Eagles defense not a running joke

Posted: October 17, 2011

LANDOVER, Md. - Brian Rolle majored in sociology at Ohio State, not mathematics. But the rookie linebacker knew exactly how well his unit did against the run in yesterday's 20-13 win over the Redskins.

"Forty-two rushing yards," Rolle said proudly after the game. "People say we can't stop the run. But against a team like this that likes to run the ball and has a great scheme, we did very good.

"Going into the fourth quarter, they had just 28 rushing yards. That's something we pride ourselves on."

For much of this season, it also has been something they didn't do very well. Plagued by bad tackling and difficulty getting off blocks, the Eagles entered the game ranked 30th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (140.2) and 27th in yards allowed per carry (5.0).

But they started to get their act together in the second half of last week's 31-24 loss to the Bills, holding them to 51 rushing yards on their final 17 carries. They continued the improvement yesterday, holding Ryan Torain and the Redskins to 42 yards on 14 carries.

Torain, who rushed for 135 yards against the Rams 2 weeks ago, finished with just 22 yards on 10 carries yesterday. Against an Eagles' defense that had given up 32 runs of 8 yards or more in the first five games, he didn't have a run of more than 6 yards.

The Redskins' biggest run play was a 12-yard scramble by quarterback John Beck, who replaced starter Rex Grossman in the fourth quarter after Grossman heaved his fourth interception of the game.

"The guy they brought in, he was a little better at reading coverages, and when we put them in passing situations, he handled it better," Rolle said. "He also ran the ball pretty well for an old man [Beck is 30; old is relative]. I give him high praise for that. I didn't think he would take off with it. He took off and did pretty good."

Aside from some ugly breakdowns against the pass on the Redskins' one, and only, touchdown drive of the game in the fourth quarter, Juan Castillo's defense turned in a sterling effort.

It was just the second time this season and only the fourth time in the last 17 games that the Eagles have held an opponent to 17 points or less.

Their four interceptions were one more than they had recorded in their first five games. They held the 'Skins to 287 net yards and allowed them to convert just one of 10 third-down chances. They didn't give up a touchdown pass and held Grossman and Beck to a collective .460 completion percentage.

But the key was stopping the run. It put Grossman, who came into the game with just one more career touchdown pass than interceptions, in a lot of obvious passing situations. Two of his picks came on third-and-long. Another came on second-and-12.

"We've played against some pretty good running backs this year," said defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, referring to the likes of the Falcons' Michael Turner (114 yards on 21 carries), the Giants' Ahmad Bradshaw (86 yards on 15 carries), the 49ers' Frank Gore (127 yards on 15 carries) and the Bills' Fred Jackson (111 yards on 26 carries). "If you look at what some of those backs have done against other teams, those guys, they didn't just do it to us. They're going out and doing it consistently.

"We're still learning, still getting better every week. We've got to take that attitude that we're going to keep improving."

With an eye toward not leaving his unit vulnerable to the run even in obvious passing situations, Castillo seldom used his one-linebacker dime package yesterday, almost always keeping at least two linebackers - Rolle and Jamar Chaney - on the field no matter what personnel grouping or formation the Redskins used.

One of the few times Castillo sent out his dime unit was on a third-and-15 near midfield early in the fourth quarter. Beck completed a 23-yard pass to Santana Moss against it.

"We kept the two 'backers on the field just in case they tried running the ball," Rolle said.

Both Castillo and head coach Andy Reid dismissed suggestions that they made any tactical adjustments to the defense, including using the "wide-nine" alignment any less up front.

"It's just a matter of the guys getting used to a couple things that we do," Reid said. "They work so hard at it [that] somewhere it had to click for them, and I think it did in the second half of our last game against Buffalo. And I think we built off of that."

Said Castillo: "We've been working on the fundamentals just like we've been doing since training camp. What happens is, when you work the fundamentals, every week you get a little better."

Asked if he had made any adjustments, he stuck with the fundamentals theme.

"The adjustments were that we worked fundamentals on Wednesday, worked fundamentals on Thursday and worked fundamentals again on Friday," he said. "Like we said, every week you get better by doing the fundamentals. You understand you have a plan, you stick to the plan and you keep working and working and you'll get better and better and better."

The Eagles entered the game ranked 14th in the league in third-down defense. Opponents had converted seven of seven third downs of 2 yards or less against them.

But the Bills were just 1-for-7 against the Eagles on third down in the second half last week. Yesterday, the Redskins were 1-for-10 for the game.

"We've been doing decent on third down," Castillo said. "It's really been third-and-1 to 3 that we've been struggling. But really, in the middle distance, we haven't been bad all year."

DID YOU NOTICE?

-- That Michael Vick used primarily three-step drops and quick throws in the first half to counter the Redskins' blitzes and take some pressure off his reconfigured offensive line.

-- The nice blocks by left tackle Todd Herremans on LeSean McCoy's 11-yard run on the Eagles' second possession and again on screen pass to tight end Brent Celek that went for a 7-yard touchdown in the first quarter.

-- The Eagles had two false start penalties - by Herremans and tight end Clay Harbor - on their first two possessions.

-- The Eagles opened the game with a deep pass to DeSean Jackson, much like the one last season against the Redskins. That one went for a touchdown. This one was incomplete. That one came out of a one-back, two-tight end set. This one came out of a two-back, one-tight end set.

-- The big hit by cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha on tight end Chris Cooley on a third-and-2 pass in first quarter. Asomugha leveled him for a 1-yard loss.

-- Asomugha played in the slot in the Eagles' nickel package in the first half, with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie outside. They switched in the second half, with Asomugha outside and DRC inside.

-- The uneven time of possession in the first half. The Eagles had it for 21:38, the Redskins for just 8:22.

-- Linebacker Moise Fokou whiffed trying to jam tight end Fred Davis on Davis' 31-yard catch-and-run in third quarter. Cornerback Asante Samuel ended up trying to make the tackle on Davis and hurt his back. He left the game briefly, but later returned.

-- The costly delay of game penalty on the Redskins with 11 minutes left in the game when they didn't have enough players on the field for a 50-yard field goal attempt by Graham Gano. By the time they got another player on the field, the play clock had expired. The Redskins ended up punting.

BY THE NUMBERS:

-- With his second-quarter touchdown run, LeSean McCoy became the first Eagle to rush for at least one TD in each of the first six games of a season. He's the first player since Ricky Watters in 1995 to have at least one rushing TD in six straight games. The club record is eight by Steve Van Buren in 1947.

-- The Eagles still have not scored on their first possession this season. They did it eight times last year.

-- The Eagles had a plus-two turnover ratio yesterday. It was the first time this season they've won a turnover battle, reducing their season turnover ratio to minus-8.

-- Last week, the Bills' Ryan Fitzpatrick sliced and diced the Eagles on third down, completing eight of 10 third-down passes for 105 yards and five first downs. Things went much better yesterday for the Eagles. The Redskins completed just three of nine passes for 22 yards and one first down on third down and had two interceptions.

-- LeSean McCoy's 28 rushing attempts yesterday were a career-high. His previous high was 24 carries against the Giants in Week 3. Seventeen of his carries and 81 of his rushing yards came on first down. Three hundred thirty-five of McCoy's 569 rushing yards this season have come on first down.

-- McCoy already has 27 carries of 8 yards or more in the first six games.

-- Michael Vick has thrown an interception in five straight games and 11 of his last 12 dating back to last season.

-- Vick has 44 rushing attempts in the first six games. He's on pace for 117 rushing attempts, which would be just six short of his career-high of 123 in 2006. With 372 yards, he's on pace for 992 rushing yards. His career-high is 1,039 in '06.

-- Vick is averaging more yards per carry (8.4) than he is yards per attempt (7.9).

-- Despite the changes up front, Vick was sacked just twice yesterday. The Eagles have allowed just 10 sacks in six games and have allowed two or fewer in five of their six games.

-- Before yesterday, opposing quarterbacks had a 104.3 passer rating against the Eagles. Thanks to Rex Grossman's four interceptions, it has dropped to 88.2.

-- All 18 of the Eagles' quarterback sacks this season have been recorded by defensive linemen.

-- The Eagles have outgained their opponent in every game this season.

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