We were all excited back in August as the Eagles made move after move. The team signed stars and role players. They signed guys to be long time starters and short term "band-aids". Almost all of the moves made sense. The moves, added to a very good core of players, made the Eagles a certain playoff team and Super Bowl favorite. The Eagles are now 4-8. What the heck happened? Let's go back and use hindsight to judge the moves.
Nnamdi Asomugha - I think just about every Eagles fan on the planet was on cloud nine when late on a Friday afternoon in August the news broke that Asomugha was passing on the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys to sign with the Eagles. That was truly a magical moment. Expectations were immediately sky high, since Asomugha gave the Eagles a true shutdown corner for the first time since Troy Vincent left.
Those expectations have not been met. The early question was how many completions Asomugha would allow. Forget about completions, he's given up multiple touchdowns. Asomugha has been beaten for big plays. He's had some costly penalties. This isn't the shutdown corner fans expected to see.
The problem is that Asomugha hasn't been used strictly as a right corner. He has played in the slot. He's been a linebacker in some nickel and dime sets. He's played safety in some looks. I'm not sure if this role is something that Juan Castillo pushed on Asomugha or if it is something he asked Castillo to let him do. Is Asomugha at fault for thinking he is a Charles Woodson type player or is Castillo at fault for trying to use him in such a role?
Asomugha hasn't been a total failure. Far from it. He has done okay playing the different roles. He just hasn't looked like the elite player we all expected. He has been more of a playmaker than anyone figured he would. Asomugha had three interceptions over the course of his final four seasons in Oakland. He has three picks in less than a full season in Philly.
Football Outsiders recently had the Eagles ranked number one in shutting down opposing tight ends (how many people knew that?). The main reason is Asomugha. He has covered a lot of them man-to-man. He did that against Vernon Davis, Jason Witten, Rob Gronkowski, and others. Asomugha has the size to handle them, but is also athletic enough and skilled enough to cover tightly.
It will be interesting to see how he's used by the 2012 defensive coordinator, whoever that may be. Will Asomugha continue to be used creatively or will he go back to being just a right corner? Overall, I think this was a good signing, but it sure hasn't been the home run that many people thought.
Jason Babin - Good signing. The Eagles wanted Babin to line up at left end and fly off the edge. He's done just that and leads the team with 12 sacks. Babin gets flak for not being a better run defender, but that isn't his primary objective. He is told to line up wide and come hard after the quarterback. When the Eagles have faced run situations and moved him in over a blocker to a more traditional role, Babin has been a solid run defender. He's never going to be Reggie White, but that's not why the Eagles brought him here. Babin's role is to rush the passer.
Some fans and media members really wanted Ray Edwards. He signed for more money with the Falcons, but has been a major disappointment. Babin costs less and has 10 more sacks. The Eagles haven't gotten this kind of production from left end since the mid-1990s when William Fuller manned the spot.
Cullen Jenkins - Great signing. I remember watching Eagles Live when it was announced that Jenkins had signed with the Eagles. I was a bit confused. Jenkins was supposed to be coveted by 3-4 teams looking for an end. He was going to command big money. For some reason, teams got cold feet. The Eagles moved in and got him for a reasonable deal. Jenkins has been a perfect fit in the new scheme and might be the best interior pass rusher in the NFL.
Last year all the defensive tackles on the roster combined for eight sacks. Jenkins has 5.5 by himself and there is a month left in the season. Jenkins is a gifted athlete and natural pass rusher. One reason teams were nervous is that he's got a reputation for getting hurt. This year Jenkins has been a model of health.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie - I think this is a move you have to rate as incomplete. Rodgers-Cromartie came to the Eagles to take over at right corner. He looked great at Lehigh. You could see his speed, athleticism, and ball skills. It sure looked like the Eagles had traded for a stud corner. Then Asomugha signed. That meant that Rodgers-Cromartie was going to be moved around.
He's played in the slot quite a bit. That is a poor fit for Rodgers-Cromartie and it shows. Slot receivers work the middle of the field. They use quickness to get open. Rodgers-Cromartie is big and fast. Putting him in the slot negates his speed, which is his best asset. That has eroded his confidence and it shows in the way he's played this year.
Rodgers-Cromartie has had some major issues with tackling and effort. I think that ties in to playing in the slot and being unsure of himself. He really struggled against the Bears. Someone obviously got on him and Rodgers-Cromartie had a good game against Arizona, at least in terms of tackling. Unfortunately, he got hurt and hasn't played since. I still think he's got tremendous upside. Rodgers-Cromartie needs to play out wide. Use him the right way and you should get better results.
Danny Watkins - I'm including Watkins since he was the team's first round pick. Anyone who watched Watkins at Baylor and/or the Senior Bowl fell in love with his potential as a player. He looked like he could be a Pro Bowl guard. Expectations were high when the Eagles picked him. Sure, he was older, but that maturity would help him adjust to the league quicker. Oops. Watkins held out. He struggled mightily upon returning to action. He was then benched for the first month of the season. Watkins got back his starting job and has been solid ever since. Watkins has ups and downs, but you can really see his potential. He is a good run blocker right now. His pass protection does need work.
Some people didn't like the pick because of Watkins age and the fact that guard isn't an impact position. Those are fair arguments. I do think that anyone who has watched him play will agree that he can be a good starting guard in 2012. Watkins needs more coaching and practice. He's got the talent.
Vince Young - Oh boy. This seemed like such a great move. Young wanted to come to Philly. He wanted to use the Eagles to improve his passing and improve his reputation around the league. The Eagles wanted to have a backup who was a proven winner. Each side knew this was a temporary marriage, but hoped for the best. This is one time when both sides lost.
I had mixed feelings on Young when he was a Titan. I hated him the moment he said the phrase "dream team" at his press conference up at Lehigh. That moniker has been an anchor around the neck of the 2011 Eagles. Every writer, blogger, announcer, analyst, and opposing player/coach has taken that phrase and used it against the team in any way possible.
I was willing to forgive Vince when he helped the Eagles beat the Giants on Sunday night a few weeks back. Life was good. Then he struggled against the Patriots and Seahawks. He went 0-2 and I'm back to hating him. In his defense, he was hurt by dropped passes. He also did show a lot of heart with his block on the Shady McCoy cutback run. The problem is that quarterbacks aren't judged on heart and effort. They are judged on wins, passing yards, and touchdowns. Young comes up small in all those areas. I'll be glad to see him elsewhere. This proved to be a bad move.
Ronnie Brown - Wasted signing. Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg have neglected using the backup running back for years. They got Correll Buckhalter some touches in 2008 and Leonard Weaver some touches in 2009, but even then they underused those players. I was ecstatic when the team signed Brown. He was a complete player and veteran. To me, this was a sign the coaches wanted a good backup and would use him. Oops.
Brown has 19 touches this year. 19! That is ridiculous and a huge point of frustration for me. You sign a good backup so you can use him. Ugh. Brown obviously hurt himself with his ludicrous decision to try and throw a pass near the goal line in the San Francisco game. I fully expect Brown to go somewhere next year and be a productive player.
Steve Smith - If any one move showed all that is wrong with the Eagles, this is it. They added Smith at a time when he wasn't 100 percent. Most people think Smith was signed as insurance in case anything went wrong with Jeremy Maclin. That is probably the truth. Maclin came back full speed and made Smith a non-factor. Smith is getting five to ten plays a game and hasn't even taken advantage of them. The lowlight was his play against the Cardinals when he hit the ground instead of fighting for yards on third and long. Smith came here as a mercenary. He's all about the money. The Eagles overpaid to get him and are dumb for keeping him around. Cut the guy and move on. Let him go sign with the Giants or whoever. Just get him out of Philly.
Jarrad Page - Wow, talk about how a month can change your perception. Page was signed in early August as insurance. No one paid the move much attention. The preseason started and Page lit it up. He was all over the place and looked really good. That earned him a starting role. Life was good.
Then the regular season started. You know the phrase "tackling machine"? Page is the first guy I would label as a "missed tackle machine". I have never seen a veteran player struggle so much with tackling. It is uncanny how many times he took bad angles and used bad technique. You wonder if the guy needs glasses. Everyone who is around Page loves him as a person, but boy was he an awful player.
Evan Mathis - Mathis was another veteran afterthought when the Eagles signed him. He's just the opposite of Page. Mathis worked his way around the line in the summer and became a starter late in the preseason. He's turned out to be a great signing. He has been veyr good at left guard. Mathis is perfect for Mudd's style of blocking. Mathis has had some missed blocks and penalties, but overall he's been a great find. I think Mathis will get a new contract once free agency begins (a quirk in the rules doesn't let you extend guys who signed one-year deals).
Derek Landri - One of my favorite Eagles. He was here in the summer and played his butt off. The Eagles made a mistake in cutting him, but were able to re-sign him after Antonio Dixon's injury. Landri has outplayed Trevor Laws, his fellow backup at defensive tackle. Landri is a blue collar guy and the kind of player this team could use more of.