All-22: On the Kendricks-Graham Matchup

Last year against the Eagles, Jimmy Graham was targeted 11 times and ended with eight catches for 72 yards and a touchdown. Three of those catches came with Mychal Kendricks in coverage, including the one in which the 6-7, 265-pound athletic phenom found pay dirt.

With the Saints set up deep in Eagles territory late in the third quarter, Drew Brees found Graham in the flat. Kendricks moved in for the tackle.

Kendricks Graham  play 1 1


But, as is often the case when it comes to Graham, things did not go as planned.

Kendricks graham play 1, 2

Kendricks ended up on his back side while Graham ended up in the end zone.

Kendricks graham play 1, 3

This is an obvious matchup to watch Saturday night.

The Eagles are the ninth-worst team in the league in defending tight ends, according to Football Outsiders, yielding 61 yards per game. Kendricks has been up and down in coverage.  He has been targeted 67 times and has yielded 55 catches for 605 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. No inside linebacker has given up more yards, per PFF, and the opponent's completion percentage (82.1) is ninth highest for the position.

On the flip side of that, Kendricks' three interceptions on the season is the second-highest mark among middle linebackers. Overall, he has been one of the defense's top playmakers.

"Mychal is a great athlete.  Sometimes he'll take a chance and sometimes it misses and sometimes it hits," said Billy Davis. "He's done a great job.  He's made a lot more plays for us than he hasn’t  and he continues to understand ‑‑ again, it's understanding leverage and concepts and where help is and where help isn't and how to play, and as we go along, Mychal is getting better and better at that."

Kendricks' self-assessment sounded like a contradiction at first. He said his growth as a cover linebacker this season has been "phenomenal," noting that he often knows what is coming pre-snap this year and therefor doesn't have to rely as much on instincts and athleticism, but then stated that he had a better season as a cover 'backer in his rookie campaign. How can that be?

"You have to understand my leverage was completely different," said Kendricks of the transition to an outside linebacker in a 4-3 to an inside linebacker in a 3-4. "Strong side playing head-up to outside as opposed to being an inside 'backer playing inside-out. Leverage is completely different. We're talking about a matter of five yards difference, me being on a guy and him not being able to do [expletive] and five yards off where he can do whatever he wants to do. With that spacing, knowing what he wants to do, you have to be smart about what you're going to get."

Here is an example of what Kendricks is talking about. Below is an image from last year's Eagles-Cowboys game in Dallas. Notice where Kendricks is lined up as he prepares to lock horns with Jason Witten.

kendricks final play 4 1

Here it is from another angle (Kendricks is on the far left):

Kendricks first dallas game 2

He is well outside of the tackle, and essentially head-up on Witten. Compare that to this past Sunday night's game against the Cowboys.

Kendricks final play 3 1

Kendricks is lined up further inside and, with responsibilities over the middle, will naturally be in a trail position as Witten runs an out route.

Kendricks play 3 3

But Kendricks is able to make up the ground, and is able to come up with the interception when Kyle Orton throws a shade behind the tight end.

Kendricks play 3 4

Sometimes the degree of difficulty is even higher.

On this first down play late in the second quarter, Davis has Kendricks lined up in the "A" gap to bluff the blitz. Witten will be running an out, and Kendricks, incredibly, is responsible for him.

Kendricks final 1 1

How can he make up that ground? Initially, the answer is he can't.

Kendricks play 1 2

But in a demonstration of his speed and athleticism, Kendricks is able to track Witten down and limit him to an eight-yard gain.

Kendricks play 1 3

Witten had 12 catches for 135 yards Sunday night. Five of those catches and 73 of those yards came against Kendricks, who also came up with the pick.

"With everything with Mychal, he continues to grow," said Chip Kelly. "He's only in his second year and I think sometimes people forget about that because he is so athletic...I have seen him improve. And he's one of those guys that when he makes a mistake he owns that mistake then works on correcting it. That'a a credit to him."

Graham had another monster year, posting 86 catches for 1,215 yards with 16 touchdowns. He will line up all over the place, so he won't be Kendricks' sole responsibility. Cornerbacks Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Brandon Boykin will likely get a crack at him. DeMeco Ryans, Nate Allen and Patrick Chung will probably be called on at some point. But when Brees drops back and scans the field for his favorite target, there's a good chance he'll see No. 95 somewhere in the picture.

"I think he is a heck of a football player," said Brees. "He's good in every aspect of the game: in the run game, in the pass game, as a coverage linebacker, as a pass-rusher. He's just a great football player. He is extremely instinctive and has a nose for the football. You would just sit back and say, 'Man, this guy is all over the place. He's a great football player.' "

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  • G_WallyHunter

    Mr. Wu already said it, and don’t get me wrong, we love the output, but you two birds junkies need to go spend some time with your families.

    • Cheesesteak

      That’s what the offseason is for

  • Phils Goodman

    Using last week’s scheme against Witten is a recipe for disaster. I’d rather see Barwin try to jam him off the line.

    • JMan

      This is what I came to say. I think the Eagles have to do to Graham what the Cowboys did to McCoy when the Eagles tried to run screen plays: jam him right away. Disrupt the route. I hope they watch the tape of the Pats-Saints game this year when the Pats shut Graham out.

      • Dominik

        Belichick always determinates who is going to beat them, if they beat him. He just knows how to take one single player out of the game, even if he’s one of the best in the league.

        He’s like Chip on the defensive side of the ball. Can’t expect that genius from anyone.

    • jw

      I agree, but remember against Dallas we had double coverage on Bryant almost all the time with a safety over the top which left Witten against Kendricks more. This week is different, The main threat is Graham, Witten was an afterthought after making sure we were covering Bryant.

  • GEAGLE

    I like that Kendricks already has experienced playing Graham last year…look, NO LB is just going to shut down Jimmy Graham, that’s a friggin pipe dream…But HOPEFULLY Nate and Wolff are having a good day, because Kendricks will get help over the top…

    Fortunately for us. Our TEs are NOTHING to sneeze at, and they have bigger LB and safety coverage problems right now then we do…so, there is a DAMN good chance that Celek/Ertz combine for a bigger day then Graham has! But our TE’s really have to take advantage of Roman Harper and Lofton and make them pay because they are going to get opportunities this week for big plays. Off play action..

    • Bukester

      Thats a good point. Our TE’s come off as a team within a team. I think this game – you should mention Casey with equal vigor. The dust has settled and the guy is ripe for Celek-esque reception for 30 yards. If NO is watching tape of last week, they might just ignore him as he sneaks out into space after a chippie. However way it happens, its only fair to compare like things in a like manner and if Graham is all they got – then hell yea, I say lets see how our tandem (triple-tandem? help me out here) compares to theirs.

      That said – NO scares me ’cause they always seem to beat us in the big games (Payton=Giants anybody?). This isn’t about anything but emotion for me and I am not so sure it reaches the current young team. No so sure thats a bad thing!! But, I do know one thing and thats this team, during this ascent, plays better against opponents they aren’t looking past. NOBODY has even mentioned next weekend vs the Panthers, or Seattle in any real sense. I think we all got lulled into the closing 3 or 4 game schedule when the MN game happened. Heard all kinds of talk on how we were going to crush the Vikings. Not hearing that now. Not hearing too much other than the plain truth – good and bad. Makes me feel better when we feel a little anxious. How ’bout ya’ll? Go Birds.

      • Eagle in VT

        I think the word you’re looking for is, “trifecta.”

        • Bukester

          I’ll take that !

      • OregonDucker

        I’ll pick Chip and this bunch over anybody. They will leave their hearts on the field of play. That’s all we can ask of them. And the Eagles coaches will adjust as required by the NO gameplan. Expect greatness – you just might get it.

    • BrettConnolly

      I haven’t heard much talk about Ted Williams’ impact on our tight ends this year, but I think it’s one of those under-the-radar positives that gets overlooked only because there have been so many positives. As a running backs coach, he had such an extraordinary run of production, and it seems to me he’s only replicating that if not more so in his new role. I love knowing that his meticulous and demanding nature is working to get the most out of such a team-first group of guys. He always got his accolades in such unglamorous fashion, and now is coaching a position that gets even less attention but is potentially as and at times more important to perfect.

      • WorldPh_ingChamps

        I think the added depth at the position has helped keep Celek focused and fresh. He realized he had competition, and this has helped him focus on catching the ball consistently (not as many easy drops this year.) It has also reduced the amount of hits that Celek takes, reducing his chance of the concussions he always would get. The most glaring thing Williams has helped is Celek’s blocking, he used to be a revolving door, and now he is a complete TE with better than adequate blocking in the run game. He could still use improvement in pass protection, though. Unfortunately, that is the only time I have seen Ertz or Celek look bad, but they were also left on an island to pass block a DE or rushing OLB…..

  • GEAGLE

    Will Celek and Ertz combine for more yards and TDs then Jimmy Graham has against us? I wouldn’t be so quick to laugh at the thought…

  • Max Lightfoot

    You can’t shut down Jimmy Graham, but Billy D’s pressure packages might get Brees a bit off his game. Just getting rushed or pressured can put a QB off enough to thrown incompletions or interceptions (not that Brees isn’t great at handling all that). And Brees, good as he is, likes to force some throws into tight coverage. I could see Barwin batting down a pass or two, even with Brees’ quick release. Connor “Batman” Barwin!

  • Maggie

    What has made a huge difference in Kendrick’s efficiency is coaching. As with many of the other Eagles, they seem to have found a way to get him playing within the scheme and being less of a wild card.

  • mtn_green

    Watched Dallas game again, Kendricks did pretty well in coverage. Just don’t put Chung on him.
    Curious? I saw that the cowboys were jumping the snap because Herremans tapped Kelce to snap, they’d jump on the tap. You can really see it in the third quarter, the sack fumble too. In fourth quarter they moved to under center more and changed the snap to be a second after Herremans tap. More: http://www.bleedinggreennation.com/2014/1/1/5264250/7-random-thoughts-on-cowboys-game-with-pictures-herremans-tap-coopers

  • Will

    Very Nice Tim…Gonna be interesting how Chip and Billy Davis cover Sporles/Graham/Colston/Stills/Moore…Ingram & the FB…Brees spreads the Ball around this is gonna be a real good test for are D…

    • WorldPh_ingChamps

      I think the Eagles can’t get down just because they give up yards. They have to avoid the big, back breaking play. They will not STOP this offense, but they can limit the damage so that the Birds’ offense can still play within THEIR gameplan. The D will have to mix looks, zone and man, alter blitzes just to make Brees think, but like I said, not get down on themselves when giving up some yards….they need to take notes from the Carolina – Saints game…..

  • jon h

    Hey board, I realize this is probably a totally inappropriate time to ask this question, but as someone who doesn’t really follow college, wondering what your opinions are on Calvin Pryor from Louisville? Seems that he said he’s foregoing his senior year to go into the draft and reviews say he’s a hard hitting safety.

  • Mitchell

    The Landshark will play well on Saturday. He is developing into one of the better ILB in this game.

  • morgan c

    Kendricks with safety help on every play. Pure double team, leave no doubts. Take our chances with our as-of-late solid CBs one-on-one with the Saints WRs.