[Note by JasonB, 09/20/11 10:54 AM EDT ] This year, veteran Eagles beat writer and current Comcast sports NFL columnist Jordan Raanan will be joining us every week with a review of the previous Sunday's Eagles game. This week he offers his notes and thoughts on the Eagles loss to the Bills
Just when you thought it couldn't get worse, it did on Sunday in Buffalo. Michael Vick took his propensity for turnovers to a new level. Jason Avant followed suit ... at the most inopportune times.
On the surface, and even to the most ignorant eyes, the Eagles' latest loss was ugly. Five turnovers by the offense. Horrific linebacker and safety play crippling the defense. Mind-blowing clock mismanagement at the end of the first half. Bad and incomprehensible penalties in the fourth quarter. Amalgamate the miscues and you have a 1-5 record, a 'Dream Team' disaster. Not what anyone, not even the biggest detractors, predicted.
So when I went to review the latest loss, I figured it would only be appropriate to keep an extra keen eye on the biggest offseason additions (CB Nnamdi Asomugha and OG Danny Watkins) to each side of the ball.
For Watkins, the Eagles' first-round pick this year, it was his first NFL start. And Bob_Q nailed it. It was an up-and-down afternoon for the rookie. He did very well to contain third-overall pick Marcell Dareus most of the contest, although he did seem to wear down late. His mistakes mostly seemed mental, except for the crucial facemask penalty that negated a touchdown in the fourth quarter. For the most part, the Eagles' new right guard held his ground.
Nnamdi also did well most of the game, at one point making all three plays on a 3-and-out by Buffalo in the second half. Still, he had a similar fate. Nnamdi's facemask penalty on 3rd-and-11 late in the third quarter gave the Bills three points they otherwise wouldn't have mustered. It was just one of the defense's many mistakes that ultimately cost the Eagles.
What was interesting with Nnamdi, the single biggest free agent signing in the NFL this offseason, was the way new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo used him. It was significantly different than in previous weeks.
After admitting he was asking his star corner to do too much, Castillo dumbed it down significantly. He had Asomugha play his receiver tight and engage him within five yards on just about every single snap. Nnamdi was permitted to use his best asset (his ability to use his hands and jam up wide receivers) on 55 of 63 plays. Most of those plays he was locked in man coverage. Only on third downs did Castillo generally have Nnamdi playing in a zone. It was on those plays when Nnamdi was playing in a linebacker-type spot in the middle of the field in their nickel and dime defenses.
The revised Nnamdi plan worked. Overall, the Bills targeted him a total of ZERO times. Zero. Not once. Asante Samuel and Dominique-Rodgers Cromartie were slightly more frequent targets on the left side of the defense.
Here's a look at how the Birds' top three CBs were attacked:
The Bills' second-quarter touchdown reception by David Nelson came against Samuel. But most of Buffalo's damage, not surprisingly, was done on screens and in the middle of the field against the linebackers and safeties. It's the same philosophy the Giants, 49ers and Falcons used in previous weeks. It's the same philosophy any competent team will use against them over the final 12 weeks, especially if Castillo continues to allow Nnamdi to showcase his strengths.
Other Notable Observations:
• The starting safeties, Page and Nate Allen, finished with 17 solo tackles. Allen, who played his best game of the season, had 10 and Page had seven.
• Vick was on his way to leading a memorable comeback. He was outstanding in the fourth quarter, completing 11-of-12 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown. His one incompletion was the crucial late interception that was a drop-turned-INT that sits on Avant's .
• Vick finished 20-for-31 with 2 TDs and 4 INTs from the pocket. He was 6-of-9 from outside the pocket.
• The Eagles threw a pass on 4th-and-inches. That's pretty much all you need to know about their confidence in the running game on short-yardage situations.
• The defense actually made some plays, especially in the second half. Overall, seven different players had one tackle for a loss in the contest. One of those stops even came from a safety (Allen).