Sep 112010

Eagles CB Asante Samuel

September 10 Philadelphia Daily News columnist Paul Domowitch

“FOOTBALL COACHES spend countless hours scrutinizing game film, looking for their opponent’s soft spots and weaknesses.

When Packers coach Mike McCarthy and his staff reviewed the defensive film of the Eagles‘ last few games of the 2009 season, particularly their back-to-back, season-ending losses to the Cowboys and a harder-than-it-should-have-been, 30-27, Week 16 win over the Broncos, one of the things that no doubt jumped out at them was the Eagles‘ vulnerability to the wide-receiver screen.

Both the Broncos and the Cowboys had a lot of success with it, directing most of them to the left side of the Eagles‘ defense, where Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel resides.

Samuel is one of the game’s top ballhawks, as evidenced by his league-best 29 interceptions over the last 4 years, including nine last season. But he is a poor tackler and doesn’t care much for press coverage, which makes him an ideal target for wide-receiver screens.

“The Cowboys killed us on those,” said former Eagles cornerback Sheldon Brown, who was traded to the Browns in early April. “You’ve got to give them credit for executing them. We didn’t execute.”

The wide-receiver screen has become increasingly popular over the last few years, and why not? It’s a high-percentage play that allows you to get the ball in space to elusive receivers and backs who aren’t easy to bring down in space.

“We kind of went through a phase with it when Gary Crowton was the Bears’ offensive coordinator [in 1999-2000],” said Eagles coach Andy Reid. “He kind of brought it into the league and you saw it with him, and then a few other teams tried it, and then they kind of backed off.

“Then last year, you saw it quite a bit. We ran a few, and other teams ran more than even what we did. In certain situations, it can be good for you. Especially if you have nifty little receivers out there that can skedaddle.”

Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott knows his unit must be a lot better against wide-receiver screens this season than it was last year. The Eagles dramatically upgraded their overall speed on defense in the offseason, particularly at linebacker, largely so they would be better able to get to the ball and make plays. And McDermott and Reid made it clear to Samuel that he needed to become a better tackler and encouraged him to hit the weights and add some muscle to his scrawny frame.

“That’s what you do,” McDermott said. “You look at your problems in the offseason and try to get those problems corrected.”

McDermott said he was pleased by how his unit defended wide-receiver screens in the preseason and hopes they can carry that into the regular season.

“We saw some in the preseason and handled them extremely well,” he said. “We’re going to continue to see them and we’re going to continue to work on them.””

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