Eagles Wake-Up Call: Bryce Brown Gets His Chance

Philadelphia Eagles running back Bryce BrownLeSean McCoy doesn’t like to take a breather.

He’s played 610 snaps on the season, the most of any running back in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. McCoy led the league in playing time last year as well.

But on Monday night, the Eagles will see what life’s like without McCoy, as the running back continues to recover from a concussion he sustained during the final two minutes of last week’s loss to the Redskins. McCoy just turned 24 in July. He’ll continue to carry the load for years to come. But it’s still important for the Eagles to find the right back to complement his talents.

Enter Bryce Brown.

The seventh-round pick will get a chance to be the No. 1 guy against the Panthers. The last time Brown carried the ball 10 times in a game was 2009 with Tennessee. The last time he carried it 15 times was high school.

“You just watch him and talk to him on the sideline and make sure he’s doing alright,” Andy Reid said Friday. “I know Dion [Lewis] can step in and play, so there’s a time and a place where we’ll do that with him.”

Finding the right complement to McCoy has not been easy. In 2010, Mike Bell turned out to be a flop. Jerome Harrison was a nice fit, but he left for Detroit in the offseason. The Eagles tried to re-acquire him last year, but Harrison was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The Ronnie Brown experiment was a failure in 2011. And the Eagles spent a fifth-round pick on Dion Lewis, but he’s had pretty much no role on offense since entering the league.

Bryce Brown appears to be in position to fill the role nicely. At 6 feet, 223 pounds, he could offer a nice change of pace to McCoy. Brown has 32 carries for 141 yards (4.4 YPC) on the season. In the last three games, he’s carried 12 times for 85 yards (7.1 YPC). We don’t know what he’s capable as a receiver, but Brown’s made strides in pass protection.

While Brown’s primary role has been to spell McCoy for one or two snaps at a time, Monday presents a chance to show he’s capable of more. For some, the matchup with the Panthers has little meaning. For Brown, it’s another important step in carving out his spot in the league.

WHAT YOU MISSED

With Michael Vick progressing in his recovery, Reid and the Eagles will soon have to decide how to proceed at quarterback. T-Mac explains right here.

Head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder used the words “fuzzy” and “fatigued” to describe McCoy.

Weeks after firing him as defensive coordinator, Reid touted Juan Castillo as a potential college head coach.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter takes a look at Reid’s decision to go from Castillo to Todd Bowles:

Maybe the Eagles needed former defensive coordinator Juan Castillo more than they realized. With Castillo as their defensive coordinator in the first six games this season, the Eagles ranked among the three best teams in the league in terms of opponent completion percentage, yards per attempt and Total QBR. But since they fired Castillo on Oct. 16, the Eagles rank last in the NFL in all three of those categories as they head into Monday night’s game versus Carolina.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera expects Monday night to be special for defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. From Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer:

The Eagles-Panthers matchup on “Monday Night Football” might not move the meter in middle America. But it’s a special game for McDermott, whether he admits it or not.

“He hasn’t let anybody see it,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “(But) this is a chance for him to show what he’s capable of.”

In other words, to show Eagles coach Andy Reid he let the wrong guy go.

COMING UP

A Sunday without an Eagles game. But we’ll have some fresh content throughout the day.

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Cheat Sheet: Eagles’ Defense Vs. Redskins’ Offense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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Will Curry Finally Get His Chance?

Philadelphia Eagles secondary coach Todd Bowles.Vinny Curry sat at his locker Thursday afternoon, bumping some Michael Jackson from his phone as he got ready for practice.

Minutes earlier, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles was asked what the Eagles’ second-round pick needs to show in practice to get on the field.

“I think he’s doing everything he can do,” Bowles said. “He’s working hard. He’s hungry. He’s doing a lot of the right things. But you’ve got six other guys that are hungry also and doing the right things. By gameplan and how we see it, and how you can bring him up and bring him down, it’s just a tough deal. You’ve got about seven tough players over there.”

Is Bowles happy with how the defensive ends who are currently in the rotation are performing?

“I don’t think anybody’s playing bad,” Bowles said, not exactly offering up a ringing endorsement. “I think it’s going to be tough. I think he’s closed the gap considerably. We just have to play it by ear.”

Of the 31 players who were taken in the second round of April’s draft, only two have not played this season – Curry and 49ers running LaMichael James . The Eagles clearly liked Curry enough to take him with the 59th overall pick, but he’s yet to dress on gameday. I asked him what he thought of Bowles’ comments.

“Maybe Mike can answer that,” Curry said with a laugh, looking in teammate Mike Patterson’s direction. “I don’t know. I just try to compete and work hard. That’s all. That’s great to hear coming from coach. I’m just going out there competing and doing the best I can do to help the team be ready and prepared for certain situations, so I can’t really answer that.”

The truth is the lack of production from the Eagles’ defensive ends is one of the reasons the team currently sits at 3-6 after nine games. Jason Babin had no sacks, one hurry and no tackles against the Cowboys last week. In the last three games, he has one sack, four tackles and four hurries. Trent Cole has not played to his usual standards. Brandon Graham has been solid. And Darryl Tapp has just one hurry (no sacks) in his last three games. Phillip Hunt, meanwhile, was deactivated along with Curry last week.

With the team having lost five in a row, you’d think now would be as good a time as any to give Curry a shot.

“He’s hungry. He’s very hungry, and I like that,” Cole said. “He reminds me of myself. I told him, ‘Man I was in the same position you are, I was hungry, and just keep that hunger because when the opportunity arises, you better step up.’ …I came in, I had a bunch of Pro Bowlers in front of me, great players in front of me. I learned from them, and they always helped me out. I’ve always been there to help the rookies out since I’ve been here. I’ve never turned down anybody who has asked for help.”

The Eagles go with nine defensive linemen on gameday. They could either sit Derek Landri, Cedric Thornton or Mike Patterson and go with five defensive ends instead of five defensive tackles. Or they could play Curry instead of Tapp.

At some point, they will turn the page on this season and look to the future to see what they have with Curry.

“The word I got from Howie [Roseman] was it’s basically a numbers game,” Curry said. “As far as being talent-wise, I don’t think that was it at all. It’s coming, man, I’m just remaining patient.”

Is he tired of answering the same questions every week?

“Not at all,” Curry said with a laugh. “I’d rather get asked questions than get forgotten about.”

Tim McManus contributed to this article.

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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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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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Eagles Wake-Up Call: The Difference Under Bowles

The defense allowed 21 points per game under Juan Castillo through the first six weeks of the season. Over the past two weeks under Todd Bowles, the edge has dulled and the unit has yielded 26 points per game. They gave up 763 yards of offense in that span and have not generated an interception.

Most Eagles players insist that the approach has not changed much at all since Andy Reid decided to make the switch at defensive coordinator. But their instant regression — particularly in the secondary — cannot be pure coincidence.

Turns out, the defense is working through some things as a result of the move to Bowles.

“We kept the basic principles of what we did, so the defense really didn’t change that much,” said Brandon Hughes. “Just the way [Bowles] calls it, some of the blitzes. And I think the biggest difference is having some vision coverages in there so guys can see what’s going on.”

What is vision coverage?

“You run enough man that you see [only] your man and it’s hard to see route progressions. Vision coverage you see your guy and what’s going on around you, and you can make an educated decision on what you might be getting and maybe steal one — steal a play.”

The Eagles still deploy a lot of press man, but are using different looks in which the corners have more depth. It is a tweak, but one that is taking some getting used to.

“Sometimes when you put in stuff like vision coverages and you do have a new defensive coordinator, you have to get used to the way he calls the game,” said Hughes. “Guys have to get used to being next to each other on certain plays. As you’re getting used to his play-calling you’re also getting used to where you’re going to be at — where certain guys are going to be at. At first it kind of slows things down, but not really because we didn’t change the overall structure of the defense.”

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in particular has seen a dropoff in production since Bowles replaced Castillo.  There has been a dip across the board. Fundamentals have eroded as the unit’s sure-footedness has waned.

“There’s a whole bunch of stuff that plays into it, but nevertheless it’s our job and we have to get our job done,” said rookie linebacker Mychal Kendricks. “Regardless of the situation, we have to get (expletive) done around here.

“I truly believe we have the best guys on this team, for real. We’re a talented team. I believe in us, and I feel there’s going to be a big turnaround.”

WHAT YOU MISSED

It is depressing. It is informative. It is undeniable. It is the Kapadia All-22 review.

A look at the D-line’s performance Monday shows that Fletcher Cox has gotten into a pass-rush rut.

The Eagles are down another lineman. Details on the injury that put Todd Herremans on the IR.

Michael Vick had a “heart to heart” with his brother Marcus after Monday’s Twitter tirade.

The Eagles signed safety Phillip Thomas to the practice squad.

A look at what the national media is saying about the Eagles.

If you haven’t listened to our show from Tuesday, check out the podcast. 

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Reid has made it to No. 1 on Mike Florio’s coaching hot seat list.

“We always here this after a loss: We’ve got to get better, we’ve got to get better. Maybe you’re as good as you’re ever going to get. Maybe this is it. Maybe this is as good as your team will be.

“The switch isn’t there. This is as good as it gets. Now make the most of it.”

Here’s the entire top-5:

5) Mike Shanahan
4) Mike Mularkey
3) Mike Munchak
2) Pat Shurmur
1)  Andy Reid

With Herremans out for the year, Demetress Bell will play left tackle and King Dunlap will move over to the right side, writes Reuben Frank.

Although Bell was exclusively a left tackle during his three years in Buffalo, he finished the game at right tackle while Dunlap – who has played both sides in his five years in Philly – stayed at left tackle.

When the Eagles returned to practice on Wednesday, Bell was back at his more familiar left tackle position, and Dunlap was over on the right side, where he started three games in 2010 in place of injured Winston Justice.

 

Gil Brandt of NFL.com ranks the top 20 rookies in the league so far. Fletcher Cox, the lone Eagles representative, comes in at 13.

Very athletic, Cox has started two straight games and has one sack and four hurries. Heading into last Monday night’s game against the New Orleans Saints, he’d collected four tipped balls and four impact tackles (defined as taking place in the backfield or within 2 yards of the line of scrimmage).

COMING UP

Maybe it doesn’t feel like it, but it’s Cowboys week. Practice at 1:50. Bobby April, Marty Mornhinweg and Todd Bowles speak.

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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All-22: Why the Eagles’ Pass-Rush Is Struggling

Here’s an All-22 look at the issues plaguing the Eagles’ pass rush, with a focus on last week’s performance against the Falcons.

Play 1: The Eagles got the Falcons in a 3rd-and-8 on their first possession and sent a blitz. Both linebackers (DeMeco Ryans and Casey Matthews) went after Ryan. Nobody got close to the quarterback.


One-on-one blocks all around, and look at that pocket. Granted, Ryan got rid of the ball quickly, but I would bet the Eagles haven’t given Michael Vick a pocket like this against a six-man pressure all season.

Meanwhile, the Falcons set up with a bunch look to the left. The Eagles appeared to be in man coverage with two deep safeties, but there was one problem: No one accounted for Drew Davis, who was left wide open.


The result is a 15-yard completion and a Falcons first down. After the game, Todd Bowles took responsibility for making a bad call on the first drive. This could have been the play he was talking about.

Play 2: Another clean pocket in the first for Ryan. Here, he finds Tony Gonzalez for an 11-yard completion.


The Falcons kept a running back in to block, and the Eagles only rushed four. But check out Trent Cole. One-on-one with Sam Baker, and he’s nowhere close to affecting the play.

Now is a good time to address the “He got rid of the ball quickly” argument. Last year, J.J. Cooper of Football Outsiders tracked how many “quick sacks” various defensive linemen had. These were sacks that occurred in 2.5 seconds or less from when the ball was snapped. Jason Babin had eight of those, and Cole had five.

Pretty much any time I’ve interviewed a defensive lineman in the past two years, he’s talked about the need to get off the ball quickly to be effective in Jim Washburn’s system. In other words, the pass-rush is supposed to account for quarterbacks getting rid of the ball quickly. That doesn’t always translate into sacks, but it should mean making life difficult for the opposing offense. That’s not happening nearly enough right now.

On the play above, Ryan got rid of the ball in under three seconds, but the Eagles made it pretty easy for him.

Play 3: On the first touchdown, the key was Julio Jones (red circle). Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Kurt Coleman reacted to a possible WR screen as Davis ran right past them.


By the time they realized he was behind them, it was too late. Touchdown.


Again, it didn’t help that Ryan again had a clean pocket. The Falcons kept in seven to block. Babin got a one-on-one, although that was probably because he rushed off the edge. As you can see, he and the Eagles’ other linemen got nowhere near Ryan.


But the touchdown here was clearly on the coverage.

Play 4: Tim already did a good job of breaking down the Jones 63-yard touchdown against Nnamdi Asomugha, but again, look at the pocket for Ryan.


He once again got rid of the ball in under three seconds, so it would have been difficult to sack him, but Eagles defensive linemen are nowhere near him. Brandon Graham got chipped. Derek Landri initially faced a double-team, and then the guard moved to Darryl Tapp. To be fair, it didn’t help that Ryan often had his first read open. On all levels, this was just too easy for the quarterback.

Play 5: Here, it’s another 11-yard completion to Gonzalez. Ryan again gets rid of the ball in under three seconds. But the pocket is clean.


Cullen Jenkins was double-teamed. Everybody else had one-on-ones. You can make the case that Cole got held, but Babin isn’t close to Ryan. Again, too easy for the quarterback.

Play 6: So, if the quarterback’s getting rid of the ball quickly and you’re not getting pressure with the front four, what do you do? One option is to blitz. Overall, the Eagles blitzed seven times – not really an increase from what we saw in the first six games. I showed one of them earlier. Here’s another.

The Eagles send six (Mychal Kendricks and Ryans), but no one gets a hand on Ryan. The blitz goes up the middle, setting up one-on-ones for both ends, but Ryan hits Roddy White on the drag route for 14 yards.

Play 7: It probably goes without saying, but the back end plays a critical role in pressure. Take a look at this play near the end of the first half. Asomugha has single coverage on Jones, and the Falcons try a double-move. Asomugha doesn’t bite, the Eagles pressure Ryan, and they drop him after a 1-yard scramble.

Here, you see that the coverage was good, leading to pressure on the quarterback. Rather than blitzing, this is probably the Eagles’ best option for fixing the pass-rush. Cover better, make the quarterback hold the ball, and give the defensive line more time to get home.

Play 8: Another example here of how this is supposed to work. Graham bull-rushes the right tackle and makes things difficult for Ryan.

Ryan has a receiver open, but the defensive line makes it hard to get rid of the football, so he has to scramble.

And it’s not as if Ryan held onto the ball here. The first image was captured about 1.9 seconds after the ball was snapped. Graham just got to him quickly.

Play 9: In the third quarter, Cole shows he’s capable of doing the same, beating Baker one-on-one and forcing Ryan out of the pocket.

The pressure got there in about 2.1 seconds. It sounds simple, and it is. One way to fix the pass-rush: Get there faster! Again, they did so in 2011. They’re not doing so enough this year.

Play 10: In the red zone in the third, Cedric Thornton breaks the sack drought with a pressure up the middle.

Did Ryan hold on to the ball too long? Nope. This sack took place in about 2.2 seconds. You can see the right guard is pushed back into Ryan’s face. He wanted to go White, but Asomugha had good coverage.

Once again, evidence that the front end and the back end have to work together for this defense to be successful.

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