All-22: The State Of the Defense

logan1a_all22_111413In the last six weeks, the Eagles are allowing just 17.7 points per game.

Before the season started, a stretch like that seemed unlikely. After the team gave up 33 to the Chargers in Week 2 and 52 to the Broncos in Week 4, it seemed even more unlikely.

But Billy Davis, his assistants and the players have turned things around. Overall, the defensive is allowing 24.4 points per game (20th) and 5.6  yards per play (22nd). Football Outsiders still has the Eagles’ D ranked 28th overall.


So while no one would deny that there have been massive improvements from the beginning of the season, the question is: With six games left, where is this defense?

As always, we go to the tape for answers, breaking it down category-by-category.

***

Run defense: Sold.

The defensive line has shown steady improvement all season long and is in a really good place right now. Against the Packers, the Eagles contained Eddie Lacy and stepped up against a physical offensive line that had been playing very well.

Bennie Logan is not the biggest nose tackle in the league, but he piled up eight tackles - the most of any defensive lineman - against Green Bay, per coaches' stats.

"He's doing a good job of making plays in the middle," said DeMeco Ryans. "He's an athletic guy who's playing on that nose, but he still has that ability to run a guy down on the line of scrimmage and be able to make plays in the backfield."

On this second-quarter play, linebacker Najee Goode is going to attack the A-Gap between the center and left guard. That means the right guard is going to be responsible for Logan.

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As we've discussed in previous weeks, this is a read-and-react scheme up front. The linemen don't shoot gaps. But if they can drive the opposing lineman into the backfield, that works just fine.

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And in case you were wondering why Chip Kelly wants linemen with long arms...

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Cedric Thornton and Patrick Chung closed in too. And James Starks was stopped for no gain.

Ryans has been a beast against the run and is piling up the tackling stats, but he acknowledges that it's the guys up front who have been key.

"That’s what drives our defense, the way those guys play," he said. "That sets the tempo for our defense. Without those guys, I can’t make the plays I make. The back-end guys can’t make the plays they make. [It’s] because of those three guys right there."

The defensive line should only get better as the season goes on. They've still got backs like Alfred Morris, Adrian Peterson, Reggie Bush and Matt Forte on the schedule. But the guess here is that the run defense will answer the call more often than not the rest of the way.

***

Pass coverage: Not sold yet.

I'm still hesitant to buy in on this front, but really, it's a matter of talent more than anything else. It also doesn't hurt that the Eagles have faced Scott Tolzien and Terrelle Pryor in consecutive weeks.

Tolzien completed 24 of 39 attempts for 280 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. But he missed multiple opportunities.

For example, take this second-quarter play. Ryans loses track of tight end Brandon Bostick, but Tolzien doesn't look that way.

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He hits James Jones for a 13-yard gain, but with no deep safety to the top of the screen, a pass to Bostick could have been a huge play.

In the second half, he missed another opportunity.

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Jordy Nelson is wide-open over the middle after Patrick Chung got turned around. Meanwhile, at the top of the screen, the wide receiver has a step on Roc Carmichael with no deep safety.

Tolzien targeted Nelson, but the throw was off, and instead of a big gain, it was an incompletion.

The Eagles can only play the guys that are on their schedule, and quarterbacks miss opportunities every week. To be fair, the defense had success against Tony Romo and Eli Manning earlier in the season. But I need to see more. They'll get Romo again, Matthew Stafford and Robert Griffin III in the coming weeks.

***

Pass rush: Not sold

No All-22 here, but we went over some numbers this morning. One note to add is that the Eagles have forced seven intentional grounding penalties, most in the league. Those result in a loss of yardage and a loss of down. In other words, they're pretty much the same as notching a sack.

This is more of a talent issue than a scheme issue. The Eagles could use a prolific pass-rusher at outside linebacker, but they don't have one on the roster. Instead, they're relying on a variety of guys, blitzes, etc.

The key against Washington will be finishing when given the opportunity against Robert Griffin III.

***

Defensive coaching: Sold

My main takeaway here is that we've seen real improvement - both from an individual standpoint and as a group. Nate Allen is playing the best football of his career and is clearly better now than he was when the season started.

Thornton has gone from a rotational player last year to one of their best defensive players this year. Fletcher Cox has made a lot of progress operating in a new scheme. And as shown above, Logan has as well.

Last week was telling. The Eagles lost Mychal Kendricks and Earl Wolff in-game. They were also without starting corner Bradley Fletcher. But the defense got really good efforts from backups like Goode and Roc Carmichael.

"I was really excited with how he played against Green Bay in his first start up there," Kelly said when asked about Carmichael. "And it helps. It helps because you're never going to make it through the season with everybody healthy. When we lost Fletch, to have a guy like Roc available to us, I think it was a great addition for us."

And Goode?

"One of the things about Naj, he's a really sharp kid, I mean real smart guy. I think he was an industrial mechanical engineer major. He has a really good grasp. When he got here, that's one of the first things that struck us, this guy is an intelligent football player."

On this fourth-quarter play, Vinny Curry got the sack, but the tape shows it was a three-man operation.

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The outside receiver, Jarrett Boykin, is going to try to get Carmichael with a double move. The tight end is going to set up in the flat.

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Carmichael and Goode, both in man coverage, do outstanding jobs sticking with their receivers. That makes Tolzien hesitate.

Curry does a great job using his hands against Marshall Newhouse and picks up his fourth sack of the season. Afterwards, he gave the official a hug.

"Oh  man, I thought I was gonna get flagged cause the dude's helmet fell off," Curry said. "I didn't know how it fell off so I just hugged the guy."

Asked if he could make this his new sack celebration, Curry said: "Nah, man. One-time only."

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As you can see, he went with the quick two-hander, followed by a one-handed pat. That's good technique. Long embraces should be reserved for romantic interests or immediate family. This type of hug is good for greeting cousins around the holidays, running into old high school acquaintances and thanking officials for keeping the flags in their pockets.

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

    I’m so glad to see Curry getting on the field. I hope he plays his entire career here. Local kid, loves the game, loves the team, loves the town… if he gets double digit sacks, I’m buying his jersey.

    • GEAGLE

      Modern day talented Vince Papale….he has to stay here. Young passionate beast with an explosive first step and really good use of hands will figure it out..Let’s get some good health out of him and we will have a beast in him a year from now. The kid puts in the work and is committed to improving his body and skill during the offseason…that’s one eagle I don’t worry about and trust to put it all together sooner or later

      • UncleCarm

        I trust Curry, but the Eagles coaching staff had me concerned for awhile there. They just would not put him in to see if he can play. Well, he can play.

  • jabostick

    Preamble/Caveat: the draft is a long ways away and things always change…

    I know it’s been said here before but, if Foles, continues to prove that he can be the unquestioned starter next year, it has such huge offseason implications. Without being hamstrung by a desperate need to get a top QB the Eagles could target different positions (LB specifically). And in a draft that, apparently, is going to see a lot of teams looking to go QB in the 1st round, we might see some good defensive guys fall.
    Been really excited that the D’s shown improvement of late. It’d be fantastic to get a stud on that side of the ball in the draft.

    • cliff henny

      either stud OLB in 1st, or if Mike Evans falls, have to consider him, then hope someone drops to mid 2nd. think right now 6 OLBS are in top 35. that’s alot, sure someone will tumble. this draft sets up great cause the 2 biggest needs, if going with foles, would be another weapon (imagine cooper but elite talent) and olb and draft is loaded. so eagles can go best available player and get need at same time.

      • GEAGLE

        SIGH!!! Walterfootballs update almost made me throw my iPad against the wall.

        He now has the eagles falling to #17:
        1) Johny football since Chip will still want a QB who can run his system (I want to cry)

        2) WR Brandon Coleman

        3) Washington state safety Deonne Buchanon
        ….
        I would literally cry
        ..
        He had Evans going 5th to the Texans, with Teddy,Clowney,Barr,Hundley filling out the top 5

        Khalil Mack fell to number 20, but he had Beasley climbing all the way up to buffalo….if the Bills take an OLB at the bottom of the top 10, I would assume they would stay local and go with Mack instead of taking a player like Beasley who needs to add weight…Khalil Mack is a game ready Mac Truck, many view him as that next small school Damarcus Ware STUD……

        Why can’t I help myself from reading his horrible updates every week?

        • Brandon

          That guy couldn’t be more wrong on practically every pick every year. I stopped reading him years ago. I think he had the Eagles taking Geno Smith last year.

          • GEAGLE

            Agree….but for months he mocked Bennie Logan to us in round 3 and I laughed at him..

        • cliff henny

          watching ga-tech…that achoutu, or whatever, he looks like a player-think he was slated in the 3rd or 4th. i wouldnt mind JM at 17, in the slightest, if that’s the direction they go… specially if they dont have to trade up. still will be olb and wr in 2nd and 3rd.
          .
          long as they start of getting top tier safety, clemmons looks good if byrd wants too much. think there is so many different ways to go. have this strange feeling like someone actually knows what they are doing.

        • Michael Jorden

          Well, he isn’t terrible, but his attitude with the Eagles gets on my nerves. He allows his severe dislike for the team to affect his analysis and gives a crap effort when he talks Philly (draft, off-season needs, FA) imo. I go there sometimes for FA position lists and draft bios.

    • Brandon

      I would love love LOVE to see them go BDPA (best defensive player available) for at least the first 2 rounds and maybe even 3.

  • Dr Rick

    Good stuff! Vinny Curry hugging the ref caught on photo, Too much!

  • theycallmerob
    • damrvrhunter

      Keep it coming!

    • Mr. Wu

      Is Charles Foster Cane buying an NFL team?

  • theycallmerob

    Curry went with the quick two-hander, followed by a pat. That’s good technique. Long embraces should be reserved for romantic interests or immediate family. This type of hug is good for greeting cousins around the holidays, running into old high school acquaintances and thanking officials for keeping the flags in their pockets.

    Good breakdown; Curry’s quick hands often put him in prime hug position, disorienting QBs as much as a sack or intentional grounding. But I feel like Graham deserves more snaps as well, his hugs have been off the chart this year. Another example of being “coached up”- always had the bull rush hug, now including better use of the pat. It seems McGovern has gotten him to hug quicker while maintaining proper distance. On the other hand, Cole’s moves went stale a few years back- love the guy, but just not firm enough anymore.
    And I love that Logan’s long arms extend his hug radius. RBs won’t be able to keep from his loving embrace.

    Also Sheil, you’re avoiding the tough question- both QBs have played enough snaps in this offense by now. Which one hugs longer in the pocket- Foles or Vick? And does Vick’s hugging style make him more injury prone?

    • Andy124

      Nick’s long arms and huge hands give him a clear hugging advantage. The thought of his loving embrace has led opposing defenders to refuse to catch any balls he throws.

    • Chris

      with a 4:1 sack-to-hug ratio this year, you have time find more opportunities to get this kid in the game. Such a difference maker

    • Corey Dawson

      All of this, this here… I love it.

  • BlindChow

    Not only does 7 intentional groundings lead the league, there haven’t been more than 4 in a single season since 2009 (as far back as the site lets you search)! The next highest team this year has forced only 3 intentional groundings.

    • ICDogg

      How many of them were Eli Manning?

    • GEAGLE

      This pass rush has been fine especially during second half of games considering Cole has cheated us out of about 10 sacks and commanding all sorts of attention that frees everyone up..not ony do we force intentional groundings but our blitz and our rush gets home and forces QBs to rush throws that end up incomplete or intercepted…If QBs were to just take the sack every time we prob wouldn’t have half of our INTs…the pass rush of this team is NOT the problem…the problem lies with our Rush OLB..

      Replace Cole with a guy who commands attention and still puts a licking on the QB, and next year you will see a FEROSCIOUS EAgles pass rush…and when a teams pass rush only needs 1 new player to go from questionable to scary, I have a hard time calling it a weak pass rushing defense, when in reality we are weak at the position that really matters…
      ..
      Barr
      Mack
      Van Noy

      Any of them would transform this defense and take it to the next level. No it’s not just that they are that amazing..but combine one of them with our guys 1 year from now…and we will be a scary defense once again

  • reb

    So, is Goode a mechanical or industrial engineering major? Pretty big difference to some of us. Is there All-22 on that?

  • Will
  • Will

    Go Eagles