Inside the Eagles: Asomugha questions Eagles' late defensive strategy

Posted: October 17, 2012

Andy Reid's intent on Monday, after Nnamdi Asomugha openly questioned some of Juan Castillo's play-calling, was clear.

The Eagles coach could not let his defensive coordinator be second-guessed, even if Asomugha made some perfectly reasonable points, and even if the facts don't entirely back up Reid's claims.

Reid, however, gave Castillo a less-than-enthusiastic endorsement when he was asked Monday if the coordinator would continue to call plays when the Eagles return from the bye.

"That's the way I'm looking at it right now," Reid said. "That's the way I'm looking at it as I stand right here."

At this point in his 14-year tenure, Reid handles all delicate subjects with the same in-the-present response. So it's difficult to glean much from his response.

The Eagles are 3-3 after Sunday's 26-23 overtime loss to the Lions. Something has to change and, well, it might as well be handing the defensive coordinator responsibilities to Todd Bowles.

But a coordinator switch on the defensive side of the ball - and it should be noted, the same could be suggested on offense, special teams, and where the buck stops - may only solve so much.

Right now, the defense's most pressing issue is the lack of pressure. While that would fall under the command of most coordinators, Castillo isn't your typical coordinator. He does not control Jim Washburn's renegade batch of defensive linemen.

What Castillo can do is help the front four with blitzing. The problem with that is that he doesn't seem to have players in the back seven who can pass-rush effectively.

Asomugha contended after the game that the Eagles blitzed too much late in the contest.

The Eagles blitzed only two times during the Lions' first 12 series. For some reason during Detroit's game-tying drive before the end of regulation and during its game-winning drive in overtime, Castillo blitzed three times.

"There wasn't a great change of scheme on what we did in the first three quarters," Reid said, directly contradicting Asomugha. "It wasn't that we blitzed more or had unsuccessful blitzes. We blitzed throughout the game."

Castillo was criticized for not blitzing enough down the stretch in last week's loss in Pittsburgh. Perhaps the late-game strategy against Detroit was his response. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans came on the first blitz, but he did not penetrate the backfield. Still, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford threw an incomplete pass.

A play later, Ryans and linebacker Mychal Kendricks blitzed. Stafford, though, got the ball out quick to wide receiver Calvin Johnson for a 17-yard completion. In the overtime, Castillo sent safety Kurt Coleman on a blitz, but Stafford still had plenty of time and connected with Johnson for another 17-yard gain.

Johnson lined up in the slot on both occasions and each time cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was on him. The Eagles game plan was to use a combination of Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie to cover Johnson with safety help.

"I was on him most of the game," Asomugha told reporters. "I think when we got to the fourth quarter, there was a lot more trying to give him a different look."

For three quarters, the Eagles held Johnson to one catch for 28 yards. On the Lions' first drive of the fourth quarter, the receiver caught a 37-yard pass over Asomugha and in front of Coleman. From that point onward, Johnson did his damage against a variety of players and coverages.

"It wasn't that we played more zone, less zone, or different zones," Reid said. "It wasn't that we didn't continue to double 81 even though he made a couple of plays in the fourth quarter when he was doubled."

While it is true that the blitzes didn't do much damage, as Asomugha contended, the plays that really cost the Eagles occurred in their dime defense. The Eagles, ahead by 23-13 with 5 minutes, 18 seconds left, went with six defensive backs because the Lions had tight end Tony Scheffler on the field as a fourth receiver.

Brandon Hughes drew Scheffler. On the third play of the series, Stafford had lots of time and was able to roll out of the pocket because defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins lost his footing and knocked over an-already-teetering Jason Babin.Hughes ran with Scheffler off the line. He was supposed to have safety help deep. But the extra time Stafford had out of the pocket made Hughes look back at the quarterback and lose his man. The safety - Colt Anderson, in only because Nate Allen left with a hamstring strain - bit on the scramble.

"He should never have been outside to start with," Reid said. "We had a couple of guys fall down inside and he got outside, extended the play."

The Eagles remained in the dime package, but Hughes ended up on Nate Burleson three plays later. The receiver ran a wheel route out of the backfield and Hughes was late to react. Burleson got behind him and Stafford floated a perfect pass that was caught for a 17-yard touchdown.

Hughes gave up a first-down catch a series later but was yanked as the Eagles went back to their nickel defense. Sheffler later beat cornerback Curtis Marsh for a 16-yard gain in overtime.

While it has become commonplace to pin the faults of the defense on Castillo, many receive blame for Sunday's disaster. If Castillo can be faulted for anything, it would appear to be the plays in which Rodgers-Cromartie ended up on Johnson in the slot.


Contact Jeff McLane at jmclane@phillynews.com. Follow @Jeff_McLane on Twitter.

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