Tuesday, February 9, 2016

How the Eagles tried to cover Tony Gonzalez

The tale of the Eagles' defense and its inability to cover opposing tight ends has been told for years around these parts.

How the Eagles tried to cover Tony Gonzalez

Jamar Chaney (left) was the primary defender on the Falcons´ Tony Gonzalez. (Ron Cortes / Staff Photographer)
Jamar Chaney (left) was the primary defender on the Falcons' Tony Gonzalez. (Ron Cortes / Staff Photographer)

The tale of the Eagles' defense and its inability to cover opposing tight ends has been told for years around these parts.

So Tony Gonzalez's performance Sunday night was really just another chapter. Maybe not even another chapter. Maybe just another page.

Gonzalez was by far the Falcons' most effective receiver. He had seven catches for 83 yards and two touchdowns on nine targets. No other Falcons receiver had more than three catches or 32 yards (and that was running back Michael Turner).

Through two weeks, the Eagles look like they've clearly upgraded their pass rush and their cover corners, but the tight end issue still lingers.

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I went back and looked at how the Eagles tried to cover Gonzalez on Sunday.

By my count, he went out into pass routes 26 times. I charted whose responsibility Gonzalez was on each of those plays. Most times, that was pretty easy. In some cases, the Eagles were in zone, but it was clear who should have been on Gonzalez when Matt Ryan released the ball. In other cases, there were multiple defenders or I couldn't tell, so I just noted that.

Here's the breakdown:

Player No. of plays on Gonzalez
Chaney 12
Matthews 5
Page 3
Coleman 3
Fokou 1

As you can see, Chaney was the primary defender on Gonzalez. From what Juan Castillo said in the preseason, part of the reason the Eagles moved Chaney to the SAM position was because they felt he could handle a variety of assignments like covering Gonzalez.

After I watched the game yesterday, I thought Page was on Gonzalez a lot. But that really wasn't the case. He just happened to be on Gonzalez on some big plays.

Also note that on one play, the Eagles appeared to be in a zone coverage, and I simply could not tell who was on Gonzalez, but the ball was not thrown in his direction.

On another play, Ryan hit Gonzalez for a 14-yard gain. The Eagles were in zone, and he found space between Chaney and Page, but I did not count that in the chart above.

Here's a look at the numbers when each defender was targeted:

  Comp. Att. Yds. TD
Chaney 3 4 26 1
Page 2 2 30 1
Coleman 1 2 13 0

Both Chaney and Page gave up touchdowns. Chaney actually had pretty good coverage on his, but Gonzalez made a great play.

Page simply could not stick with Gonzalez on the 17-yard score.

Both players also gave up big third-down conversions to Gonzalez. On the Falcons' first 80-yard touchdown drive in the second half, Gonzalez beat Page for 13 yards on 3rd-and-12.

On the second 80-yard touchdown drive, Chaney gave up a 7-yard completion on 3rd-and-4.

As for Coleman, it looked like he blew the coverage on Gonzalez's 13-yard gain in the first, but again, going off TV tape, there's certainly a little bit of guesswork involved.

The Eagles came up with an interception on one play intended for Gonzalez. Ryan threw in Gonzalez's direction when Chaney was covering him, but Nnamdi Asomugha made a good read and picked it off. Asomugha was not covering Gonzalez on the play. He was on the slot receiver.

Last year, Eagles opponents targeted the tight end on 26 percent of their passes, according to Football Outsiders. That was the highest percentage in the league. Looking at the schedule, the Birds will face many more good tight ends this season, like Vernon Davis and Jason Witten, to name a couple.

Castillo will have to go back to the drawing board to figure out what the defense's plan will be to cover them in the coming weeks.

If you missed it earlier, I posted Man Up on the defense.

You can follow me on Twitter or become a fan of Moving the Chains on Facebook.

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About this blog
Sheil Kapadia is in his fifth season writing about the Eagles and the NFL for philly.com. His earliest memories as a sports fan include several trips to Veterans Stadium with his Dad. He's not a beat writer or an Insider, but is here to discuss the NFL 365 days a year. E-mail him at skapadia@philly.com or by clicking here

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