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Saturday, July 30, 2011
Examining the new Eagles secondary

By Dan Graziano

The morning after the Nnamdi Asomugha acquisition, everybody's still trying to clear up what it all means to the Eagles. Asante Samuel says he doesn't want to be traded, according to Jeff McLane, and he's fired up about being one of three stud Eagles cornerbacks along with Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Asante Samuel
Would the Eagles really be willing to deal star CB Asante Samuel to an NFC East rival?
Of course, the Eagles might trade Samuel. If they get blown away with a great offer, they could trade just about anybody. And they're obviously loaded in the secondary now, so they could trade him to free up cap room and/or fill a need elsewhere, such as linebacker.

But if they do keep all three, our outstanding ESPN Stats & Info blog says, they should see a pretty big difference in the effectiveness with which teams attack them in 2011:
[Asomugha will] help shore up an Eagles defense that allowed 31 touchdown passes last season, the most they’ve allowed since the NFL/AFL merger in 1970. In fact, two of their three worst seasons during that span have come in the past two seasons.

The 31 touchdown passes allowed was tied for third-most in the league last season with the Seattle Seahawks. Only the Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys, with 33 apiece, allowed more.

That's rough company, right there, and those saying the secondary wasn't the Eagles' problem last season would do well to look at that and think again. There are worse ways to correct a problem like that than by teaming three of the league's best cornerbacks together.

Stats & Info has a bunch more stuff in there, as always, including the fact that "The Eagles were near the league lead in interceptions on throws of 21 or more yards downfield, but were near league average in many other areas, and were in the bottom third on opponents' yards per pass attempt." This speaks to the way the defense was coached under Sean McDermott -- with an emphasis on seeking and forcing turnovers, sometimes at the expense of precious yards in the meantime. The new defense, with Juan Castillo as coordinator and Jim Washburn as line coach, is likely to put more of a premium on getting upfield and imposing pressure, and the coverage and tackling ability of someone like Asomugha should be an asset.

As for whether saturating the secondary with talent can work, Stats & Info offers this:
The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that it’s not uncommon to assemble this kind of talent in the same defensive backfield. Since 2002, five teams have had two cornerbacks make it to the Pro Bowl in the same season, including last year’s Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers and the Eagles themselves in 2002.

Green Bay sent Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson to the Pro Bowl last year and sent Woodson and former Eagle Al Harris in 2008. Philadelphia was represented by Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent in 2002.

That's still just two per team, and the pairs mentioned likely benefited from the play of the corners those teams had in supporting roles. The questions in Philadelphia become which of these three will take the supporting role, whether he will do that willingly and whether it would be a better idea to trade Samuel than to create a potentially uncomfortable situation with him down the road. Right now, everybody's saying all the same things. And if they're all committed to the same goal and willing to subvert personal glory to attain it, there's no reason to think they can't make it work. But as with most things, we'll see what becomes of the "if"s.