Three Leftovers On the Eagles’ Defense

Eagles DE Fletcher Cox helmet off at practice

A few things we didn’t get to this week…

1. Fletcher Cox watched the film after each game, saw how he was playing in the Eagles’ new defensive scheme and knew he needed to be productive.




"Just going back, man, the whole season, I think I've… just being honest… I think I was playing average, just being an average player," Cox said. "And I felt like I just know I can be better. And the reason Howie [Roseman] and them brought me here was to play in backfields. I just really set out and looked in the mirror, and I told myself that I had to do better."

And he has. Cox had five hurries last week against the Bucs and leads the team with 11 hurries on the season. No other Eagles player has more than five.

Last year, Cox flourished in Jim Washburn's scheme, firing off the ball and making plays in the backfield all game long. This year, he's adapting to a two-gap scheme where the focus is on the run. Cox is no longer shooting gaps, but he can still be disruptive and use his strength to move offensive linemen into the backfield.

"We're still creating and trying to get on their side of the line of scrimmage," he said.

On a league-wide level, Pro Football Focus has Cox down for seven QB hits, second among 3-4 defensive ends to J.J. Watt. The sacks (two on the season) haven't always been there, Cox still has work to do against the run, and he'll have to prove he's taking steps forward against better competition.

But the coaches are seeing progress.

"I just watch every day's work ethic and what you do, and are you moving forward in the techniques I'm asking to you do, and the answer is yes with him," Davis said.

2. Opposing quarterbacks have found a favorite target in the Eagles' secondary, and it's cornerback Bradley Fletcher.

Fletcher has been targeted 39 times, according to Pro Football Focus. That's tops on the team, and keep in mind he missed one game due to injury. Fletcher has broken up 10 passes, which is tied for second in the NFL, per STATS, Inc.

"I've probably had more balls thrown at me this year than any other year so far," Fletcher said. "But bring 'em all on. I want to make plays. I want to make things happen.

"I want as many opportunities as I can to make plays to help our team win."

Fletcher has been far from perfect. He was part of the breakdown on a 24-yard touchdown and gave up another 24-yard completion on third down last week against the Bucs. But on most deep balls this season, Fletcher has come through, breaking passes up and avoiding pass interference penalties.

"We practice the long balls in practice here through the week, and when it's in the air, it's just a timing thing," he said.

3. The Eagles have been going with more of a four-down look in their nickel package recently. The plan at the beginning of the season was to use mostly a three-down look. Davis liked the idea of disguising where the fourth rusher was coming from.

But that look didn't work out so well, so he's made some changes.

"We've gotten more into an even front," Connor Barwin said. "It [the three-down look] hasn't worked very well, so that's why you see more of the four-down."

Trent Cole and Brandon Graham often line up at right defensive end. Cox and Cedric Thornton are the interior pass-rushers. And Barwin sets up at left defensive end.

The change has allowed the Eagles to better use some of their personnel. Vinny Curry has been on the field more (25 snaps last game), and cornerback Brandon Boykin only rushed the quarterback once vs. the Bucs, per PFF.

Against Dallas, the Eagles figure to be in nickel for most of the game. The guess here is that will mean more four-down looks than we saw earlier in the season.

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  • PaoliBulldog

    Adapt the scheme to the personnel….

    • James Hathaway

      Seems to be what they are doing. Just taking a while.

      • BigWhoopWannaFightAboutIt

        Damn glad to see it. I know some people were getting impatient/didn’t think Davis would adjust

  • Corry

    If that means Vinny Curry gets more pass rush opportunities, I’m all for it.

    BTW, Sheil, you seem to have a typo. In point 3, 4th paragraph, you’re listing Cole and Graham at right end and have Barwin setting up at right end as well.

  • Soybot

    A coaching staff that recognizes issues and makes adjustments to put their players in a better position to win. Refreshing. I think the increase in 4-3 looks has been an underrated reason for the defense’s improvement the last couple of games.

    • Kevin

      And a coaching staff that seems to be having fun and enjoying football too. That’s refreshing as well.

    • anon

      Maybe Billy can grow on me.

      • BlindChow

        If I had a tumor, I’d name it Billy Davis.

  • Brian

    I love this coaching staff’s philosophy of coaching to the abilities of the players (as opposed to forcing the scheme). From Chip on down they’re doing what they said they would, from the beginning.

  • Token

    When they go 4 down look Curry should be one end and Cole or Barwin should be off the field.

    • Bdawkbdawk

      And what happens when the opposing offense runs the hurry up, spreads us out, and runs it down our throat? I love the penetration Curry gets, but he won’t set an edge, he won’t anchor. He’s the interior version of Babin. Seems to be a good player, but just wants to get upfield. If our priority is to stop the run he shouldn’t be taking too much time from Cole or Barwin.

      • damrvrhunter

        I made the same points about his play a month ago when everyone was beating the drums for him to get activated on game days. Yes he should a game day active over Damion Square but no way should he get more playing time over Cox, Thornton, Barwin, or Cole when he gives you nothing in run support. Have him in only on obvious passing downs.

        • Token

          Right now Cole is giving you nothing in any aspect really. But I get it, his name is Trent Cole. Its hard to let go of memories of what players once were.

          Id rather have a guy out there thats disruptive and take my chances against the run.

          And note, we were supposed to be talking about when they go with a 4 down front.

          • damrvrhunter

            Are you trying to imply that when the Eagles have 4 down “hands in the dirt” linemen they don’t have to worry about anchoring and gap control, tasks needed to stop the run versus just rushing upfield when they opposing offense has to throw a pass. So what is your ideal 4 down lineman for the Eagles, who are the tackles and the ends? Don’t forget that Curry is now listed at 278 lbs, so what is he in your configuration at end or a tackle?

          • Andy124

            Yes, because the 4-down is predominately being reserved for passing downs.

    • BigWhoopWannaFightAboutIt

      Sure, on some plays. There should be a healthy rotation like we saw in JJ’s 43 while we’re in nickle. I love the way Curry plays and I’d also like to see more of him

  • Mike Flick

    With no running game, Vinny should be on the field a lot this week.

    • evanphilly

      Yeah, hopefully it works out that way. On paper, it looks like the PA for Dallas will be non-existent, but we have to hope that the Eagles can shut down the run when the Cowboys decide to run the ball.

      • cliff henny

        even if Dallas has some success running, i’d be pretty surprised if they stuck to it, little like our boy that just left. see a token run here and there, as long as it’s not sprung for 15-20 yards, giving up 5-7 will be fine by me. d-line has to have one main focus, pressure Romo. if he has all day, he’ll carve secondary up. not sure he wont even with pressure, guy houdini’s it quite often against us. hope for couple punts, couple TOs and couple FGs, and hope eagles offense lights it up.

  • Broadcasting Wisdom

    With the number of offensive skills players that could land in the first round, we could still get a game-changing 3-4 linebacker by picking in the low 20’s and then a solid safety prospect and DT in 2nd and 3rd rounds. Perhaps we can even get a few mid-round picks for Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham since they’re not long-term answers here. It is not unthinkable that by this time next season we could have a top 3 offense and a top 15 defense, which would make us super bowl contenders. Would love to get to the playoffs this year even if we are one and done so the guys get a taste of the playoff atmosphere. Then next year we could make a real run.

    • Andy

      I’ll have what he’s having.

      • cliff henny

        it’s strong…but, i’ll agree with him that i can see the field thru the forest, at least. last 2 drafts have been better, and a ton of cap space opening up next 2 off-seasons.

    • GEAGLE

      Vinny curry isn’t going ANYWHERE…Ugh SMH, wtf is wrong with fans

      • Broadcasting Wisdom

        If they get a reasonable trade request, he’s gone this off-season. I love him, and he would have been a pro bowler with Jim Johnson’s 4-3, but if Sop, Bennie Logan, and Cedric Thonton are playing in front of him, his days are numbered.

  • Kevin

    I know they are far from perfect, but you have to appreciate the cornerbacks this year. They compete every Sunday and leave it on the field. They tackle. It is a welcome change from last year pylons that stared at the safeties. Fletcher may get beat from time to time, but I think he has made more plays than Nmandi every did as an Eagle.

    If Earl Wolfe continues to grow and Nate Allen becomes serviceable (and he appears to be making progress every week), the D will continue to improve. Maybe by the end of the year they are closing in on being ranked in the upper teens or low 20’s as a D. With our offense, that could go a long way down the stretch.

    Don’y get my wrong, I would love a stud safety, LB and NT, but at least this group is moving forward every week.

    • damrvrhunter

      Could not agree more on your observations about the entire secondary! At least they tackle, how refreshing to be able to say that?

    • Token

      I dunno what it is about Nate Allen that people just want to like him so much. He goes a week or two without a game breaking mistake and people just want to jump all over him like hes good now. Hes not.

      • cliff henny

        fatigue…only so long you can harp on him sucking till excepting a glimmer of hope when improves to below average. he’ll be gone next year, no sense in beating a dead horse

      • Kevin

        Wow, that is some quick dislike for Allen there Token. Never claimed he even approached good. I just want him to get up to the level of serviceable and Wolfe to grow. Small steps.

        And lets not forget, Allen was “good” in his rookie year before his injury, so there is some moderate hope for small improvement.

        He will be gone or a backup next year, so why keep beating?

        • BlindChow

          And it’s not like he’s suddenly going to disappear this year. We’re stuck with him, so I agree, if he appears “serviceable,” no reason to keep whining.

      • 1972

        He was beat several times in the giants game. Manning just didn’t connect. Whenever he’s the help over the top, he’s always trailing the receiver. That’s why Boykin got a penalty because the last line of defense is five yards behind the play.
        He played well last week, but he’s not a starter .Time to upgrade

      • JofreyRice

        I think it’s a mix of optimism for Allen, based on his measurable traits and the myth that he had a fantastic rookie season, along with a need to be contrarian towards people that observe the shortcomings of the team.

        The general trend of Allen has been bad, bad, bad. I just hope they have a real idea in what they have in him and don’t do anything like re-sign him; don’t think it’s so far fetched. The guy has been benched now 4 times, and was the first backup plan to Kenny Phillips destroyed knees.

      • nicksaenz1

        I can’t stand him as much as the next person but why would I not want to like him or want him to improve. We drafted the guy, of course I want to like him. I don’t, but if he can improve enough to become a justifiable starter as opposed to his de facto status as starter, I certainly will like him. Nothing wrong with that.

  • BlindChow

    Fletcher needs to get some work on the Jugs machine. If they’re going to keep throwing balls at him he might as well come down with a few…

  • EaglePete

    Did McNabb gain 100 lbs and become a defensive tackle.

    • nicksaenz1

      I wasn’t going to say it, but I definitely thought it.

      • EaglePete

        ya, just thought it was kind of funny. Def looks a bit like him, the bearded Dmac.

        • nicksaenz1

          Donnie “Big” Mac

  • damrvrhunter

    In retrospect this was not the season to implement the 3 4 because we do not have two stud OLBs and a decent NT to be effective. Since they decided to “retool” versus “rebuild”, the right scheme would have been to remain a 4 3 with a vastly improved secondary. The secondary going from abysmal to mediocre might have been enough to go from the bottom to average in defensive ranking. A sort of “break but don’t bend too much” philosophy on defense that coupled with our explosive offense could win us one or two games in the playoffs.

    • anon

      Yeah that that was clear — thankfully coaches are adapting. Still early in the season

      • damrvrhunter

        Am holding out hope that at some point soon they figure it out on defense and make my point moot.

    • cliff henny

      not that they’ll come out and say it, but if the theory was…the defense was going to struggle regardless(not like 4-3 current players were top10 defense last 2 yrs), why wait a year to install. if it makes the Eagles better in ’14 going thru growing pains this year, i’m, ok with it. what better way to self scout, see who can and cant play in the 3-4, then to start running some from day 1.

      • BlindChow

        I agree with this. Having to install a 3-4 next year might leave us in the exact same situation we’re in now, only having to wait to see who is able to make the transition.

      • nicksaenz1

        Agreed, but I’d still prefer to be watching at least the 4-3 Under than the straight up 2-gapping 3-4.

        • cliff henny

          during his hiring press conference, how many times did howie and jeffy boy say ‘program builder’. i dont ever fault fans for being short sighted, it’s our money and time paying those contracts and lining lurie’s pocket. still, my guess is davis and kelly looked at how good each type of defense was with these players and said ‘f-it we’re going whole 9 yards to 2-gap’.

    • JofreyRice

      Agreed. I didn’t think Kelly could be this successful right off the bat, so the growing pains were easier to swallow. With a legit D, this could be a playoff team.

    • EaglePete

      a bigger question this all brings up is if by switching, you are forced to stay with Davis as the D coord. What if for some reason Phillips is available to hire or another prominent D coord. Are you stuck with Davis since its a transition year? Not that I have a huge issue with him but if you can upgrade there you have to look at your options.

  • aub32

    The defense has seemingly improved the last two weeks, but we have also played against two winless and highly dysfunctional offenses. Dallas will be a much more accurate test for us to guage whether or not this defense is really showing improvement.

    • nicksaenz1

      Agreed that it seems to have improved. However, I don’t like discrediting the D’s play by noting the records of other teams. Heck, the Jags appear downright awful, yet, they faired far better against the Broncos than we did. Still have to show up and play the game. Doug Martin is a quality back who was held in check. And for as much as I hate Eli, he’s not exactly a scrub. Dallas will certainly be a test, no argument there. We’ll just see how much improvement we’ve made or if it’s a two steps forward one step back type deal.

      • aub32

        Ok well maybe these numbers will better represent my point. TB has the 32nd ranked offense in scoring and despite having Martin only have the 20th ranked rushing attack. The Giants are ranked 29th in scoring with the 30th ranked rushing attack. So these offenses really are terrbile enough to make our defense look better against them.

        • nicksaenz1

          What about yards?

          EDIT: Tampa’s O sucks. Giants at least are middle of the pack in yards.

          • aub32

            Bucs: 31

            NYG: 17 (That looks like middle of the pack, but they are 32nd in TOs) So the picks we got are par for facing the Giants.

          • cliff henny

            dude, give defense 1 week break, lol. they held a team the panthers shut out beat down and basically curb stomped to 21 and another team starting 7th round rookie qb to 20…romo witten bryant and williams will be a piece of cake!

          • aub32

            You’re right. What was I thinking?

          • nicksaenz1

            Getting picks against a team that’s prone to throwing them is an improvement from where we once stood. Basically the Giants’ offense will bend you but not break you courtesy of their own miscues which a defense still needs to take advantage of. This defense last year would have broken. Not saying there’s a ton of improvement, but I’ll take what I can get and be happy.

          • aub32

            ok nick you got it. our defense is second only to the ’85 bears.

  • Will

    The Eagles brought in 2 Safeties in Kenny Phillips and Patrick Chung. Phillips knees were shot that’s why the Gaints let him go. Patrick Chung has serious shoulder issues which is why New England let him go. Hopefully at some point they will find an upgrade for Nate Allen, which they are not happy with. Byrd’s name is bounced around a lot but he has injury issues as well. Nate Allen just never was the same player since his injury. Hopefully this gets addressed in the early rounds of the draft, or maybe thru FA or via a trade. Meanwhile I watch Nate Allen avoid contact, no FF, no pass break ups, no interceptions and piss poor pass coverage. Better off playing with 10 player’s as Nate Allen is a non-factor on the field. This Defense would be vastly improved with 2 quality Safeties back there. If nothing else I hope this is the last year for Nate Allen. Give me a Ronnie Lot or BDawk type back there I can cheer for and respect his play on the field.

    • nicksaenz1

      Wait, the D would improve with two quality safeties? Consider my mind blown by this profound revelation… Are you aware of any Lott/Dawk-esque safeties coming out in the draft or free agency? I figure, to hold such a lofty standard for the safety play you wish to see that you would have a list of guys who fit the description which you can hand deliver to Howie and he’ll get right on it.

      • Will

        Kerry Rhodes-FA, Byrd in a possible trade, 2014 Draft both projected to go in the First RD-Craig Loston-LSU SS,Hasean Clinton-Dix-Alabama FS-There’s your shopping list Howie!

        • nicksaenz1

          There’s a reason no team has signed Kerry Rhodes yet. I don’t know the reason, but there has to be one. Byrd might happen in off-season, but no one is giving up anything now knowing he’s likely not going to get franchised again by the Bills.

          • cliff henny

            hopefully he’s pissed them off enough with faking (in bill’s eyes-i have no idea) a foot. that does not seem to be going well between byrd and management. bill’s might just want to get away from him. Geagle will run up to Buffalo and give him piggyback ride down if eagles sign him

          • nicksaenz1

            I’m just curious if Will is aware that comparing any of the names thrown around to Dawk and Lott is bold. Even Byrd, although he’s certainly the closest of the bunch.

          • GEAGLE

            Damn right…FYI, he is definitely milking his “injury” to not risk his body playing for the cheap ass bills..
            ..
            By the end of the season, you will all be down with the Billy Davis movement and be happy with the direction of the defense…and when we don’t draft a QB , consider your minds blown lol

          • cliff henny

            foles cant ask for a better opportunity. 10 games, healthy line, above average weapons and a pretty good OC/HC.

          • Will

            Kerry turned down 3 mil from the cards, he wants 3.5 mil a year, he’s 31, and the whole gay issue may have him blackballed. Regardless Kerry is a hell of a Safety. The Eagles paid 10 mil for Chungs services over 3 years. Byrd is a reach plus health issues. Hard to say if Bryd is faking to get out of Buffalo. I like the FS from Alabama a lot. Would the Eagles pull the trigger on a Safety in RD 1 of the draft?

          • nicksaenz1

            Doubtful. That’s a 2nd rd position for us.

      • HowboutdemIggles

        Hasean Clinton-Dix seems to be the guy to me, he’s a ball hawk and he can hit. He’s suspended now, but with a good showing at the combine, assuming he enters the draft he would be a top guy. Loston out of LSU looks good, he’s a projected second round pick.