Here are some observations and notes after re-watching the Eagles’ 26-23 overtime loss to the Lions on Sunday:
ON SECOND THOUGHT
The same excuses were there following the game, but there didn’t seem to be as much passion behind the Eagles defensive line’s claims that they’re not getting sacks because opposing offenses are max protecting and quarterbacks are making quick throws.
The extra blockers and chip blockers were there on occasion, but Matthew Stafford was taking plenty of chances downfield. The line had its chances to pressure the Lions quarterback. It just didn’t get there. It was dominated by Detroit’s unspectacular, yet workmanlike, offensive line. The Lions’ defensive line, meanwhile, manhandled the Eagles’ o-line. You could see how they were physically superior.
After another game in which they failed to record a sack – their third straight – the Eagles are 30th in the NFL in sacks per pass play through Sunday’s games. Only Jacksonville (three sacks) and Oakland (four) have fewer sacks than the Birds’ seven. Both teams are 1-4.
Eight NFL players – J.J. Watt, Clay Matthews, Cameron Wake, John Abraham, Geno Atkins, Justin Houston, Robert Quinn, DeMarcusWare -- have more or as many sacks as the Eagles’ defensive lines six sacks.
The unit is on pace to record 16 sacks this season, 30 less than they did a year ago. More blockers or not, that is a notable reduction. What could have changed? It is possible the starters aged dramatically in one year? Andy Reid disputed the notion on Monday. But Jason Babin (32 years old), Cullen Jenkins (31), Trent Cole (30) and Derek Landri (29) have not played at the level they did in 2011.
Babin and Cole aren’t playing a greater number of snaps this season. Cole has been on the field for 67 percent of possible downs; Babin 66 percent. Last season, it was 69 and 65 percent for the defensive ends. Perhaps defensive line coach Jim Washburn needs to employ even more of rotation. Brandon Graham probably deserves more time. Darryl Tapp hasn’t done much and Phillip Hunt played only one snap on Sunday, however.
Some have suggested dressing second round rookie Vinny Curry for his first NFL game. Not being able to beat out Hunt at this point speaks volumes about where the end stands in terms of being ready.
REWIND THE TAPE
Like LeSean McCoy’s heroic fourth and one run last week, Michael Vick’s 70-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin will be lost in the aftermath of the “Bungle Before the Bye.” But it was a play of beauty and exemplified Vick’s continued improvement against the blitz. The Lions rushed seven defenders. The Eagles had six in to block. McCoy picked up the outside blitzer. The rest of the offensive line clogged the middle. Maclin ran an inside slant to his right out of the slot as Jason Avant ran outside on a switch route. The Lions got mixed up and two defensive backs went with Avant. Maclin was so wide open that he raised his hand to Vick. The quarterback spotted his receiver, made the throw in stride and Maclin had an unimpeded path to the end zone.
The Eagles had Maclin open again on a key third down later in the fourth quarter as he ran a similar short route. Maclin muscled safety Amari Spievey off the line and had separation. Vick flicked a sidearm pass to Maclin, but Ndamukong Suh batted it down. The throw was so low that the Lions defensive tackle barely raised his hand.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
1. A replay of the game confirmed initial analysis that right guard Danny Watkins struggled against Suh and Nick Fairley. Both Lions crushed Vick after Watkins made very poor blocking attempts. In the first quarter, Suh penetrated and knocked the quarterback to the ground. In the third, Vick threw a short slant but was clobbered by Fairley after he released the ball. The Lions rushed only four but Watkins did little to impede the second-year defensive tackle’s path. The second-year guard wasn’t much better as a run blocker. In the fourth quarter, Fairley blew by Watkins and tackled McCoy for a four-yard loss. Watkins had a few good moments in space – once pulling on a McCoy six-yard gain and getting out in front of the running back on a 17-yard screen.
2. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie allowed only three catches for 37 yards on six targets, per Pro Football Focus, but two of those receptions were killers. Both came with Rodgers-Cromartie in the slot lined up opposite Lions receiver Calvin Johnson. As he pointed out many times this off-season, Rodgers-Cromartie did not enjoy playing in the slot last season. Johnson, one of the best in the game, caught two 17-yard passes at critical junctures. The second came in overtime. Rodgers-Cromartie bit on a move inside and slipped as Johnson pivoted outside. After Johnson made the grab and ran upfield, Rodgers-Cromartie did not appear to be giving a full effort in pursuit. The cornerback did have a few breakups, including a strong one on third down and 15 in the middle of the fourth.
3. What’s wrong with Trent Cole? The end has been one of the Eagles’ most consistent players on defense over the last half decade, and yet he’s looked very ordinary this season. Cole has only 1-1/2 sacks and 14 tackles. He averaged 10-1/2 sacks a season from 2006-11. He’s projected to finish with only four this year. Cole had no tackles against the Lions. He helped linebacker DeMeco Ryans drop Lions running back Joique Bell on third down and two in the second quarter, but was not credited with a stop. Other than that he did very little. Cole bit on Nate Burleson’s 16-yard end around in the fourth and was nowhere to be seen when Stafford ran a boot leg to his side for a one-yard touchdown on that same drive.
-- The Eagles are 30th in NFL with just 4.51 yards a play on first down. On Sunday, they averaged just 3.46 yards a play with run-pass ratio of 10-25 on first down.
THIS AND THAT
-- When the Eagles got the ball back with three minutes and 32 seconds left and their lead trimmed to three, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg called for a short pass to McCoy on first down. The play went left and McCoy ran around the end down the sideline. He stepped out of bounds, however, before he fell to the turf. McCoy could be heard on the telecast yelling at the officials to mark him in bounds so that the clock would run. It wasn’t a heady play from the running back.
-- There were very few running lanes on Sunday, but Bryce Brown has done very little as McCoy’s backup this season. He has 19 carries for 51 yards (2.7 avg.).
-- After the game, safety Nate Allen mentioned how he should have pulled himself out of the game after he strained his hamstring early in the fourth quarter. A 20-yard completion to Johnson made it clear why he thought so. The Eagles were in a zone defense when the Lions faced second and 20 on the Birds 21. Johnson ran a short crossing pattern where it was Allen’s responsibility to pick up the receiver. Allen seemed to be running with a lag and when he tried to make a shoestring tackle, Johnson skipped out of it. Colt Anderson replaced Allen on the next play and would finish the game. He made several mistakes.
-- It’s difficult to quantify how much defensive tackle Fletcher Cox’s expulsion affected the defense, but after he left the Lions rushed six times for 35 yards in the fourth quarter. Most of the runs were up the middle.
Many are wondering if Reid will make changes to his coaching staff or at quarterback during the bye. It’s more likely he’ll change the personnel on the field in front of Vick. The problem with shuffling the offensive line is that the Eagles don’t exactly have much depth there. That’s how Dallas Reynolds and Demetress Bell came to start at center and left tackle in the first place.
But here are the Eagles options: They could call King Dunlap back up and bench Bell at left tackle. They could try and see if rookie Dennis Kelly has what it takes to play on the left flank. At center, they could promote Steve Vallos. There isn’t an obvious replacement at right guard for Watkins, but maybe Reynolds would fare better there. Dunlap has started at guard before.
Some have suggested moving Todd Herremans back to left guard, but that would make zero sense. Herremans hasn’t played as well as he did last season, but he’s still the best of the bunch and Reid needs his best blocker to protect Vick’s blindside at right tackle.
Whatever moves Reid makes, there aren’t likely to drastically improve a unit that may be the worst in the coach’s 14 years.