Game Review: Eagles ‘D’ Vs. Broncos Offense

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If you missed the first game review, breaking down the Eagles’ offense against Denver’s D, click here.

Now on to Bily Davis’ defense.

DEFENSIVE LINE

* The Eagles were in nickel for most of the game, often with three down linemen. Fletcher Cox was quiet for the most part. The official box score credited him with one tackle. Cox brought Knowshon Moreno down after a 1-yard run. As a pass-rusher, he got a hit on Peyton Manning in the second, even though Manning completed the pass. Cox jumped offsides on 2nd-and-5 in the red zone, giving the Broncos a first. Has not shown much development in Year 2. Scheme, of course, has something to do with that.

* Cedric Thornton had a nice pass-rush in the second, notching the Eagles’ only sack of the game. He was up-and-down against the run. Thornton shed a block and tackled Moreno after a 2-yard pickup in the first and stopped Ronnie Hillman after a 4-yard run in the third. On the flip side, Thornton got double-teamed to the ground in the third when the defense looked gassed.

* Isaac Sopoaga, Bennie Logan and Clifton Geathers played a combined 75 snaps, and I had a total of one note written down for them. Geathers got some pressure on Manning on a third-down play and forced him out of the pocket in the second half. Chip Kelly thought the Eagles had good defensive line depth before the season. That is not proving to be the case. These guys are asked to do the dirty work, but are invisible on a weekly basis.

* Vinny Curry played 13 snaps. By my count, exactly one of those came when Manning was still in the game. Clearly, the coaches feel Curry is a liability against the run. But given the lack of pass-rush, it’s still a bit puzzling why he doesn’t get more of an opportunity in obvious passing situations.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

* Davis has several players in hybrid roles, including Trent Cole. Cole plays OLB in the base 3-4, but is one of three down linemen (sometimes four) when the Eagles are in nickel. He dropped into coverage nine times, per Pro Football Focus, after having done so just seven times the previous two weeks combined. Cole still doesn’t look comfortable in that role. He once put a good hit on a receiver within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. That’s his best strategy, it seems. Cole made a couple nice plays against the run, once slowing Hillman down behind the line of scrimmage for a 2-yard loss and another time tackling Moreno after a 3-yard run. He continues to play with great effort.

* Connor Barwin was OK. He dropped in coverage on 20 of 36 pass plays. Apparently, the coaches feel Brandon Boykin is a better pass-rusher (more on that later). Barwin consistently sets the edge well and plays the run. Nice job on a 2-yard Moreno carry in the first. He was called for encroachment on 3rd-and-4 in the first, giving the Broncos a first down.

* Brandon Graham had a total of eight opportunities to rush the passer. On the Demaryius Thomas touchdown in the third, he started out on the slot receiver and then rushed the QB. He had no chance of getting to Manning fast enough from that spot. Barwin was used in a similar way throughout the game.

Graham’s played 22.7 percent of the defensive snaps through four games, and that includes garbage time. Based on what we’ve seen, the coaches don’t see much value in getting him on the field.

* Kelly talked yesterday about the Eagles getting almost all 46 guys playing time on gameday. Not sure that’s such a good thing though. Casey Matthews played 14 snaps. He blitzed once from the slot (unsuccessful) and later had trouble getting off his block on a 17-yard Moreno run.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS

* DeMeco Ryans was around the ball all day, but many of his tackles were downfield. Ryans led the Eagles with 12 tackles (10 solo). He was blocked on Moreno’s 16-yard run in the second and again on a 17-yard run in the third. He missed a tackle on Wes Welker on an 11-yard catch and run. Ryans looked gassed in the third, matching up with Hillman and giving up a 14-yard catch and run. He also jumped offsides on 2nd-and-5 in the third. On the flip side, Ryans stopped Moreno after a 3-yard run in the second and assisted on a stop after a 1-yard gain in the second. He also finished off a stumbling Hillman for a 2-yard loss in the second. OK game overall.

* Kelly on Mychal Kendricks: “I think Mychal thinks a little bit too much and doesn’t let himself go play and just kind of pull the trigger and go.”

His coverage, is that consistent – Is he doing alright there?

“He’s doing alright there, yeah.”

Raise your hand if you take that as a ringing endorsement. Kendricks looks lost at times in coverage, which is disappointing considering he’s supposed to be the Eagles’ best cover linebacker. Against the run, he was up and down. Kendricks brought Hillman down after a pair of 3-yard gains in the second, and he shoved Hillman out of bounds after a 3-yard run in the third. But on Moreno’s 4-yard TD run, Kendricks was 2 or 3 yards deep in the end zone. Not going to be able to make many plays back there. Overall, he has not developed as anticipated in his second season.

* Jake Knott played 11 snaps. He stopped Hillman for no gain in the second.

CORNERBACKS

* We wrote about Boykin’s role last week. After talking to Davis, the impression I got was he felt like he used Boykin as a pass-rusher too much against Kansas City. But against the Broncos, Boykin rushed on six of 25 passing downs. On those plays, Manning was 3-for-4 for 28 yards and a touchdown. On another play, he overthrew a wide-open Eric Decker deep, and there was also a pass interference mixed in. Boykin is 5-9, 182 and has little shot to get close to the QB, even when matched up against running backs. When he was used in the outside linebacker-type role, the Broncos ran right at him. Once or twice a game? Fine. But the Eagles need to re-think how they’re using Boykin, one of their best cover guys.

* Cary Williams got beaten badly by Decker on a double move in the second, but Manning overthrew his receiver. Williams dove and whiffed on Moreno’s 16-yard run in the second. He took a stiff-arm on a 14-yard gain by Thomas in the second. Not sure what he was doing on a 15-yard completion to Thomas in the third. Williams got completely turned around on the play. And he did a bad job of getting off of Welker’s block on the 15-yard screen to Thomas that went for a TD.

* Bradley Fletcher competed throughout. He’s not going to the Pro Bowl, but he’s been OK so far. Fletcher broke up a pass intended for Thomas in the first. Manning targeted him deep early on, but he had good coverage. He was targeted on third down late in the second, but Decker dropped the back-shoulder throw. Fletcher got called for a ticky-tacky PI call in the end zone in the third. He then got beat by Thomas for a touchdown. But it was a perfect throw and a great catch. Overall, I’d say “serviceable” is the word to describe Fletcher.

SAFETIES

* Rough first start for Earl Wolff. He failed to account for Welker on the first-quarter TD. He didn’t maintain depth on the 52-yard completion to Decker at the end of the first half. He took a bad angle on a Moreno 16-yard run. And again on a 13-yard completion to Thomas in the third. Wolff got taken out by the left tackle on the 15-yard screen to Thomas that scored. The effort and energy seem to be there, but Wolff is clearly going to make mistakes as a rookie. We’ll see how the coaches manage his playing time once Patrick Chung returns.

* With the Eagles’ safeties, avoiding disaster is generally a sign of competent play. Keeping that in mind, this might have been Nate Allen’s best game of the season. Didn’t notice him in the middle of any of the Eagles’ breakdowns, although it’s obviously difficult to assess safety play off TV tape. Allen made a good open-field tackle on Moreno’s 16-yard run in the second. And he came up to make the tackle after a 7-yard completion on a screen to Welker in the third.

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