In Tuesday’s Eagles rewind I looked at the team’s failure to convert on crucial third-down chances after the disastrous fumble Sunday.
As usual, though, there were many notes that didn't fit into the print version of the story. I’m hoping to get to a few of them here, including some more thoughts on those third down mistakes, and some positive impressions by the run defense and David Akers.
First though, the question of the week: what was Asante Samuel, the Eagles Pro Bowl cornerback, doing on Nate Washington while Britt was going crazy on the opposite side of the field?
The Eagles explanation to the press, essentially, is this: the defense plays a system in which the corners are assigned specifically to the right or left side. The best cover man plays on the defense’s left (offense’s right), because that’s where a right-handed quarterback naturally looks first when he drops back. That means the corner there – in this case Samuel -- needs to be good enough to be ready right away while the guy on the opposite side has a beat or two to adjust. This is what they practice every week, so switching it up mid-game presents some real challenges.
“In the middle of the game, you just don’t start flopping guys around,” Andy Reid said. “It’s not as easy just to go say ‘you’re playing man coverage over here.’ That’s not how you do it. There are a lot of different schemes involved, so it’s a tough thing to do.”
But here are two big questions to ponder.
First: doesn’t a scheme this rigid essentially allow the offense to dictate match ups to the D? Quality cover cornerbacks are one of the most valuable assets in the NFL. But if Samuel is fixed on the left side, it would seem pretty easy for, say, the Colts and Texans to line up Reggie Wayne and Andre Johnson away from him, ensuring that the Eagles highly skilled Pro Bowler doesn’t get close to the most dangerous receivers on the field. That would leave the Eagles best coverage man on second tier receivers.
We’ve certainly seen other teams take a different approach, and lock their best corners on the best opposing receiver, wherever he lines up.
Second: even if you believe deeply in your scheme – and coaches need to have faith in themselves and their players to have success -- what did the Eagles have to lose once it became clear Britt was killing them? If the secondary is uncomfortable and gives up a big play – well, wasn’t that what was going on anyway?
Britt kept scoring while the Eagles best cover corner held the immortal Nate Washington to one catch.
Third Down Chances
The Eagles went 0 for 4 on third down after the fumble at the Titans’ three-yard line. What makes that so problematic was that no matter how bad the turnover, the Eagles were still in position to win the game. Even after the Titans turned the fumble into a field goal, the Eagles responded with a three points of their own and were up 19-10 with 13:26 to go. Even after Britt went for an 80 yard score, the Eagles were still winning 19-17, but they gave the ball back in a one minute, seven second three-and-out. Even after the Titans took a 20-19 lead, the game was there for the taking.
The offense’s inability to move the ball prevented them from stopping the bleeding and giving the defense a breather in a game that was still within reach. The offense similarly couldn’t drive late against the 49ers to eat up the clock, and it almost cost them there. Sunday it really hurt.
There are few positives after a game like that, but the Eagles deserve credit for holding the dangerous Chris Johnson to 66 yards on 24 carries. If you knew that stat line before the game, you would be pretty confident of an Eagles win.
Many players had a role in that showing, including Stewart Bradley and Ernie Sims, who was an active tackler, Trent Cole – whose persistence is so reliable it’s taken for granted -- Mike Patterson, who plugged up the middle and Nate Allen who several times helped prevent Johnson from getting outside the Eagles containment.
Two players stand out: Antonio Dixon and Moise Fokou, who each have helped solidify the run defense since entering the starting line ups. Fokou had four tackles and an assist. Dixon has been stunningly good. He had six tackles, an assist, a sack and two tackles for a loss and was strong at the point of attack. The 6-3 322-pound Dixon is the team’s biggest defensive lineman, 18 pounds heavier than the man he has replaced, Brodrick Bunkley. His impact is a positive for the Eagles, but raises questions about their preference for smaller tackles.
Lost in the many stories of Sunday’s game was David Akers, who bounced back from a bad showing against Atlanta to hit all four of his field goal tries, including two from 46 yards out. Akers stood up and faced reporters after the Falcons game, but got little credit on Sunday. He deserved some.
Two other guys who stood up after bad days were Ellis Hobbs and Mike McGlynn. As Paul Domowitch pointed out, they were both pros about their mistakes, answering all the questions that could be asked. Criticize their play if you want, but give them respect for being big about it.