Mark Simoneau moving out
In the wake of their first loss, a defeat by the Pittsburgh Steelers that further exposed a recent glaring deficiency against the run, the Philadelphia Eagles seem ready to make defensive lineup changes.
There is a good chance that Jeremiah Trotter, who returned to the Eagles this summer as a free agent after two seasons in Washington, will move into the starting middle linebacker spot where he earned a pair of Pro Bowl berths in his earlier Eagles tenure.
Trotter worked with the first unit Wednesday, and if the move is made permanent, current middle backer Mark Simoneau would switch to weakside linebacker, bumping Nate Wayne to the bench. Simoneau has started all but one of his 24 games with the Eagles at middle linebacker, but played the weakside spot with Atlanta and was acquired by Philadelphia in a 2003 trade to line up on the outside.
So shoddy was the Philadelphia run defense in the loss to the Steelers that, at one point, all three starting linebackers were benched for a short time.
The proposed linebacker reshuffling, expected to be finalized later this week during preparation for Dallas on Monday night, might be just the start of a front seven overhaul as defensive coordinator Jim Johnson tries to find a combination to stop the recent hemorrhaging against the run.
Second-year defensive tackle Sam Rayburn, who had two sacks against the Steelers and has played the run well at times, could move into the lineup at the expense of Darwin Walker. But Rayburn is recovering from injuries sustained in an automobile accident Monday night and is listed as questionable for Monday's game.
It would seem the Pittsburgh loss is the primary catalyst of change -- the Eagles surrendered 252 rushing yards, the most they've allowed since 1993, even though the Steelers played without starting tailback Duce Staley -- that game only magnified what had already become a problem.
The New York Giants rushed for 170 yards against the Eagles in the opener before the Eagles stiffened against the run, surrendering an average of just 62.3 yards during the next three outings. But in the four games since limiting Chicago to a paltry 32 rushing yards Oct. 3, the Philadelphia defense has struggled versus the run.
Over the last four games, the Eagles have allowed an average 172.0 yards rushing. In addition to the 252 yards gained by Pittsburgh, the Eagles have allowed 113 yards to the Ravens, 158 yards to injury-ravaged Carolina and 165 yards to Cleveland. The result: Philadelphia statistically ranks 27th versus the run at the halfway point of the season, allowing 130.6 rushing yards per game.
Truth be told, that isn't much more than the 129.4 rushing yards per game permitted by Philadelphia in 2003, when it finished the season ranked No. 22 against the run. But with expectations ramped up and fueled by a 7-0 start before the Pittsburgh debacle, everything the Eagles do in 2004 is more closely scrutinized.
"We brought this on ourselves," acknowledged defensive end Jevon Kearse. "Stopping the run used to be a little problem for us, but now it's a big problem."
One of the game's most creative coordinators, but known more for his aggressive blitz packages, Johnson is a bend-don't-break disciple. Normally, he isn't a guy who pays much attention to statistics. But his frustrations on the sideline last week were obvious and he apparently is intent on shoring up the run defense.
Trotter, who started one game earlier this season when Simoneau was injured, might offer a stouter alternative in the middle. At the weakside spot, Simoneau should be able to take advantage of his superior pursuit skills. But, as Trotter admonished the team in the locker room last Sunday evening, stopping the run is a mind-set the Eagles must regain.
"You've got to want to get your uniform dirty," he said. "You've got to ignore it if you get your nose bloodied up a little."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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