Instant Observations: Eagles 23, Bucs 21

Here are my instant observations from the Eagles’ 23-21 win over the Bucs.

OFFENSE

* Nick Foles is going to win some people over with this performance. With 2:44 left in the fourth quarter, Foles drove the Eagles 64 yards and threw the game-winning score to Jeremy Maclin from 1 yard out. It was the Birds’ first win in nine games. The Eagles faced a 4th-and-5 on the drive, and Foles hit Jason Avant for 22 yards. The offense rushed to the line of scrimmage and spiked the ball with two seconds left before the touchdown. Foles also hit Maclin for 23 yards on a 3rd-and-14 on the drive.

* Overall, Foles went 32-for-51 for 381 yards and three touchdowns (one rushing). Avant had seven catches for 133 yards. Maclin had nine receptions for 104 yards.

* Foles was sacked six times. He had only been sacked twice in the previous two games. The offensive line had trouble with Tampa’s stunts up front. King Dunlap struggled. It looked like he was responsible for two of the sacks. Dennis Kelly gave up a sack to Michael Bennett on the Eagles’ final drive.

* Foles made a beautiful throw to Maclin for 22 yards in the fourth. And he did a great job of escaping pressure and finding Avant for 39 yards down the right sideline late in the first half. On his first touchdown pass in the fourth, Foles scrambled to his right and threw on-target to Clay Harbor from 11 yards out.

* Bryce Brown couldn’t get anything going on the ground. He tried to get outside all game long and had no success, finishing with 6 yards on 12 carries. Brown had averaged 8.1 yards per carry in the previous two games.

* Avant made one of the best catches you’ll see all year, leaping into the air and coming down with a one-handed grab near the sideline to beat the blitz in the second.

* Foles appeared to have Marvin McNutt open deep in the first quarter, but he overthrew him. Former Eagles third-round pick Daniel Te’o-Nesheim pressured Foles on the play. Te’o-Nesheim later had a sack.

* Brent Celek was knocked out of the game with a concussion on the Eagles’ first offensive play from scrimmage.

* Alex Henery crushed a 58-yard field goal at the end of the first half, but it hit the left post and was no good. In the second half, he missed a 31-yarder.

* Special teams was unkind to the Eagles once again. Damaris Johnson muffed a third-quarter punt, leading to the Bucs’ first touchdown. They also gave up a 30-yard punt return.

* Maclin fumbled a WR screen in the third, but the refs blew the whistle early and ruled it incomplete.

DEFENSE

* It was a tale of two halves for the defense. In the first, the Eagles shut the Bucs out and limited Josh Freeman to 5-for-16 on 61 yards. The defense gave up just 79 yards through two quarters. They were handed horrible field position (the 5-yard-line) in the third, but then allowed touchdown drives of 77 and 75 yards, respectively. Freeman finished 14-for-34 for 189 yards and a pair of scores. Opposing quarterbacks had been completing 76.3 percent of their passes against the Eagles in the previous six games, but Freeman completed just 41.2 percent of his attempts.

* Doug Martin ran 28 times for 128 yards, averaging 4.6 yards per carry.

* The Eagles switched up their starting linebackers. Jamar Chaney got the start at SAM, and Mychal Kendricks moved over to WILL, replacing Akeem Jordan. Kendricks had a tackle for loss after a completion behind the line of scrimmage in the first. And he nearly had a couple interceptions. Chaney had an early tackle against the run and broke up a pass intended for the tight end.

* The Eagles gave up a 13-yard touchdown to Vincent Jackson in the fourth. Horrible tackling attempt by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the play. Rodgers-Cromartie otherwise played one of his best games of the season.

* Nnamdi Asomugha did not play well. He got beaten by Mike Williams for a 1-yard touchdown in the first and later gave up a completions of 28 and 40 yards, respectively. Asomugha made a nice play breaking up a pass intended for Dallas Clark in the first half, but landed hard and was slow to get up. He went to the locker room and was replaced by Curtis Marsh before returning.

* Did you notice Dick Stockton twice saying that Gangnam Style had taken the world by storm as the camera showed a kid doing the Dougie? That was my favorite part of the first half – by far.

* Fletcher Cox dropped Martin for a 6-yard loss on a screen in the second quarter. Cox sacked Freeman late in the first half. He also had another tackle for loss and a QB hit.

* Nice play by Marsh, breaking up a deep ball for Williams down the far sideline late in the first half.

* John Lynch called out Rodgers-Cromartie and Asomugha for their lack of effort last week against the Cowboys.

* Ryan Rau was active and made a tackle in kickoff coverage in the second.

* Cullen Jenkins had a sack late in the first half after Brandon Graham pressured Freeman.

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All-22: More Breakdowns From the Eagles’ Defense

An All-22 look at what we saw from the Eagles’ defense last week against the Cowboys.

Play 1: DeMarco Murray had not touched the ball in seven weeks. But on his first carry against the Eagles, he picked up 14 yards.


Trent Cole is upfield and gets blocked by Tyron Smith. Akeem Jordan gets manhandled by the fullback. Nnamdi Asomugha (not pictured), who actually was pretty active in run support, couldn’t get off of Dez Bryant’s block as Murray bounced it outside.

Play 2: On a day when Tony Romo went 22-for-27 for 303 yards and three touchdowns, he couldn’t have left any big plays on the field, right? Wrong. I have no idea why Romo didn’t pull the trigger on this pass to Jason Witten (red circle), who appeared to be wide open in the first.


Not positive, but it looks like Kurt Coleman needs to drop back deeper in coverage there. Romo scrambled and ended up dumping it off to Murray for a 1-yard loss. The Cowboys missed out on a big play here (although there were obviously opportunities for several more, as you’ll see below).

Play 3: DeMeco Ryans did not have his best game, but here, he puts on a clinic on how to play middle linebacker.


Ryans moves swiftly and decisively towards Murray, who takes the toss left. Ryans doesn’t need to worry about getting off a block, since he doesn’t allow the center to even get a hand on him.


And when he gets to Murray, Ryans executes the tackle flawlessly.


The result? His 15th tackle-for-loss this season, the most of any Eagles defender during the Andy Reid era. Ryans shows up every week.

Play 4: The call from Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth on this play was classic. They couldn’t believe the Eagles would leave Witten so wide open.


Coleman turns his back to the middle of the field and heads towards Dez Bryant on the outside, while Asomugha bails deep. That leaves Witten all alone.

As easy a 28-yard gain as you’ll see all season.

Play 5: I would love to be in the room when a play like Bryant’s 28-yard touchdown is shown to defensive players. It’s one thing to give up the completion, but another to fail in such an epic manner in bringing Bryant down.


Bryant is in a crowd of five defenders around the 8-yard-line. There’s no way he’s scoring here, right?


Wrong. Allen somehow runs right past Bryant, while Coleman and Jordan do the same from the other side. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie doesn’t make much of an effort to get to Bryant, and Mychal Kendricks overruns him too.

Play 6: If you want to identify players who are still hustling and giving full effort, start with Brandon Graham. He’s at his usual spot at left defensive end to start this play.


It’s a handoff to the opposite side, but Graham hustles around Doug Free and chases the ballcarrier.


Look who ends up making the tackle for no gain.


Really nice effort from Graham here.

Play 7: Another bad play for Allen on the 27-yard touchdown to Miles Austin. The Eagles set up in Cover-3, as Asomugha, Allen and Rodgers-Cromartie divide the deep part of the field into thirds.


Allen’s in good position to pop Austin as soon as he catches the ball.


But the wide receiver makes a subtle move, and Allen goes flying by. Rodgers-Cromartie delivered a little swat around the 5-yard-line as Austin scampered into the end zone.

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Under Bowles, Eagles Secondary In Tatters

A sad and maybe symbolic scene unfolded in the Eagles locker room just before reporters were ushered out late Sunday night. A pained Kurt Coleman, who needed assistance getting his shirt off moments before, walked up to Nate Allen and humbly asked if he would be able to put his deodorant on for him, as he was unable to lift his arms to do it  himself. Allen sustained a shoulder injury in the game and was also limited. But using his good arm, he dutifully performed the task for his fellow safety.

Officially, Coleman was listed with a chest contusion. But he was hurting bad, and it wasn’t all physical.

“It’s a little bit of everything right now,” said Coleman, his voice unable to get above a whisper.

“This sucks. It just sucks. I can’t piece one thing…it just sucks right now…We knew what we were doing, we knew what they were doing. It’s inexcusable really. We’re trying as hard as we can but that’s not enough, we have to be able to execute all the time.”

Coleman and Allen have contributed to a secondary that has fallen apart since Todd Bowles took over as defensive coordinator for Juan Castillo back in mid-October. The numbers are disturbing: Through the first six games, the Eagles were holding opponents to 52.7 percent completions – the top mark in the league. In the following six games under Bowles, that number has shot up to 76.3 percent with 16 touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Tony Romo was 22-of-27 for 303 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 150.5 quarterback rating. He did not have a single incompletion in the second half.

Communication breakdowns. Missed tackles. Lost battles. It all contributed to yet another meltdown.

“As I look at film just from a personal standpoint, in my head I have a whole lot of wows,” said Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. “Like, ‘Wow, what are you doing?’ At some point, I think as the season keeps going bad, bad, you try to fight so hard and don’t want to do wrong until you end up just doing wrong and you don’t allow yourself to just go out and be [yourself].”

Rodgers-Cromartie appears to have gone backwards under Bowles as a cover corner. As a result, his deficiencies as a tackler stand out more. There were multiple occasions Sunday night when these vulnerabilities came to light, including on Dez Bryant‘s six-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter where the receiver bullied his way right past the former Pro Bowler.

“[Second]-and-goal, I’m playing off him and I read screen, and I just have to keep running my feet. I know he’s a big, strong guy but me going low on him does no justice, so I tried to wrap up, stay high and push him out of bounds,” said DRC.

“I can tackle. Aggressive like a safety? No. But I can tackle.”

The safeties have been having their own issues, to put it mildly. Coleman has been victimized by play-action far too much, and he and Nnamdi Asomugha continue to struggle to get onto the same page. Allen has not fared much better.

“Sometimes, some things are going to happen. It’s part of the game,” said Allen. “You just have to put yourself in the right position to make plays.”

But they haven’t been. They haven’t forced a turnover since November 5 against the Saints. That’s a month-long drought.

“It shouldn’t happen,” said Andy Reid. “I go back and it’s a combination of things. Coaching and playing. We’re all in this together.”

The losing, the ineffectivess, has taken its toll. Coleman stood by his locker after the game unable to undress himself and emotionally taxed. DeMeco Ryans called over to him, and Coleman just shook his head as tears began to well in his eyes. It is a team, a defense, in dire straits.

“This is a team that’s too good not to execute on all cylinders,” said Coleman, pain rolling through his voice. “But I trust my guys, I believe in them. I’m going to continue to push them, and them me, just because I know this team really is good. It just sucks that it hasn’t been able to play out that way.”

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Offseason Makeover Likely For Eagles’ Secondary

Early on during today’s press conference, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles was asked about potentially making personnel changes in the Eagles’ secondary.

“We have possible lineup changes, and people compete everyday,” Bowles said. “There are no spots set in stone. We’re playing our best guys. If there was somebody that was stepping up to play better, they would be playing.”

Bowles didn’t mean it as a slight on the Eagles’ depth, but his comment spotlights the team’s lack of young talent at cornerback and safety.

You probably know the numbers by now, but just in case you need a refresher, opposing quarterbacks are completing 75.2 percent of their passes and averaging 9.7 yards per attempt against the Eagles in the last five games since Bowles took over. They’ve thrown for 13 touchdowns and no interceptions.

“There’s not one thing to point to,” said safety Kurt Coleman. “Sometimes it’s somebody just thinking somebody’s going to be there, and they’re not. We’re on two different pages. It’s inexcusable at this level.

“Bottom line is it’s players being able to do their job and relying and trusting other guys to be able to do their job. I think the trust factor’s there. It’s just, we’re on two different pages. You saw that in the Washington game and you saw it last week.”

In the summer of 2011, the Eagles looked like they were in good shape in the secondary. They still had Asante Samuel and added Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha. They had just spent a second-round pick on Jaiquawn Jarrett and still had Nate Allen.

But times have changed.

At cornerback, Samuel’s in Atlanta. Rodgers-Cromartie is only 26 and the most talented of any of the Eagles defensive backs. But we’ve seen in the past two seasons why the Cardinals were willing to part with him. To put it bluntly, he’s an inconsistent player and a poor tackler.

As for Asomugha, he’ll be 32 at the start of the 2013 season and has a reported cap hit of $15.3M. The Eagles could restructure his deal or lose $4M and cut him.

Brandon Boykin has been up and down, but he seems to project mostly as a nickel corner. And Curtis Marsh, a 2011 third-round pick, is a complete unknown. He’s played a total of 18 defensive snaps this season.

Safety is a giant question mark as well. In addition to Coleman and Allen, here are the safeties who have seen action the past two seasons: David Sims, Colt Anderson, Jarrett and Jarrad Page. In other words, it’s not like the Eagles have a bunch of young talent they are waiting to develop. Allen and Coleman could be backups in 2013, or they could be gone altogether.

Priority number one this offseason will be finding a coach to replace Andy Reid. Priority two will be deciding on a quarterback. And after that, the Eagles will have to figure out how to fix a secondary that appears to be broken.

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Bowles: ‘It’s a Messed-Up Situation’

Philadelphia Eagles secondary coach Todd Bowles.When answering a barrage of questions about what exactly is going on with the Eagles’ defense right now, Todd Bowles made it clear that his players are failing to properly execute the simplest of assignments.

“The first one was high school cover-3,” Bowles said after the team’s 30-22 loss to the Panthers. “The ball was thrown down the middle of the field. We gave up a touchdown. Inexcusable. The second one was inexcusable too.”

The first one he’s referring to was Cam Newton’s 24-yard touchdown to tight end Gary Barnidge. It looked like safety Kurt Coleman was caught out of position. Barnidge had three catches all season entering Monday night’s game. The score was his first career touchdown.

The second one was a 43-yarder to Brandon LaFell. The Eagles probably should have been aware of LaFell’s ability to make plays downfield. He led the Panthers with 12 catches of 20+ yards entering Monday night’s game. Yet there he was, streaking down the middle of the field, wide-open for the score.

“The second long one was a bust,” Bowles said. “It was inexcusable. Shouldn’t have happened. Everybody knew where they were supposed to be. They weren’t there.”

Why is that still happening at this point in the season?

“I wish I could tell you,” Bowles said.

“They can’t happen. Not at this level, not at this stage of the game, not after what we’ve been through. And everybody has to own up to their responsibility.

It’s tough to pinpoint exactly what’s led to a complete implosion by the Eagles’ defense. Through the first six games, with Bowles coaching the secondary and Juan Castillo serving as defensive coordinator, the Eagles led the league in opponents’ completion percentage (52.3). Here are the results since then:

 
Completions
Attempts
Completion %
Yards
YPA
TDs
INTs
Matt Ryan222975.9%2629.030
Drew Brees212777.8%2398.920
Tony Romo192673.1%2098.020
Robert Griffin III141593.3%20013.340
Cam Newton182864.3%30610.920
TOTALS9412575.2%1,2169.7130

Opponents are completing 75.2 percent of their passes against the Eagles in the five games since Bowles took over. They are averaging 9.7 yards per attempt with 13 touchdowns and no interceptions.

“Not much,” said safety Nate Allen when asked what’s changed under Bowles. “We haven’t changed much. Just put in a few things here and there.  Nothing we can’t handle though.”

Evidence would suggest otherwise.

Bowles’ comments indicate he thinks the players might not be good enough. But he held off from going that far when asked if he had the right personnel to work with.

“I believe we do,” he said. “Everybody’s got to do their own job. Everybody’s got to look at themselves in the mirror and try to get something done. I mean, if you can’t look at yourself in the mirror and take onus on what you did, then you’re not the guy you thought you were.”

Bowles said he might make changes in terms of personnel. But really, that’s not going to accomplish much at this point in the season. Maybe you try to see what you have with unknowns like cornerback Curtis Marsh and safety David Sims. But at 3-8, with the entire coaching staff likely to be gone in a matter of weeks, the Eagles’ season is past the point of no return.

Nnamdi Asomugha was asked if he thought Bowles had any other options besides changing personnel.

“You stick with those people or those groups and you coach them harder,” Asomugha said. “And those players obviously have to take it more – I don’t want to say seriously because they’re taking it seriously – but obviously have to be mentally focused a little bit more than they have been.

“Obviously what Todd has done, I’ve supported, we support. There’s some things that mentally we need to be sharper on.”

As for Bowles, this season has turned into a complete disaster. Thrust into the spotlight midseason as defensive coordinator, he had an opportunity to continue to build on an already strong reputation. Instead, he’s directed a defense that has completely collapsed in the last five games.

“It’s depressing,” he said. “It’s not about me. It’s about the team. We’re just trying to win ballgames. And for that not to happen and [for] us to lose as many games as we did in a row, that’s inexcusable. It’s unacceptable. It’s disheartening. And I feel like everybody else feels. It’s a messed-up situation.”

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Eagles Wake-Up Call: Too Early To Rule On Foles

It was dangerous to make any sweeping judgments about Nick Foles after a few preseason games. It is equally dangerous to label him following six-plus quarters of regular-season play.

That hasn’t stopped a whole slew of fans and pundits alike from jumping right off the Foles train, of course. From Chosen One to just another bum, in 90 minutes flat.

Before you write him off completely, take a look at how the other rookie quarterbacks performed in their first starts this season:

 
Result
Completion Percentage
TD
INT
QB Rating
Andrew LuckLost to Bears, 41-2151.11352.9
RGIIIDefeated Saints, 40-3273.120139.9
Ryan TannehillLost to Texans, 30-1055.60339.0
Brandon WeedenLost to Eagles, 17-1634.3045.1
Russell WilsonLost to Cardinals, 20-1652.91162.5
Nick FolesLost to Redskins, 31-645.70240.5

As you can see, RGIII is the outlier. Every other QB lost. Not only that, but the rest of the signal-callers combined for just two touchdowns while chucking up 13 interceptions.

As the season has progressed, each of the quarterbacks not named Griffin have seen their numbers and quarterback rating jump up.

It is very possibile that Foles follows suit.

“He learned an awful lot. I will say I am excited about this ballgame coming up because not always but normally that second start for a quarterback is normally a little better. So I’m excited about that,” said Marty Mornhinweg. “Now we’ve got to help him. I’ve got to help him, the line [has] got to help him, [and] the receivers have to help him. We dropped a host of balls [against Washington] so we’ve got to cumulatively get it to the next level so Nick can have some success.”

Foles’ challenge is all the greater playing behind a patchwork offensive line and for a team in a total tailspin. For that reason, it may be tough to get a real gauge of his potential even if he does start the rest of the season.

For now, the goal is to see gradual improvement, starting Monday against Carolina.

“I thought this week’s practices were better than last week’s. I thought he was just more comfortable in there playing,” said Andy Reid. “He doesn’t have any problems spitting all that stuff out and knowing it. Just knowing how to take your drops and make your drops work with the coverages and then the players that you’re playing with, making sure you have a good feel for them.”

Added Foles: “I feel more comfortable. I definitely feel like this week I’ve improved a lot. Just have to take it into the game.”

WHAT YOU MISSED

Sheil unveils his cheat sheet for the Eagles’ defense, which explores the big questions facing this team in the secondary.

The Eagles may be lacking in some key areas, but they are doing just fine in the confidence department. From “Dream Team” to “dynasty,” a look at some of the memorable quotes this group has put out there.

Bryce Brown will start in a meaningful  game for the first time since high school.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Michael Vick has taken another step forward in his recovery from a concussion. From the team’s website.

Quarterback Michael Vick threw Sunday at the NovaCare Complex, another critical step forward in his recovery from the concussion he suffered two weeks earlier against the Dallas Cowboys. Vick remains on the schedule head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder set forth on Saturday, and the next step as Vick reaches Phase 4 of his recovery is that he takes another ImPACT test on Monday to see if he has recovered to his baseline measurements.

The Nnamdi Asomugha  signing contributed to the Eagles’ downfall, according to Pro Football Focus. Via ESPN.com:

Asomugha’s reputation was inflated by being somewhat sheltered in Oakland. He played almost exclusively man coverage for the Raiders and rarely played anywhere other than the right side of the defense, the blind side for right-handed quarterbacks. While top corners move around to shadow top receivers, Asomugha played 82 percent of his snaps at right corner over his past two seasons in Oakland. Quarterbacks naturally target their open side more frequently, and given the other players in the Raiders’ secondary, Asomugha was simply avoided for the most part.

Over his last three seasons for the Raiders he averaged just 29 targets a season, fewer than two per game. In the past three fully-healthy seasons Darrelle Revis has played, he has averaged 93 targets per season, three times more than Asomugha.

In his first season with the Eagles, Asomugha’s targets rose to 47, and he allowed 61.7 percent of those passes to be caught, coughing up four touchdowns in the process. This season things are even worse: He has already been thrown at 41 times and given up three scores, while being beaten for an average of 17 yards per catch as he struggles badly to adjust to life playing zone coverage.

COMING UP

Eagles host the Panthers under the lights. Make sure you join us for our live chat beginning at kickoff. (Hey, you’ll need to vent somewhere.)

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.

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Nnamdi: ‘This Is the Place I Want To Be’

Nnamdi Asomugha had a candid session with reporters Friday, discussing the disappointing start to his time in Philadelphia and the possibility that it could be cut short.

Though things have gone different than anticipated, the much-hyped cornerback says he is not planning his exit strategy out of Philadelphia.

“I definitely feel that I have assimilated into it and acclimated into it and all of that stuff,” said Asomugha. “I have gotten the question throughout this year a couple times: did I make the right decision [coming here], should I have gone [somewhere else]? And that doesn’t cross my mind at all. It’s always, yes, this is the place I want to be.

“I absolutely believe in the decision I have made and believe in this team.”

When the Eagles signed Asomugha to a five-year, $60 million deal prior to the 2011 campaign, he was heralded as one of the top cover men in the game. He has fallen well short of that billing. It has not gone the way anybody envisioned, including Asomugha himself.

“Not even close. Not even close,” Asomugha admitted. “When I came I didn’t know anybody but everybody was on the same page that we were going to get it done the first year out of there. Then we saw that we had to jell. Then we started to jell. It looked like  at the beginning of the season things were on a roll, then we started losing and the momentum went the other way for us. So it just hasn’t gone well.

“I’m mentally strong because I haven’t had the success in the league that I’ve wanted since I was a rookie, but mentally I’ve been able to deal with that and know or believe that at sometime it will turn around.”

Asked specifically why he hasn’t been able to play at the high level everyone expected, Asomugha declined to answer in fear that it would sound like an excuse. There has been a decent amount of excuse-making over the past two seasons from this club, and Asomugha has been part of that. Whether intended or not, some of his postgame explanations as to why things went wrong often came across as finger-pointing, sometimes in the direction of former defensive coordinator Juan Castillo.

But on Friday Asomugha took some ownership, and said he understands why some of the fan base is  upset with him.

“As a fan I can look back to teams that I like and a player that I’ve liked  comes in and expecting it to just change, and it not working out and being upset about that,” he said. “I can’t now be that guy and look at them and say, ‘You can’t be upset that we haven’t won and I haven’t been Superman on the field’ even though that’s what has been expected of me.”

Opposing quarterbacks have a sterling 110.4 quarterback rating when throwing in Asomugha’s direction this season, per Pro Football Focus. The 31-year-old has just one interception on the season. He is due a base salary of $15 million next season, only $4 million of which is guaranteed. Asomugha says that he has not allowed himself to play the what-if game in terms of his future, but said, “I want to be around for this turnaround that I know is going to happen.”

He will have to be amenable to a sizable pay cut in all likelihood if that is to occur.

“Obviously it hasn’t been as good as I wanted it to be,” said Asomugha. “As far as team and individually, my expectations were so high. And then things just kind of hit really quickly, and it was like, team wise and player-wise it was kind of like playing catch-up trying to get it back on the right foot. That part of it has been difficult, but I keep that faith and believe that the thing will turn.”

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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.
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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.

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