By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — There seemed to be a business-as-usual ambiance in the Eagles’ locker room as they returned to practice Wednesday after their bye week, especially with the defensive players.
The one glaring difference was that Todd Bowles was running the defense and not Juan Castillo. But the terminology, the philosophy, everything still seemed to be the same. Though, there were some hints the 6-0 Atlanta Falcons may see some slight wrinkles when they visit Lincoln Financial Field this Sunday in a critical game for the Eagles and Andy Reid.
How different will the defense look under new defensive coordinator Bowles?
“We’ll have to wait and see,” Eagles safety Kurt Coleman said. “He knows this defense really well. He understood the strengths of it, and he understands the weaknesses of it. We went back and did a lot of evaluating, tweaking some things. We have to take the pressure [off Michael Vick]. We know he’s a competitor, and as a defense, we have to take care of our job and create turnovers. This isn’t a one-man game, it’s a team game.”
Linebacker DeMeco Ryans feels that the defense may be more diverse under Bowles, using every player’s strength. There is a chance the Eagles may be more aggressive, using Ryans and rookie linebacker Mychal Kendricks in more blitz packages.
“Whatever Todd calls, I’m all for it, it’s up to him and whatever he calls,” Ryans said. “I’m not saying I don’t know what we’re going to do, but whatever he calls, we’re eager to get it done.”
One thing is for certain, the Falcons’ high-powered offense, led by Penn Charter graduate Matt Ryan, whose family still lives in the Philadelphia area and who’s completed 143 of 213 passes for 1,612 yards and 13 touchdowns this season in leading the Falcons to their first 6-0 start in team history, along with wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones, will be on alert for any concoctions Bowles may throw at them.
The Bowles’ version of the Eagles defense is an unknown.
“It’s a lot like the first game of the year,” Ryan said with a hint of a Southern twang. “I think there will be some similar things to what they’ve done the first six weeks of the season. I’m sure they’ll have a wrinkle or two for us, some things that will be a little big different.
“We’ll just have to adjust and adapt to it during the game. We’ll prepare the same way we do every week. For what we’ve seen on tape thus far, we know personnel-wise, they’re going to have the same guys out there, and their personnel is really very good, and that’s where our mindset has to be. We have to be prepared to play against those guys.”
Against the Eagles, Ryan has been a little harsh on his hometown team, going 3-1 as a starter, completing 63 of 114 passes for 722 yards, with eight touchdowns and five interceptions.
“Things aren’t that different, you can’t change a whole defense in a week, with a few wrinkles,” rookie cornerback Brandon Boykin said. “[Bowles] is going to put us in the best position to make plays, I think. With me being a defensive back, and him being my coach, I was groomed under him from the beginning, so it makes things easier for me. I can’t say whether or not we’ll be more aggressive. But we’ll see after this game.”
Look Who’s Talking: On Monday, second-year guard Danny Watkins said he wouldn’t be talking to the media anymore, citing negative reviews about his play as a reason why. On Wednesday, a smiling Watkins changed his mind.
“I think that got a little blown out of proportion,” Watkins explained. “I was asked a question and I was a little disappointed just in myself and the way the team had been playing. I just didn’t have anything to say, and I said, ‘I think it’s best I don’t have anything to say today.’ You can ask me anything today? I’m fine with that.
“The bye week left a sour taste in your mouth. You can’t take your mind off of it, because that’s all you’re really thinking about. The first day back, it’s the first thing you’re getting hounded with. It’s not how we wanted to go into the bye week by any means.”
Prior to the game against Detroit, Watkins said felt he was playing okay and felt honed in against New York, Pittsburgh and Arizona.
Against Detroit, “Overall, just the focus and technique, I got away from it,” Watkins admitted. “It’s been a steady progression technique wise. I think there is a little bit of both [tension and urgency in the locker room]. We have to start producing, we have to start winning. I think it puts a lingering shadow on everyone, you can say. You absolutely take it personally [when the offensive line gets criticized]. You’re close with the guys, and you want to see them do well, myself included.”
Injury update: Andy Reid said safety Nate Allen (hamstring) will practice, and tackle Jason Peters (right Achilles tendon) is progressing.
“We’ll just see,” Reid said about Peters. “He’s got three weeks here. We’ll see how he does here. He’s not ready right now. The way that I understood [it] was it’s three weeks from today. We’ll see. The ninth week is really what it is. Not from today but from Monday or Tuesday, whenever you’d activate him onto that next phase.”
Reid didn’t rule out the possibility of Peters returning before the end of the season.
“There’s a chance,” he said. “You saw [Baltimore Ravens LB Terrell] Suggs go through the same thing. Now the difference is Jason had two of these. I’m not going to put him at risk. That’s not what we’re going to do. We’re going to make sure the doctors are on board, Jason is on board, and then we go from there. The other guys are playing now and that’s what they’re doing. If Jason is physically able to be there then that’s okay but we’re not going to do anything to risk further injury to him.”
Bird Seed Notes
Numbers crunching. The Eagles hold a series lead over the Falcons, 15-11-1, and have won six of their last eight games against Atlanta. Andy Reid is 8-2 lifetime against the Falcons.
The last time these teams met Matt Ryan threw four touchdowns and Michael Turner rushed for 114 yards and a touchdown in a 35-31 Atlanta victory on September 18, 2011. In that game, the Eagles blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead, which they’re recovering from in their 26-23 overtime loss to Detroit.
The Eagles have won four of their last five home games.
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.