Under Review: On film, Eagles didn't improve

Under Review: On film, Eagles didn't improve
January 5, 2012, 6:26 am
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In the closing weeks of the regular season, the Eagles talked a lot about how much they had improved, how well they were playing and what a pity it was they werent going to the playoffs because they would have been tough to beat.

And if you look at the numbers four consecutive wins, all by lopsided scores it would seem to bear that out.

But then there is the tape

Were seeing the same things we saw all year, NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger said. The problems are still there. They havent gone away.

Those problems are:

-Poor tackling.

-Breakdowns in pass coverage.

-Inconsistent quarterback play.

They were on display again in the season finale against Washington. The Eagles won the game, 34-10, but it was more about the Redskins being awful than the Eagles being good. The Redskins were a battered, dispirited team just playing out the string, yet they hung in the game into the fourth quarter because the Eagles werent much better.

The Eagles scored three touchdowns in the last 12 minutes so it looks like a blowout and among the national observers who see only the final score, it fuels the talk about how this team finally hit its stride so watch out for the Eagles in 2012. If the Eagles really believe that and it appears they do they are kidding themselves.

The last four games proved one thing: The Eagles can beat up on bad teams and bad quarterbacks. It does not prove they have closed the gap on the top teams and thats how the Eagles should be measuring themselves. If their goal is to win the Super Bowl and owner Jeff Lurie insists that it is they should use those elite teams as their yardstick.

Yes, the Eagles ran the table, but it wasnt much of a table. It was four teams that, like the Eagles, failed to make the playoffs. It was four teams Miami, the New York Jets, Dallas and Washington that were a combined 5-11 in their last four games. It is quite a leap to beat those sad sacks and proclaim yourself ready to take on Green Bay and New Orleans.

Going through the tape of the Redskins game, these things jumped out

On defense, the tackling which was a problem much of the season isnt any better. Evan Royster, a slow-footed sixth-round pick from Penn State, ran through them for 165 total yards and averaged 5.7 yards per rushing attempt.

Royster had a 28-yard run up the middle on which four Eagles safety Jaiquawn Jarrett, linebacker Brian Rolle, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and nickel back Joselio Hanson all missed tackles. In fact, no one tackled him. Royster stumbled and fell or he may have gone the distance.

Washingtons only touchdown came on a screen pass from Rex Grossman to rookie running back Roy Helu. On the play, Rolle and middle linebacker Casey Matthews tripped over each other, safety Nate Allen ran right into tackle Willie Smith to take himself out of the play, Hanson slipped and fell and Asomugha was unable to shed the block of receiver Donte' Stallworth.

This is the worst tackling secondary Ive ever seen, Baldinger said.

Matthews played most of the game at middle linebacker because Jamar Chaney left with an injury. He did not show much improvement over the confused rookie who lost the job earlier this season. He still gets caught up in traffic, he doesnt have the strength to fight off blocks inside and he doesnt have the speed to make plays on the outside.

Example: On one play, Royster swung out of the backfield as a receiver. To Matthews credit, he read the play correctly. He was shading to that side and got a good jump on the ball, but Royster still outran him. Matthews made a diving, shoestring tackle but the play gained 10 yards. A linebacker with better speed would have stopped the plodding Royster for little or no gain.

In the fourth quarter, Royster took another handoff up the middle. Matthews was knocked to the ground by guard Chris Chester. Jarrett was in position to put a big hit on Royster as he came through the hole, but he almost missed him. Jarrett wound up grabbing Royster as he went by and hanging on, while five other Eagles helped drag him down.

All I heard about Jarrett was what a big hitter he was, but I havent seen it, Baldinger said. Look at this. Evan Royster drags six guys for five (extra) yards. Are you kidding me?

The rookie Jarrett also had trouble in pass coverage, but he wasnt alone. There were breakdowns all over the place. Baldinger counted at least a dozen blown coverages. If the Eagles were playing a team with even a halfway decent quarterback sorry, Rex, but you dont qualify they would have been in trouble.

Example: On the interception by Allen, the Eagles were in a Cover 3. The Redskins ran a two-man route. The Eagles had Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie covering the two receivers. Allens responsibility was to stay in the deep middle and not let anyone get behind him.

But Allen was left flat-footed when one receiver ran a stop and the other (Anthony Armstrong) ran a deep post. Allen was caught looking at the short man and lost sight of Armstrong breaking behind him. Armstrong was open, but Grossman was hurried and threw a bad pass.

The ball hung in the air and allowed DRC to recover and tip it away. Allen was trailing the play and caught the ball before it hit the ground for his second interception of the year (both off Grossman).

That is just one example; there were many others. On play after play, the Redskins had receivers open all over the field, sometimes more than one, but Grossman was unable to deliver the ball.

These breakdowns are astonishing, Baldinger said, rerunning a play on which tight end Logan Paulsen ran a corner route and was all alone in the end zone. There was no one covering him, but Grossman sailed the ball over his head.

Would Aaron Rodgers miss that throw to (tight end) Jermichael Finley? Baldinger asked. Would (Detroit quarterback) Matthew Stafford miss that throw to (tight end) Brandon Pettigrew? No, it would be a touchdown. So when the Eagles talk about how much they improved, I say theyre wrong.

On Vick, the numbers were gaudy 24 for 39, 335 yards and three touchdowns but his play was again uneven. He missed too many open receivers and he was careless with the football, fumbling on a sack and throwing a bad interception. Vick finished the season with as many turnovers (18) as touchdown passes and thats not winning football.

I was talking to some (Eagles) coaches and front office people before the game, said Baldinger, who broadcast the game on the Compass Media Network, and they really are excited about this winning streak. They think theyve turned it around. But how can you look at this (tape) and say that?

They can sugarcoat it all they want, but if they really think they are ready to play at the level of the elite teams, theyre delusional.

NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger and Ray Didinger break down every Eagles game on Under Review every Thursday, Friday and Saturday on Sports Nite and Sports Nite on Comcast Sports Net.

E-mail Ray Didinger at viewfromthehall@comcast.net.