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Who Benefits In Bowles' Defense?

Posted Oct 23, 2012

The word spreading in the locker room when players are asked about the "new" Todd Bowles defense is "unpredictable." As in, the Eagles are going to give a lot of different looks, with a lot of different players expected to step up ...

We don't yet know how much Todd Bowles plans to tweak the defense. Do you expect a radically different approach to the defense? I don't. I think, instead, that Bowles is going to add his personality, is going to show some aggressiveness and is going to hopefully present a variety of looks from game to game.

The expectation here, too, is that he's going to ask his players to expand their roles. A great coordinator makes the most of each player's talents and, with that, gives each player an opportunity to shine.

So who benefits from Bowles being in charge? Which players does he lean on and ask more from after observing them for six games? Here are some ideas ...

MYCHAL KENDRICKS, linebacker

The second-round draft pick has come a long way in a short period of time, and Mychal Kendricks has maybe his biggest challenge on Sunday when veteran, and future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez comes to town. Gonzalez is on top of his game and is clicking wonderfully with quarterback Matt Ryan.

Kendricks has done a good job against tight ends and he has to match athletic ability with Gonzalez, who obviously has a huge advantage in experience. Beyond that very tough matchup, Kendricks has a chance to expand his role with some blitz chances -- which he showed in training camp that he could do successfully -- and some other "downhill" opportunities within the defense.

Look for Kendricks' role to expand in the weeks to come. It will be interesting to see what Bowles does with the promising rookie.

PHILLIP HUNT, defensive end

A sensation in training camp and in the preseason, Phillip Hunt has seen very little action in the regular season and played all of one snap against Detroit. What's going on with Hunt? He's certainly got the ability to create pressure off the edge and he has quickness and desire to play the run.

Hunt isn't going to push for a starting role, but it makes sense that he gets some more snaps. It may be more of a Jim Washburn decision than a Todd Bowles call, but the Eagles need to give everyone a shot in order to have more pass-rush pressure.

The team has not had a sack in three straight games. That is a difficult fact to digest. The Eagles need to put some heat on Ryan on Sunday, no matter who it comes from.

NATE ALLEN, safety

You can see the improvement in Nate Allen now that he's healthy, and maybe it is time to consider just how good Allen can be if he has a chance to make some plays. I'm not sure that Allen will blitz a lot, but he should have some chances near the line of scrimmage. The Eagles need more negative plays on defense, so why not utilize Allen more?

He's shown he is aggressive and a sure tackler in the screen game, and while we haven't seen a lot of Allen blitzing, he can probably show enough to at least become an option.

The Eagles have gotten good play from both Allen and Kurt Coleman, and they're going to need more from both in the weeks ahead. The trick for Bowles is to put his safeties in position to make plays at the line of scrimmage and not to allow big gains down the field.

FLETCHER COX, defensive tackle

The Eagles rave about the play of their first-round draft pick, and Fletcher Cox has earned the trust of the coaching staff in a big way. He's playing a lot of snaps. He is moving the pile, and engaging in hand-to-hand combat with some very good, veteran guards.

Now it's time for Cox to make some plays behind the line of scrimmage.

How Bowles and Washburn use Cox remains to be seen. Do they see him as a more penetrating tackle, or do they want to have Cox occupy two blockers and allow the linebackers to knife in and make plays?

Cox is physical, he's got a good grasp on what Washburn wants him to do and he has a chance to wreak some havoc inside. The Eagles need him to do so, especially against Ryan, whom the Eagles must squeeze in order to slow him down.

NNAMDI ASOMUGHA, cornerback

For much of three quarters against Detroit, the Eagles used Nnamdi Asomugha to shadow wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who was pretty much of a non-factor. Then it all changed in the fourth quarter as the Lions targeted Johnson and the Eagles mixed their coverages and, well, it all fell apart.

Asomugha provides the kind of physical, intelligent versatility to feature in the defense. He can stay outside and play press coverage and he can go into the slot and match up against receivers and tight ends. I don't see Asomugha blitzing much, but he can be a go-get-him cornerback here.

It's going to be very interesting to see what the Eagles do when Roddy White moves into the slot on Sunday. Do the Eagles leave rookie Brandon Boykin there, or do they use Asomugha inside? Can they give Atlanta some looks when Asomugha matches up against Gonzalez?

The Eagles must maximize Asomugha, who has many strengths and some obvious weaknesses. It's important that Bowles emphasizes the former, and stays away from the latter. That's the challenge throughout the defense, and in some cases it's more imperative than in others.

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