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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Anonymous Eagles Player: ‘No Energy, No Passion’

Plenty of Eagles players went on the record after Sunday’s game, voicing their frustration and displeasure with the team’s performance against the Falcons.

Tim included thoughts from LeSean McCoy and Cullen Jenkins in the Wake-Up Call (definitely worth a read). And Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie voiced their opinions as well.

But one defensive player chose to speak anonymously to Jason Cole of Yahoo Sports:

“We didn’t have no passion and you have to have passion in this game,” the player said. “You have to want to throw everything you are out on that field on every play. You have to feel like you’re playing with your teammates and for the fans and your coaches. Nothing, nada. No energy, no passion.”

He continued:

“The media was getting on [Castillo] because he didn’t make adjustments in the fourth quarter, but what’s the difference now? We can’t stop them in the first quarter.”

Again, it’s not so much what the player said, although clearly he’s frustrated with the guys he’s playing with. But it’s just another sign that the season is falling apart and the team is fractured.

Seven games in, it’s tough to see it any other way.

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

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.

Eagles Wake-Up Call: Todd Bowles At Ground Level

Philadelphia Eagles secondary coach Todd Bowles.The great question of our time has been answered: Todd Bowles will coach from the sideline Sunday, coming down from his usual perch in the coaches’ box.

“Just his presence on the field I think is important so he’ll be down on the field,” said Andy Reid.

New vantage point, new responsibilities for the veteran assistant coach who will be calling a game for the first time on the professional level. He has not had such duties since he was the defensive coordinator at Grambling State in the late 90’s.

“As a coordinator, you’ve got to make it all tie in together. You’ve got to make sure you’re helping somebody at a certain point in time without exposing the other,” said Bowles. “It’s not just helping Nnamdi [Asomugha] or helping Trent [Cole] or helping  DeMeco [Ryans]; it’s a matter of tying it all in together as a coordinator and you have to [have the] due diligence to make sure you do your homework and get that done.”

Bowles has maintained that there will only be tweaks to the approach as opposed to a philosophical shift in scheme. He will be walking a fine line between  putting his own twist on things, while staying with what is familiar to his players.

“As a coordinator, you always try to do that but you have to make sure it’s within the scheme of what we do, as opposed to just going out and grab bagging things and coming in and doing something that we’re not comfortable doing,” he said.

Bowles talked about the “cat and mouse” game he’ll have to play with opposing offenses to try and get the front-four loose. Sometimes he’ll use the blitz, other times different looks in coverage.

“We just have to creatively find ways to keep things a guessing game each week,” he said.

Bowles has the advantage in that department for this matchup. This is his first week, after all, so the opposition doesn’t know what’s coming. But they should know not to expect anything too crazy.

“I certainly didn’t invent the game and I’m not going to reinvent the game,” he said.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Danny Watkins missed his second straight day of practice with what Reid called a “chronic ankle.” Watkins is doubtful. Rookie Dennis Kelly is likely to start at right guard.

Sheil has his cheat sheets ready for Sunday. Read about the Eagles’ offense here and the defense here.

Was Bobby April sweating during the bye week? Here’s what the special teams coach had to say.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Peter King is picking the Eagles to win, 23-20.

All six wins by the Falcons are against teams currently .500 or less, which is no fault of their own obviously, simply a commentary on the fact they haven’t played a tough schedule. The Eagles, obviously, are the seventh, and a deceiving 3-3. I do believe Mike Vick, as he says, will play angry this week, not only because this is his old team but because he knows Andy Reid isn’t going to put up with his 2.2 turnovers per game, the highest quarterback average in the league.

Eight of the 12 experts at ESPN are going with the Birds as well.

Ashley Fox points out that the sky might not be falling on the Eagles, even if it feels like it.

The Eagles are up against a wall. No one expects them to win. The expectation is that they will crumble under the weight of the moment, press too much, and then fold, another season of great expectations gone. But consider the devil’s advocate. The Eagles beat the Giants earlier this season under tough conditions. They beat Baltimore, too. Will all still be lost if they win?

COMING UP

Eagles have a mock game at 11 a.m. in their final piece of preparation for the Falcons.

Twitter Mailbag: On Peters, Asante And Safety Depth

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 @JoshCahan: What do you put the chance of Peters being back sometime in late Nov/early Dec?

Just as a quick refresher: The Eagles have until November 6 to put Peters on the practice-eligible list. They have three weeks from placing Peters on the list to activate him to the 53-man roster. That means November 27 is the last day they can activate him. There is a good chance they will use every bit of that time to allow the big lineman to recover from a pair of ruptured Achilles.

Even if they opt to put him on the 53-man, it doesn’t mean they have to play him right away. It sounds like Peters’ rehab is going well — he’s running and also doing some agility drills — and Terrell Suggs‘ rapid recovery from a similar injury is fueling optimism regarding a potential Peters’ return.

My gut says we’ll be a couple weeks into December before Andy Reid decides to give Peters the green light, if he gives it to him at all.

From @static71: Do you think the Eagles will put in some plays to isolate Asante in space and make him tackle?

Samuel does have six missed tackles on the year, according to Pro Football Focus. Running right at him and forcing him to make stops is never a bad way to go.

I also think you might be able to get Samuel on a double move or two in this game. You know he will be hyped and is dying to make the Eagles look bad for their decision to get rid of him. He is a gambler by nature, and may be even more willing to risk getting burnt in the name of an interception. Seems the Eagles would be wise to take advantage of his aggressiveness.

From@mstry001:  Bowles coaching from box or field during game?!

Undecided, according to Bowles. Said they will make a decision Friday.

From @Lemur421: A healthy Colt Anderson wasn’t good enough to be backup safety last year but coming of ACL surgery this year he is?

Couldn’t agree with you more. Safety depth was one of the major concerns exiting training camp. That kind of went on the back-burner for a while because Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman started out relatively strong and were healthy. Losing Allen to a hamstring injury in the fourth quarter against the Lions was a crusher. Anderson is a very good special teams player but, as you pointed out, he is not  a viable option at safety — especially coming off a major injury.

You can’t be deep everywhere, granted, but this was a vulnerability heading into the season and everyone knew it. Howie Roseman and Reid have to own that.

Bowles Weighs In On Pass-Rush, Predictability

Todd Bowles wants to free up the Eagles’ pass-rushers, but he’s not overly concerned that the team has zero sacks in the last three games.

“They’re rushing the passer very well,” Bowles said. “There are times when there’s max protection. There are times when the ball comes out. But it all ties in. You can say you want to get the guys rushing better and doing things more, but if they’re running it down our throat, it’ll be hard. So you’ve got to kind of go off what you see off film and kind of pick your spots and time it out and see how it works.”

The theme is consistent with what Bowles said the day he was introduced as the Eagles’ new defensive coordinator last week. He’s not going to come up with a singular game-plan. He plans on adjusting to the opponent and the situation. Bowles sees opposing quarterbacks getting rid of the ball quickly against the Eagles, and he sees them keeping extra blockers in to help. But guess what? Those are not innovative wrinkles that have just been added to the game of football.

“It’s not a new thing,” Bowles said. “I don’t think you can go through any ballgame, and see where they’re not seven-man protecting, or three-stepping and everything else. It all ties in. We have to time it out right. We have to get them in position to rush the passer and we have to do all those things. It’s not like it’s just the Philadelphia Eagles they’re picking on.”

He was also asked several times about being “unpredictable.” Since Juan Castillo was fired, several players have said that has been Bowles’ message to the defense. But today, Bowles wanted to clarify what he meant.

“In your bye week, you get to self-scout a lot,” he said. “And you get to see a lot of things that you’re doing wrong and right. You try to fix the things you’re doing wrong. I don’t think it was more or less us being unpredictable. It was just more or less us correcting the things that we need to correct that people are taking advantage of.

“We lost because we lost and didn’t make enough plays to win the game. It’s not because we’re being predictable or being unpredictable.”

Bowles played eight years in the NFL, and he knows at some point, there’s only so much the coaches can do. But he also knows that the players need to be in a position to maximize their potential – specifially late in games where the Eagles have had so many meltdowns in the last two seasons. That’s precisely why Andy Reid decided to promote Bowles and get rid of Castillo.

“We just have to have a better understanding and a better urgency to finish games,” Bowles said. “We’ve got to make sure we have coaching-wise that ability to make the calls to win the game. They they have to go out and execute it.”

As for where he’ll physically be on Sunday, Bowles said he hasn’t decided yet whether it’ll be the sideline or the booth.

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

DRC Takes Up For Castillo

Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo.Several players this week have suggested that Juan Castillo‘s defense was predictable, and therefor vulnerable in the fourth quarter when the opposition deciphered what was coming.

Though it may have some truth to it and even come from a good place, it sure can  sound like blame-shifting after a while. As in, Juan was the issue and the issue is gone, so we can now realize our potential with Todd Bowles at the helm.

Not everybody is on board with the notion that Castillo was a hindrance, or buying into the “predictability” line of defense when rationalizing back-to-back fourth-quarter lapses.

“Of course that’s what you’re going to say, man, when things start to go bad. You’re going to pinpoint something,” said Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. “I don’t feel that way. If you look at the statistics, shoot, we’re still in the top of the running. That was a decision that was made and I can’t do nothing about it, but I didn’t see no problems.”

As for pointing blame in Castillo’s direction?

“I feel like every man should be accountable for themselves,” said Rodgers-Cromartie. “I learned in life that anytime things go wrong it’s easy to say, ‘He did this. He did that,’ instead of saying, “I did this. I did that.'”

Most of the players have had fond words regarding Juan Castillo the man, but few have stood up for him as a coach quite like DRC did on Thursday. Rodgers-Cromartie revealed that it was Castillo that transformed him into a press corner, working overtime with him to make sure the 26-year-old went through the change as smoothly as possible.

“No question. He changed my game. He turned me into a press corner,” said Rodgers-Cromartie. “He’s one of the guys that took the time with you, to make you understand the weakness in your game and keep you after practice and make you work on it. This is the NFL, you’re accountable for yourself. Not too many people are going to say, ‘Hey, you need to do this and make sure you do it.’  They tend to let you do it on your own.”

Rodgers-Cromartie is having a Pro-Bowl season. He has three interceptions and five passes defensed through six games. Opposing quarterbacks have a collective quarterback rating of 28.7 when throwing in his direction according to Pro Football Focus, good for second in the entire NFL.

The message about predictability is coming directly from Bowles, according to a couple of the players. The new defensive coordinator was asked about it on Thursday.

“I don’t think it’s excuse-making on my part. I think predictability comes from self-scouting,” said Bowles. “Every coach in the league when they self-scout on the bye week sees a lot of predictable things that are glaring to them that they try to fix. I think the miscommunication was in that part. It’s definitely not an excuse. The guys play hard and we lost because we lost and because we didn’t make enough plays to win the game. It’s not because we were being predictable or unpredictable.”

If that was the point Bowles was making, it may have been lost on a few of his new pupils.

Cheat Sheet: Eagles’ Defense Vs. Falcons’ Offense

Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Trent ColeHere are 10 things to know about how the Eagles’ defense matches up with the Falcons’ offense.

1. The Falcons are averaging 28.5 points per game, sixth-best in the league. In the offseason, they brought in Dirk Koetter as their new offensive coordinator. Matt Ryan runs a lot of no-huddle and is completing 67.8 percent of his passes, tied for fourth-best in the league. He’s thrown 14 touchdowns and six interceptions. Atlanta is a high-efficiency passing team. Football Outsiders ranks their offense 10th overall – ninth through the air and 24th on the ground. Even though the Falcons are 6-0, the offense is not clicking on all cylinders just yet.

“We definitely have not played our best football on offense yet,” Koetter told reporters recently. “We studied ourselves across the board in every situation. We need to get better across the board and I’m confident that they guys will try to do that.”

Before the bye, the offense turned in a shaky outing against the Raiders. The scoreboard showed 23 points, but one of those touchdowns was courtesy of an Asante Samuel pick-six, and a field goal was the result of a fumble return to the Raiders’ 2. Ryan threw three interceptions in that game, and Michael Turner averaged just 3.0 yards per carry. Koetter, Ryan and the rest of the Falcons’ offense will try to get on track against the Eagles’ defense and new coordinator Todd Bowles.

2. Let’s talk about Ryan. While the Falcons’ offense is more prolific than past seasons, Ryan still does not throw the ball downfield a lot. According to Pro Football Focus, just 10.2 percent of Ryan’s passes have gone 20 yards or more downfield. That ranks 20th in the league. Overall, the Falcons have 17 pass plays of 20+ yards; that’s tied for 24th. Atlanta chooses its spots with the deep ball, but relies on completing a high percentage of the short and intermediate throws. Ryan has completed 69.2 percent of his throws under 10 yards, according to Stats.com. He gets to the line of scrimmage, checks out the defense and has the ability to call the play. The Eagles, meanwhile, are holding opponents to a league-low 52.7 percent completion percentage. Quarterbacks are averaging just 6.2 yards per attempt against the Birds, tied for the second-lowest mark in the league. Overall, Football Outsiders has the Eagles’ defense ranked eighth – eighth against the pass and 11th against the run.

3. Ryan distributes the ball pretty evenly to his top three weapons: wide receivers Roddy White (53 targets) and Julio Jones (54), along with tight end Tony Gonzalez (54). White leads the Falcons with 553 receiving yards. In his eighth season, the veteran is averaging a career-high 92.2 yards per game. Known as more of a possession receiver, White is stretching the field more this year with a team-high seven catches of 20+ yards. He’s also averaging a team-high 14.9 yards per reception. White is good at adjusting to the ball in the air, and Ryan trusts him to make plays even when he’s not open. This will be Bowles’ first game calling the defense so it’s difficult to predict how he’ll use Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha against the Falcons’ receivers. More on that below.

4. “They definitely have two outstanding corners,” Koetter told reporters this week. “Unless they are going to play three corners, they can’t put a corner on all three of our guys. Matchups are one of the key parts of this game. Every game has some plus and minus matchups for both sides. They have two awesome corners and they’ve been matching them on wideouts. I haven’t seen them matching them on tight ends this year, but anything is possible.”

Which brings us to Gonzalez, who leads the Falcons with 43 catches. He’s caught 79.6 percent of the balls thrown his way, a ridiculous number. At the age of 36, Gonzalez is on pace for a career-high in receptions and is averaging 71.7 yards per game. He had seven catches for 83 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Eagles last year. On the Falcons’ game-winning drive vs. the Raiders a couple weeks ago, Ryan targeted Gonzalez on three straight attempts, completing two for 23 yards and setting Matt Bryant up for the game-winning 55-yard field goal. The Eagles have been OK against opposing tight ends this year, ranking 13th, per Football Outsiders. They’ve used a mix of coverages that has included linebackers and safeties. Last year, we saw the Eagles use Asomugha on tight ends in certain situations, but that hasn’t happened yet in 2012. One key here will be how the Eagles use rookie Brandon Boykin. Will he shift outside in certain spots and allow Asomugha to cover Gonzalez? Boykin played outside for the first time all season vs. Detroit. Will Boykin (5-9) be on Gonzalez (6-5)? Will Brandon Hughes or Curtis Marsh get a shot? That didn’t work out so well against the Lions. Keep in mind that Gonzalez almost never stays in to block. On pass plays, he’s used as a receiver 90.6 percent of the time, per PFF.

5. Jones was the deep threat last year, averaging 17.8 yards per reception, but that number is down to 12.5 this season. He still has six catches of 25+ yards though. Jones (6-3) is a well-rounded receiver, capable of hitting on plays downfield, picking up yards after the catch and coming down with the ball in traffic. He has six red-zone receptions, including four touchdowns. If he’s healthy Harry Douglas (23 catches for 149 yards) will line up in the slot. Douglas has been on the field for 58.1 percent of the snaps, per PFF. He didn’t practice Wednesday because of a knee/ankle injury. Jacquizz Rodgers (15 catches for 117 yards) will catch the ball out of the backfield.

6. Veteran Michael Turner is averaging 4.3 yards per carry. But he got a big boost from running all over the Panthers (13 carries, 103 yards) in Week 4. Take that game away, and Turner is averaging just 3.6 yards per carry. In the past two games, he’s got 100 yards on 29 attempts (3.4 YPC). The workhorse days appear to be over for the 30-year-old. Turner averaged 19.8 carries per game from 2010-2011, but that number is down to 14.0 this year. The Eagles will still have to pay attention to him though. Turner gashed them for 114 yards on 21 carries in last year’s meeting. The Birds’ defense has not been great against the run the past couple weeks. The Lions piled up 138 yards and averaged 4.9 yards per carry against them. And Rashard Mendenhall averaged 5.2 yards per carry the previous week. The Eagles’ defensive tackles have under-performed as a unit, and while DeMeco Ryans has been great (eight tackles for loss), the other linebackers have had some issues against the run. Scheme has played a role at times as well. Turner’s complement is Rodgers, but he hasn’t been a great option, averaging just 2.5 yards per carry with a long run of 9.

7. The Falcons have experience on the offensive line – a unit that is middle-of-the-pack. Left tackle Sam Baker had a a rough 2011 and has battled back issues. Trent Cole abused him in last year’s meeting with a sack and season-high eight hurries. Cole has not had a great year, but is tied for the team lead with 23 hurries. He has not been as good as usual against the run.

Justin Blalock gets the nod at left guard. He’s started every game for the Falcons since 2008. Derek Landri and Cedric Thornton have combined for just five hurries in the last four games. Center Todd McClure is in his 13th season as the Falcons’ starter. Cullen Jenkins and Fletcher Cox will match up with right guard Garrett Reynolds (limited practice participant Wednesday). Jenkins had a pair of sacks in last year’s meeting. Cox has been the team’s best defensive tackle. The rookie has excelled against the run and shown flashes as a pass-rusher. His 14 hurries are the most among Eagles’ DTs.

Jason Babin and Brandon Graham will match up against right tackle Tyson Clabo. Clabo has started every game for the Falcons since 2008 and made he Pro Bowl in 2010. According to Pro Football Focus, Clabo has allowed five sacks, tied for fourth-most in the league this season. Babin is tied with Cole for the team-lead in hurries (23), and he leads the Eagles with 2.5 sacks. He had a sack and four hurries against Atlanta last year. Graham has made the most of his opportunities with 13 hurries and half-a-sack, but hasn’t seen a real bump in playing time. The same five guys have started all six games for the Falcons this season. Atlanta has been called for the fewest offensive holding penalties (five) and fewest false start penalties (three) in the league.

8. The key to the game could very well be how Bowles manages to get the Eagles’ pass-rushers free. And that won’t be easy when you consider some of the things the Falcons do up front. Atlanta often spreads it out and relies on Ryan to get rid of the ball quickly. According to Stats, Inc., 77 percent of Ryan’s pass attempts have come on plays with at least three receivers out wide, and 53 percent have come with four receivers (note: one of those is usually Gonzalez). In other words, the Eagles’ backup corners and safeties are going to have to cover a lot in this game. On the play below, the Falcons go with an empty backfield and five wide receivers (including Gonzalez) against the Raiders.

You’ll notice four of the five receivers run short-to-intermediate routes that are 11 yards or less from the line of scrimmage. The only guy going downfield is Gonzalez (yellow circle).

Ryan hits Douglas for an 8-yard completion. By my unofficial count, the ball was out in 1.8 seconds. In Week 6, the Eagles did a really good job on the short throws against Matthew Stafford. Going into the game, he was completing 77.1 percent of his passes between 0 and 10 yards. Against the Eagles, he completed just 12 of 22 (54.5 percent). Look for Bowles to be even more aggressive on those passes. Finding a way to force Ryan to hold onto the ball will help the front four get to him.

One of the sacks Ryan took against the Raiders was the direct result of the Raiders aggressively shutting down those shorter routes. Here, he looks for Gonzalez (top of the screen), but the tight end is covered so he has to hitch once.

He may have had to a shot to hit White over the middle (other red circle), but didn’t pull the trigger. Unofficially, Ryan held on to the ball for four seconds here and took a sack.

9. While the Falcons will spread it out quite a bit, they’ll also show a variety of looks. For example, take a look at how they set up on this first-quarter play against the Raiders.

You see 10 of the 11 offensive players in this shot. The only person missing is White, who’s lined up out wide to the left. The Falcons have an extra lineman and two tight ends. Typically, this is not the kind of formation you’d be throwing downfield out of, but that’s exactly what the Falcons do. Ryan hits White down the sideline for a 25-yard gain. The blocking actually wasn’t great, as Baker, the left tackle, and Blalock, the left guard, had trouble, but you can see that the Falcons have certain looks in their back pocket if they’re worried about the Eagles’ pass rush.

10. It’ll be interesting to see how much Bowles dials up the blitz vs. the Falcons. In last year’s meeting, the Eagles only blitzed twice. Ryan is completing 62.5 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and one interception against the blitz, according to Stats, Inc. Only two of his 13 sacks have come on plays where the defense sent extra pressure. In other words, there’s evidence that you can get to Ryan with a four-man rush. The message from the Eagles seems to be that the defense might not blitz a lot more, but it will choose its spots better and be more effective when it does send extra pressure.

Leftovers: The Falcons excel at a lot of the little things. They’re fourth in red-zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns 64 percent of the time. They’re fourth in starting field position, beginning drives on average at their own 30.03-yard-line. They’re averaging just 1.2 turnovers per game, tied for sixth-fewest. And Atlanta leads the league in fewest penalties (three) and penalty yards (25.3) per game… The Eagles have the third-best red-zone defense in the league, allowing touchdowns 35 percent of the time. …This is a different offense, but the Falcons max-protected 15 percent of the time last year, fourth-most in the league, per Football Outsiders.

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

Linebacker Watch: ‘Change Can Be Good’

Philadelphia Eagles LB DeMeco Ryans.Mychal Kendricks may be a rookie, but he has dealt with a coordinator switch before. Following his sophomore year at Cal, Clancy Pendergst came from the NFL ranks and replaced Bob Gregory as defensive coordinator.

The result?

“We balled out,” said Kendricks. “I think we were first in the Pac 12 as far as defense. We were first in sacks, and might have been second or third in picks.

“Change can be good.”

That seems to be the sentiment in the Eagles’ locker room overall, and within the linebacker corps in particular. There remains a sense that this defense will not be overhauled now that Todd Bowles has replaced Juan Castillo, but there will definitely be some differences. Jamar Chaney echoed what Casey Matthews said a couple days ago: that Bowles believes this ‘D’ had become far too predictable. Expect some more exotic looks and yes, some more blitzing.

“He is going to bring it all,” said Chaney. “The main thing is he doesn’t want the offense to know exactly what we’re going to do. If they make plays, he doesn’t want it to be because they know what we’re doing. He wants it to be so when it’s fourth quarter time, the Eagles still have a lot of stuff they can still throw at you so you still don’t know what we’re doing.

“It’s hard to beat teams, especially the Steelers — they’ve got Ben Roethlisberger — and the Falcons with Matt Ryan, you can’t beat quarterbacks like that if they know what you’re doing. This is a quarterback-driven league and you have to change it up on those guys. The good defenses do a good job of disguising things, and that’s something that we have to do better on defense.”

The model will also be tweaked to ensure each individual’s strengths are being properly utilized, according to DeMeco Ryans.

“That’s what you do: As a coach, you put your players in the best position to make plays,” said Ryans. “With Todd taking over, I can see his mindset and what he’s doing, that’s the approach he’s taking. And I feel like that will be a good approach for us.”

Bowles is laid-back by all accounts so you won’t see, for instance, him head-butting one of his linebackers like Castillo did. But that doesn’t mean he won’t challenge the players.

“He’ll tell you, ‘You can either be satisfied just being paid, or you can go out here and try and win a Super Bowl. It’s up to you. I’m not going to get up here and try to motivate you to do that. That’s something you’ve got to do”” said Chaney. “That’s the kind of guy he is.”

 

Eagles Wake-Up Call: Babin Hints At Bowles Adjustment

Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Jason BabinThrough the first six games, Todd Bowles’ primary focus has been working with the defensive backs.

But this week, his first as the Eagles’ defensive coordinator, Bowles’ will likely spend some time trying to figure out a way to get the pass-rushers free. That’s going to be a key in the final 10 games. The secondary has played well, and while the defensive line has certainly affected games (everything’s connected, after all), Jim Washburn’s group has not been the dominant presence many were expecting when the season started.

So what’s the answer to jump-starting the pass-rush? During an interview with Mike Missanelli on 97.5 The Fanatic, defensive end Jason Babin was asked if more blitzing could be a possible solution.

“It definitely is something that could be sprinkled in at the appropriate times to help us out,” he said. “And if the quarterback doesn’t know where to throw the ball right away, and if he has to hold the ball for that extra half-second, that extra second, well that gives us that time to sack the quarterback.”

In other words, the changes we may see Sunday could have less to do with blitzing and more to do with coverages. After all, that’s Bowles’ area of expertise. What if when Matt Ryan tries to get rid of the ball quickly there’s an Eagles defender in place to pick him off? Perhaps he’d then think twice about unloading it, and the defensive line would have time to get to him.

“The way I think he’s going to approach it in such a manner where the quarterback’s going to hold the ball,” Babin said. “How he’s going to do that, it doesn’t really tie into what I do, but more so the back end, so it’ll be exciting to see. He knows what he’s doing. Trust me when I say he’s a professional.”

While there have been many reasons for the lack of sacks – teams max-protecting, quarterbacks getting rid of the ball quickly – Babin said he and his teammates are not looking to make excuses.

“We’re owning the fact that we haven’t gotten sacks,” he said. “We put that on ourselves and we’re going to own that like a man…

“We don’t sit around, ‘Oh well, they’re blocking us like this.’ We’re trying to find a solution constantly for that.”

In last year’s meeting, the Eagles sacked Ryan four times and only blitzed twice all game. Whether they can get to him Sunday could be the difference between 4-3 and 3-4 heading into New Orleans.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Think the Eagles drew the short straw this year playing so many teams coming off the bye? You’re not alone. The NFL actually agrees with you an extent. Great job by T-Mac of getting the league to comment on the scheduling.

The Birds made a roster move at center, signing Matt Tennant and releasing Steve Vallos.

From Brandon Graham’s playing time to LeSean McCoy missing Jason Peters, here are five Eagles numbers that matter.

Danny Watkins isn’t talking to the media, but some of his teammates recently commented on how the second-year guard is progressing.

This week’s expanded roundup of what the national media are saying about the Eagles.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Brian Westbrook offered his take on Watkins. From CSNPhilly.com:

“As an offensive lineman, you can’t go where the linebacker is at right now,” Westbrook said. “You have to understand the scheme first of all, to know where they’re going. You have to go where the linebackers or defensive backs are gonna be. And right now, because he hasn’t had a lot of time on the football field, he doesn’t know. He doesn’t understand the scheme very well, and he doesn’t know where these guys are gonna end up at, so therefore, he’s just guessing.”

The Cowboys were dealt a huge blow yesterday. Sean Lee, one of the top linebackers in the league, is done for the season because of a right toe injury, sources tell ESPNDallas.com. Writes Calvin Watkins:

The Cowboys coach’s one-game-at-a-time mantra is needed at Valley Ranch, and Lee is one of its main disciples.

The young inside linebacker buys into the message and spreads it across the locker room. His play on the field is contagious, too.

If you don’t believe it, check the numbers: He’s third on the team with eight quarterback pressures this season, is tied for second with two tackles for loss, has one of the four forced fumbles, one of the two interceptions and two pass breakups.

COMING UP

The Eagles return to Novacare to prep for Sunday’s game vs. the Falcons. We’ll have everything covered.

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

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