Reading the Defense: Bowman breaking out in San Francisco

Saying the Philadelphia Eagles haven't played up to expectations so far is a bit of an understatement. Now it's to the point that Asante Samuel is questioning front office strategy, saying that management seemed to be "playing a little fantasy football" with the team's roster.

Fortunately here on "Reading the Defense" we are unabashedly all about fantasy football. And from an IDP perspective we can tell you that Philly's front office would be struggling in most fantasy leagues, too. There isn't a single Eagle among the top 100 IDPs on NFL.com. In fact, you have to get all the way down to No. 115 before running across linebacker Jamar Chaney.

So let's move a little further up the IDP ladder, shall we?

Four Downs

First down: If you were going to pick the 49ers' leading tackler through the team's first six games, it would have to be Patrick Willis, right? Nope. It's actually second-year linebacker NaVorro Bowman. He and Willis have combined to anchor San Francisco's second-ranked run defense. Neither player has a sack this year, but Bowman has proven to be effective in pass coverage as well. He's a solid start against Cleveland's slightly-less-than-mediocre offense.

IDP rankings

Second down: On the other side of the ball, the Browns are expecting to welcome back outside linebacker Scott Fujita from a concussion suffered in Week 6. Even having missed the past two games, Fujita is on pace for his best season since 2008 with the Saints. You can expect him to face off with San Francisco's Vernon Davis on more than one occasion Sunday. If Cleveland's corners can lock down the Niner receivers, it could be a busy day for Fujita.

Third down: There is suddenly cause for concern in Baltimore, where safety Ed Reed missed Thursday's practice with a neck injury ahead of the team's game against Arizona. The Cardinals aren't quite the precision passing outfit they were a couple of seasons ago, but they still throw it a fair bit and the ball-hawking Reed is always a big-play candidate. The veteran from Miami did practice Wednesday and no decision has been made on his status. As long as he can go for Baltimore, he's worth a start.

Fourth down: The Bengals will have to live another week without linebacker Rey Maualuga. The former USC standout was hoping to be ready to play against his former coach, Pete Carroll, and the Seattle Seahawks this week, but his foot remains in a walking boot to protect a sprained ankle. If Maualuga's projections are accurate, he should be back for Cincinnati's Week 9 game against the Titans and their woebegone offense.

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