Eagles-Jaguars Game Review: The Defense

Below is a position-by-position review of what we saw from the Eagles’ defense Saturday night against Jacksonville after having reviewed the game.

Note: Snap counts are courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

DEFENSIVE LINE

* After the first game, we, along with others, expressed some concern about Fletcher Cox. That seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it? Cox was really good against the Jaguars. He pressured Chad Henne on a second-down throw in the first and was very active against the run, bringing Maurice Jones-Drew down after a pair of 2-yard runs. Maybe most importantly, he made a play that reminded everyone of his elite athleticism.

In the third quarter, Henne scrambled and tried to get to the right sideline for a first down on 3rd-and-5, but Cox wasn’t having it.

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Granted, Henne is not Robert Griffin III, but those are the kinds of plays we saw during Cox’s outstanding rookie season.

* Really not seeing a lot from Isaac Sopoaga. I know that’s a “dirty work” position and Sopoaga’s a veteran, but he doesn’t seem to be causing much disruption on the interior. We’ll get a better look with the All-22 during the regular season, but I still think Bennie Logan could take over the starting nose tackle spot early in the season.

* Not a good showing by undrafted rookie Damion Square. He lined up at nose tackle, but somehow ended up on the other side of Logan (RDE) on the 63-yard Jordan Todman run. That helped open up the huge cutback lane.

* Clifton Geathers was on the receiving end of a cut block on that play, but overall, he was pretty active. Good penetration to disrupt Denard Robinson’s 1-yard run in the first. And Geathers pressured Henne in the second, forcing him to scramble for a 1-yard run. He’s on the roster bubble. I think he’s got a good shot of sticking around though.

* Cedric Thornton did well as a pass-rusher. He got decent pressure on Henne on third down in the first, then beat the right guard badly to sack Henne on first down of the next series.

* What else does Vinny Curry have to do to earn more playing time? He’s been the Eagles’ most active defender this preseason. Curry’s ability to get off the ball quicker than everyone else on the field has been fun to watch. Great penetration, bursting through the backfield on Todman’s third-quarter run that lost a yard. Later in the series, Curry rushed from LDE, got the better of the right guard and hit Henne as he was releasing the ball in the red zone. Great first step on the very next play, hitting Henne again. He then had a sack and also forced a fumble in the third. It’s going to be interesting to see how many snaps Curry gets once the season starts.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

* On passing downs, Trent Cole rushed the QB 11 times and dropped into coverage seven times, per PFF. He came from RDE in the second and hit Henne on a third-down pass. Cole was OK against the run, missing a tackle on an 8-yard Jones-Drew run, but stopping Todman after a 1-yard gain. Didn’t notice him much in coverage. Only thing left to do now is wait and see how he fits in a couple weeks.

* This was Connor Barwin’s best performance of the preseason, as his versatility was on full display. The Birds’ starting left outside linebacker lined up over the slot receiver, dropped back into coverage and made a tremendous interception in the second. Later, he stood up in the A-Gap, ran a twist with Thornton, attacked the center and came up with a sack. Barwin had a nice rush and got his hands on Henne on the first-quarter touchdown pass. He’s had a nice summer.

* Brandon Graham had a couple nice moments. He set the edge and forced Robinson inside on a 1-yard run in the first. And he came off the edge in the red zone in the third, forcing Henne to step up into a Curry sack. Still don’t know how he’s going to be used in the regular season.

* I fully expect the Eagles to add an outside linebacker after other teams make cuts. Chris McCoy has a chance to stick. Everette Brown has had a quiet summer, but flashed a bit in the fourth quarter vs. Jacksonville. Don’t think he’s going to make it though.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS

* Mychal Kendricks was very active for the second straight game. He dropped Jones-Drew for no gain on the first play and later had good coverage on the running back on a third-down incompletion. Kendricks had a sack in the second, which was mostly due to miscommunication by the Jaguars’ offense. Henne was looking to throw, but his receivers were run-blocking. On the next play, Kendricks got in the passing lane, leaped and batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage.

The second-year player was not perfect. He was taken to the ground by the fullback on Jones-Drew’s 7-yard run on 3rd-and-1. But overall, a fine performance.

* DeMeco Ryans has had a quiet preseason, but that was the case last year, and he was great when the games started counting. Ryans was crushed by the fullback on Todman’s 14-yard run on 4th-and-1. But again, don’t see any need to panic.

* The Eagles let Jamar Chaney go yesterday. Undrafted free agent Jake Knott has a good chance to stick. If the Eagles keep four inside linebackers, the final spot will come down to Casey Matthews, Emmanuel Acho or a player who’s currently not on the roster.

CORNERBACKS

* Cary Williams played pretty well. He gave up an early 20-yard completion, but later broke up a couple passes, including one on third down in the second. Per PFF, Williams allowed one completion on four targets.

* Bradley Fletcher’s numbers were not as good. The Jaguars took advantage of the huge cushion he was giving receivers with a couple screens and a comeback route. Fletcher gave up a back-shoulder throw to Justin Blackmon for 21 yards. It was tough to tell whether he or Patrick Chung was at fault on the first touchdown. And Fletcher struggled to get off the receiver’s block on Todman’s 14-yard run to his side in the second. He’ll probably still start the season at left corner, but if Fletcher struggles, Brandon Boykin could replace him.

* Boykin started the game as the inside nickel corner and then moved outside. He was called for pass interference in the red zone and allowed a 13-yard completion on 3rd-and-14. Boykin later broke up a third-down pass. Likely to start the season as the nickel corner.

* Brandon Hughes and Curtis Marsh have fractured hands. Eddie Whitley suffered a knee injury and was waived. The Eagles are thin at corner with only Jordan Poyer and Trevard Lindley behind the first three guys. Poyer nearly came away with a couple interceptions, but had a holding penalty.

SAFETIES

* Always a tough position to evaluate off of TV tape. We’ll get an idea of what the coaches thought of the film when we see who’s practicing with the first team this week. On Saturday, Chung manned one starting position, while Nate Allen and Earl Wolff rotated at the other one.

* On the 63-yard run, Chung got blocked, allowing the big cutback. And Wolff admitted to taking a horrible angle. With Kenny Phillips out of the picture, the Eagles are likely to go with Chung, Allen, Wolff and Colt Anderson on the roster. Kurt Coleman and David Sims are fighting for spots.

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