Paul Domowitch: Trotter might be answer for Dallas' run

Jeremiah Trotter beefed up defense in place of Akeem Jordan.
Jeremiah Trotter beefed up defense in place of Akeem Jordan.
Posted: January 08, 2010

YOU DON'T have to be a gridiron Einstein to know that the Eagles have to neutralize the Cowboys' running game to have any hope of winning their wild-card battle.

"Every game, you've got to stop the run so you can play the pass," middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said. "If not, they're just going to keep running on you."

That's pretty much what the Cowboys did last week. They ran the ball 32 times for 179 yards in their 24-0 win over the Eagles. Controlled the ball for 40 1/2 minutes. No team has run for more yards against the Eagles this season and no team has racked up a more lopsided time-of-possession advantage against them.

Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott knows he has to find a way to put a muzzle on Marion Barber and Felix Jones, knows he has to put the players on the field who give him the best chance of doing that.

Which brings us to Trotter. The Eagles clearly were much more effective stopping the run with Trotter at the middle-linebacker position in their base defense last week, rather than 230-pound Akeem Jordan.

In the first three quarters of the game, the Cowboys ran the ball nine times for 83 yards against the Eagles' base defense with Jordan at MIKE. That included three runs for 59 yards by Marion Barber on their first scoring drive.

With Trotter at MIKE during that same period, the Cowboys rushed for 68 yards on 10 carries. But 49 of those yards came on Jones' third-quarter touchdown run away from Trotter. Their other nine rushing attempts in the first three quarters with Trotter on the field produced just 19 yards.

The dilemma for McDermott is that while the Eagles are stronger against the run when Trotter is the man in the middle, they also are more susceptible to the pass because of his lack of speed.

"That's the slippery slope you're looking at there, understanding our players and what they bring to the table," McDermott said earlier this week. "Trotter is a heck of a competitor. I think we all noticed a difference when he was in the game the other night. He plays with great intensity. We just have to make sure that we scheme around that going into this weekend."

Trotter takes umbrage with suggestions that he's a liability against the pass. When a reporter makes mention of a 25-yard catch-and-run by tight end Jason Witten late in the third quarter in which Trotter was giving chase, he quickly pointed out that Witten wasn't even his responsibility on the play.

"I was helping out," he said. "I was just trying to hold it off until I got help. Considering that I didn't get any help, I thought I did a pretty good job of chasing him down [and forcing him out of bounds].

"But I expect that. If it were anybody else, they would have said Witten made a great play. But because it's me, they say, 'Oh, it's not his strong point.' But that's OK. I'll take the blame for it. I don't mind the critics, man. But I can play the pass. I know I can. I've just got to go out and do a good job. I was out there a lot Sunday and that wasn't the only time they passed the ball on us."

Slowing down Witten

The Eagles didn't do a very good job on Witten Sunday. He had six catches for 76 yards and a touchdown. He repeatedly got clean releases off the line of scrimmage. On the aforementioned 25-yard reception, strongside linebacker Moise Fokou was supposed to jam him and completely whiffed, which is just one reason linebacker-in-exile Chris Gocong was taking practice snaps at SAM with Fokou this week.

"We wanted to jam him more than we did and that didn't get done," McDermott said. "That's something we've looked at this week. You're talking about a Pro Bowl tight end, and really, we have to jam him at the line as much as we can and take him out of his routes and the timing of his routes with the quarterback. We're going to have a better plan going into this week to get that done."

More numbers

* DeSean Jackson had the highest percentage of first-down receptions on the Eagles this season. Forty-one of his 63 catches (65.1 percent) went for first downs. Jason Avant was second. Twenty-six of his 41 catches (63.4) went for first downs.

* The Eagles had five receivers catch 40 or more passes this season - Brent Celek (76), DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin (55), Jason Avant and running back LeSean McCoy (40). It's the third time in the Andy Reid era they've had five players with 40 or more catches in a season. It also happened in 2005 and '02.

* Donovan McNabb has completed 60-plus percent of his passes in just one of his last 13 games against the Cowboys. His completion percentage in those 13 games: .556.

* The Lions have had nine straight losing seasons.

Around the league

* The one consolation to losing to the Cowboys Sunday was a more favorable schedule - or at least what looks like a more favorable schedule right now - next season. The combined '09 won-lost record of the Eagles' 16 opponents next year is 133-123 (.519). The Cowboys' is 139-117 (.543). The Eagles have five games against playoff teams next season, but just one - vs. the Cowboys - is on the road. The Cowboys have seven games against playoff teams and five of them are on the road. The Eagles play seven games against teams that finished with winning records this season, but just one - the Cowboys - is on the road. The Cowboys have eight games against teams with winning records, six on the road.

* The Cleveland Plain Dealer has reported that Eagles general manager Tom Heckert canceled a scheduled interview for the Seattle Seahawks' vacant GM job a day after interviewing with the Browns' new president, Mike Holmgren, for their vacant GM job. That has led to speculation that Heckert soon will be offered the Browns' GM job. The Browns also are scheduled to interview Seahawks director of pro personnel Will Lewis this week. Lewis is an African-American, which would fulfill the Rooney Rule requirement of interviewing a minority for head-coaching and front-office positions. If Heckert wants the job, it's probably his. Not only do he and Holmgren share the same agent (Bob LaMonte), but Heckert's current boss, Andy Reid, is one of Holmgren's good buds. My only question is, why would Heckert want the Browns' job? He's not going to have final say in personnel issues in Cleveland. Holmgren will have that, just as Dolphins president Bill Parcells does in Miami. I'm also curious why the Eagles would be willing to let him make a lateral move.

2-minute drill

FROM THE LIP:

* "Well, the last 11 games, we only won three and lost eight." - Giants defensive end Justin Tuck, when asked how his team managed to finish 8-8 after a 5-0 start.

* "I'm disappointed in everything. I'm unhappy at everybody. It is just not acceptable to perform like that. There are 8-8 seasons and there are 8-8 seasons. This one felt a lot more like 2-14 to me." - Giants owner John Mara, after Sunday's 44-7 loss to the Vikings.

* "He played against a lot of good quarterbacks, and I thought he outplayed them all right down the stretch here." - Cowboys coach Wade Phillips, on Tony Romo.

* "We need playmakers. That's what we have to get on our team right now. Guys that can score touchdowns from way out, sack the quarterback, make a difference, impact the game. I think that's what we have to focus on at this point. Guys that are game-changers on both sides of the ball." - Rams general manager Bill Devaney.

* "I heard a famous morning-show guy saying that Tom Brady doesn't look the same. The Tom Brady I watch is sharp, takes advantage of opportunities when they're there, and is playing well. I only judge what I see on the field and Tom Brady is holding his end up." - CBS analyst Phil Simms, on Patriots QB Tom Brady

BY THE NUMBERS

* Nine times, teams have played each other in the final game of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs. Just four times did the winner of the first game also win the rematch.

* Five of the Eagles' 12 third-down situations Sunday were 10 yards or more. They failed to convert any of the five. In their last two games, they are 1-for-11 on third-and-10 or more. For the season, they are 12-for-56 (21.4 percent).

* The Eagles scored a franchise-record 429 points this season on just 975 offensive plays. That's the fewest number of offensive plays by an Eagles team since 2004.

* The Eagles ran the ball just 384 times this season. That's the fewest since 2005, when they had 365 rushing attempts. They ran the ball 39.4 percent of the time. That's the lowest percentage since '05, when they ran it just 35.5 percent.

Thumb things to ponder

THUMBS UP

To Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles. Charles rushed for a team-record 259 yards in Sunday's 44-24 win over the Broncos. He could have returned to the game on the Chiefs' final possession and tried to take a run at the NFL single-game rushing record of 296 yards set by Adrian Peterson in 2007. But he asked coach Todd Haley to take him out and put in rookie Javarris Williams instead. "I didn't want to do it like that," Charles said, suggesting that setting the record in such a lopsided game would have cheapened the record. "I'll get it some other time."

THUMBS DOWN

To Patriots coach Bill Belichick for blaming Wes Welker's season-ending knee injury last week on the natural-grass surface at Houston's Reliant Stadium. "It's terrible," Belichick said of the field. "One of the worst fields I've seen. For the level of play we have, I think consistency of field should be priority No. 1, when you talk about player safety." Welker tore two ligaments, including his ACL, trying to make a cut in the first quarter of Sunday's loss to the Texans. But watching the replay of the injury, there is no indication that the surface contributed in any way to the injury. "If we'd had one of our best players injured on the field, I'd probably not feel good, either,'' Texans owner Bob McNair said. "But when he made the cut, his foot didn't slip out from under him. His knee just gave way. The field was in good shape. Having seen the condition of some of the fields up in the Northeast, I don't see how he could complain about ours."

Rankings

1. Chargers 13-3

2. Colts 14-2

3. Vikings 12-4

4. Saints 13-3

5. Patriots 10-6

6. Packers 11-5

7. Cowboys 11-5

8. Eagles 11-5

9. Bengals 10-6

10. Ravens 9-7

11. Titans 8-8

12. Cardinals 10-6

13. Texans 9-7

14. Jets 9-7

15. Falcons 9-7

16. Panthers 8-8

17. Steelers 9-7

18. Niners 8-8

19. Broncos 8-8

20. Bears 7-9

21. Dolphins 7-9

22. Browns 5-11

23. Giants 8-8

24. Jaguars 7-9

25. Chiefs 4-12

26. Raiders 5-11

27. Bucs 3-13

28. Redskins 4-12

29. Bills 6-10

30. Lions 2-14

31. Seahawks 5-11

32. Rams 1-15

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