Before I get to today's post, just wanted to thank everyone who supported MTC in 2011. It was a great year for the blog, and I'm looking forward to more big things in 2012. So for anyone who's read, commented, e-mailed, Tweeted, etc., I appreciate it.
I went back and re-watched the Eagles' defensive performance against the Redskins, but obviously, the bigger picture is more relevant at this point. So you'll find player-by-player notes below, but in most cases, I'm recapping 2011 and spinning it forward to the offseason and 2012.
Jason Babin - He was relatively quiet against the Redskins, but finished the season with 18 sacks, third-most in the NFL. Babin's taken heat for not playing the run well, but the truth is, he did exactly what the Eagles paid him to do: rush the passer. Can he be an effective player if the Eagles get rid of Jim Washburn? That’s something to keep in mind as the Eagles make offseason decisions.
Trent Cole - He had a sack against the Redskins and finished strong with six sacks in his last five games. Cole pressured Rex Grossman several times on Sunday. He’s had double-digit sacks in four of the past five seasons, finishing with 11 in 14 games this year. He’s the Eagles’ best all-around defensive lineman and has shown he can be successful regardless of the system.
Cullen Jenkins - Jenkins played well against the Redskins, pressuring Grossman up the middle and forcing an incompletion on a third down in the first. He also made a couple good plays against the run, stopping Evan Royster after gains of 1 and 3 yards. Like Babin, the Eagles got what they paid for with Jenkins, who started 16 games for just the second time in his career. He’s been the voice of reason in the locker room and showed he could rush the passer and hold up against the run. Jenkins should remain a key veteran on this defense going forward.
Trevor Laws - With Mike Patterson out, Laws got the start. He dragged Royster down after a gain of 1 in the first, but that was really the only time I noticed him (not counting the late hit in the third). Laws, who was drafted two spots ahead of DeSean Jackson in 2008, is a free agent. The Eagles have decisions to make at defensive tackle. Patterson and Jenkins will be here. But beyond that, they’ll have to choose between Laws, Derek Landri, Antonio Dixon (a restricted free agent) and whoever else they add in the offseason.
Derek Landri - He was probably the Eagles’ best defensive player Sunday, and that’s no exaggeration. Landri dropped Royster after a 1-yard gain and Helu for a 3-yard loss. He blocked a field goal in the second and pressured Grossman up the middle throughout the game. If I’m the Eagles, I bring Landri back as part of the DT rotation, especially if Washburn is still coaching here.
Juqua Parker - This may have been his last game as a free agent. Parker lined up at both defensive tackle and defensive end Sunday. He’s had a good seven-year run with the Eagles, but turns 34 in May.
Darryl Tapp - He’s been effective when healthy this season. Tapp hustled to bring Santana Moss down after a 3-yard gain on a wide receiver screen. He and Parker hit Grossman to force an incompletion in the second. Tapp will likely remain a part of the defensive end rotation in 2012.
Philip Hunt - It’s tough to figure out how Hunt fits in, but he should get a chance to contribute going forward. The Eagles have Cole, Babin, Brandon Graham and Tapp under contract next season. Can Hunt beat Tapp or Graham out? Will the Eagles carry five defensive ends? What happens if they draft or sign additional pass rushers? Those are things the Eagles have to sort out this offseason. Hunt has definitely shown flashes of being able to rush the passer in limited action.
Jamar Chaney - He put a big hit on Royster, stopping him for no gain, but suffered an injury on the play in the first half. The Eagles definitely need to upgrade at linebacker. Chaney played on all three downs for much of the season, but then was taken off the field in nickel situations. I think he would benefit from playing alongside a difference-making linebacker. I don't see Chaney starting in the middle next season. And he was not good in the brief experiment at SAM, but could get another shot in that role in 2012.
Brian Rolle - Of the Eagles' three starting linebackers at the end of the season, Rolle is probably the most likely to keep his spot next season. He had ups and downs against the Redskins. Rolle came on a blitz and hit Grossman on the second-quarter interception by Nate Allen. He brought Darrel Young down after a 4-yard completion in the third and broke up a screen in the fourth. Rolle missed a tackle on Royster’s 28-yard run in the second and got blocked on Roy Helu's 47-yard touchdown in the third. If he develops, Rolle can probably be a good, starting-caliber linebacker.
Akeem Jordan - He closed out the season pretty well, but Jordan will likely be fighting for a roster spot in training camp. He’s stuck around for five seasons and is probably best suited for a backup/special teams role.
Casey Matthews - He got a chance to play middle linebacker in the base defense after Chaney went out. Matthews was a rookie and deserves time to develop, but he appears best suited for a specialized role in coverage. At no point this season did he look like a three-down linebacker who can effectively play the run.
Keenan Clayton - Clayton was the lone linebacker on the field in the Eagles’ dime package Sunday. Strange season and strange career so far for Clayton. He went from a backup to inactive to one of the team’s two nickel linebackers this season. Like Matthews, Clayton appears best suited for a specialized role that utilizes his coverage skills.
Nnamdi Asomugha - One myth this year is that the Eagles’ defense started playing well once Juan Castillo started to use Asomugha exclusively in press coverage at right cornerback. That’s simply not true. Asomugha has continued to play different roles on defense. On Sunday, in dime, he lined up like a linebacker alongside Clayton in the middle of the field. Last week, he was on Jason Witten quite a bit inside also. Asomugha had a disappointing season, but was far from the biggest problem on defense. It’s reasonable to assume he'll improve in 2012, although if the Eagles hire a new defensive coordinator, he’ll have to figure out how to use Asomugha.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie - He started at left cornerback once again. Rodgers-Cromartie got beat deep by Santana Moss in the first, but Moss dropped what was a pretty good pass by Grossman. Good coverage on Jabar Gaffney on a crossing pattern on third down in the first. Good timing to deflect the pass to Anthony Armstrong that was intercepted by Allen. Big hit on Gaffney on a second-quarter incompletion. Good tackle on Gaffney after a 3-yard gain in the third. If the Eagles trade Asante Samuel, Rodgers-Cromartie will likely start alongside Asomugha in 2012. He has shown he has great athletic skills, but needs to become a better tackler and a more consistent player.
Joselio Hanson - Hanson will likely continue to be the Eagles’ nickel back in 2012. He’s been OK this season. Hanson is probably the Eagles’ best tackling cornerback, although he's struggled at times against opposing slot receivers.
Brandon Hughes - He played in the Eagles' dime package Sunday. If the Eagles get rid of Samuel, they need to make sure either Hughes or Curtis Marsh is capable of starting in the event that a starter gets injured next season. Or they need to add another corrnerback this offseason.
Curtis Marsh - He entered the game late in the fourth quarter and broke up a pass. Marsh had a couple special-teams mishaps, but like the rest of the team's rising second-year players, this offseason will be important.
Nate Allen - His late-season performance could prove to be one of the more significant things that happened in the last month or so. Coming off injury, Allen's had an inconsistent season, but if he can build on the final few games, it will really help this defense in 2012. Good concentration by Allen on the interception in the second. He broke up a pass in the third and had good coverage on a deep ball in the fourth. Allen tackled Royster after a 2-yard gain in the fourth and broke up a pass intended for Moss. The one bad moment came when he got blocked by an offensive lineman on Helu's 47-yard touchdown in the third. Overall, though, an encouraging performance.
Jaiquawn Jarrett - While safety is a difficult position to evaluate off of the TV broadcast, Jarrett did not do much to distinguish himself Sunday, getting the start for Kurt Coleman. It looked like he lost Young on the 20-yard completion in the first off the fake end around. He got matched up with Logan Paulsen and was beat for 22 yards in the first. Jarrett missed a tackle on Royster’s 28-yard run in the second, and he was blocked by a wide receiver on Royster’s 7-yard run in the second. He had bracket coverage on Armstrong in the end zone, and Grossman’s pass hit him in the back. The Eagles had a huge hole in their zone in front of Jarrett in the second, allowing Moss to come down with a 20-yard grab. He nearly had an interception in the third, but the ball hit the ground, and Laws was called for a penalty on the play anyway. The Eagles need to make some crucial decisions at safety this offseason. Considering they’ve spent two second-round picks on Allen and Jarrett the past two seasons, it’s reasonable to assume both guys will be given chances to start. But the Eagles simply need to get more from this position in 2012. And that starts with developing Jarrett this offseason.