Raanan Review: The Game Plan to Beat the Eagles

Rich Schultz

By Jordan Raanan, Xfinity NFL Columnist and NJ.Com Contributor

Opposing offenses don't care if it's Juan Castillo, Todd Bowles or, better yet, Jim Washburn running the Eagles defense. The blue print is there to easily matriculate the ball downfield. All it takes is a few seconds, some patience and a soft toss from the quarterback.

The Falcons followed the same game plan used by the Steelers and Lions. They allowed the Eagles defensive ends (namely Jason Babin and Brandon Graham) to rush upfield - sometimes unblocked - before dumping screen passes to the vacated spot on the left side of the Eagles defense.

The Falcons exploited the Eagles overaggressiveness by running 10 combined screens and shovel passes on Sunday afternoon. Ten! They went 8 of 9 for 71 yards, a touchdown and a penalty. Fletcher Cox almost intercepted the first one of the day and the last was negated by an offsides on Trent Cole. The rest were all successful for the Falcons.

Most of the damage came against Graham. He took himself out of the play on five of the completions, including the touchdown on a shovel pass to fullback Jason Snelling. Not once on the 10 plays did an Eagles defensive end hesitate, read the play or get their hand on a pass.

Atlanta also ran all eight of their running back screens to the right side. That wasn't by accident. They obviously saw something on tape that hinted they could take advantage of Babin/Graham, and it equated to an automatic five yards, at minimum.

This doesn't bode well for Bowles. He had two weeks to fix the problem since the Lions and Steelers - the Eagles' two previous opponents - did much of the same with the screen game.

It's not going to get easier either. New Orleans has one of the best screen combos (Drew Brees to Darren Sproles) in the NFL.

Dennis Kelly as Good as Kelly Green?

The Eagles might have stumbled onto something here. In his first career start, Dennis Kelly played well at right guard in place of the injured Danny Watkins.

I charted all 63 offensive plays for the Eagles and Kelly more than held his own blocking Peria Jerry and Corey Peters most of the afternoon. Kelly, the 6-foot-8 rookie out of Purdue, was especially strong in pass blocking. Other than a miscommunication where an unrecognized blitzer looped to his side (likely Vick or center Dallas Reynolds' fault), Kelly did not allow a single pressure.

Where the rookie did struggle was getting out in the screen game and making blocks on the second level in the run games. On three plays in the second half Kelly was slow getting out on a screen pass.

Overall, Kelly was generally solid in the run game. Given his performance it wouldn't be the least bit surprising if he kept the job for Monday night's game in New Orleans even if Watkins were healthy.

Watkins has been remarkably unsteady this season, especially with his pass blocking. The 2011 first-round pick is, however, a better run blocker.

Notable Observations:

  • The biggest problem with the Eagles defense appears to be that they're not playing as a unit. When Trent Cole gets pressure nobody seems to be there when the quarterback steps up in the pocket. When there is pressure up the middle the ends are getting stood up. Nobody on the front four is playing consistently enough.
  • Nnamdi Asomugha had six passes thrown in his direction and zone. All six went for completions and one went for a 63-yard touchdown reception. That's unacceptable for a player of Asomugha's price tag and ilk
  • Rodgers-Cromartie didn't fare much better. He bit badly on D.J. Davis' first-quarter touchdown reception, failed to contain the edge on a pair of running plays and only knocked down one pass in his direction. It was easily DRC's worst game of the season.
  • Todd Bowles rotated defensive linemen after just three plays in the middle of the opening drive. Not sure if anyone can get into a groove after just three plays.
  • Bowles blitzed just five times in the first half. Two of the plays resulted in completions, two in Eagles penalties and another completion was negated by an Atlanta penalty. Four of the five plays resulted in Falcon first downs.
  • Andy Reid accepted a 5-yard penalty for an illegal touch in the third quarter. I'm not quite sure why. The pass was incomplete in the back of the end zone. Rather than 3rd-and-goal from the 6-yard line the Eagles gave Atlanta two more shots to get in the end zone from the 11. It made no sense. Fortunately for the Eagles, Atlanta settled for the field goal anyway after Cedric Thornton recorded the team's first sack in over a month on 2nd-and-goal from the 11.
  • The Eagles did not help out Vick by dropping four passes. Three were by wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. The other came on the Eagles' first offensive play of the game by tight end Brent Celek.
  • Luck would help too. The Eagles haven't gotten much lately. Opponents have recovered their last six fumbles against them. The last time the Eagles recovered a fumble was Week 2 against the Ravens. If the Eagles would have pounced on a Michael Turner fumble at the Atlanta 20 down 13 with around six minutes left in the fourth quarter it could have changed the game.

Jordan Raanan has covered the NFL since 2005. Follow him on Twitter @JordanRaanan, on Facebook or email him at jraanan@hotmail.com.

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