A team set up for failure

Jason Avant celebrates a catch in the fourth quarter before the 49ers' game-winning drive.
Jason Avant celebrates a catch in the fourth quarter before the 49ers' game-winning drive. (STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: October 04, 2011

The linebackers, safeties and offensive line have specific deficiencies. None of those deficiencies should be surprising.

None of this will change.

The defenders in question cannot cover running backs or tight ends. They tackle poorly in the middle of the field. They are susceptible to power runs, especially as games progress.

The linemen - configured AFTER the final preseason game - cannot win battles at the line of scrimmage. Inside of the behemoth tackles, their physical profile - athletic, light and cagey - implies that they should not be winning those battles. Not against seven or eight defenders intent on stopping a power running play.

This cannot be a shock.

This is what the Eagles are; what they were last year; really, what they expected to be.

They drafted a 240-pound linebacker in the fourth round and expected him to start in the middle. That linebacker, Casey Matthews, was moved after Week 2 to the outside, then lost his starting spot to sixth-round rookie Brian Rolle. Rolle's distinguishing play Sunday was the 15-yard face-mask penalty that turned a 2-yard loss into the biggest play of the Niners' game-winning touchdown drive.

The safety pool: second-year seventh-rounder Kurt Coleman, benched after three games and a half-dozen gaffes; second-year second-rounder Nate Allen, still hindered by his knee surgery; journeyman Jarrad Page, a solid backup who is starting; and second-round rookie Jaiquawn Jarrett, who dressed for the first time Sunday.

Departed Pro Bowlers Brian Dawkins and Quintin Mikell might not have been worth their asking prices, and that money went elsewhere, but at 1-3, with three blown leads, some sagacious safety-ing would be in order.

As for the line, consider that they had to move their steadiest lineman, Todd Herremans, from left guard to right tackle when an injury to Winston Justice and the poor play of King Dunlap put the team in emergency mode.

Center Jason Kelce is a rookie and weighs 282 pounds. Left guard Evan Mathis had started just 22 times in six seasons before he was cut by the Bengals this preseason. Right guard Kyle DeVan was cut by Indianapolis this preseason.

So, no, they're probably not going to get you that 1 tough yard.


-- After King Dunlap's blocked field goal up the middle, look for teams to pinch the edges and give room to fast corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Dunlap, who will start at left tackle for the next couple of weeks, will remain on kick-block teams at least for longer field goals.

-- Jeremy Maclin dropped a key pass in Atlanta and fumbled away the desperation possession against the 49ers, but his 26 catches and 334 receiving yards put him on pace for 104 catches, which would be an Eagles record, and 1,336 receiving yards, which would rank second.

-- Defensive end Jason Babin leads the league with seven sacks, but he is sure to get extra attention with Trent Cole injured and unlikely to play for at least a week or 2.


That the pass was still an option on a pass/run option even after a defensive lineman has you in his grasp?

And, yes, Ronnie Brown's comedic second-quarter fumble on that goal-line play was actually a called play; and, yes, Andy Reid regrets that call.


Backup tight end Clay Harbor is averaging 18.0 yards per catch.


Lost in the sea of vitriol and angst after Sunday's loss was the clear progress made by Michael Vick, who set a career high with 416 passing yards and two touchdowns on 30-for-45 passing.

Both failed and successful bombs to DeSean Jackson - 29, 45 and 61 yards and Vick's only interception, a one-one-one battle that Jackson lost - overshadowed the fact that Vick made most of his money in West Coast style, looking for hot reads, dumping to short routes, scrambling wisely and effectively.

The Eagles' touchdown drive in the first quarter began with short passes to fullback Owen Schmitt, receiver Jeremy Maclin and tight end Clay Harbor.

In the second quarter, on long-yardage situations, he hit running back LeSean McCoy for a nominal, 7-yard gain that made the first field goal a chip shot, then found Jason Avant for 11 yards to make the second one easy, too.

His clever dump to Jackson on third-and-long early in the fourth might have been his smartest play, since it set up what might have been a clinching field goal, from 39 yards, but that kick missed. The Birds got the ball back and efficiently moved it again, two short tosses that were the key plays in moving into Niners territory; this time, a kick from 33 yards missed.

He hit seven receivers - or, really, every viable receiver. He hit his tight ends for 57 yards, more than any other two games combined.

Vick ran eight times for 75 yards, but this time he befriended the sideline and the fetal position. He was sacked twice, for 11 yards. His 2-week-old concussion and his week-old bruised right hand seldom were in peril.

He was very, very good. And very, very smart.

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