Eagles Further Review: A Brasher, bolder defensive line
Andy Reid said Friday it was "hindsight" to suggest he could have fixed his defense earlier,and maybe saved the Eagles' season, by firing defensive-line coach Jim Washburn and scuttling the wide-nine before he eventually did so, on Dec. 3.
Reid didn't say it was "wrong." He just said it was "hindsight."
Then Reid talked about how, with the defensive line in a normal formation, and the linemen not blindly making a beeline for the quarterback, life is much easier for the safeties and even the corners.
"It does look different," Reid said of the Eagles' defense, which has eight sacks in two games under new defensive-line coach Tommy Brasher, and has held opposing quarterbacks under an 80 passer rating in both games, after allowing at least a 120 rating 6 weeks in a row.
"Tommy has done a nice job there."
Reviewing the game Friday, I noticed Cullen Jenkins forced an Andy Dalton fumble on a play where he started out inside but then skirted the Bengals' protection and came at Dalton from the outside. Washburn's front never featured stunts or games; d-linemen just tried to move in a straight line. I would think this would be harder to block.
"It gets better as it goes. We tweak it and we work at it," defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said Thursday night. I had asked Bowles to respond to fans who concluded that scrapping the wide-nine fixed the defense.
Bowles said 2010 first-round pick Brandon Graham was playing the way he played at Michigan -not thinking too much. You have to wonder how much of that has to do with Graham knowing he's the starter now, knowing he'll get snaps, get into a rhythm. Brasher is rotating less than Washburn did; Graham played 52 snaps Thursday, up from 47 in Tampa and 31 in Dallas, Washburn's last game.
That Colt Anderson could play safety? Certainly not the coaching staff that kept insisting it had nobody better to send out there, week after week. Andy Reid indicated Friday that Anderson has earned a shot at starting. Kurt Coleman is expected back from his sternum bruise by the next game, Dec. 23. It will be interesting to see if Anderson gets a shot at Coleman's job, or that of Nate Allen, who also has not covered himself in glory.
The ridiculous cascade of turnovers, there's not much more to say about that. You saw it.
In reviewing Thursday night's loss, I was more interested in going through the two second-quarter red-zone sequences, when the Eagles could have really taken charge of the game by scoring touchdowns after Cincinnati turnovers, instead of settling for field goals.
The most egregious part was that they managed first-and-goalat the 3 the first time, at the 2 the other. The clock was a big factor in the second drive, the final seconds of the half slipping away.
That wasn't the case on the first sequence, which saw the Eagles march from the Bengals' 29 to the 3, given a first down by a stupid Adam Jones penalty for head-butting Riley Cooper. So what did they do with their good fortune?
Shovel pass to Bryce Brown in which Brown never seemed to look back for the ball and it bounced off him. Incomplete to Clay Harbor, who was double-covered. Incomplete, behind Harbor in the end zone, might have been to Jeremy Maclin, either way, not real close to either. Bring in the field-goal unit.
On the second sequence, just 39 seconds remained after Brown ran a yard for a first down at the 2. He might have gotten the first down on the previous snap, by the way, but the spot was short and no booth challenge was initiated. (Teams can't challenge inside 2 minutes.) So, 39 seconds left, first-and-goal from the 2, center Dallas Reynolds drags the ball forward, illegal snap,now you're on the 7. Pass to Harbor to the 1, last timeout used with 28 ticks left.
Then the Eagles called a tackle eligible pass to reserve center Matt Tennant. The idea on that play is that the lineman blocks somebody, then comes free. Tennant didn't come free for long; it looked like linebacker Rey Maualuga was covering Harbor behind Tennant, saw what was unfolding and alertly switched to Tennant just as Nick Foles released the ball. Tennant could have made the catch as he was hit, but again, on that play, you want the lineman uncovered in the end zone, and Tennant wasn't.
The next call was the rollout to Maclin that pretty much the whole world has seen now, thanks to the Tampa game. The Bengals were all over it and Foles, seeming maybe almost too mindful of the sack he couldn't take and still get three points, threw the ball out of bounds virtually as he stepped away from center.
So that's six snaps after getting a first down at the 3 or the 2, none of them a run, netting nothing that even came close to resembling a touchdown.
- Why can't the Eagles' special teams coaches get 11 guys lined up regularly without all the drama? Again and again, the Eagles are in formation, ball's about to be snapped, and somebody starts windmilling his arms toward the sideline. If the coaches can't be expected to count, for some reason, then can't you institute a "buddy" system? "Joe, you are supposed to have 75 on one side of you and 72 on the other side. You look forboth those guys as you leave the sideline. If you don't see 'em right away, start yelling." Doesn't seem like rocket science.
- Left guard Evan Mathis is fighting the good fight this year, over and over. Bad ankle and all, Mathis did a solid job on Geno Atkins, which made the turnovers all the more frustrating. My scenario for the Eagles getting blown out was the o-line getting blown up. Really didn't happen, except on some running plays. Offense should have been more productive.
- On that shovel pass, Bryce Brown reacted so slowly you had to wonder if he'd been hit with a shovel before the snap.