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Ranaan Review: Eagles Struggle Against A Tight End... Again

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[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 Falcons

It took all but two weeks for a tight end to feast on the Eagles. It was as predictable as the misappropriation of timeouts in Week 1 and the replay gaffe in Week 2.

These are the warts that have become staples of the the last decade of Eagles football. The players change, but the coach and his team's foibles always seem to stay the same.

This week it was the tight end wart that came to the surface in the Eagles' 35-31 loss to the Falcons. Tony Gonzalez may be 100 years old, but he proved his hands still work. The nine-time All Pro tight end caught seven passes on nine targets for 83 yards and two touchdowns.

It sounds bad, I know. But after reviewing the tape, there might not be as much to worry about going forward as you might think.

Consider this:

• The Eagles had tight coverage on 21 of the 25 plays where Gonzo went out for a pass. That's not a bad number considering guys don't get the ball every time they are open. And at no point was he running uncontested down the seem.

• Three of Gonzalez's catches - including both TDs - for 34 yards came with defenders draped on his back. His first touchdown catch was an all-world, one-handed grab in the back of the end zone that no other TE in football will make.

• Five times Casey Matthews covered Gonzalez for zero catches.

The good news: Gonzalez was not running free in the middle of the field like tight ends had been in the past against the Eagles. This should be a positive sign going forward. Not many tight ends are going to make tiptoeing one-handed catches in the back of the end zone or have strong enough hands to haul in a 13-yard pass on 3rd-and-12 when Jarrad Page gets his hand on the ball. Plus, the Eagles can live with tight ends doing some damage (St. Louis' tight ends had 3 catches for 39 yards and a pair of drops in the opener) now that they can come close to blanking team's wide receivers.

Anyway, here's how the Eagles covered Gonzalez on Sunday. Mostly they did so with Jamar Chaney, still new to the strongside linebacker position that comes with so much coverage responsibility. The jury is still out on Chaney's cover skills. It's definitely something to watch as the season progresses.

Meanwhile, Matthews - challenged against the run - was much more successful against the pass. This is a major reason the Eagles have stuck with Matthews this long already in the middle.

Eagles Defenders vs. Tony Gonzalez

(Note: Many of these plays it's just whose area of the zone Gonzalez visits.)

Jamar Chaney: 11 Plays/4 Catches

Kurt Coleman: 5 Plays/1Catch

Casey Matthews: 5 Plays/0 Catches

Jarrad Page: 2 Plays/2 Catches

Moises Fokou: 1 Play/0Catches

Nnamdi Asomugha: 1 Play/1 INT

Other notable observations from the film:

• The Eagles sent more than a four-man rush just once on 21 pass plays in the second half. That play was negated by a penalty. They blitzed on just four of 24 pass plays in the game. Still the Eagles officially finished with four sacks and six quarterback hurries, all with a four-man rush.

• Mike Vick took 13 hits in less than three quarters, with the final one knocking him out of the game with a concussion. That includes a called running play and scrambles.

• Shady McCoy was asked to block or chip 11 times. Three of those 11 times he provided insufficient protection. One of those three plays resulted in an interception and the other got Vick knocked out of the game. He's not quite Brian Westbrook yet, at least when it comes to pass blocking.

• The reason the Eagles shut down the Falcons run game for much of the second and third quarters? One man: Trent Cole. Five times he stopped a running play for either a loss, no gain or minimal gain. It's possible Cole single-handedly masked the Eagles' problems against the run most of Sunday evening.

• Center Jason Kelce had a tough time with DT Peria Jerry in the first half. Three times Jerry was five yards deep in the backfield. Guards Kyle Devan and Evan Mathis had a few breakdowns but were generally solid. Jason Peters and Todd Herremans had very strong games.

Jason Babin was quite fortunate. Twice he jumped offsides only to have it negated by an offsetting penalty,

• Don't get too excited by Mike Kafka's numbers. Of his 10 total passes (including one negated by a penalty), four were screens, two were swing passes, and one was a Hail Mary.