2011 NFL Free Agency: Philadelphia Eagles Emphasize Improving Their Pass Defense
In the NFL's modern day quarterback-driven league, one of the underrated and essential aspects of the game is the ability to shut down opposing passing offenses. With quarterbacks like Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady regularly in the playoffs, having a solid pass defense is just as important as having a franchise quarterback.
This brings me to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Last season, the Eagles ranked 14th in pass defense, but surrendered 31 passing touchdowns, tied for third most in the league.
Coming into the offseason, improving the pass defense was a high priority for the Eagles, and they did so in a big way during the recent free agency frenzy.
There are two ways to address a pass defense: improve your pass rush or improve your secondary. The Eagles have done both.
This process started on Thursday when the Eagles signed free agent defensive end Jason Babin to a five-year deal. Babin recorded 12.5 sacks and made the Pro Bowl last season while playing for the Tennessee Titans. He provides a great compliment to Pro Bowl defensive end Trent Cole.
With two players who are capable of producing double-digit sacks and immense amounts of pressure on the quarterback, the Eagles can rely on a four-man pass rush to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. This allows them to drop seven men into coverage more often instead of having to blitz to pressure the quarterback.
Also, players who were already on the roster like Daryl Tapp, Brandon Graham and Juqua Parker now provide depth to the position, allowing the Eagles to rotate pass-rushers and keep fresh bodies on the field, or to provide insurance if there is an injury to one of the Eagles' defensive ends.
Upgrading the pass rush was a huge step, but the Eagles did not stop there. They also made the effort to upgrade their secondary.
While last year's starter Asante Samuel has been a consistent Pro Bowler at one corner spot, the play of the second corner for the Eagles last year was inconsistent and just plain awful at times.
To address this, the Eagles on Thursday used trade bait Kevin Kolb to acquire Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Then, to make things even better, the Eagles signed the most prized free agent in this year's free agency class, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.
These moves were brilliant for the Eagles for a number of reasons.
Let's start with the obvious one though. Nnamdi Asomugha is arguably the best corner in the league. He is the type of player a team can leave in man-to-man coverage with the other team's best receiver and not worry about being burned. That in and of itself is a huge benefit.
Another benefit is that with Asomugha shutting down one side of the field, more passes will have to be thrown against Asante Samuel. Samuel is a great corner himself, and his interception total could very well reach double digits with teams staying away from Asomugha.
The third, and most overlooked benefit for the Eagles, is that Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie bring size to the Eagles secondary. While Sheldon Brown and Asante Samuel have been good corners for the Eagles, both are undersized and have struggled against players like Plaxico Burress, Hakeem Nicks and Miles Austin.
With Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie, however, the aforementioned receivers will not simply be able to out-jump the Eagles' defensive backs to get the ball, and matchups against the Eagles' two primary division rivals, the Giants and the Cowboys, become much more favorable for the Eagles.
Finally, having three great corners on the same team allows the Eagles to avoid having to double-team opponent's best wide receivers. Instead, the Eagles have extra players who they can use to double-team or triple-team outstanding tight ends like Jason Witten, Tony Gonzalez, or Jermichael Finley, or they can use those extra players to put eight in the box against a great running team like the New York Jets or Baltimore Ravens in an effort to stop the running game.
While the Eagles' linebacking corps is still suspect, great play from both the defensive line and the secondary can mask that to some extent.
We still have not talked about the influence that the Eagles' high octane offense has on the Eagles defense. As potent as the Eagles offense is, they will be able to score early and often against opposing defenses. This puts pressure on other teams to get away from running the ball, forcing them to throw against the Eagles' new-look pass defense.
Philadelphia Eagles fans are excited about this offseason and they should be. If the new pieces, as well as the players already in place, live up to their potential, the Eagles are a top-five team in the NFL with one of the best pass defenses in the league. Many fans are crowning the Eagles as the favorite to win it all.
Before you start making any guarantees, keep in mind that the preseason Super Bowl favorites do not usually make the Super Bowl. Heck, they don't always make the playoffs. Just ask the Cowboys about the surefire Super Bowl they were going to win last year.
Like always, NFL games are won and lost on the football field. However, with their new-look pass defense, this Eagles team certainly has the potential to make a Super Bowl run if the new pieces fall into place correctly.
On paper, the Eagles are one of the best teams in the NFL. Now I'm excited to see them fulfill the lofty expectations that they have this season.
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