After seemingly playing “two-hand” touch football last week against the conference rival Giants, the Eagles defense will look to rebound this week. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. A team filled of collegiate level safeties and linebackers could have tackled better in their 29-16 loss to the G-Men.
At this point the Birds are simply looking for a cast that can get people on the ground. The whole accumulation of free agents or “Dream Team” campaign was something highly talked about in the offseason, but as we have seen early on the core of acquisitions have not yet found a grasp of Juan Castillo’s defensive concepts.
Coming into this weekend the Eagles will take on a more inferior team in the San Francisco 49ers. Although boasting a 2-1 record, the 49ers are a team that the Eagles are expected to beat. Their primary offensive threat, running back Frank Gore is having a down year thus far, running the ball for just around 2.7 yards per carry. He’s nursing an ankle injury and won’t be full strength for the Birds. The last thing that the Eagles want to do is continue to expose the holes in the middle of this defense and give former 1,000 yard rusher Gore gaps to run right through.
With Gore ailing, Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon could get the chance to carry the football quite a bit. Regardless of Gore’s health, I don’t see head coach Jim Harbaugh and the Niners getting away from their running game.
The biggest offensive threat the Birds will have to worry about is playmaking tight end Vernon Davis who may be the best player at his position in the league. He’s coming off a 100-yd game against the Bengals. Davis will look to exploit the Bird’s linebacking and safeties core that has looked lost out there all season. Ultimately, this game will be a true test for the defense for they have struggled mightily giving up major yards to tight ends and running backs.
We saw in Week 1 how Stephen Jackson had fans wetting themselves as he ran through the newly revamped secondary for an opening drive rushing TD. Cadillac Williams was no slouch in the game either as he went on to rush for 91 yards after Jackson suffered a leg injury. In week two we saw tight end Tony Gonzalez have a field day in the slot position as he ran through the inexperience that makes up the middle on his way to two touchdowns and 82 yards receiving.
Niners quarterback Alex Smith is mediocre at best. Smith is a very good athlete, who is capable of moving in the pocket to buy time or taking off on a scramble for yardage. Unfortunately for San Francisco, Smith is unable to make the decisions and throws in the passing game to be consistent.
His wide receivers are also nothing to write home about. Wide receiver Michael Crabtree has great size and hands, but he lacks speed, plus he still is hampered by a foot injury. I don’t see the Niners beating the Birds through the air, if they can keep Davis under control.
The Eagles see themselves in a situation where they are making a number of lineup changes which could in turn lead to more disorganization in coverage. At this point it looks like Castillo is picking the linebacking assignments out of a hat. Having Jamar Chaney start at middle linebacker last week and having him take all the play calls did not turn out to be a factor in slowing down the Giants from putting up 29 points.
A lot of the Giants offensive success can be attributed to the aforementioned poor tackling but there’s no excuse for Ahmad Bradshaw to gain first down after first down. Hopefully by inserting rookie linebacker Brian Rolle into the starting lineup will be the answer this week. We have a young linebacker here, who has not played that many downs up to this point but has shown some success in the nickel package which could be utilized heavily this weekend versus the 49ers.
Aside from the disorder in the linebacking unit, a lot of questions have been swirling around the utilization of cornerback Nhamdi Asomugha. Questions such as: Is Asomugha being placed in packages that can showcase all the talent that he brings to this team? Against the Giants, we saw him playing a lot of zone coverage; hopefully Castillo will let him do what he does best and that’s move up into press technique and blanket a wide out as he comes off the line of scrimmage.
The Eagles brought the Pro-Bowl corner to the team in order to lockdown the number one wide receivers in one-on-one coverage, and we need to seem him used in that fashion. Although we did see the former Raider get burned on a few plays made by Giants receiver Victor Cruz, Asomugha still has not yet been put in a situation that fits his skillset.
So far Castillo and Asomugha haven’t be able to work together to consistently stop the opposition from getting into the end zone. There seems to be a lack of communication between Castillo and the players on the field, or maybe the players on the field just don’t fit into what the former offensive line coach is trying to have them do.
“At the end of the day we have to do whatever it takes for this team to win,” Castillo said.
Working on fundamentals and developing into a “good” defensive team is a point of emphasis for rebuilding organizations. For the Eagles there time is now, and waiting until even midway through the season will be too late to finally get things going for a team that plans to make a trip to the Super Bowl.