Birds can’t stop run ... or pass now

Eagles defense converges on Atlanta's Michael Turner.
Eagles defense converges on Atlanta's Michael Turner. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: September 19, 2011

ATLANTA - Last week, the Rams' Steven Jackson ran for a 47-yard touchdown through a hole that Andy Reid admitted he even could fit through, and panicking Eagles fans cried, "See, I told ya. Our linebackers are too puny. We can't stop the run. We are doomed. We will never, ever make it to the Super Bowl with this awful run defense."

After giving up 90 rushing yards to the Rams on their first two possessions, though, the Eagles stiffened and held them to 3.4 yards per carry in the rest of a 31-13 win.

But Eagles fans still weren't convinced, pointing out that Jackson left the game with a quad injury after his second carry. "Wait until next week," they said. "Wait until they face Michael Turner."

For much of last night's game, the Eagles' defense did an impressive job against Turner, the Falcons' 250-pound Mack truck of a running back.

Just like the week before, they buckled early, giving up back-to-back 8- and 15-yard runs to Turner right out of the gate. But then they settled down and kept him in check, limiting him to just 24 yards on his next 15 carries as the Eagles took a seemingly comfortable 10-point lead into the final quarter.

To that point, most of the Eagles' defensive struggles in last night's 35-31 collapse came through the air as Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw for a career-high four touchdown passes against a unit that had shut out the Rams' Sam Bradford the week before.

But just when it looked like the Eagles had Turner under control, he busted through the middle of the defense and took off on a 61-yard run with less than 8 minutes left in the game that gave the Falcons a first down at the Philadelphia 26.

Three plays later, tight end Tony Gonzalez, who had given the Eagles problems all night, caught a 7-yard pass from Ryan on a third-and-4 for a first down at the Philadelphia 13.

Turner was on the sideline getting a blow on the next play, but 5-6, 196-pound rookie Jacquizz Rodgers ran the same play up the middle that Turner had on his 61-yarder. He gained 10 yards down to the 3.

"We felt Jacquizz could bring a nice change of pace," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "We ran the same run as the one on Mike's big run. Jacquizz is short, but he's not little. He's a strong man who can break tackles."

Turner came back in on the next play and took it around right end for a go-ahead 3-yard touchdown to spoil the Eagles' opportunity for their first 2-0 start in 7 years.

Turner finished the game with 114 rushing yards on 21 carries. The Falcons as a team finished with 138. In their first two games, the Eagles have given up 292 rushing yards.

What was more surprising than Turner's fourth-quarter revival, though, were the struggles of the Eagles' vaunted pass defense. Ryan finished with 17 completions in 28 attempts for just 195 yards. But his four touchdown passes stuck out like a sore thumb, particularly the two to Gonzalez, the Falcons' 35-year-old, 11-time Pro Bowler.

Last year, the Eagles had big problems stopping opposing tight ends. Gave up more than 100 receptions and 10 TD catches to tight ends, including two to Gonzalez when these teams met last year.

But things were supposed to be different this time around. While there were questions about how their fast but undersized linebackers would hold up against the run, they were supposed to be better against the pass.

One of the big reasons that defensive coordinator Juan Castillo moved his most athletic linebacker, Jamar Chaney, over to the strong side from the middle was because Castillo thought he was best suited to cover the tight end.

But both he and the Eagles' two safeties, Kurt Coleman and Jarrad Page, couldn't handle Gonzalez. The future Hall of Famer finished with seven catches for 83 yards, including those two TDs.

On one, a 17-yard back-of-the-end-zone grab, Chaney tried to slow up Gonzalez at the line of scrimmage, but was unsuccessful. Ryan ended up putting the pass over Chaney's head, and the perennial Pro Bowler made an impressive catch that withstood a replay challenge.

"We have to do a better job of coaching," Reid said after the loss cemented the ninth 1-1 start of the Big Red era. "We have a lot to learn from this and we have a long season ahead of us. We will go back and finalize the tape tomorrow, and get ready for the New York Giants."

And Eagles fans will go back to worrying about how the hell this defense is going to be able to stop the run this season.

BY THE NUMBERS:

-- This is the fourth straight year the Eagles have started 1-1, and the ninth time in Andy Reid's 13 seasons in Philadelphia. They've only been 2-0 once - in 2004, the year they went to the Super Bowl.

Last night's loss was just the second to the Falcons in the last 10 meetings.

The loss was only the Eagles' third in their last 13 regular-season, prime-time games. Since 2007, though, they are 5-9 on NBC's Sunday Night Football.

The Eagles now are 23-19 under Reid in September.

The loss was just the Eagles' 20th in 93 games when they have scored first.

Nnamdi Asomugha's second-quarter interception was his first pick since Nov. 22, 2009.

DID YOU NOTICE?

-- Eagles lined up in the Wildcat on their second offensive play. DeSean Jackson took the snap and gave the ball to LeSean McCoy, who pitched it to Mike Vick. Vick couldn't find anyone open and ran for a 7-yard gain.

-- The Falcons gained 23 yards on their first two rushing attempts. For the Eagles, that was an improvement over last week when they gave up 58 yards and a TD on the Rams' first two rushing attempts.

-- For the third time in two games, Dion Lewis took a kickoff out of the end zone and failed to get to the 20-yard line. On the kickoff following the Falcons' first touchdown, Lewis took it 4 yards deep and only got back to the 16.

-- Vick got tattooed on his 10-yard completion to Jackson right before the end of the first quarter.

-- McCoy hurt his hand on a 10-yard screen on the Eagles' first scoring drive and left the game for four plays. He was back on the field for Vick's touchdown throw to Jeremy Maclin.

-- Andy Reid won a rare replay challenge early in second quarter.

-- Maclin replaced Jackson as the punt returner late in the second quarter. Jackson was back returning punts in the second half.

-- The costly missed block by right tackle Todd Herremans late in the second quarter that allowed Peria Jerry to hit Vick, forcing a fumble and costing the Eagles a scoring opportunity. It also set up the Falcons' go-ahead TD.

-- The incredible sprint by Jackson to catch Jerry and prevent him from scoring on his fumble return.

-- The nice downfield block by left tackle Jason Peters on Maclin's 36-yard touchdown catch and run in the third quarter.

The excellent block by Jackson on cornerback Brent Grimes on McCoy's 8-yard, third-quarter touchdown run that gave the Eagles a 24-21 lead.

Dunta Robinson, who knocked out Jackson last year with a hit, leveled Maclin in the third quarter with another kill shot. Robinson was flagged for an illegal hit.

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