Before we get started, some really good stuff from the Inquirer and Daily News in our Eagles section today.
Among the topics is Sean McDermott's constant shuffling of personnel on defense.
I wanted to take a look at just how much he used each player last week. On Tuesday, we went player-by-player on how each guy performed. But this is a more detailed look of number of snaps, comparisons to the previous week and a look ahead at where they go from here.
This group got no pressure on Tony Romo Sunday and was gashed in the running game. That being said, it's the most stable unit on defense.
The Eagles' base defense features Juqua Parker, Mike Patterson, Brodrick Bunkley and Trent Cole. But all four were replaced at various points on Sunday.
McDermott played nine linemen in all. In addition to the above four, Chris Clemons, Darren Howard, Victor Abiamiri, Antonio Dixon and Jason Babin all got on the field.
But how many plays for each? Here's the breakdown:
Howard - 23
Abiamiri - 20
Babin - 17
Dixon - 14
Clemons - 9
We did the same breakdown the previous week against the Broncos. It's interesting to note that all five of the above linemen played as much or more than they did against Denver.
In other words, we have another example that McDermott is not going to sit back and play the same guys if things aren't working. But clearly on Sunday, none of these combinations were working (you'll notice that as a running theme in this post). I would expect a similar rotation on Saturday night. Of the three positional groupins we look at, this is the one where changing personnel isn't really an option.
This is the area that has been in focus all season. Here's how the number of snaps broke down on Sunday:
Will Witherspoon - 67
Moise Fokou - 37
Akeem Jordan - 29
Jeremiah Trotter - 29
Tracy White - 9
Witherspoon always plays the most snaps, so no surprise there.
Fokou played more than he did the previous week against Denver, but that was probably just a case of the Eagles' going with their base package more often. He was the strong-side linebacker for the whole game, and Chris Gocong did not get on the field at all. The beat guys reported yesterday that Gocong was seeing some time with the first team in practice. In my opinion, Gocong is not an upgrade in terms of overall play. He is less likely to be whistled for penalties characteristic of a rookie, but Gocong had been ineffective all season. I think you take your chances with Fokou at this point.
The other issue, of course, is the middle. As I mentioned earlier this week, Jordan played 28 of 38 snaps in the first half, but he was on the field just once in the second half. The reason? Trotter. The Axe-Man played quite possibly his best half of the season and was probably the single biggest factor in the defensive improvement.
It's important to note that these things change on a weekly basis. Against Denver, Jordan saw every snap with the base defense in the second half, and Trotter was benched. Jordan played quite well in that game.
Here's how the linebacker combinations break down:
Trotter, Witherspoon and Fokou - 22
Jordan, Witherspoon and Fokou - 15
Jordan and Witherspoon - 14
Tracy White and Witherspoon - 9
Trotter and Witherspoon - 7
Notice the Trotter and Witherspoon combination. Granted, it was in the second half when the Cowboys had a big lead, but Trotter stayed on the field even when the Eagles brought in Joselio Hanson as their fifth defensive back.
Also, we had previously seen McDermott use Dimitri Patterson as a sixth DB with Witherspoon as the lone LB. That did not happen against Dallas.
The Eagles went with their base defense of three linebackers on 55 percent of the snaps, compared to 41 percent the previous week.
So what do they do this week? I think it's a safe bet that you'll see Trotter in the game more early. Remember, the Eagles stopped the Cowboys' run game in the first meeting. They didn't stop Tony Romo in either meeting. Stopping Marion Barber, Felix Jones and company early on could give McDermott some flexibility with how he schemes the rest of the game.
Might that mean Trotter costing the Eagles in coverage? Yes. But keep in mind that it's not as if the Eagles had bottled up Jason Witten early in the game. He had three catches for 24 yards and a touchdown when Trotter was on the sideline. He had three catches for 52 yards with Trotter on the field, but one of those was Quintin Mikell getting beat on a 16-yard gain. I'm not saying Trotter's going to be good in coverage. But McDermott's job is to look at the whole picture. There is no perfect solution with the personnel.
The cornerbacks are set. Not much to discuss there. Same for strong safety.
Free safety, of course, is another matter. For the second straight week, it was mostly Macho Harris. The rookie played 60 snaps, compared to just seven for Sean Jones. What we know is that neither guy (and you can throw Quintin Demps in there) has established himself as a playmaker all season.
Jones is better in run support so it's possible you'll see a little more of him, especially early in the game.
Beyond that, there's not a whole lot to discuss. Sheldon Brown, Asante Samuel and Mikell all need to play better than they did last week. Especially if McDermott is going to blitz more.
So, again, what does this all mean?
If you're expecting the defense to consistently slow down Romo and the Dallas offense, you're going to be disappointed Saturday. Two keys for the D:
1. Limit the Cowboys to field goals in the red zone.
2. Create turnovers.
Those are the factors that will determine success for McDermott's group on Saturday. As you can probably tell by my analysis, I think the offense is going to have to win this game for the Eagles. A breakdown of that side of the ball is coming later today or tomorrow.