Paul Domowitch: Straight up, Fitzgerald killed the Eagles

Larry Fitzgerald comes down with an uncontested 37-yard TD pass from Kevin Kolb to give the Cards a 17-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
Larry Fitzgerald comes down with an uncontested 37-yard TD pass from Kevin Kolb to give the Cards a 17-0 lead midway through the second quarter. (RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: September 25, 2012

GLENDALE, Ariz. - Early in the week, when Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo and his coaches were putting together their game plan for Sunday's battle against the Cardinals, Larry Fitzgerald's name obviously dominated the conversation.

For starters, he's one of the NFL's very best wide receivers. He's also a guy who almost singlehandedly beat the Eagles last year, catching seven passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns in a 21-17 November upset at the Linc. So stopping him was priority No. 1.

The initial plan called for Nnamdi Asomugha to shadow Fitzgerald all over the field. But secondary coach Todd Bowles thought that's what the Cardinals would be expecting the Eagles to do.

So, after much deliberation, they decided to play Fitzgerald straight up. No shadow. No double-team. If he lined up on the left side, Asomugha would take him. If he lined up on the right side, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie would take him. If he lined up in the slot, he would be rookie Brandon Boykin's responsibility.

"We decided to just stay on our sides and make sure that Boykin had the nickel and Dominique and I had him on the outside," Asomugha said.

"That was our plan, but they were able to do some things to take advantage of it."

Yes, they were. For the second straight year, Fitzgerald got the best of the Eagles' defense, catching seven passes in the first half for 105 yards and a touchdown in the Cardinals' 27-6 win.

A defense that entered the game with a league-best 35.1 opponent passer rating watched Kevin Kolb complete 17 of 24 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns against it.

"Give them credit," Asomugha said. "They did a good job. They knew how they wanted to attack us offensively and defensively. Hats off to them. But with the type of talent we have, most of it goes on us. It doesn't matter who we're playing."

Fitzgerald wasn't much of a factor in the Cardinals' first two wins. Came into Sunday's game with just five catches for 67 yards and no touchdowns. Had just one catch for 4 yards in last week's road win over the Patriots.

But he lit up the Eagles in the first half. He mostly lined up on the left side, where he was matched up against Asomugha, including on a 37-yard scoring pass midway through the second quarter that put the Cardinals up, 17-0. But he also worked on the right side and in the slot.

His first catch of the game - a 16-yarder on the Cardinals' first scoring drive - came in the slot against Boykin.

"Basically, they were just playing off our leverage," Boykin said. "If we were playing inside, they'd go outside. I felt we contained him in the second half [two catches for 9 yards], but we've got to cut down on the mistakes. Cut down on the big plays and I think we'll be OK."

There was no bigger defensive mistake in the first half than the one on Fitzgerald's touchdown catch. Asomugha was covering Fitzgerald on the play, a post pattern down the middle. But he was expecting over-the-top help from one of the safeties and it never came. Fitzgerald got inside of Asomugha and Kolb put the pass right on the money.

"We were in a Cover-4 scheme," safety Nate Allen said. "I was playing the front-side receiver [Andre Roberts]. Something happened back side. I don't know what exactly happened. There was a miscommunication on the back side. It's tough to do that."

The Eagles made those kinds of mistakes on a regular basis last year, when they gave up 27 touchdown passes. But they had very few of them in Week 1 and 2 wins over the Browns and Ravens.

"We did things that were uncharacteristic of us," Asomugha said. "Things we haven't done all year. It was a little bit surprising to make some of the mistakes we made and not get it done. Especially in the first half.

"There were some missed tackles, too. We haven't been doing that, either, this year. Today was just one of those fluke type of days. A lot happened that we just weren't used to."

The Eagles could have double-teamed Fitzgerald on Sunday. But Castillo and Bowles have a lot of confidence in their secondary. They felt they could play him straight up and neutralize him.

"You can double-team him," Allen said. "We had a few things in our game plan to double him. But we were confident in our corners and our nickel to cover him man-to-man."

The Eagles were determined not to let Fitzgerald beat them Sunday, and yet that's exactly what happened. Well, Fitzgerald and three more costly turnovers.

"He went out there and did what he normally does: Go out there and make plays and put his team in good position," said Rodgers-Cromartie, a former teammate of Fitzgerald. "We knew what he was capable of. You'd like to have a better game plan for him as far as just getting after him. But we didn't do that today."

Besides the touchdown pass to Fitzgerald, the Eagles also gave up one late in the first quarter to rookie receiver Michael Floyd. On a third-and-5 at the Philadelphia 8-yard line, Fitzgerald lined up in the right slot on the play with Floyd lined up wide right. Fitzgerald ran an outside route while Floyd stayed inside.

He appeared to be well-covered by both Rodgers-Cromartie and middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans. Ryans got a hand on the ball, but Floyd ended up with it, turned and ran into the end zone.

"I thought [Ryans] had it, so I kind of backed away," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "But I looked back and the other dude [Floyd] had it."

With an important division game against the 2-1 Giants coming up on Sunday night, the Eagles don't have time to dwell on what happened in Arizona. By the time they showered and dressed and headed for their flight home, they seemed to have already put it behind them.

"It's gone. It's gone," Asomugha said. "We've been talking about this next game ahead. We're playing for first [place] and it's against a rival. So [Sunday's loss] is gone. It's out of our system. We'll watch the film, get better from it and correct the mistakes that we made."

Thanks.


Contact Paul Domowitch at pdomo@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @Pdomo. For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' blog at eagletarian.com.

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