All-22: D-Line Showing Progress

cox1400_all22_103113With the Eagles having scored 10 points in their last two games, Chip Kelly told his offense this week to take cues from an unlikely source: the defense.

“I don’t think there’s anything else our offense needs to look at except our defense,” he said. “They’ve stayed the course. They’ve worked continually on their techniques. We haven’t added a lot of new things for those guys. We continue to let them feel comfortable in what we’re doing. On a weekly basis, I see them getting better and better and better.”

Billy Davis and his staff are employing the same tactics they used early in the season, but the results have been vastly different. The Eagles allowed 34.5 points per game in the first month of the season. In the last four weeks, that number is down to 18.3. Granted, strength of opponent has played a major factor, and there’s still a long way to go, but the improvements are showing up on tape, and it starts up front with the defensive line.


Back in August, we used the All-22 to take a look at the shift from a Wide-9 to a two-gap 3-4. It's about as drastic a move as you can make from one front to another. Last year, defensive linemen were taught to pin their ears back, get off the ball quickly and attack the backfield. The focus was on pressuring the quarterback without blitzing.

This year's scheme is a different animal. Defensive linemen have to be patient and disciplined, reading and reacting while attacking offensive players, not specific gaps.

The Eagles currently have six defensive linemen on their roster: Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton, Bennie Logan, Vinny Curry, Clifton Geathers and Damion Square. Of that group, three - Cox, Thornton and Curry - spent last season with the team.

It's taken some time to get acclimated to the new techniques, but six games in, new defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro seems to be reaching his players.

***

Thornton is leading the charge with 45 tackles (per coaches' stats). He's been the Eagles' most consistent defensive player all season long. An undrafted free agent in 2012, he's proving to be a great fit in the new scheme.

Take a look at this play from early in the fourth quarter. Thornton is head up on the right tackle and responsible for the B and C gaps to either side of him.

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The handoff goes to Peyton Hillis, and initially it looks like he has a couple options. He can follow the fullback or go straight ahead. You can see Thornton has attacked the right tackle head-on and is ready to make a play to either side.

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In the next shot, it looks like Hillis has room. The right side of the defensive line has been walled off, and the guard has gotten to Mychal Kendricks at the second level.

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But Thornton tosses the right tackle aside and gets to the ballcarrier.

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The way Eagles players tell it, there was never any thought of making dramatic changes to the scheme just because things weren't working early on.

"It started in April when we all first got here, and everybody just stuck together and said we’re gonna buy into this system," Cox said. "And it’s showing on tape.

"Things weren’t as great because everybody was still building, everybody was still new to it. And now you’ve got everybody playing together. It starts up front with the front seven."

That of course includes Cox, who has three sacks to go along with a team-high 15 hurries. The second-year player has shown serious improvement against the run, and last week, he had a season-high six tackles.

Here, Cox is lined up as a 3-technique.

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The Giants start off with a double team.

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It looks like Cox is blocked and that the running back has a hole.

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But Cox fights through the block, sheds it and tackles the ball-carrier after a 3-yard gain.

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Clifton Geathers, who had his best game of the season last week and figures to see increased action with Isaac Sopoaga traded, agreed that the line is showing improvement.

"New system, new plays, everything’s starting to come to us, and I think we’re just able to move a little faster now."

***

I never did a defensive game review from Sunday, so here are some extended notes for those who are interested.

DEFENSIVE LINE

* Cox played well overall. As noted above, he made several nice plays against the run. He pressured Eli Manning on multiple occasions and made a great move for a sack in the fourth, beating his man cleanly.

* Thornton was active throughout and is really playing at a high level. On the Giants' final drive, David Diehl decided he would just hold Thornton to stop him and grabbed his arm, but the refs didn't call it. According to coaches' stats, Thornton had seven solo tackles, a season-high.

* Geathers made the most of limited action, tying a season-high with four tackles. He got off of Diehl's block and dropped the running back after a 2-yard run in the first. In the fourth, Geathers beat the right guard and made a tackle for a 3-yard loss.

* Vinny Curry got a hit on Manning late in the first half and pressured him in the fourth. The team still views him as a situational pass-rusher, so I don't think his role changes with the departure of Sopoaga.

LINEBACKERS

* Connor Barwin played well. He pressured Manning and blew up a screen in the first, forced an intentional grounding in the third (the Giants left him unblocked) and batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage. Trent Cole, meanwhile, was quiet. Coaches credited him with one tackle and one hurry. Brandon Graham was quiet too with one tackle and no hurries.

* Eagles coaches credited Mychal Kendricks with 17 tackles (11 solo), a career-high. Kelly said it was his best game of the season. Kendricks gave up a key 10-yard completion on third down during the final drive, but did a good job against the run throughout.

* DeMeco Ryans' effort shows up every week. Whenever a teammate misses a tackle, it seems like Ryans is there to clean up. He held up well against the run once again, but had some issues in coverage. On a 27-yard completion to the tight end in the first, it looked like Ryans was at fault.

SECONDARY

* Cary Williams played probably his best game of the season. He was good in run support and stopped a WR screen for no gain in the first. He got tested deep on multiple occasions against Hakeem Nicks, but didn't allow any big plays. Bradley Fletcher gave up a 22-yard back-shoulder throw, but his coverage was good. He was also called for a 19-yard pass interference penalty and gave up some throws underneath. Brandon Boykin got beat for a 26-yard completion and a 9-yarder on 3rd-and-6 in the fourth. He played a season-low in snaps since the Giants chose not to play with many 3- and 4-WR sets.

Nate Allen is really improving. He broke up a pass in the red zone in the second and made an excellent one-on-one tackle on Nicks in space on third down in the third.

* Earl Wolff continues to be up and down. Victor Cruz found space in front of him for a 22-yard gain in the first.

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  • BQNinja

    I’ll be honest, I had my reservations about Kelly bringing his defensive line coach from Oregon. It’s really promising to see him getting this kind of production out of guys like Thornton/Logan/Geathers/Square, especially Thornton. Here’s hoping he can turn Curry into more of a threat.

    • G_WallyHunter

      Amen, I was skeptical as well, until I saw that Video that Sheil and Tim posted shortly thereafter…. HOW VIOLENT!! HOW VIOLENT!!! GO!!!

  • mtn_green

    The quality of opponents changed dramatically. Although the defense looks up, hard to say that they’ve turned a corner until they maintain a lead.

    • Vick Must Go

      Interesting observation. Way to destroy my optimism with facts. Damn you!

    • Uncle Carm

      Don’t you have to first have a lead to maintain a lead? (Speaking of course of the last two weeks).

  • 1972

    Hey sheil I need an all 22 on the passing downs. We don’t seem to get a lot of pressure without blitzing

    • Basscase

      BINGO.

      One of the things I’d like to be proven wrong about is how many blitzes they call on obvious passing downs, specifically 3rd down. So far, it seems like they’re following the Jim Johnson philosophy of “send the house”, and it seems to be working (hence my comment a while back about the scheme doing more than the players).

      I want to know, given that the consensus is “the DLine is playing better” and “Cox is getting more awesome”, if they’re getting it done in critical situations, and if so, how often. Methinks it’s not often.

      • 1972

        That’s all I was trying to say. The front 7 is very good at stopping the run. Pass rush? not so much

        • anon

          Reaction to our issues last year when we couldn’t stop a running back and gave up big plays over the top.

        • Maggie

          HOW many touchdowns did New York score? How many points? And the cowboys before them? Some of you folks state the only thing that matters is Super Bowls? A defense that holds the opposition to 18.3 POINTS per game would be Super Bowl bound if there was an offense. POINTS, not yards.

          • Basscase

            The flip side of this argument were all people were arguing when the offense was clicking – #2 in the NFL in yards, which is a completely arbitrary stat when not taken into proper context.

            You can look at how many point the D allowed, and that’s important, but equally important is HOW they obtained them. Dallas scored efficiently on two drives it needed. New York’s offense is trash right now. Even the 18.3, IMO, is a bit misleading without, again, proper context.

            Still, as much as I like what the D has done lately, I don’t see it lasting.

          • 1972

            You folks? what are you talking about? I just wanted to see how the front 7 looked on passing downs and you went into a tirade about super bowls. I like how the d is progressing. But lets not get carried away. We still need solutions to the problems on that side of the ball.

          • theycallmerob

            T-26th in the league. That’s POINTS, not yards.

  • Scott J

    I never notice Cole or Graham.

    • southy

      These are interior heavy-personnel rushing plays. Not much they can do on a play like this but set the edge. If they have a TE on them you maybe, MAYBE get free for backside pursuit.

    • Vick Must Go

      Agreed

  • anon

    Not sure we need an all 22 showing the D can make plays against peyton hillis.

    • Basscase

      Take what you can get, it seems. Hillis was working stock at the neighborhood CVS when he got called back. And although he didn’t do much damage, he did SOME, which is more than what you should expect from a washed-up back like him against an “improving” DLine like this one. He should’ve had 8 carries for 3 yards.

      • anon

        Surprised he wasn’t working at gamestop at least then he could see himself on the cover of madden 12.

        • Vick Must Go

          Man, was it that recent? It seems like forever ago that he was relevant.

          If there is a Madden Curse, then Hillis was the #1 example

          • Adam

            Naw, Hillis being on the cover on Madden is a #1 example of why you don’t let the internet make any important decisions.

  • cliff henny

    on kendricks key 10 yard completion, little ref bs there, TE Meyers gave a pretty obvious push-off. If Avant was offensive PI, so was that.

    • southy

      I said the same thing when it happened. Fairly obvious call.

  • Will

    Thanks Sheil…I wanted to see all-22 of both lines play…hopefully you can breakdown on O-Line struggles as well ( nut stunt would be sweet…lol..)….fans seem to think were okay there the all-22 should shed some light on the matter.

  • Will

    All great points…Yet if the Team is to improve you have to be honest about what you have and be willing to make changes based on execution alone.

    Kelce is hard cause he’s worked so hard to fight back from two knee injuries but if he continues to get pushed around in pass protection or unable to run block what good is he. This is a what have you done for me lately league. Maclin was not a premier receiver before the injury and now you have to wait and see if he can recover from his second knee injury. I can see Herremans in a back up role next year not a starter, would like to see Barbre this year at RG. Celek is 28 and Avant is 30 and both are work horses it’s up to the QB to utilize them properly. I would keep both hands down for they are very durable. Both player’s are very productive in their specific roles and work extremely hard. They are excellent role models and leaders as well.

    The team needs a QB maybe. I don’t foresee MV#7 coming back next year due to being injury prone. They need more stability from the QB spot ( jury still out on Foles for me) Field Goal Kicker, Center, OG ( unless Barbre shines in there), OT, #1 WR, NT, OLB, CB, SS and a FS.

    If you want to improve on 4-12 these are the player’s who need replaced. So you have to find better player’s for Henry, Kelce, Herremans, find Peters successor, Maclin needs to go you need a big body tall speedster to compliment DJax and be a threat in the red zone. An Anquan Boldin type of player. You need a true heavier NT, Logan, Thorton, and Geathers might work. Trent Cole you need a true rushing OLB with coverage skills, Graham should be shopped around as he is a non-fit in a 3-4 2 gap Defense, Barwin is the only true 3-4 OLB currently on the team. Yet you could live with the ILB’s we have. You will need a 3rd starting caliber CB for depth and to push the starters. Wolff, and Nate Allen need to be replaced . Those two player’s are part of the weakest link on this Defense and make up one fouth of the secondary.

    All 4 LB’s, all of the CB’s & both Safeties are responsible for giving up those huge chunks of yards. All those positions need to work together. The CB’s have been addressed and now the Safety spots need serious upgrades. If you get the new Safeties playing at an extremely high level and still are giving up huge amounts of passing yards. Then it would be time to look over your ILB”s for upgrades. Make no mistake about it Defenses win Championships.

    Those are the 10 positions I hope to see new faces at next season or sooner. If Foles can prove to be serviceable and the young trio at NT works then it is just 8 positions of need to turn this team around. Money should be spent in FA on the #1 WR and the DB’s (CB,SS,FS). I prefer seasoned Vets back there. The other 5 positions you can pick up in the draft a Kicker, OLB,C,OG,OT.

    A mix of Vets on the O-Line is ideal if you can bring in starters from around the league.I would explore that route first as well before using any valuable draft picks. You may very well have the O-Lineman on this roster , Vandervelde, Barbre, and Tobin, ect. Hard to say without seeing them out there on game day against other teams. The games are won and lost in the trenches. I doubt Kelly keeps the kicker unless he gets reliable from 45-55 yards out. All of the new player’s should not have injury issues.

    I would spare no expense to build a formidable secondary. Our Defense is 32nd in passing yards given up. Wouldn’t mind a OLB or FS from the next draft class in RDs. 1 &2 if a QB is gonna cost us a lot of picks to get or doesn’t fall to us. You may need a QB in the end but Foles can hold the fort down while you finish upgrading the roster to go around your QB of the Future.

    • Maggie

      Perhaps you didn’t read about the improvement the coaches have seen in Wolff? Perhaps you haven’t seen the stat: 18.3 POINTS given up per game? All this year so far, not just last couple of weeks. There are positions of need, no doubt, but can you imagine the purple-faced screaming if the Eagles draft another O-lineman, lol? And half the league is looking for QB’s and DB’s. Good luck.

      • Will

        Wolff improving yes, Defense hasn’t faced a good Offense past two weeks..fool’s gold….we will see how they fair outside the division first before I buy in… . Mariota for QB….I can dream….minimum 1 CB, 1 FS , 1 OLB…for Defense…move Cole and Graham might get some O-Line guys for’em…still giving up to much passing yards…We will see how they fair against Oakland…In fairness the run defense has been stout…18.3 points last two games around 32 points 1st 6 games…….Denver put up 52 points….26.3 points per game for the season…

      • theycallmerob

        18.3 Is NOT the year-long stat; it’s 26.4 Get your stats right before bashing others.

        http://www.nfl.com/stats/categorystats?tabSeq=2&statisticCategory=SCORING&conference=ALL&role=OPP&season=2013&seasonType=REG

    • Vick Must Go

      Nothing but love Will, but I really can’t disagree with you much more. Hermannas has been something like an 8 year starter. Look around the league… how many 8 year starters do you see in the 2nd string? Count all of them up on one of your hands and get back to me. He’ll retire before he is 2nd string.

      Celek couldn’t catch herpes in the redlight district if he found himself there without a condom.

      Avant is 30 going on 1000. His feet move as fast as my bowels after eating a wedge of cheese… which is not fast. Look around the league at the other slot receivers and tell me we don’t need an upgrade. Hilton, Welker, Cruz, Amendola, etc.

      They can get by with getting a #2 WR. Think Wallace and Antonio Brown… that tandem did well. Jackson could do well with a 2 like that. No chance on earth they need a center. And they most certainly don’t need 2 safeties since Wolff is coming on.

      Maclin would be here cheap, with a shot at a #2 or #3 slot. He has underperformed for a #1 draft pick, but he has not underperformed for a #2 WR. Players come back from ACL tears all the time… see Brees, Palmer, McNabb, McGahee, Peterson, RGIII etc. The players that don’t tend to come back from the ACL have the “terrible triad” of MCL, ACL, and medial meniscus (think Culpepper). But the non contact ACLs do well. He’ll be back.

      I agree with OLB, but only if you mean Cole’s slot. Barwin has been solid.

      Then you contradict yourself. In one sentence, you state you can get all 3 OL positions in the draft. In the very next sentence, you say not to waste draft picks on OL. Make up your mind. We have seen what the “Dream Team” is. Build through the draft.

      Finally… name the last #1 WR to do well on the open market. Kevin Curtis wast the #1 WR in FA when the Eagles got him. Mike Wallace was #1 this year. Do you want either of them? Because I don’t. Currently the “best” WR slated for free agency are Hakeem Nicks, James Jones, and Heyward Bey. That is it, your top 3. Are any of those the #1 WR you are asking for? And chances are, Jones and HB get resigned.

      • Will

        Lol…Herremans not the same after injury. Might retire after this year. Kelce is getting man handle out there. Would like new O-line guys without giving up picks if possible. Trent Cole, Graham don’t fit and should be moved. Celek ( who can Block) and Avant according to you move all 4 someone will sign em if they were cut.so why not try and fill some spots.Grant it you need their replacements first. #1 WR HB would be nice or the draft. Maclin back meh…I like Celek and Avant but that’s me. They need a FS I could live with Wolff if he continues to improve. The Defense has had soft NFC East teams last two weeks so jury still out till they play a good offense.RE-Watch the game again LT, Center, RG, and RT all stuggling. We agree to disagree