Projecting the New-Look Eagles Defense

Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Trent ColeNow that the Eagles have all these new pieces on the defensive side of the ball, the question becomes: how does it all fit?

It is important to remember that the offseason makeover is not yet complete. Free-agent signings and trades are still possible. The draft is more than a month away. But here is our best crack at how the defense would look with the roster in its current form.

Defensive line: Isaac Sopoaga is your nose tackle and Fletcher Cox is one of your ends in a base 3-4 alignment. It gets a little fuzzy from there. Right now you would have to project Cedric Thornton as the other end, though that could very well change by opening day. Ricky Jean-Francois would have been a decent solution but the Eagles couldn’t agree to terms with the former 49er. Look for the Birds to address this position in the coming weeks.

Linebacker: This one is a little tricky. Right now it looks like DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks would be on the inside. In play for the starting outside linebacker roles are Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and new addition Connor Barwin.  Barwin has experience in both outside linebacker roles. He racked up 11.5 sacks in 2011 when playing the open side but is really the only one out of the group that has real experience dropping into coverage on this level. Chances are, he will see time at both spots.

I have heard a lot of people talk about the possibility of Cole being traded. I don’t see it. The Eagles view him as a valuable player and one of the key character guys that can help set the culture they are looking for. Right now, I would pencil him in as a starter alongside Barwin.

That doesn’t mean Graham or Curry will be buried necessarily.

“In any defense, especially with the way the game is going now, you need to be able to rotate at the defensive line and linebacker position to keep things fresh,” said Barwin. “I don’t exactly how it’s going to work out but I know you need a lot more than two guys to do it.”

Cornerback: With Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie out of the picture, there are two spots up for grabs. Free-agent signings Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher look like the favorites to grab those jobs, but don’t use permanent marker for this one. The Eagles have always put a very high value on their corners and will likely try to bolster the position more before the offseason is through. Whether it is Dee Milliner at No. 4 or later in the draft, it is a good bet that they will select a corner or two come April.

Brandon Boykin‘s goal is to start on the outside, though the guess here is that Bill Davis will try to keep him in the slot.

Safety: There very well could be four new starters in the secondary this year. It would be no surprise to see Kenny Phillips and Patrick Chung atop of the depth chart when the season starts. It will be interesting to see how Nate Allen responds to the competition assuming the Eagles keep him around. Both new safeties have an injury history, so depth at the position will be key.

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  • BrickSquadMonopoly

    Im beginning to maybe feel mediocre about our secondary

    • That would be a step up from what the Eagles demonstrated playing DRC and Nnamdi out of position.

      • dislikedisqus

        Both of you are right. That was the worst season of pass defense I have ever seen in the NFL.

        • UKEagle99

          Which is saying something! From McDermott onwards we’ve struggled against the pass.

          • Iain

            It all started when they let Dawkins walk. Then let Mikell walk too and replaced them with Kurt Coleman and a pair of wasted 2nd round picks in Nate Allen and Jaquan Jarrett. Oh and Quintin Demps, Macho Harris…ect.

            If the team had paid Dawkins, not for what he could do on the field, but for his personality and strength of character in the locker room, the last few years would have gone very differently.

        • grn_mtn_phan

          It TRULY was wasn’t it? I remember a time not long ago in actual time but eons in the way it feels , That when our pass rush didn’t get there I had real hope that our d.b.’s would do something awesome. OR ATLEAST their damned jobs! Recently I’d actually turn the volume down on the set when our D took the field! Or go grab another beer. Fully expecting disaster/humiliation/rage. Here’s hopin I can start leaving the volume up again soon!! :))

      • JofreyRice

        what’s “out of position” for those guys, anywhere on a football field? Where would they feel more comfortable, as the team tandem yoga instructors?

    • Mostel

      It should be MUCH better except with Chung. If he’s starting, we’re going to be giving up a lot of big pass plays up the middle.

      • Mitchell

        He’ll probably play SS, so idk how much he’s gonna cover deep. We have Nate or Phillips for that and they have good range

      • UKEagle99

        Unfortunately That’s still 2/3rds better than last season when we gave them up left, right and centre.

    • The Turd Burgler

      I’mbeginning to feel like you need to bring Philly’s talent over to Carolina boy. Step on my shoes you dead meat, umph!!!!

  • Token

    The Eagles view every player as valuable until they arent anymore. I dont see Cole on this team opening day. It doesnt make sense. They are moving forward into a new era. You dont sit down Graham, and Curry to a lesser extent, in order to play a aging rapidly declining Trent Cole. The OLBs with be Barwin, Graham, Curry, Hunt and someone who isnt on the roster yet IMO.

    • Graham

      Cole might use all this declining talk (as I’m sure he knows all the critics are saying it) and bounce back and have a great year again. The guy’s only 30 I wouldnt discount him that fast……. Plus his character as they mentioned, his character and leadership is valued greatly.

      • Graham

        Although Cole has never played stand up LB so ya I can see what ur saying there for sure

      • Token

        I always liked Cole. Its nothing personal about the guy, I just dont think he has a spot here. Hes 30 with a lot of snaps under his belt. And he was always a guy that went hard each play. He would wear down by seasons end because of it.

        • JofreyRice

          Believe it or not, by the numbers, he was way more productive in terms of pressure per snap than Connor Barwin was last year. I know he’s slowed down a lot, but I think he still has some value. When you put him up against the Trent Williams’, Will Beatty’s, or Joe Thomas’ of the world, he’s going to lose, but he can still be a backup bully, and impressive or not, that is a worthwhile guy to have.

          • GoBirds1

            You are comparing apples and oranges. Remember the wide-9, with zero responsibility except to rush the passer! Barwin had both coverage and run-stopping responsibilities as well as pressuring the QB. If Cole has lost a step, I would much rather see Graham and Curry split reps.

          • JofreyRice

            No, those numbers are just passrush, the coverage and run support numbers have been pulled out. Barwin was literally one of the least productive 3-4 olbs in the league, in terms of passrush. It really isn’t much of a feat to be more productive.

    • Graham was one of the better Defensive Ends in Football last year, him no having the sacks doesn’t speak to his effort from that position, much of his career has been loss to injury and scheme with the Eagles, We don’t know yet what Curry has to offer he was wasted much of the year on the inactive list on Sundays.

      Some of the speculation on jettisoning Cole, Curry or Graham is pretty hasty at this point.

  • Graham

    If Kenny Phillips and Chung can stay healthy, that’s a big IF, then that safety group is great. Phillips was a top rated safety int he league in 2011 and was a big contributor for the Giant’s SB run, if he can stay healthy he will make the whole D better

    • Token

      Chung just isnt all that good. Still hoping they grab a safety early.

      • Graham

        Agreed ya, maybe he steps up, but he hasn’t shown as much as we’d like in NE. See its tough to gauge how a player will do when they will be in a system unlike any other they’ve played for (Chung has an advantage there as he HAS played for it). These players will have new coaching new techniques its just tough to be able to accurately assess them based on their past performance when they could very well play much differently given the new system. CK has stressed personnel-driven system and scheme like a mofo, so who knows maybe these players come out and surprise providing they stay healthy.

        • Josh Zuckerman

          I really hope the competition lights a fire under Allen.

          • JofreyRice

            Allen is a pile of wet tinder.

          • Lmao… Agreed Jofrey… I’m allergic to safeties who can’t tackle

      • Chung doesn’t have to be pretty good to be better than the Eagles safeties over the last few years. In most instances having a pulse will be sufficient.

        • PhEaglesPhan

          Up vote for the chuckle! Thank you!

    • Mostel

      Chung was a big contributer to the Giants Superbowl run as well via his HORRIBLE read on Eli’s lame duck throw to Manningham on the sideline. A good safety breaks that pass up, at a minimum, or picks it off. Chung stinks.

      • TheAsshole

        Or a good safety misses it, as all safeties have bad games.

        • Mostel

          I don’t care good vs. bad. YOU CANNOT ALLOW THE SCUM GIANTS TO WIN A SUPERBOWL.

      • same thing at the afc champ. game. all safties have bad games!

  • I’d expect this to only be a foundation that benefits the atmosphere in the locker-room. Some of these guys won’t be here in September if the Eagles intent to enhance competition in camp. I am not sold on these new signees being the horse you hitch your plow and depend on contending.

  • People discounting Cole because of a down year, Bring in Elvis Dumervil or Freeney to play the end on Coles’ immediate inside and let’s revisit Trent Cole’s production at that linebacker position next year this time.

    • Mostel

      Agreed. Cole needs to be seen in this system playing predator for a full year. Totally unfair to bury a guy with that level of heart and track record before he gets a chance.

  • Mostel

    Cole starts on the open side (i.e. Predator) and Barwin will be in the SAM role. On some obvious pass rushes you might get Barwin at Predator and Graham at SAM. Curry will be trained in both spots. You could aslo get a lot of Graham at predator as well. Should be an interesting mix, but I don’t see any of the guys except Barwin being able to drop into pass coverage.

  • JofreyRice

    As a fan, doing this kind of mental projection of what the Eagles team will look like, it would be really nice if they gave any kind of signal what they’re running. It seems like the cloak & dagger element that we saw with Reid is even more intense with Kelly. Hopefully it gives them some kind of competitive advantage, but unless they are doing something drastically different on defense, I don’t know if I fully understand the reasoning for top secret treatment.

    Even if we’re talking about a 3-4 Predator/4-3 Under, from reading different stuff, it seems there is a lot of variation in the way it’s run. Bradley ran a pretty conservative 4-3 Under in Seattle. They didn’t blitz a lot, and stopped the big play by keeping stuff in front of them, and erring on the side of caution. Supposedly, their new D coordinator is going to change that up a bit, to get more pressure on the QB. If the Eagles go for a more aggressive 4-3 under/Predator front, Barwin probably makes sense as the SAM; rushing a lot, and dropping a little. Maybe Davis views Cox as a JJ Watt type, and wants to maximize his effect on the passer, by adapting more of Wade Phillips’ style?

    Even in a career low year, Trent Cole had more sacks, hits, and hurries (46 combined in 432 passrushes) than Connor Barwin (40 in 640 rushes). Obviously, Barwin’s a better overall athlete, and has more “upside” than Cole in coverage, but If they are putting together a passrush package for passing downs, I think Trent has some value.

    • UKEagle99

      I think coach Kelly operates under the same mentality as Dave Brailsford that runs pro cycling team Sky. When it is pretty much a level playing field you need to maximise every opportunity to gain a competitive advantage. The cloak and dagger is one such instance for now, I’m sure others will trickle to our attention once practices start and Shaun Huls gets his hands on them…

  • Nick M

    I still don’t understand the 3-4. I read somewhere today that one end lines up between the tackle and guard and the other end lines up outside the tackle. If that is the case then why isn’t the end outside the tackle a normal end like Cole or Graham? I think you should post (or re-post) and article explaining the personnel in a 3-4 defense.

    • Richard Colton

      Hey Nick. A lot of the stuff you read on the 3-4 will be way too complex for a casual fan or someone who never played or coached. If you don’t care about 3-gap or 5-gap, that stuff isn’t for you.
      in a nutshell, the D-line in a 3-4 holds the line of scrimmage and absorbs blockers. The real stars are the OLBs who rush the passer and make the tackles. In the 4-3, it’s the DEs that get the glory. So to answer your first question, Cole and Graham aren’t big enough for 3-4 DE.

      • Wilbert M.

        Wow – can you spell POMPOUS?

        • BrettConnolly

          Not pompous. It was a sincere and thoughtful reply.

          • Nick M

            I had no problem with the reply. I still don’t get it though. It seems as if the 3 linemen “hold the line” and one linebacker will blitz. Now if you send both OLB then you are “rushing” 5 and it is more like a 5-2. I still think Graham and Cole will be the 5 technique DE lining up outside the tackle. That is where they lined up before in the 4-3, so what is the difference? Maybe that is what they mean by a hybrid 4-3/3-4? I guess we will see.

          • theycallmerob

            This may help; Sheil put it up shortly after the Davis hiring:

        • Richard Colton

          p-o-m-p-o-u-s? was I right? thanks for adding to the discourse.

    • JofreyRice

      It’s worth looking into, if you’re interested in that kind of thing. Very few teams run a true 3-4 D anymore, based on gap concepts. This is pretty good, it’s from senior NFL Films producer Greg Cosell:–nfl.html;_ylt=AhN4WmRR8dA.cPGfgRL9gJ9YYsp_;_ylu=X3oDMTE4NWRia245BG1pdANCbG9ncyBJbmRleARwb3MDMQRzZWMDTWVkaWFCbG9nSW5kZXg-;_ylg=X3oDMTFpMm9iMzh1BGludGwDdXMEbGFuZwNlbi11cwRwc3RhaWQDBHBzdGNhdANibG9nBHB0A3NlY3Rpb25z;_ylv=3

      Here’s another from NYT’s Fifth Down Blog. The relevant part is the “4-3 Under Front with Elephant Rusher”, at the bottom.

    • thefadd

      I’ve been a huge fan of the 4-3 under for a long time. It gives the D way more versatility than either the 4-3 or 3-4. Each guy in the front 7 has his own uniquely defined position. You get a real insight into how detailed and out of the box a guy like Chip Kelly is thinking about stuff and a also a real insight into how much the Philly media is going to have to school themselves on these new details — even a guy like Sheil who is the best in the city at breaking this stuff down. So, yeah, I wouldn’t be shocked at all to see guys like Curry, Cole, or Graham lined up at that outside DE/five technique. Ced Thornton is NOT going to be on the field THAT much.

  • JofreyRice

    I’ve gotta think Barwin is the SAM. If they have any sense at all, they wouldn’t have signed another guy to play Predator and rush the passer 90% of the time, with 3 viable players already penciled into that role. I think beyond a later developmental guy, the SAM is Barwin; so probably no Dion Jordan at #4.

    However, I’m a little uneasy about that projection. I did the numbers per PFFs raw data, and Davis’ last SAM/SSLB, Clark Haggans, actually dropped 203 times in 551 non-run defensive snaps, or 36%. I’ve seen it written that Barwin dropped into coverage about 30% down the stretch in Houston, but I don’t think the numbers support that. The highest coverage % numbers he had was against DET, where he rushed Stafford 51 times and dropped 16, for a rate of 24%, which might have just been a function of the Lions using their short passing game as their running game. In the last 4 games down the stretch, including the playoffs, he dropped a grand total of 19 times, or about 15% of the non-run snaps. I will say that I’m more comfortable with Chip & Davis trying to transform Barwin into their SAM linebacker of the future, than I am with them taking Dion Jordan at #4 and trying to do the same.

    If they want to get a dynamic LE to pair with Fletcher Cox, this is probably the draft to do it. I’m not sure they’re going to want a LE that plays that edge-setting run defender-only role, like the way Seattle uses Red Bryant. Davis had Darnell Dockett, a pretty damn good passrusher, play that pos for him in AZ, in 2009. Grabbing Sharrif Floyd or Sheldon Richardson at #4 would really create an amazing bookend tandem. I like Star, but the fact that we’ve heard nothing about his heart makes me nervous. If everything’s equal, I’d add him into the mix as well. A passrush package of those guys inside, with multiple passrushers on the outside could definitely cause some headaches.

    • In the last 4 games down the stretch, including the playoffs, he dropped a grand total of 19 times

      I was going off what PFF told me on twitter, which was a lot more drops (though you both might be looking at different data).

      • JofreyRice

        Yeah, I’m crazy enough to pay for access to PFF, so I have their numbers for defensive snap count. By their numbers, The Texans had him drop 30 times in two games (Tennessee & Detroit) in weeks 12 and 13. In the next 6 games, including the playoffs, he dropped a total of 31 times, and as I noted above, it tailed off back to his normal rate, as the season ended. For that reason, I think the overall numbers are a little skewed by the extraordinary way they used him in those two games against TEN & DET.

        EDIT: originally had New England instead of Tennessee

        • eagles2zc

          The next question would be how he perform in those two games. But I don’t know how to answer that other than watch those games.

          • JofreyRice

            In 16 drops in the Detroit game, he was only thrown at 2x, and allowed 1 reception for 14 yards to Mikell Leshoure. In 14 drops in the Tennessee game, he was thrown at 2x, and gave up 2 receptions, one to Jared Cook for 12 yards, and 1 to Chris Johnson for 3 yards. His overall grades for those games was -4.4, but that was based on his lack of passrush productivity. PFF downgrades a guy that’s pinning his ears back to get after the QB, but gets blocked to the ground, or pushed away from the play, and doesn’t generate any pressure.

            The problem with just going by their numbers is that it doesn’t really give you any insight into what kind of drop he took. Did he just cover the flats, or a hook zone, or did they have him manning up the tight end? Did he get thrown at so infrequently because he was covering the checkdown receiver, and there were better options? If that was the extent of his coverage responsibility, I think you could project Brandon Graham or Vinny Curry into that kind of thing. Hard to say really, without having watched the games.

          • eagles2zc

            Exactly so. I’m excited to see what Curry can do after being buried on the depth chart last season. He’s not the most fluid player, going from his combine results, but if it’s the flats or checkdown, he should be able to manage just as well.

            Thanks for the stats. Those look promising at least.

    • D3Keith

      I’ve gotta think Barwin is the SAM. If they have any sense at all, they wouldn’t have signed another guy to play Predator

      Yeah it really doesn’t make a lot of sense, even given Howie’s “we didn’t expect to have a shot at Connor” comment, unless one of those guys is dealt. I can buy the rotation, I guess, but seems odd.

  • That’s pretty much exactly how I see it, Tim. Hopefully Thornton is just keeping a seat warm for Sharrif Floyd on the D-line.

    LEO: Cole/Graham
    3-T: Cox/????
    NT: Sopoaga/Dixon
    5-T: ????/Thornton

    WILB: Kendricks/Matthews
    SILB: Ryans/Chaney
    SAM: Barwin/Curry

    CB: Fletcher, Williams, Boykin
    S: Chung, Phillips/Allen

    • JofreyRice

      This looks right. With the ???’s being on the 5T, I think there is a good chance we’ll see the kid from Washington H.S. playing football in Philly again.

    • BrettConnolly

      If Reggie White were on a defense which lined up in a 4-3 under, where is his natural position? Size wise you could make the case it is the 5 tech? Seems like a good dilemma for a coordinator to have, but I wonder where he would be most useful…

      • ICDogg

        Reggie was the left end in the 46 defense, lined up typically in a 3 tech. But he really could have played anywhere on the line, and I think he was at his best strong-arming through traffic with his rip move, as opposed to being a speed rusher.

  • David J Daniels

    The key to the D is Barwin at the Predator position. He is a given with his experience and motor; they wouldn’t sign him and then play him at his 2nd best position. Cole will back him up when needed and play DE in Nickle and Dime situations. Graham and Curry will both play the SAM position, as both played LB in High School, and can make the transition. They both will rotate with Barwin and Cole as DE’s in the Nickle and Dime sets. Cox at DE and Sopoaga at NT will be beasts. Will need quality depth behind them though. The DT position is one I can see us drafting high to fill, unless we can find a veteran we can plug in for fairly reasonable. I think we have upgraded all 4 secondary positions greatly, with physical players. If we can find a starter at DT before the draft, we can truly draft MR BEST AVAILABLE.

  • Pennguino

    When McDermott ran the D, I thought someone said that Trent was dropping back into coverage 30% of the time. The argument was McDermott was taking the best pass rusher away from pass rushing. Whoever has footage of that year may be able to see what Trent can do in the 3-4 alignment. He is s few years older now but it may be a good place to start.

  • ICDogg

    I think we overcomplicate things. a 4-3 Under is only marginally different from a 3-4 Under. The Jack linebacker (or “Predator”) stands up in a wide “5” technique instead of getting down into a 3 point stance from the same location on the weak side. Either way he has some pass responsibility on the backs, but in the 2 point stance he is in a better position to peel off in pass coverage should he need to.

  • thefadd

    in the 4-3 under the defensive end not named Fletcher Cox will be lining up pretty far outside. I don’t get why none of the media types thinking an aging, slowing Trent Cole who has always excelled against the run even when not rushing the passer all the great wouldn’t get some looks there (if he remains on the squad).

    • ICDogg

      Ideally you would have a DE on the strong side who can play either 1-gap or 2-gap. That way you could mix up the fronts a lot more creatively.

      I said it once or twice before, they could consider bringing Mike Patterson back for that role.

      • BrettConnolly

        Vin Curry seems like he could get up to 280 and play the 5 tech. Then you could conceivably keep Barwin at Leo, let Graham’s pure athleticism and quality pursuit skills not to mention his frame which we know can top out just shy of 3 bills get a look at Sam. Graham has a nose for a football, a trait that I’d like to see him polish in the Sam spot. Plus I feel he has the closing speed to offset the step he loses by chipping a TE end… If curry can slide (and start) as a gap sound 5, I think it clears up a lot of questions. I went back and reviewed his Marshall tapes, and he was a pretty stout run defender and pretty good at shedding blocks.

        • theycallmerob

          Not disagreeing with you, but I think adding a big, tall body in the draft will benefit that 5 tech. DE; there are great prospects that could play that spot at either 1 or 2 gap.
          I liked the projections these guys came up with, though not sold on Milliner at 4:

          • JofreyRice

            I think that guy has his positions confused. The 3 technique is the guy that plays next to the Predator, and shoots the B gap between the G & T on the open side. That’s where you want Fletcher Cox, not Margus Hunt. If you want Margus Hunt at, all–I don’t, I think he’s an “upside” workout warrior that will get overdrafted–I think you’d want him over on the strong side at the 5T, where he can lock out OLineman and react to set the edge or crash the running lane. Unless he really wants a 6’8 guy playing under tackle, something he’s never done in college, I think he may have these positions back to front.

            Also,this guy is lamenting Kendricks having to transition to the 3-4 ILB position. Not sure if he realizes that Kendricks actually excelled at that spot, while he was at Cal, and was named Pac-12 DPOY.

            The dude Phils Goodman has a better projection below, IMO.

          • BrettC

            Good points.

          • BrettC

            Thanks for the article. That guy is a monster. Holy shish.

  • theycallmerob

    In the draft, I would love to add:
    (DL) Margus Hunt, Devin Taylor, C. Carradine, or Lavar Edwards
    (OLB) Chase Thomas or Keith Pough
    (S) Vaccaro or Rambo

    Besides Vaccaro, many of those names are later round selections. FA has really freed up the first few picks for virtually any roster spot

    • BrettConnolly

      I was watching the Georgia tapes and kept noticing Abry Jones. He looked like someone who could benefit from coaching at the pro level. Despite the fact that he seemed like he was half interested in the game and half interested in something else, I couldn’t look away when I thought about what you could do with a guy his size who was coached right.

  • Just one note: the sentence that starts, “The Eagles have always put a very high value on their corners…” makes no sense, since the GM has been in his role two years, and the rest of the coaching staff has been here less than two months. You — and we — have no idea what value they will put on any position at this point.

  • I definitely see early grabs in the draft at DB. I would love to see us trade back in the first and grab the safety Vaccaro out of Texas or the big CB out of Florida State. If we stay at 4 expect an OT and defense gets addressed in the second and third.

  • truPatriot

    Eagles should still try and grab Millner and Rambo in the draft to solidify the D. Phillips was only signed to a one year deal and we know Allen and Coleman are straight trash!

  • Iain

    Whatever happens, I’ll be pretty damn disappointed if I don’t see the eagles line up in a 3-3-5 with Cole, Cox, Graham, Barwin, Ryans, Kendricks, Milliner, Williams, Fletcher, Phillips, Chung at least on 3rd down/passing situations….

    • morgan c

      No Boykin?

  • Token

    Btw for those thinking the cap hit would be too big. Dont forget if hes designated as a june 1st cut the hit can be spread over two years.

  • morgan c

    Why couldn’t Cole (or Graham, Barwin less likely but maybe?) be in play for the 3-4 defensive end spot on the line? Cole is used to playing with his hand on the ground up front, and it’s possible he could switch to 3-4 end more easily than a new position at 3-4 OLB. He would maybe have to gain 10 pounds, but at 6-3 270, he’s not far off.