Cheat Sheet: Eagles Defense Vs. Chargers Offense

If you missed the first cheat sheet, click here. Below are 10 things to know about how the Eagles’ defense matches up with the Chargers’ offense.

1. Going into the opener, the question was: Would Billy Davis stick with a more traditional 3-4? Or would he run more of a 4-3 under? For Week 1, at least, it looked like the former.

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You see the three defensive linemen are head-up on the tackles and center, respectively. There were multiple looks, especially in nickel, as we pointed out early in the week. But overall, it was a base 3-4. For explanations on the differences, click here.

2. The Eagles face a different style of offense this week with Philip Rivers and the Chargers, so this will be a good way to gauge how much Davis plans on changing his scheme on a weekly basis. Rivers completed just 14 of 29 passes against Houston; only Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert had a worse completion percentage in Week 1. The 31-year-old has not looked like the same player who went to four Pro Bowls. He’s thrown 36 interceptions in his last 33 starts.

The Eagles, meanwhile, will be without cornerback Bradley Fletcher, who suffered a concussion in Week 1. Brandon Boykin is expected to start on the outside opposite Cary Williams. In nickel looks, Boykin could move inside, and Brandon Hughes could enter the game. The Eagles’ other option is to have Hughes play on the outside from the get-go. Or they could keep Boykin out there and move either Patrick Chung or Jordan Poyer inside.

3. One goal with Rivers under new head coach Mike McCoy seems to be to get the ball out quickly. Rivers lacks mobility and really struggles against pressure. According to Football Outsiders, no QB had a bigger performance difference with and without pressure last season. Last week, Rivers got rid of the ball in 2.5 seconds or less on 68.8 percent of his attempts, according to Pro Football Focus. Only two quarterbacks had a higher percentage of those throws. The Eagles had a lot of success blitzing Robert Griffin III (All-22 breakdown here) last week. Rivers was 9-for-17 when the Texans blitzed him, but all four of his touchdown passes came against extra pressure. On his first touchdown, the Texans sent seven, and Rivers threw a beautiful corner route to Eddie Royal. Disguising pressure will once again be key.

4. From left to right, the Chargers’ offensive line is King Dunlap, Chad Rinehart, Nick Hardwick, Jeromey Clary and D.J. Fluker. Needless to say, this unit has struggled to protect Rivers. Dunlap has done well to stay in the league since the Eagles drafted him in the seventh round of the 2008 draft. He started 20 games for the Birds, including 13 last year. But he’s better suited for a backup role. Dunlap can hold his own in pass protection, but is a non-factor in the run game. Trent Cole was one of the best defenders on the field last week and should give Dunlap fits. Fletcher Cox had a couple nice moments late in Week 1 and will start at right defensive end.

5. Rinehart (LG) is considered a better run-blocker than pass-protector. Hardwick has started every game for the Chargers since 2010. Clary moves from tackle to guard after allowing a team-high 8.5 sacks and 18.5 blown pass blocks last year, according to Football Outsiders. And Fluker was the No. 11 overall pick in April’s draft. He played for Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland at Alabama and struggled Monday night against Houston. As a unit last year, the Chargers finished last in adjusted sack rate, per Football Outsiders.

6. Isaac Sopoaga (NT) and Cedric Thornton (LDE) will join Cox on the Eagles’ defensive line. Thornton played well vs. Washington. Bennie Logan and Damion Square rotated in at nose tackle and right defensive end. Clifton Geathers came in at LDE, and Vinny Curry was inactive. We’ll see if that rotation changes at all this week. The Eagles limited the Redskins to 74 yards rushing, and Alfred Morris averaged just 3.8 yards per carry.

San Diego does not have a potent rushing attack. Ryan Mathews has been a disappointment since the Chargers selected him No. 12 overall back in 2010. He’s battled injury problems and averaged just 10.7 games per season in the last three. And when he’s been on the field, he hasn’t been effective, averaging 3.8 YPC in his last 13 games. Ronnie Brown actually played more snaps than Mathews last week, per PFF. He averaged 3.2 YPC in one disastrous season with the Eagles, but has averaged 4.8 on 51 carries with San Diego.

7. Rivers doesn’t have a lot of weapons in the passing game. Vincent Jackson signed with Tampa before last season. And Danario Alexander tore his ACL earlier this summer. Veteran Malcolm Floyd led the team in catches (56) and yards (814) last year. He had 15 catches of 20+ yards and presents a matchup problem at 6-foot-5. Floyd had just one grab last week, but it was a 47-yarder. The ball skills of the Eagles’ defensive backs will be tested against Floyd. Last week, safety Patrick Chung did not look good in that aspect on a late Redskins touchdown.

8. Vincent Brown was a third-round pick in 2011. He missed all of last year with a foot injury and had two catches for 13 yards in Week 1. Royal will line up a lot in the slot. He was the only Chargers wide receiver with more than two catches last week. Royal had a pair of red-zone touchdowns and also drew a 21-yard pass interference penalty. For the Eagles, Cary Williams played well in his debut, finishing with a sack and an impressive interception near the sideline. Boykin lined up in a variety of spots, and that could continue this week.

9. Tight end Antonio Gates is not the weapon he once was, but he’s still scored seven touchdowns or more in each of the last nine seasons. Gates was the Chargers’ leading receiver in Week 1 with 49 yards. DeMeco Ryans played well vs. Washington, and Mychal Kendricks was all over the place, finishing with 10 tackles (one for loss) and a pair of QB hits. Davis used him as a blitzer, as a traditional inside ‘backer and even as a free safety. Look for Kendricks’ versatility to be highlighted all season long.

10. Look for the Chargers to throw to their running backs quite a bit. Mathews beat a linebacker on a wheel route for a touchdown last week. Danny Woodhead will see some targets on third down. …Six different Eagles – Ryans, Kendricks, Williams, Cole, Barwin and Cox – got hits on the quarterback last week. …Barwin will line up in a variety of places in the Eagles’ nickel package. He played well in his debut. …Nate Allen will start at safety alongside Chung. He didn’t appear to have any breakdowns last week. Rookie Earl Wolff will likely rotate in.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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