from backup linebacker Casey Matthews, who relayed Bowles’ message to the defense upon taking the reins.

“The biggest thing he said is, ‘We’re not going to predictable anymore.’ That’s what Coach said,” Matthews revealed, the obvious implication being that the ‘D’ was predictable under Castillo.

“We’re basically still running the same stuff. A couple tweaks. Coach Bowles said he’s not here to revamp the defense. We’re running the same stuff he just wants us to play together.”

That was the common thought from player to player: that Bowles would not be overhauling the defense; just some minor alterations to the scheme.

There was no evidence of any player being outraged by Castillo’s firing, and some are feeling reinvigorated.

“It’s a whole new season for us,” said Kurt Coleman. “We have 10 games to really prove ourselves and prove our worth to ourselves and these fans, and to the whole NFL. We’re not achieving our full potential, I feel like. We look at the last two years and we haven’t been able to do it, whether that be because of closing out games or what not. But we have 10 games to really prove ourselves and that starts this week.”

One concern is that Bowles, while having a wealth of coaching experience on the defensive side of the ball, has never called a game. Or has he?

“In the grand scheme of things, I think he was helping make play calls throughout this year,” said Coleman.

“I have all the confidence in him. He’s a smart coach, he really is. He’s going to do his due diligence in understanding the game as far as how the offense is going to attack us. And you have to be able to adjust throughout the game, and I think he is going to do a great job with that.”

Several players expressed sympathy for Castillo, whom they had grown to respect as a man. But all seem to feel that Bowles is ready for the role of defensive coordinator.

“He’s well respected,” said Matthews. “He’s been on the defensive side for a while and Juan came over from the offense. A lot of people, especially vets, you don’t know if they’re qualified and stuff like that. But I think Todd will get it done.”

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

Here’s a breakdown of what we saw from the coach’s tape in what ended up being Juan Castillo’s final game as coordinator.

Play 1: Opposing offensive coordinators have to know by now that the best way to burn the Eagles for big plays is with play-fakes. The safeties seem to bite every week. On this first-quarter play, tight end Tony Scheffler is streaking down the middle of the field after Nate Allen got fooled.


But Stafford misses with his throw (or maybe Scheffler slowed down). That was a theme in the first half. After watching the game live, I thought the Eagles’ defense really did a good job through three quarters, but upon re-watching, it sure seemed like the Lions left a lot of plays on the field. Also, take a look at the bottom of the screen. Nnamdi Asomugha didn’t always get safety help. Here, he’s got Calvin Johnson one-on-one. Asomugha was really good all game.

Play 2: Here, the Lions get the Eagles with a bootleg. The entire Detroit line goes to the right, and both Eagles linebackers bite. Highlighted in the image are Kurt Coleman and Trent Cole.


Look how close Cole is to the quarterback with nobody blocking him. But the fake gets him. Coleman starts towards the line of scrimmage as Brandon Pettigrew goes right past him into his route (he initially set up like a blocker). The result is a 16-yard completion.

Play 3: While the defensive line needs to play better, it is true that the front four can affect the game without racking up sacks. For example, on this third down in the first quarter, Brandon Boykin gets beat for what could have been a touchdown.


But Cole gets pressure off the edge and hits Stafford as he sails a pass to Scheffler. If Stafford has time to go through his reads on the play, it could have been a score.

Play 4: The Lions had a chance for a big play to Johnson in the first. Stafford ran a play-fake and rolled to his right, but Johnson got free deep on the left side.


He’s pretty much all by himself on the far side of the field. Coleman (yellow circle) is the nearest defender. But Stafford doesn’t pull the trigger. It’s tough to tell if Brandon Graham was the reason Stafford hesitated. He was near the quarterback on the play.

Play 5: I wonder if Cole is getting impatient because of the lack of sacks. Look at where he is on this run play in the first.


Or maybe he was anticipating a bootleg after the earlier play? Not used to seeing this from Cole, who is generally an excellent run defender. The left tackle (No. 71) whiffed on his block on Allen, or this could have been much more than a 9-yard gain.

Play 6: I’m guessing other teams will see this play on tape and run a couple end arounds to Cole’s side. Here, he gets completely fooled by the initial fake as Nate Burleson gets the ball.


Look at where Cole is when he finally realizes Burleson has the ball.


Akeem Jordan actually doesn’t get fooled, but he does get blocked. The result is a 16-yard pickup.

Play 7: In the past, with the Eagles’ offense, we’ve shown them keep extra blockers in and let DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin try to win even if they’re outnumbered. On one second-quarter play, the Lions did the same. After a play-fake, check out the blocking.


All four Eagles defensive linemen are double-teamed. The running back chips Cole and then goes out into his route. But otherwise, the Lions only have two receivers in pass routes. Titus Young gets behind Coleman, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie trips on the play. But Young drops the ball. Otherwise, this is a big gain. Not an All-22 shot, but here you can see the close-up.


Play 8: You see it again here. Eight guys in to block four Eagles defensive linemen.


Tough to generate a pass-rush when you’re so outnumbered. Also with the max protect, the linebackers are stuck in no man’s land, waiting for the running backs and tight ends to release.

Play 9: Another missed opportunity to Johnson. Here, Allen gets matched up with him, but Johnson has a step. There is no one deep except for the official.

Luckily for the Eagles, Stafford decides he needs to get rid of the ball quickly. That was another theme of the day. Another example of the defensive line indirectly impacting the game without sacks. He actually had Burleson open for what would have been a first down (3rd-and-3), but Stafford misfired, and the Lions had to punt.

Play 10: One way to help yourself get pressure on the quarterback is to, well, play with two defensive ends. On this third-quarter play, the Eagles decided 10 players and NO left defensive end would be just fine.


For the record, coverage was so good on the play that Stafford had to tuck the ball and run for 3 yards.

Play 11: The 57-yard completion to Scheffler in the fourth is a great example of why the All-22 is so helpful. On TV, it looked like Brandon Hughes just got beat, but really, Colt Anderson deserves blame on the play. The first shot shows Anderson deep. He’s not supposed to let anything get behind him.


But it’s a broken play. Stafford rolls to his right, and Scheffler makes his way back to the sideline. Anderson cheats up – either to help on a shorter route or to chase Stafford if he scrambles.


Scheffler gets free for the big gain.

Play 12: One of the plays Asomugha was presumably talking about after the game. In overtime, Castillo sent Coleman on a blitz. It’s fair to question why he’d go with a safety blitz from distance in a game where Stafford was regularly getting rid of the ball quickly. The matchup in the slot is Rodgers-Cromartie vs. Johnson.


The Eagles tried Rodgers-Cromartie in the slot last year. It didn’t work. He’s mentioned on several occasions how he’s not comfortable there. He had gotten beaten for a 17-yard gain on the final drive of regulation in a similar situation. And here he’s got no help against perhaps the best wide receiver in the game. So you can understand why this play probably frustrated Asomugha, and it’s no surprise that Johnson beat Rodgers-Cromartie to the outside for a 17-yard gain, putting the Lions in field-goal range.

And finally, be sure to check out the Iggles Blog All-22 breakdown. Outstanding in-depth analysis on the specific coverages the Eagles used and what changed late in the game.

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

Eagles Wake-Up Call: Coleman Says ‘D’ Can Be Best Ever

 Kurt Coleman was discussing the difference between last year’s defense and the 2012 version when he casually dropped this on the media.

“When the defense is out there to hold them out, we’re able to do it. We’ve proven that,” said Coleman. “We love getting on the field because we want to become the best defense in Philadelphia history, and in the league.”

In Philadelphia history?

“Absolutely. I say it with a straight face,” he said. “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.”

A day after those comments were made, a reporter circled back to make sure the safety wasn’t just caught up in the moment. Coleman didn’t budge.

“It is our clear goal,” said Coleman. “Even [Friday] when we broke as a defense, our mission is to be great. When you’re great you get put among the greatest. It’s not something that you do in one day, one game. It’s an everyday process. This has been a collective mission. We really felt like we had the pieces in place to take this team to the next level. We want to win a championship, and every team that has won a championship has had a top 5 defense. And we don’t want to be top 5 — we want to be the best.”

Through four games, the Eagles are ranked seventh overall on defense, which is judged by yards allowed. They are seventh in pass yards per game, 12th in rushing yards per game and are tied for 11th in points per game (20.8). Their seven takeaways is about middle of the pack. In other words, there’s some work to do before this unit can be considered elite.

“It’s definitely an attitude that we should have, to be the number one defense in the league. If you don’t have that attitude you’re already in trouble because you’re not thinking like a winner,” said Cullen Jenkins. “It would be something we strive for. Every team comes into the season with the goal to win the Super Bowl. There should be no difference in your individual goals.”

But the best in Eagles history? You are primarily competing with the ’91 defense, which ranked No. 1 in overall yards, rushing yards and passing yards allowed; and was tops in sacks, fumble recoveries and takeaways. With Reggie White, Clyde Simmons, Jerome Brown, Seth Joyner, Eric Allen, et al, it is considered one of the all-time greats in NFL history. And that is just the starting point.

“Those are great players. You’re talking great defenses,” said Coleman.

And yet the goal remains that high?

“Absolutely,” he said. “Hey, it’s how we feel.”

WHAT YOU MISSED

Here is a look at the Eagles-Steelers injury report. Pittsburgh seems to be in good shape, while the Eagles may be getting back one of their receivers.

We went to the coaches tape to see what got LeSean McCoy going last week.Turns out, Stanley Havili was a big factor.

Ron Jaworski released his updated quarterback ratings. Michael Vick finds himself below Tony Romo.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Peter King predicts a 27-17  Steelers win.

Eight years ago next month, Ben Roethlisberger led his first NFL rout — 27-3 over Philadelphia in Pittsburgh. Steelers haven’t beaten Eagles since, though they’ve played only once. Roethlisberger will get beat up some in this one, because his line won’t be able to hold out Jason Babin and Trent Cole, but he’ll man-up and get the Steelers to .500.

Mike Florio sees a 20-10 Steelers win over the Eagles.

I’ve lived within 100 miles of Pittsburgh long enough to know that the Steelers, with a 1-2 record and two weeks to prepare, don’t lose this game.  Not at home.

Five of the eight experts at CBS Sports are rolling with Pittsburgh as well.

COMING UP

The Eagles depart for Pittsburgh in the afternoon. We’ll have live coverage from the Steel City.

« Older Posts  |  Newer Posts »