HERE'S SOMETHING you probably didn't think would be a problem with cornerback Asante Samuel out of the lineup for the Eagles.
"Missed tackles," were what Eagles cornerback Dimitri Patterson called the biggest deficiency in the 31-26 loss in Chicago on Sunday. "That's what stands out all about Sunday.
"We had our hands on guys and just didn't come up with the tackles. That's something we can control."
OK, it's a stretch to say that the presence of Asante "They don't pay me to tackle" Samuel would have made a difference as Bears running backs and receivers were passing through Eagles defenders like turnstiles.
But what happened to the defense does illustrate the shortsighted view of those who want to discount Samuel - who missed the game with a knee sprain - as a difference-maker on the field.
Next to defensive end Trent Cole, Samuel is the guy on the Eagles' defense with whom the opposition is most concerned.
When he's on the field, the opposing quarterback, wide receiver and offensive coordinator are thinking about him.
Samuel, who leads the NFL with seven interceptions, can turn a game around on a single play.
He's the type of player who makes you think about what you want to do and how you want to do it.
Samuel is the type of corner who can blanket a top receiver out of a game.
He's the type of corner who can make a quarterback hesitant and indecisive.
In a game played at the NFL level, that indecision can make the difference between a completion, an incompletion and an interception.
Samuel might not be the kind of intimidator that a hard-hitting lineman, linebacker or safety is, but he is an intimidator nonetheless.
And Sunday's performance by the Bears' offense was a perfect illustration of the loss of respect the Eagles' defense gets when Samuel is not out there.
The Bears had the 27th-ranked passing attack in the league, yet Jay Cutler completed 14 of 21 passes for 247 yards and a career-high four touchdowns against the Eagles.
Cutler did that without having a receiver ranked in the top 35 in total receptions.
It's a safe assumption to say that Cutler had a bit more confidence going against a secondary that included cornerbacks Joselio Hanson and rookie Trevard Lindley than if Samuel had been out there.
It's an even safer assumption to say that if Samuel is not able to play tomorrow, Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub will be even more confident, since he has Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson, who ranks fourth in the league with 65 catches for 869 yards and five touchdowns. He has 13 catches of 20-plus yards, with three of 40 or more.
The Eagles didn't catch a break when the NFL fined but did not suspend Johnson for getting into a fight with Tennessee cornerback Cortland Finnegan.
"I don't want any excuses if [Johnson] doesn't play," Patterson said. "He's a good player, a well-respected player. I'm a competitor and I look forward to it. He's one of the better receivers in the league, no doubt about that. It's going to be a good challenge."
I respect Patterson's gamesmanship, but this type of situation is Samuel's specialty.
Call it coincidence, but the Eagles have played games against four receivers in the top 10 - Atlanta's Roddy White, Indianapolis' Reggie Wayne, Washington's Santana Moss and the New York Giants' Hakeem Nicks. They have combined for 23 touchdowns, but only one came against the Eagles.
Maybe it's more coincidence, but Samuel had seven pass defended and five interceptions in those games.
The math doesn't add up well for the Eagles if Samuel isn't ready to return.
"Getting better," Samuel said yesterday after being a limited participant in practice. "Working hard to get better. Working every day to get better."
The bottom line is that Samuel's presence makes a huge difference.
When he is not out there, there is even more pressure for the defensive line to get pressure on the quarterback.
When Samuel isn't playing, the trickle-down effect dramatically affects the secondary.
Players like Hanson and Lindley couldn't handle the job upgrades they had on Sunday against Chicago.
"If Asante's back, he's a guy that adds a lot of veteran leadership to that group," Schaub said. "They put themselves in position to make plays and they create a bunch of turnovers.
"It's just something you've got to identify what's going on and find the right guy to throw it to."
That will be harder to do if Samuel plays.
So, no, the presence of Samuel won't dramatically improve the Eagles' tackling issues.
Of the six players with at least five interceptions, five are cornerbacks. Samuel's 23 tackles are the fewest - 14 fewer than Detroit's Alphonso Smith.
Still, when Samuel is out on the field, there are always a few plays when he does something that means the Eagles don't have to make a tackle.
That kind of impact cannot be easily replaced.
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