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Getting It Right With Physical CBs

There were no promises and, certainly, no guarantees. Todd Bowles isn't that kind of a guy. He's a soft-spoken man, a no-nonsense coach and his two-way communication with the players is very direct and extremely honest.

"I want players," said Bowles that day, "who can mix their coverages, who can be physical and who are going to play the way the coaching staff wants them to play."

With that, in the course of the offseason, the Eagles made some adjustments to their cornerback roster. They traded playmaking Pro Bowl veteran Asante Samuel to Atlanta. They drafted Brandon Boykin and picked him over veteran Joselio Hanson for the nickel job.

Bowles refined the technique with his cornerbacks, a stable that has more size and interest in playing physical football than any group the Eagles have had since the days of Troy Vincent/Bobby Taylor/Al Harris.

"I think we have a good mix here," said Nnamdi Asomugha. "We all have similarities but then again we all bring our own particular style to the table. It's working out well for us so far, and the key is to keep improving every day, keep working on the little things together."

Game 1 went more than good for the cornerbacks, who played shutdown football against Cleveland. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie picked off a pair of Brandon Weeden passes and Asomugha allowed one, maybe two completions. Boykin, in his NFL debut, was more than very solid. Curtis Marsh (second year) and Brandon Hughes (fourth year) didn't see much action -- Hughes played 12 snaps and Marsh, battling a hamstring injury, played only one down from the line of scrimmage -- but they are ready if and when they are called upon.

This week's challenge will be more formidable, of course. Baltimore's receiving corps has upgraded tremendously in the last couple of years, with speedster Torrey Smith and explosive slot receiver Jacoby Jones joining veteran Anquan Boldin. Baltimore also boasts a pair of tight ends who stretch the field and who are dangerous in the red zone.

Juan Castillo and his coaching staff have tough assignments to handle. For one, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is an experienced hand, and he is off to a great start in 2012, having earned the AFC's Offensive Player of the Week for his performance against the Bengals on Monday night.

You wonder how the Eagles are going to match up against an offense that is as balanced as any in the league. Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie are not only going to be asked to cover down the field, they're also going to have to support against Ray Rice and his multiple skills. Rice is a killer in the screen game and he's obviously a star running the football.

"It's a real good offense," said Rodgers-Cromartie. "They've got it all over there."

The Eagles are well-equipped on defense. Asomugha's remarkable versatility allows the Eagles to move him around in coverage. He can match up with Boldin, the physical presence who catches everything. Asomugha could also go inside and try to take tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, who actually led Baltimore with 5 catches for 73 yards and a score to help beat Cincinnati.

Every bit of the Eagles' flexibility in coverage will be on display in this one. The Eagles clearly have to get to Flacco and try to take him out of his comfort zone, but there are going to be times when Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie are out on the island, asked to play bump-and-run defense and keep their assignments under wraps.

It's a tester, for sure. The first impressions of the newfangled cornerback corps -- bigger, stronger, faster than last year's group -- were extremely positive. Game 2 is a another snapshot of how Bowles operates and how Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie and the rest of the cornerbacks respond to a big moment.

"I'm excited," said Asomugha. "We know how good they are. We have to play great football against them to win our battles."

Another convincing performance will be, for all of us, convincing. The Eagles changed things around at cornerback in the offseason, and they've been pleased thus far with the results. Sunday offers a new sample to study, with the Ravens and their prolific offense as good a test as there is on the schedule.

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