Eagles Film Study: Megatron feasts on late switch
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Nnamdi Asomugha said the Eagles changed their defensive approach in the fateful fourth-quarter meltdown against Detroit. Andy Reid says, no, the defense played the same way.
So who’s right?
Actually, both are right. The Eagles did use “a mixture” (Reid’s words) of coverages in Sunday’s 26-23 loss to Detroit. But Asomugha is right in saying the coaches tried some new things late in the game that, frankly, didn’t work.
Reid said the Eagles had double coverage on Lions receiver Calvin Johnson most of the game. He is right about that. They did keep a safety over the top to take away the threat of the big play.
But for most of the first three quarters, the Eagles had Asomugha playing Johnson tight at the line. The lanky Asomugha covered the 6-5 Johnson underneath, while either Kurt Coleman or Nate Allen provided a double team. They did mix it up, moving defenders in and out. It worked as Johnson managed one catch for 28 yards the first three quarters.
In the fourth quarter and overtime, however, the Eagles did some different things. They went to a dime defense, replacing linebacker Mychal Kendricks with Brandon Hughes. When they switched, they went to a zone scheme in which players other than Asomugha were covering Johnson. It proved to be a mistake. Johnson had five catches for 107 yards in the final 17 minutes.
Asomugha could not understand why the coaches got away from something that was working. He didn’t criticize defensive coordinator Juan Castillo directly, but it was clear he didn’t agree with the strategy. As they studied the tape, NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger and former Eagles star Brian Westbrook sided with Asomugha.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s offense or defense, if you’re having success, you should stay with what you’re doing,” Westbrook said. “When (the Eagles) changed, they made it easier for Detroit to get the ball to their best player.”
“I hear what Andy is saying about mixing things up,” Baldinger said, “but I think in this case by mixing things up they weakened themselves and that’s not what you’re trying to accomplish.”
It began less than two minutes into the fourth quarter, Asomugha was covering Johnson and the big man beat him for a 37-yard reception. Quarterback Matthew Stafford made a great back-shoulder throw and Johnson took it away from Asomugha, who was turning the wrong way. OK, that one is on Asomugha.
But five plays later, the Eagles were in their dime defense. Instead of covering Johnson, Asomugha was assigned to cover the outside zone. When the ball was snapped, Johnson ran a slant across the middle. Allen had the coverage but he wasn’t within five yards of Johnson when he made the catch. Johnson raced 20 yards to the one-yard line, setting up Stafford’s bootleg touchdown.
Just inside the two-minute warning, Johnson was lined up in the slot. The Eagles had Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie covering him. Johnson beat DRC off the line and made the catch for a 17-yard gain.
Two plays later, Asomugha was on Johnson but let him go. “It looks like Nnamdi is peeking in the backfield,” Baldinger said. “It looks like he thinks it is a run.” That left Johnson open and he made a great toe-tapping catch along the sideline for a 16-yard gain. That put the Lions in range for a game-tying field goal.
In overtime, with the Lions facing a 1st-and-20, the Eagles called a safety blitz. With Coleman rushing, Rodgers-Cromartie was one-on-one with Johnson in the slot. Johnson ran a pivot drive and DRC stumbled trying to stay with him. The Lion receiver was open for an easy 17-yard catch, setting up the winning Jason Hanson field goal.
That’s what Asomugha was questioning: If something is working, why go away from it? It is one thing to mix it up as Reid suggested. But it is another to call for something that has less chance of success. That appears to be the case here.
Point by point …
• The Eagles have not played much dime. For most of the season, they have kept Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans on the field. Replacing Kendricks with Hughes and going to a soft zone just resulted in confusion.
• When Allen left with a hamstring strain, the Eagles were forced to play Colt Anderson, a special teamer just off the injured list, at safety and Curtis Marsh at corner. With so much inexperience on the field, why not stick with the basics?
• The Eagles saw last season that Rodgers-Cromartie is not good covering the slot. So why ask him to do it, especially against someone like Calvin Johnson?
• Asomugha is much better in press coverage than zone where he often appears lost. So when he is playing well, which he was Sunday, why put him in a zone scheme, especially at crunch time?
“They better use the bye week to straighten this out,” Baldinger said, “because the Atlanta Falcons (their next opponent) have a better passing attack than the Lions. They don’t have Calvin Johnson, but they might have the best threesome (Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez) in the league.”
NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger, former Pro Bowler Brian Westbrook and Ray Didinger break down every game on “Eagles Extra” on Comcast SportsNet.