All Is Quiet On DRC Contract Front

There is nothing brewing on the Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie contract front, and that is not expected to change any time soon.

Nothing personal against the eccentric cornerback; the Eagles are not negotiating with any players at the moment, choosing instead to focus their energies on the season at hand. They have tried to stick to the policy of no in-season contract negotiations for the past few years. With a new coaching staff likely coming in, there’s even less reason to go away from that policy now.

The Eagles have some serious decisions to make when it comes to the corner position. DRC is poised to become a free agent at the end of the season. Nnamdi Asomugha is scheduled to make a base salary of $15 million next year (and another $12 million for both the 2014 and 2015 seasons). Only $4 million of next year’s salary is guaranteed, meaning the team could walk away if they are OK with swallowing that amount.

Asomugha has failed to live up to the billing in his 1 1/2 seasons with the Eagles. The 31-year-old has one interception through nine games in 2012. Quarterbacks have a rating of 109.5 when throwing in his direction, per Pro Football Focus.

The quarterback rating against Rodgers-Cromartie, in comparison, is 62.4. That said, his play has dropped off in recent weeks. He has not had an interception since September. Teams are taking advantage of his below-average tackling ability by routinely running to his side.

While both Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie have their imperfections, they are better than the alternatives on the roster right now. Leaving one of the outside spots in the hands of Brandon Hughes or Curtis Marsh would be a big risk. Given how highly the Eagles value the cornerback position, it’s unlikely they will leave the cupboard bare. Whether it be through free agency, the draft or retaining their own, they will try to stay stocked.

Rodgers-Cromartie’s price tag needs to be taken into consideration. His cousin, Antonio, received a four-year, $32-million deal in 2011 from the Jets. He was right around Dominique’s current age (26) at the time. The Giants’ Antrel Rolle inked a five-year, $37 million deal in 2010. Perhaps the former Pro Bowler could end up in that ballpark.

The Eagles are projected to be well over the cap for next season, though they have a sizeable amount of cap money that they can carry over from the current campaign.

The safest bet is that rookie Brandon Boykin will be part of the cornerback equation next year. From there, it’s much cloudier. Will both Asomugha and DRC be back? If it’s just one or the other, who will it be?

With all contract talks expected to be on hold until the offseason, the answers won’t come for weeks.

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All-22: The Unpredictable Eagles Defense

Here are some plays that stood out after having looked at the All-22 tape of the Eagles’ defense against the Cowboys:

Play 1: On the 11-yard touchdown to Felix Jones, I counted four different Eagles who had a chance at him, and none of them came through. First up was Nate Allen, who could have dropped him for a loss.


Take note of where Brandon Graham is, by the way. More on that in a second.

Next, Darryl Tapp and Nnamdi Asomugha both miss.


And finally, it’s Graham’s turn.


One bright spot among the comedy of errors: There’s been a lot of talk about whether Eagles players are consistently trying. I think that Andy Reid is telling the truth when he says the effort is there. Check out where Graham came from here. Yes, he missed the tackle, but he never quit on the play and really hustled to get to Jones.

On the other hand, this is what Todd Bowles is talking about when he says he’s putting players in the right positions, but they just have to make plays sometimes.

Play 2: Remember the whole “We’re not going to be predictable” storyline that got repeated after Juan Castillo was fired? Well, Bowles lived up to it here. I’d say blitzing Asomugha, your $60M corner, on third-and-long qualifies. Take a look at who the sixth man is at the line of scrimmage.


According to Pro Football Focus, Asomugha had not blitzed once all season prior to Sunday. On this play, the Cowboys sent three receivers into routes, and they were all downfield since it was 3rd-and-15. The Eagles rushed six and were able to collapse the pocket.


Of course, the pressure wasn’t exactly due to Asomugha’s great pass-rushing prowess. He’s back there behind No. 63. Trent Cole, Cullen Jenkins, Fletcher Cox and DeMeco Ryans all got pressure on Romo. Cox got credit for the sack, although it probably should have gone to Cole or Jenkins. Romo just kind of went down, and they appeared to be the two who touched him first.

Play 3: It led to a sack the first time, so why not try it again? Here’s Asomugha at the line of scrimmage on 3rd-and-14 in the third.


But the guy to highlight on this play is Cox. Here you see him generate a pass-rush off the snap.

The impressive part is he recognizes that Romo is scrambling to his right, so he spins and starts giving chase.


The big man can move. He catches up with Romo and hits him as he throws the ball away.


Strength, instincts, athleticism all on display here for the Eagles rookie. Really nice play.

Play 4: Game-changing play in the third. The Cowboys faced a 3rd-and-5 from their own 39, down 17-10. In one instance, it looked like Cox would have a sack. In the next, the Cowboys were closing in on the game-tying score. Cox starts from his normal spot at left defensive tackle.


But he’s going to loop all the way around Cole at right defensive end. This kind of move is going to take some time, but the Eagles get Romo to hitch, and Cox has a clear path to the quarterback, even though the Eagles didn’t blitz.


He fails to bring Romo down, but it looks like Jason Babin and Jenkins will be able to finish the play.


You can’t even see Romo in there, but he escapes again, with Babin and Jenkins on the ground.


In the back end, Mychal Kendricks was closing in on Miles Austin when Romo first wanted to get him the ball.


Kendricks bit on the pump-fake and ended up on the ground. When Romo escaped, and it looked like Babin and Jenkins were closing in, he pump-faked again. That got Allen to come up. You always hear analysts talk about coming back to the ball when the quarterback’s in trouble, but Austin did the opposite and streaked down the field.


You see Austin in the yellow circle. You also see Kevin Ogletree (red circle) behind Brandon Boykin for what could have been a 61-yard touchdown. Those things happen when the quarterback buys six seconds to throw the ball.

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Cheat Sheet: Eagles’ Defense Vs. Cowboys’ Offense

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

1. When looking at the Cowboys’ offense, you’ll notice many of the same issues that have plagued the Eagles in the last year and a half. Dallas is sixth in yards per game (382.5), tied for eighth in yards per play (5.8), and Football Outsiders has them ranked 11th. Yet the Cowboys are averaging just 18.8 points per game, tied for 25th. The reasons? Turnovers and failures in the red zone. The Eagles, meanwhile, rank 19th in scoring defense, allowing 22.9 points per game. Football Outsiders has them ranked 14th – 13th against the pass and 11th against the run. The Eagles are coming off two bad defensive performances against the Saints and Falcons. The Cowboys are coming off a 13-point outing Sunday night against Atlanta.

2. Now, back to the turnovers. Dallas has given the ball away on 20.2 percent of its offensive drives (per Football Outsiders), second-most in the league to the Chiefs (28.7 percent) and slightly worse than the Eagles (20.0 percent). Tony Romo leads the NFL with 13 interceptions, which is three more than he had all of last year. When he’s not turning it over, Romo’s been pretty good. He’s completing 66.4 percent of his passes (seventh) and is averaging 7.5 yards per attempt (tied for ninth). Romo has 26 pass plays of 20+ yards (tied for 13th). The Eagles, meanwhile, have created just 10 turnovers all season (26th). The last two weeks have not been good, as Matt Ryan and Drew Brees completed 76.8 percent of their attempts against Todd Bowles’ unit. Overall, the Eagles rank seventh in opponents’ completion percentage (57.4) and tied for 10th in yards per attempt (6.8).

3. The run game hasn’t been much of a factor for the Cowboys. DeMarco Murray is out, meaning Felix Jones will carry the load. Jones is averaging just 3.6 yards per carry, and Dallas is averaging 3.6 yards per carry as a team, tied for 31st. They haven’t been trying to run the ball much with just 23.4 attempts per game. Last week, the Saints ran all over the Eagles (25 times for 140 yards, 5.6 YPC). The linebackers didn’t do a good enough job of getting off blocks, and missed tackles have been an issue all around.

4. Jason Witten leads the team in receptions (58) and targets (81). He’s averaging a career-best 7.3 catches per game. The Eagles have gotten worse at covering tight ends this year. In 2011, they ranked fourth, according to Football Outsiders. Through eight games this season, they rank 17th. Part of the reason is Nnamdi Asomugha hasn’t been used a lot on tight ends in 2012. He was a factor in keeping Witten in check (eight catches, 52 yards in two games) last season. We’ll see if he gets a shot at him on Sunday.

5. The Cowboys offensive line features Tyron Smith (LT), Nate Livings (LG), Ryan Cook (center), Mackenzy Bernadeau (RG) and Doug Free (RT). Smith, a 2011 first-round pick, will get matched up against Trent Cole. Cole’s had a disappointing season, but he was active against the Saints with three hurries and a season-high seven tackles. Jason Babin and Brandon Graham will line up opposite Free. Babin had one of his more active games vs. New Orleans, with a sack/forced fumble and a pair of hurries. Graham had a sack/forced fumble last week too. According to reports, the Eagles pursued Free in free agency in 2011, but he re-signed with Dallas. The right tackle has struggled this season and is tied for the league-lead among tackles with 10 penalties, per PFF. Smith’s not far behind with nine. As a team, the Cowboys have only allowed 14 sacks on the season.

6. Miles Austin battled an injury-plagued 2011 season but is playing well so far this year, averaging 79.6 receiving yards per game and 15.5 yards per reception. He’s fifth in the league with 11 catches of 20+ yards. Austin lines up in the slot 70 percent of the time, per Pro Football Focus, meaning rookie Brandon Boykin has a tough task ahead. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will likely also get a shot at Austin. He got off to a strong start this season, but has fizzled. Rodgers-Cromartie leads all cornerbacks with eight penalties and at times looks like he has no interest in trying to get off blocks. Dez Bryant has 42 catches for 503 yards. He’ll likely see a lot of Asomugha. Kevin Ogletree’s played 52.2 percent of the snaps. He has 24 catches for 344 yards.

7. When the Eagles promoted Bowles, some thought he’d blitz more, but that hasn’t really been the case. And when he’s dialed up extra pressure, the results have not been good. Ryan and Brees were 9-for-11 for 111 yards (one sack) against the Eagles’ blitz. Part of that is on Bowles, but part of it is on the players for failing to execute. For example, one blitz last week freed Cole up for a shot at the quarterback, but he got juked by Brees, and the result was a big play to Lance Moore. Those are the kinds of things Bowles is referring to when he says the players are in position to make things happen. Romo, meanwhile, is completing 65.3 percent of his passes against the blitz. Given Dallas’ weapons in the passing game, I wouldn’t expect to see Bowles blitz a lot Sunday afternoon.

8. Romo’s improvisation can lead to turnovers, but it can also lead to big plays. I’m talking about the plays that cause announcers to make statements like, “This guy’s just having fun out there!” For example, last week against the Falcons, Asante Samuel initially had good coverage on Ogletree in the end zone.


But Romo escaped the pocket (and a possible sack by Kroy Biermann) to buy time.


That allowed Ogletree to shake free for the 21-yard touchdown.


By my count, Romo had the ball in his hands for about 5.7 seconds. It’s pretty much impossible to cover for that long. The defensive backs need to be disciplined when Romo improvises, but more importantly, the Eagles linemen need to finish when given the opportunity, something they have not done all season.

9. Play-action has given the Eagles problems all season long. Part of the reason why is that the safeties have responsibilities in the run game. The Birds get Nate Allen back this week after he was sidelined against the Saints. And while they’ll still need to avoid big gains off play-action, they probably won’t see a lot of those throws. Romo’s only run play-action 9.2 percent of the time, per Pro Football Focus, the lowest percentage of any starting quarterback in the league.

10. The Cowboys rank 27th in red-zone offense, scoring touchdowns 44 percent of the time. The Eagles’ defense is fourth, allowing touchdowns 40.7 percent of the time. …Dallas is ninth in third-down success, converting 42.6 percent of the time. The Eagles are sixth in third-down defense, allowing conversions 34.7 percent of the time. …Joe Buck and Troy Aikman will call the game for Fox.

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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.

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Twitter Mailbag: Does Reid Have An Out?

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

From @Gaphillyfan: Do the mounting injuries give Reid a possible card to play at his ‘trial’?

We actually got Jeffrey Lurie on record regarding this issue back in August, when he made it known that another 8-8 season would not be enough to save Reid’s job. Lurie was asked if there were any qualifiers to that statement, particularly when it comes to injury.

“Yeah, I guess if two-thirds of the team is not playing [then] there are always exceptions,” is the way the Eagles owner responded.

The Jason Peters‘ injury had already occurred by that point, though clearly the offensive line has been completely decimated over the last several weeks. Evan Mathis is the last man standing from the original starting five.

“It’s a little weird. It’s like a Final Destination kind of thing. Hopefully I don’t get hit by a bus or anything,” Mathis joked.

Otherwise, this team has not had too many injuries to deal with. Michael Vick has played every snap and the defense has enjoyed relative good health. Jeremy Maclin and Nate Allen have missed some time, but nothing too serious. Offensive line is where they’ve been hit, and man have they been hit hard. But overall, Reid can’t make a case that Lurie will fall for. The owner knows he wouldn’t be able to sell it to the fans.

From @chiefmisnomer: what are the details of Nnamdi’s remaining contract? Will the Eagles be able to opt out after this season/for how much?

Asomugha  is due $15 million in 2013. My understanding is that only $4 million of that is guaranteed. So it looks like they can walk away from the remaining three years of the deal without too much damage. Is $4 million too much dead money to swallow if you’re the Eagles? Depends in part on the options to fill the void at right corner, I would imagine. Seeing as Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is not under contract for next year currently, the Eagles have a couple big question marks at the position. It will be interesting to see how they handle it.

From @IrishTim74: does Danny Watkins act as a revolving door at any local hotels or is it just at Lincoln Financial Field?

See, that’s just not right.

From @chambersd12: Are we stuck w/ Howie as GM since his apparent contract extension? Do you actually trust him to make the coaching decision?

I thought Phil Sheridan did a nice job of putting Roseman’s contract extension in perspective.

Eating Roseman’s contract would make an imperceptible dent in Lurie’s fortune. It would cost less than some of the mistakes the franchise has made with player signing bonuses in the last few years.

And if you think Lurie would keep Roseman on just to avoid paying him for nothing, consider that Roseman is just 37 years old. He would want to continue his career in the NFL, which means he would vigorously pursue another job. If he lands one – and there is a guy in Cleveland who might be willing to take him on – Lurie is off the hook, anyway.

At the time of the extension, Lurie knew he was moving on from Joe Banner. Andy Reid’ future was up in the air. The intention was to move on with Roseman whether Reid survived the 2012 season or not. Otherwise, why give him a deal? It is possible that this season has changed Lurie’s view of Roseman or that a new head coaching hire could force the young GM out. But for right now, I’m operating under the assumption that Roseman is sticking around for the overhaul.

Will he do well in such a position of power? Impossible to know.

From @rock9449:  have the players stopped believing in Andy Reid?

Here’s how one player responded when I asked if the players still listen to Reid:

“Of course. Great coach. But when you are Commander in Chief you take the heat.”

I honestly have not heard anything contrary to that. If they have tuned him out, it’s subconsciously. Certain members of this team have not been shy about pointing the finger this year, but I have yet to see anyone point it at Reid.

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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.”

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Cheat Sheet: Eagles’ Defense Vs. Saints’ Offense

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

1. The Saints are sixth in the league in scoring offense, averaging 27.1 points per game. Football Outsiders has them ranked eighth – 10th in passing and 15th in rushing. New Orleans is coming off its worst offensive performance of the season. In their first 10 drives against the Broncos, the Saints punted eight times, scored once and turned it over once. They scored just 14 points, a season-low. The Eagles’ defense, meanwhile, is also coming off its worst performance of the season in a 30-17 loss to the Falcons. They allowed scores on each of Atlanta’s first six drives (touchdowns on the first three). The Eagles are 16th in scoring defense (22.1 points per game). Football Outsiders ranks them ninth – 13th against the pass and eighth against the run.

2. With the Saints, it all of course starts and ends with quarterback Drew Brees, one of the best in the game. He’s averaging a league-high 45 attempts and 330 yards per game. When Brees is rolling, the Saints have a versatile passing attack, capable of putting together long, efficient drives or burning defenses with the deep ball. By some accounts, Brees is performing as well as ever. For example, his 20 touchdowns are second in the NFL to only Aaron Rodgers. On the other hand, Brees is completing just 59.7 percent of his passes, putting him at 21st in the league. That’s a huge dropoff from last year when Brees had a completion percentage of 71.2. The last time Brees completed less than 60 percent of his attempts was 2003, and he has a completion percentage of 67.2 since joining the Saints.

3. Brees is averaging 7.3 yards per attempt (tied for 12th), but the big play is very much a part of this offense. Brees has hit on 30 pass plays of 20+ yards, second-most in the league to Peyton Manning (33). And per Pro Football Focus, his accuracy percentage (which includes completions and drops) on throws of 20+ yards is 52.6, fourth-best in the league. He’s thrown eight interceptions, or one every 39.4 attempts. Brees hasn’t been great on third down (51.8 percent completions), but in the red zone, he’s got 12 touchdowns and no interceptions. Meanwhile, even though Matt Ryan carved up the Eagles last week, the Birds are still second in opponents’ completion percentage (55.3). And they’re allowing 6.6 yards per attempt, tied for eighth.

4. The Saints will spread it out, meaning the Eagles will be in nickel or dime for much of the game. That means a lot of action for Brandon Boykin and potentially Curtis Marsh or Brandon Hughes. According to STATS, Inc., 60 percent of Brees’ attempts have come from 4+-WR sets. And 85.7 percent have come out of 3+-WR sets. Brees gets rid of the ball quickly and does an outstanding job of moving in the pocket to create space. It’s important that the Eagles at least make things difficult for him, something they did not do against Ryan and the Falcons.

Here’s a play from last week against Denver. First of all, look at the pre-snap formation.

The Saints go five-wide. No in-line tight end. No backs to chip or block. But Denver does an excellent job in coverage.

You can see initially that Brees has a clean pocket as the Broncos only rush four.

But his first read is covered and he has to maneuver to his left. Now, the pocket isn’t so clean anymore.

By the time he wants to get rid of the ball, he’s shuffling to his left while throwing to his right and has a defensive lineman in his face. Remember, Brees is the same height as Michael Vick (6 feet).

Brees actually made a nice throw, but the linebacker on tight end Jimmy Graham broke the play up. Regardless, you get the point. The front end and the back end working together to make things difficult on Brees, even if the defense didn’t tally a sack.

5. The Saints have very little interest in running the ball. They are averaging a league-low 19.9 rushing attempts per game and are tied for 30th, averaging 3.7 yards per carry. Part of that is because the defense is so bad. And part of that is because Brees is generally such a high-percentage passer so throwing the ball carries less risk. On Monday night, the Saints will be without playmaker Darren Sproles and will go with Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram. Thomas has played 40.2 percent of the snaps, and Ingram 17.9. Thomas is averaging 4.4 yards per carry; Ingram 2.9. The Eagles, meanwhile, are allowing 4.0 yards per carry, tied for 12th. DeMeco Ryans has been tremendous with 10 tackles for loss, more than any Eagles player had all of last season. He’s got 40 tackles in the last three games, according to team stats. On the defensive line, the Eagles could get a boost from defensive tackle Mike Patterson, who has not played yet this season. Fletcher Cox got the starting nod over Derek Landri last week. And Cedric Thornton played his best game of the season with eight tackles.

6. Marques Colston (6-4, 225) is the Saints’ leading receiver with 40 catches (on a team-high 70 targets) for 580 yards. He has lined up in the slot about 50 percent of the time, per PFF. The Eagles will have to decide what to do on those plays. Colston would have a sizable height advantage over nickel corner Brandon Boykin (5-9). This might be a good spot to move Nnamdi Asomugha inside on Colston. Colston leads the team with seven catches of 20+ yards and five touchdowns. His 10 red-zone receptions are tops in the league. And Colston has converted 12 third downs (tied for seventh).

7. Lance Moore is second on the team with 54 targets and 433 yards. He’s lined up in the slot 35.1 percent of the time, per PFF and can get deep. Last week, when asked about Vick leaving plays on the field, Andy Reid said that happens to all quarterbacks. And he’s got some evidence here. Brees is one of the best in the league, but he misses throws too. Last week, with the offense sputtering vs. the Broncos, he had a chance to hit a big play to Moore.

A double-move combined with a Brees pump-fake allowed Moore to get behind the cornerback. As you can see, the safety is not in position to get there in time, but Brees overthrew him, and a potential 66-yard touchdown instead was simply an incompletion on third down. You can be sure that the Saints will test the Eagles downfield. Nate Allen could be out with a hamstring injury, meaning David Sims, who has never played a defensive snap in the NFL, would get the start.

8. Tight end Jimmy Graham has 30 catches for 315 yards and four touchdowns. Last year, Graham had 99 catches for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns. Asomugha could also match up with Graham in this one. Last week, the Eagles got killed on screens. You can expect the Saints to run a few of those to Graham on Monday night.

“I just thought we missed tackles,” Todd Bowles said on Friday.

The Eagles are 13th in the league at covering opposing tight ends, per Football Outsiders. Meanwhile, Devery Henderson is a deep threat. He only has 17 catches, but five of them have been for 20+ yards, and Henderson is averaging 16.0 yards per reception.

9. The Saints’ offensive line: Jermon Bushrod (LT), Ben Grubbs (LG), Brian De La Puente (Center), Jahri Evans (RG) and Zach Strief (RT). Bushrod has made 39 straight starts for New Orleans. Grubbs, a former first-round pick of the Ravens, is in his first year with the Saints. De La Puente has been the team’s starting center the past two seasons. Evans has been named an All-Pro for three straight seasons and has started 103 games in a row. The same five offensive linemen have started every snap together for the Saints this season. Brees has been sacked just 13 times. Jason Babin and Brandon Graham will match up against Strief. Babin played 33 snaps last week; Graham 31. Trent Cole has not played as well as he has in previous seasons. He’ll get matched up against Bushrod.

10. Will the Eagles blitz more? Brees has been pretty good against extra pressure, completing 60.4 percent of his passes and averaging 8.0 yards per attempt (four touchdowns, two INTs), per STATS, Inc. Last week, the Eagles blitzed seven times. Ryan went 3-for-3 for 36 yards, and the Eagles were called for three penalties (two pass interference, one defensive holding) on those plays. On another, the Saints were called for a penalty.

Last week, the Broncos’ lone sack on Brees came on a delayed blitz. Initially, it looks like a four-man rush, but the key is linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who waits a second after the ball is snapped.

The left defensive end rushes inside, meaning the right tackle has his back to Woodyard and has no idea he’s coming.

That leads to a sack and forced fumble on Brees.

See? The Eagles aren’t the only team that struggles to handle a delayed blitz every now and again.

Leftovers: The Saints have the league’s best red-zone offense, scoring touchdowns 72.73 percent of the time. The Eagles are fourth in red-zone defense, allowing touchdowns 37.5 percent of the time. … The Saints look for big plays on play-action. According to PFF, Brees’ yards-per-attempt jumps from 6.9 to 9.2 on play-action throws. Given the responsibilities of Eagles’ safeties against the run, they’ve been vulnerable to play-action all season. … The Saints are one of two teams that has had worse starting field position (their own 23.03) than the Eagles this season. They are dead-last in the league in that category.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Andy Reid And the New Blood

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy ReidWhat does the Andy Reid drama mean to a recent import, exactly?

Everyone in this town knows the tale backwards and forwards. Every win and every loss is a piece of a larger mosaic. We know where it fits and what it signifies. Do trade acquisitions and free-agent signings, plucked from one culture and plopped into another, appreciate what this all means? Do they understand the magnitude of this season?

Probably not. And therein lies the value of building through the draft. Players who are reared in one place are more likely to have an appreciation and loyalty towards the men who guard the walls. It’s just not the same if you are a transplant.

That is not to say that the new crop –which includes Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, DeMeco Ryans, Cullen Jenkins and Jason Babin — all lack perspective or an emotional attachment to their coach.

“One of the things when I got traded here, I was mad at the time — not really mad, but I didn’t understand why I was traded. But when I got here the first thing I realized was the history of the Eagles, coming into a winning organization. And you can credit Andy Reid for that,” said Rodgers-Cromartie. “Just looking at him as a coach, just here two years, I can appreciate everything he does. That’s why you want to get them games, the games you are supposed to get. You want to go out and fight that much harder.”

The Eagles are 3-4. If Jeffrey Lurie means what he says, Reid will not be back for a 15th season if they continue on this trajectory. While that may be an acceptable outcome for a large contingent of the fan base, most players find significant value in Reid — even the new ones.

“First and foremost, Coach Reid has done a fantastic job. He is one of the best coaches in this league. Guys around the league want to come to Philly and play here because he’s such a great coach, it’s such a great organization,” said Ryans. “You want to go out and make things happen. I feel like if we do our job, everything will take care of itself.”

And does the coach’s job being on the line provide extra motivation?

“First you play for yourself, that’s always. Then you find other reasons,” said Rodgers-Cromartie. “You’ve got family, kids. But then another reason has to be Andy Reid because the type of coach he is, you know what he’s doing and you know all around he’s a good guy and a good coach. You don’t get that too often, and we’d love to keep that around.”

Some would suggest that if the players are that desperate to preserve their head coach’s job, they have a funny way of showing it. The Eagles are now a game under .500 over the last two seasons. Are there too many foreigners and not enough locals? Did recent draft miscalculations, which forced in a wave of  outside talent, water down the Reid culture?

It is one of the working theories.

Bottom line, there are nine games left to save that culture.

“It’s pretty simple: It’s trickle-down,” said Babin. “Everybody wins, everybody does good and everybody’s life and situation is good. When you lose, that trickles down as well. Nobody wants that.”

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All-22: What the Tape Tells Us About Nnamdi

Any drops of good will gathered by Nnamdi Asomugha for his performance against Calvin Johnson and the Lions spilled onto Lincoln Financial Field Sunday. The critics are back in full throat and more fed up than ever at their $60 million cornerback. Asomugha, like the rest of his defensive teammates, was largely ineffective in a 30-17 loss to the Falcons.

The tape confirms what many have contended: that the 31-year-old does not possess the kind of recovery speed necessary to be a shutdown corner. Not anymore. But there is more to the story. The blame does not rest solely on Asomugha’s shoulders.

Let’s start with the 63-yard touchdown from Matt Ryan to Julio Jones that gave Atlanta a 21-7 lead.

Asomugha is lined up over Jones on the outside. Kurt Coleman is in the box to help with tight end Tony Gonzalez, leaving Nate Allen as the lone deep safety. Asomugha offers Jones free release, which in hindsight was a regrettable move.

 

“Yeah, probably [should have jammed]. You can’t go backwards on it, but yeah, probably I would have changed it up,” said Asomugha.

Asomugha could have executed better, no question. However, Jones — boasting 4.3 speed — is a difficult matchup for anyone, and Asomugha  receives no help on this play. As the next still shot illustrates, three Eagles defenders are protecting the middle. Meanwhile, three Falcons receivers are releasing downfield. Allen is stuck in no-man’s land.

All that’s left is for Jones to win the foot race and for Ryan to execute the throw. No problem on either account.

Asomugha was left one-on-one with Jones and the Eagles only rushed four on the play. Doesn’t seem right.

Next up is a 14-yard pickup by Roddy White on a cross. The Eagles are playing man. Todd Bowles will send both Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans on a blitz, leaving the middle of the field wide open.

The Falcons could not have asked for more. The other three receivers pull the rest of the secondary deep, leaving nothing but green for White.

The last play we’ll examine is a wide receiver screen to Jones in the third quarter that went for 37 yards. The cornerbacks did not bump much at the line in this one, and that’s the case on this play. Asomugha gives Jones a little bit of a cushion at the onset. White, lined up to the inside of Jones, will run a pick.

Jones starts out as if heading downfield, then peels back. Asomugha tries to adjust but White is closing in and is in perfect position to wipe him out. (The refs initially threw a flag on White before determining that the block came within the extended neutral zone.)

Mission accomplished. Asomugha ends up on the ground, and Jones ends up with a caravan of blockers paving the way towards a big gain.

“It’s embarrassing. It’s embarrassing to come out and for us to put that out there,” said Asomugha. “We’re a better team than what we showed today.”

On all three plays, you can find fault in the corner. But credit also has to go to the Falcons for play-calling and execution. And Bowles has to take some of the heat for leaving his players in vulnerable positions.

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Defense Falls Apart In Bowles’ Debut

Philadelphia Eagles secondary coach Todd Bowles.It’s difficult to imagine Todd Bowles’ debut as the Eagles’ new defensive coordinator going any worse.

Through three quarters, the Atlanta Falcons’ offense possessed the ball six times. And on all six occasions, they ended up with points – three touchdowns and three field goals.

“We ran the same things,” Bowles said, an answer that many players backed up. “The guys have to play… the coaches have to coach. We didn’t coach it good. We didn’t play it good, and they beat us. They deserve all the credit in the world.”

Matt Ryan picked the Eagles apart, completing 22 of 29 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns. Through six games, the Eagles had limited opposing quarterbacks to 52.7 percent completions, the top mark in the league. But Ryan completed 75.9 percent of his passes and averaged 9.0 yards per attempt. His first touchdown went to Drew Davis in the back of the end zone. The Falcons faked a wide-receiver screen to Julio Jones and got the Eagles’ entire defense – including Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Brandon Boykin and Kurt Coleman – to bite.

“My guy ran a screen. I came up for the screen, and they ran a guy behind me,” Rodgers-Cromartie said.

“Busted coverage,” said Bowles. “We had two guys that should have been there. They were not.”

In the second quarter, Jones burned Nnamdi Asomugha for a 63-yard touchdown down the left sideline. Ryan was perfect to Jones on the day, completing all five of his attempts to the second-year receiver for 123 yards.

“He just created separation and got it,” Asomugha said. “There was nothing special in particular. He just got it.”

Asked if he felt Asomugha could still keep up with receivers on those vertical routes, Bowles said, “I do. I think it’s part of technique. Nnamdi got beat today on a deep ball, but you know, a couple people get beat every week. We’ve got to correct it. We’ve got to coach them better. They’ve got to play better.”

Bowles had not called a game since he was the defensive coordinator at Grambling State in 1999. But the players backed their new general, taking responsibility for their poor performance.

“Us as individuals not making the plays,” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “We’re put in the right position. We’ve got to look at ourselves. It’s not schematic, it’s not the defense. It’s nothing to do with the coordinators or coaches. That’s all on us as players.”

“It’s embarrassing,” added Asomugha. “It’s embarrassing to come out and for us to put that out there. We’re a better team than what we showed today.”

That last part can actually be debated. The Eagles are 11-12 in their last 23 games. The defensive coordinator was fired during the bye week. The starting quarterback isn’t sure if he’s going to get the ball when the team travels to New Orleans. And the owner has said that an eight-win season won’t save the head coach.

They’ve lost three in a row and four of their last five. On the season, the Eagles have been outscored, 155-120.

They’re 3-4 after seven games, and really, it’s hard to argue that they should be anywhere else.

Bowles was asked what it meant for him personally to be on the wrong end of such a lopsided defeat in his first game as defensive coordinator.

“It’s frustrating that we lost,” he said. “It’s frustrating that we didn’t play well and we lost. It’s not going to make or break me. We’ll line up next week. You’re going to have some ups and downs in this business. I’m frustrated today. I’m pissed off, and as well we should be. I don’t like losing. I’m a sore loser. We lost.”

Can the Eagles get things corrected in the final nine games?

“You can go from the outhouse to the penthouse in one week,” Bowles said. “Right now, we’re in the damn outhouse.”

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

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