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Asomugha final piece to what Eagles hope is Super redemption

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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Andy Reid's new defense figures to give QBs like Aaron Rodgers plenty of trouble. (AP)  
Andy Reid's new defense figures to give QBs like Aaron Rodgers plenty of trouble. (AP)  

When the San Francisco 49ers in January, 1994, lost their second straight NFC Championship Game to Dallas, they decided they had to do something, anything, to catch the Cowboys. So they reconstructed their defense to combat their nemesis, hiring a new coordinator, a new set of linebackers, Hall-of-Fame cornerback Deion Sanders and Hall-of-Fame defensive end Richard Dent.

The idea was simple: A leaky pass defense kept them from the top in 1993, but it wouldn't keep them from the top again. And it didn't. They beat Dallas in the NFC title game the following season, then won their fifth Super Bowl.

I suggest the same thinking is going on now with the Philadelphia Eagles, who last season came within a last-minute Michael Vick interception of toppling Green Bay in the NFC playoffs. We all know what happened from then on. The Packers buried opponents with the league's third-ranked passing game, then drilled Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl.

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In all of Green Bay's victories, there was a common theme ... and it centered around Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Virtually nobody could stop him.

So the Philadelphia Eagles will try. First, they move offensive line coach Juan Castillo to defensive coordinator in a bold and risky move. Then they import defensive-line coach Jim Washburn from Tennessee, with Washburn behind the addition of the Titans' best pass rusher -- free-agent Jason Babin, a guy who produced more sacks (12.5) than anyone on Philadelphia. Shortly after adding Babin, the Eagles exchange their backup quarterback for Arizona's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to plug the leak at right cornerback.

But why stop there when you can get the best free agent on the market? The 49ers didn't stop in 1994, and Philadelphia didn't stop on Friday. Instead, they pulled in Nnamdi Asomugha, the All-Pro cornerback everyone but the Eagles was supposed to chase this week. At least, that was my belief, and everything I heard confirmed it. But I was wrong, and Eagles fans can rejoice.

Sources close to the situation insist Philadelphia was zeroed in on Rodgers-Cromartie before Asomugha appeared on their radar late this week. Then the Eagles swung into action, moving quickly in the last 36 hours, and the rest you know.

With the addition of Asomugha, the Eagles are loaded at a position where they were vulnerable last season. Their right cornerback position was a liability, with neither Ellis Hobbs nor Dimitri Patterson capable of fixing the leak. So the Eagles acquired Rodgers-Cromartie to take their places, and that was supposed to be that.

Only now they have Asomugha, one of the few lockdown corners in the league, and, just my opinion, but Philadelphia just closed the gap between itself and the defending world champions. I know, the Eagles could have issues at linebacker, while Babin is 31 and a potential one-year wonder. But look what they've done: They turned upside-down a pass defense that last season ranked 14th overall, surrendered 63 plays of 20 or more yards and was victimized by more touchdown passes (31) than all but three clubs. Essentially, they overhauled their pass defense and are starting over.

Babin is the perfect outside pass rusher to team with best friend Trent Cole. Cole, who led the Eagles in sacks last season, had one in his last five starts (including the playoffs) and three in his last eight. Not good. By contrast, Babin never wore down -- with 3.5 sacks in his last four starts.

Cromartie is a talented and young (25) cornerback who reached the Pro Bowl two years ago, then tailed off significantly last season while seemingly in a daze. That might have been an issue if he were slow to adjust to his new home, but not Asomugha has joined the party. Remember, Asante Samuel is still on the roster.

You know how coaches always say you can never have enough pass rushers? Well, guess what: In an era where 300-yard passing games are routine, you can never have enough defensive backs, either. Green Bay proved that in Super Bowl XLV. The Eagles paid attention.

Quick, tell me how many times Rodgers was sacked by Philadelphia in the Packers' playoff win. That would be two for nine yards. And tell me how many times he was intercepted. He wasn't. He had three touchdowns and no interceptions.

OK, so the Eagles fizzled because they couldn't solve running back James Starks, who came out of nowhere to produce 123 yards, a playoff record for Green Bay rookies. But Starks wasn't the concern because Rodgers was ... and the Eagles couldn't defend him, either.

Now they can because they bolstered a pass rush that faded down the stretch. And they picked up the top cornerback on the market. And they added a promising young cornerback to the mix. And they added one of the top defensive-line coaches anywhere.

This isn't about the Philadelphia Eagles winning the division again or making the playoffs. They've been there and done that. Nope, they want to win a Super Bowl, and they just did something about it. They solved the one side of the ball that kept them from advancing in the playoffs the past three seasons, fortifying their defense so significantly and so completely that it's clear where they're aiming -- and it's Green Bay.

Stop Rodgers and the Packers' prolific passing game, and maybe you make it to the top. That is the hope. No, that is the plan.

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