The Philadelphia Eagles on Friday quietly executed a perfect coup de stat -- that's when a team sneaks into the free-agent market to capture the best available player who, most importantly, fills a position of great statistical need.
If the Cold, Hard Football Facts had emotions, we'd be proud of the way the Eagles landed shiny new-to-you Philly cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha: with the same lonely, frigid detachment of a Banana Republic assassin or, better yet, of Rocky Balboa training in a meat locker for the battle ahead.
The former Oakland star was widely considered football's most talented free agent, a game-changer who will instantly upgrade any defense on which he lands.
The Jets had a very a public dalliance with this pigskin paramour, trying to clear millions in cap space to land the defender. The tandem of Darrelle Revis and Asomugha at corner would have made Rex Ryan's already stout defense virtually impenetrable and perhaps altered once and for all the balance of power between the Jets and Patriots in the AFC East.
Houston was rumored to be hot after Asomugha. And the Texans desperately needed to improve a pass defense that was dead last in the NFL by almost any measure, whether yards allowed (4,280) or our preferred measure, Defensive Passer Rating (100.5).
Dallas always makes big news, and their romance with Asomugha was no different. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones touted his quest for the cornerback as a sign that he was serious about upgrading the team during an appearance Friday on Dallas sports radio 105.3 The Fan with Richie Whitt and Greggo Williams. Jones seemed shocked to find, during the appearance, that Asomugha had just gone to the heated NFC East rival Eagles.
Adding to the surprise? Philadelphia traded quarterback Kevin Kolb to Arizona for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on Thursday, giving the appearance that the team was already set at the position.
Besides the fact that few saw it coming, what truly makes the Asomugha signing the singular coup de stat of the wild 2011 free-agency period was that it perfectly fills Philly's most glaring weakness of 2010: A pass defense that was fried more often than a slice of Lancaster County scrapple.
The Eagles were fairly stout in most areas last year, No. 6 across the board in 2010 in the league-wide "Quality Stats" Power Rankings that we're introducing this week at Cold, Hard Football Facts.com. They were a legit Super Bowl contender by most any measure.
Even the Philadelphia pass defense was stout in many ways: only four teams were better at forcing Negative Pass Plays (10.6 percent of opponent dropbacks ended in a sack or INT). Opponents completed just 57.5 percent of their passes (seventh-best league wide) and only the 14-2 Patriots and Super Bowl champ Packers hauled in more interceptions than Philadelphia's 23.
One little problem: Philly surrendered a franchise-worst 31 touchdown passes in 2010.
Oh, just that.
Only also-rans Dallas and Houston surrendered more TD passes (33 each). A little perspective? Conference champions Green Bay and Pittsburgh surrendered a total of 31 TD passes between the two of them.
The inability to stop opposing passers haunted the Eagles during their ugly three-game season-ending skid.
Philly was 10-4 and appeared destined for a first-round bye after their signature 38-31 over the Giants in Week 15.
The high-flying Eagles simply needed to beat the struggling Vikings at home. It should have been an easy victory: Philly had a short path to the Super Bowl riding on the outcome, the team was fresh off the most exciting win of the 2010 season, it was playing at home (on a Tuesday night after snow had delayed the Sunday start) and it was facing a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start.
Minnesota's Joe Webb didn't find the end zone. But he looked as crisp as a veteran (17 of 26, 195 yards, 0 INT) in a 24-14 Vikings upset. Instead of an easy victory for the Eagles, it was an ominous loss.
A week later, in the regular-season finale, Philadelphia faced another rookie QB making his first NFL start. Dallas's Stephen McGee didn't look as sharp as Webb (11 of 27, 127 yards), but he was good enough to find Jason Witten for a touchdown with 55 seconds to play in a 14-13 Cowboys victory.
Unable to stop inexperienced rookie quarterbacks, the Eagles defense was outclassed by Green Bay star Aaron Rodgers in the wild-card round. The future Super Bowl MVP (not to mention the highest-rated passer in both regular-season and postseason NFL history) passed for just 180 yards, but his three scoring strikes were all the Packers needed to secure a 21-16 victory in Philadelphia.
Credit Philadelphia executives Howie Roseman and Joe Banner for looking at their team, finding its biggest flaw, and addressing it in the offseason (it's surprising how many teams fail to do so each year).
The Eagles drafted two DBs back in April, Jaiquawn Jarrett (second round) and Curtis Marsh (third), before adding Rodgers-Cromartie and Asomugha this week. The team now boasts three Pro Bowl cornerbacks, though pick-master Asante Samuel may be the odd man out on the crowded roster. But he should land plenty of value for the Eagles if put on the trading block.
Two weeks ago here we listed four teams who desperately needed the services of Asomugha. Philly wasn't on the list, a fact which inspired a flood of emails and Twitter messages from Eagles fans.
"PHI could use NA more than JAX," Tweeted reader David Ryglicki. "PHI is way closer to glory." He beamed today after the deal: "Toldja we needed him most! And we got him!'
Our only defense? If we added a fifth team to that list, it would have been Philadelphia. But it seems Philly's perfectly executed coup de stat took even the Cold, Hard Football Facts by surprise.
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