Larry makes Castillo look like a stooge

Posted: November 14, 2011

Nnamdi Asomugha never expected this. Never expected to be 3-6. Never expected to be used in the curious way he has been used by Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo this season.

He's one of the best shutdown corners in the business. Spent the better part of seven seasons with the Raiders being assigned to the other team's best receiver and essentially putting him in witness protection.

That's what Castillo should be doing with him, but he's not. That's what Castillo should have done with him yesterday, but he didn't. And it's a big reason why the Eagles lost again.

Asomugha should have spent the Eagles' shocking, 21-17 loss to the Cardinals in Larry Fitzgerald's jock and put an "off-limits" sign on him like he did in Week 3 last year with the Raiders when he shadowed Fitzgerald all over the field and held him to two measly catches for 26 yards.

If he had, maybe yet another fourth-quarter collapse doesn't happen. Maybe Fitzgerald doesn't run amok in the final 13 minutes and catch five passes for 94 yards and a touchdown. Maybe rookie safety Jaiquawn Jarrett doesn't find himself trying to cover Fitzgerald on his 37-yard completion to the 1-yard line with 2 minutes left that set up the Cardinals' game-winning touchdown.

"It would've been nice to be on him in that situation," Asomugha said. "I've done it before. With him. With others. Done it before. Chase guys. Follow guys."

Fitzgerald, who essentially is the only legitimate receiving threat the Cardinals have, was targeted 13 times by second-year quarterback John Skelton, eight times in the fourth quarter. He finished with seven catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns.

As is his custom, the 6-3, 218-pound All-Pro lined up all over the place, seldom in the same place twice. Wide left, wide right. Slot left, slot right.

"That's why he's able to do what he does, because they move him around so much," said safety Kurt Coleman. "He's not staying in the same spot. But we always had eyes on him. We always knew where No. 11 was, and we tried to contain him. But he's a Pro Bowler. He's one of the best for a reason."

Fitzgerald had just two catches for 52 yards in the first three quarters, including a 42-yarder late in the first quarter against Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie that was wasted when kicker Jay Feely missed a 43-yard field-goal attempt. He had a 10-yard touchdown catch late in the second quarter when, in another piece of strange coverage strategy, Castillo foolishly tried to cover him with rookie linebacker Brian Rolle.

Then came the fourth quarter. He had three catches on the Cardinals' game-tying scoring drive, including a 7-yard touchdown reception on which the ball ricocheted off cornerback Joselio Hanson's right hand directly to Fitzgerald.

Had two more on their game-winning drive, including the killer 37-yarder to the 1 against Jarrett.

Asked why Jarrett found himself alone on Fitzgerald on that play, Castillo replied, "I gotta do a better job, man. I got do a better job. Simple as that."

Asked again why Jarrett was on Fitzgerald, Castillo said, "Because I gotta do a better job."

See what we're dealing with here?

Finally, Castillo said, "Sometimes you play man underneath with a safety behind."

Fitzgerald lined up in the right slot on the play alongside Early Doucet, with Asante Samuel matched up on Fitzgerald and slot corner Hanson on Doucet. Samuel ran with Fitzgerald for about 10 yards, then appeared to release him to Jarrett.

"We were in a combination coverage on the play," Coleman said. "Not everyone made the right response. We just didn't get it done. We had a mental error and didn't get it done."

Samuel, though, didn't think he was supposed to be in man coverage against Fitzgerald on the play. "It was kind of a zone," he said. "We had one guy on the inside [Hanson], one guy on the outside [him] and one guy over the top [Jarrett]. Just play the coverage."

Skelton, who completed just 12 of 25 passes in the first three quarters, was 9-for-15 for 166 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. The game-winning touchdown, a 5-yard catch-and-run by Doucet, came compliments of a missed tackle by Coleman, who had a clean shot at him at the 5 and whiffed. If he had made the tackle, the Cardinals likely would have settled for a game-tying field goal.

"I knew it, I knew the play," Coleman said. "It's just frustrating. I couldn't get myself in the right position to do it. I just couldn't make the play. I just couldn't do it."

In Andy Reid's first 12 seasons as the Eagles' head coach, his team was 90-15 when it took a lead into the fourth quarter. This year, it is 3-5.

Despite the presence of Asomugha, Samuel and Rodgers-Cromartie, the Eagles already have given up 17 touchdown passes. They stink in the red zone, giving up 18 touchdowns in 26 opportunities, including six of eight the last two games.

Asomugha will never admit it, but if he had it to do over again, he surely would have signed with the Jets or the Cowboys rather than the Eagles. Particularly after the way they've used him.

"It's very disappointing," he said. "A little embarrassing, to tell you the truth. With the type of team we have, we haven't been able to put it together."

When asked how a defense with as much talent as this one can blow five fourth-quarter leads in nine games, Samuel said, "Is it five? That's very disappointing. We've got to figure it out, man.

"The chemistry, the camaraderie, I don't know. We've got to come together, figure things out together and have each other's back. There's a lot of new players, new coaches. We just have to figure this [bleep] out at the end of the day."


-- Why Andy Reid went for it on fourth-and-2 at the Arizona 38 on the Eagles' first possession. Was he trying to send a confidence message to his offense? Did he have so little respect for the Cardinals' ability to move the football? Did he not think rookie punter Chas Henry was capable of dropping the ball inside the 20 from that distance? Whatever, it failed. Mike Vick couldn't find anyone open and had to throw the ball away. The Eagles are just 5-for-12 on fourth-down conversions this season.

-- Why the Eagles used so few two-tight-end sets. In the previous three games, 210 of LeSean McCoy's 382 rushing yards came out of two-tight-end formations. By my count, they lined up in two-tight-end sets on just 12 of 60 offensive plays against the Cardinals.


-- Winston Justice was inactive for the seventh time in nine games even though left guard Evan Mathis didn't dress because of a foot injury. Rookie Julian Vandervelde was activated for the first time this season instead. Justice started at right tackle vs. Washington in Week 6. Since then, he's been listed regularly on the team's injury report with a knee even though he's been a full practice participant. He's been inactive three straight games since starting against the Redskins.

-- Jeremy Maclin replaced DeSean Jackson as punt returner. After he got hurt, Steve Smith replaced him.

-- Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie replaced Dion Lewis on kickoff returns. Rodgers-Cromartie averaged 26.0 yards on two returns before he injured his ankle on the opening kickoff of the second half.

-- The penetration by rookie linebacker Brian Rolle on a second-and-2 at the Philadelphia 13 on Cardinals' second possession that triggered a 4-yard loss by Beanie Wells.

-- Akeem Jordan started at strongside linebacker in place of Moise Fokou. Jordan had three tackles. He also had a team-high three special-teams tackles.

-- Rodgers-Cromartie, who has been criticized for his soft play, made two nice "physical" plays in the first half. He chased down quarterback John Skelton for a 7-yard sack early in the second quarter, then knocked Wells out of bounds and limited him to a 2-yard gain on a second-and-10 run.

-- Michael Vick was inaccurate all day, completing just 16 of 34 passes. In the first quarter, he failed to connect with wide-open tight end Brent Celek on a boot left and throwback right pass. Celek was wide open and would've had an easy touchdown, but Vick overthrew him badly.

-- The Eagles' defense had three penalties on third down in the first half.

-- Vick's 16-yard run on the Eagles' second touchdown drive was a called draw.

-- Derek Landri's third-quarter sack of Skelton came out of a front that featured five defensive linemen.

-- Vick was sacked twice. Both were his fault.

-- The nice blocks by Jason Peters, Danny Watkins and Clay Harbor on LeSean McCoy's 1-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter.

-- Andy Reid is 6-for-7 on replay challenges this season after getting a Vick interception by Richard Marshall reversed in the fourth quarter. In the previous 4 years, he was 7-for-22.


-- With his 1-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, LeSean McCoy became the first player in franchise history to score a touchdown in nine straight games. He's just the fourth NFL player since 1960 to score a TD in each of the first nine games of the season. The other three: Lenny Moore (1964), O.J. Simpson (1975) and George Rogers (1989).

-- McCoy's 906 rushing yards are the most ever by an Eagles running back in the first nine games of the season.

-- McCoy has 42 runs of 8 yards or more on 165 rushing attempts this season.

-- Michael Vick still doesn't have a rushing touchdown this season.

-- Vick has 24 turnovers in his last 15 games, including 18 interceptions and six lost fumbles.

-- After converting 21 of 42 third-down opportunities in their previous three games, the Eagles converted just three of 15 against the Cardinals. The last time they converted just three third-down chances in a game was Week 11 of last season against the Giants (a 27-17 win).

-- For the first time this season, the Eagles had a nondefensive lineman register a sack. Linebacker Jamar Chaney and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had two of the Eagles' four sacks. Trent Cole and Derek Landri had the other two. The Eagles have 26 sacks, which is the same number they had after nine games last year.

-- For the eighth time in nine games this season, the Eagles failed to score on their first possession. They've got just 15 first downs on their first possessions and have averaged just 4.6 yards per play.

-- The Eagles have held three of their last four opponents to less than 90 rushing yards. The Cardinals had 88 yards on 29 carries.

-- The loss to the Cardinals was the Eagles' first this season when they've held a team under 40 percent on third-down efficiency. The Cardinals converted just 38 percent of their third-down attempts (6-for-16).

-- Vick was 2-for-8 for 32 yards and one interception on third down yesterday. Five of his 11 interceptions have come on third down.

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