Kelly: Pass Rush The Issue On Third Down

NFL: Preseason-Philadelphia Eagles at New England Patriots

Chip Kelly could have offered a generic answer about the front end and the back end working together.

He could have expanded on how disappointed he was with the penalties, or even just given credit to Tom Brady. But when asked about the issues the Eagles are having on third down, Kelly pointed directly to the guys up front.

“We need to generate a better pass rush,” he said. “I think our defensive line needs to do a better job in terms of what their rush contains are. We had the one play with [Ryan] Mallett where Marcus [Smith II] does a nice job, makes him flush up in the pocket, but we got nobody on that side containing the quarterback, and you let the quarterback scramble for a touchdown.”

The Eagles allowed opponents to convert on third downs 41.15 percent of the time last year. That was 24th in the league. It was also a big reason why the defense played so many snaps.

So far in the preseason, it’s been even worse. The first-team defense has allowed opponents (the Bears and Patriots) to convert seven of eight third-down chances.

Asked why the Eagles seem to be faced with the same issue yet again, Kelly said: “We’re not getting to the quarterback. We’ve got to do a better job of creating pressure on the quarterback.”

Of course, there were other factors at play. Penalties killed the Eagles and were a focus after the game when Kelly addressed the players.

Connor Barwin admitted it’s difficult to properly evaluate where the defense is, given the amount of laundry on the field.


“It does make it a little tougher, I think it does make it a little tougher,” Barwin said. “Obviously have to go look at the tape, but I felt good about what we were doing up front, so you move forward. We’ll watch the tape and see what we really did. It gets a little harder with all those penalties, because like I said, I think we were playing good up front, but the ball kept getting moved down the field. And I think a lot of it had to do with those penalties.”

Barwin did acknowledge, though, that more pressure is necessary.

“We need to get more pressure,” he added. “That’s for sure. I know I missed one on him, and then I know I got locked up with their tight end, which obviously can’t happen on one of my rushes. I didn’t see what anybody else was doing, but I think we can really help our defense if we can get more pressure.”

By all accounts, Billy Davis is going to have to rely on his heavy blitzing from a year ago. The only change the Eagles made at the outside linebacker spot was drafting Smith, and it seems clear that while he might be able to contribute in other areas as a rookie, the pass-rush is a work in progress.

Trent Cole is a year older (31), and while Barwin expects to get more pass-rushing chances in 2014, versatility remains his greatest asset.

On Friday night, the Eagles tried to get some of their younger guys in early to see who might be able to give the pass-rush a boost once the regular season begins.

“We used a lot of different combinations,” Kelly said. “There are a lot of things… We tried to get some guys in with the ones because you want to see them work around, and we had a lot of different rotations going on just to see if we could get some guys evaluated on film. We do need to generate a better pass rush, especially against someone the caliber of Tom [Brady].”

Cole didn’t seem all that concerned. He said the pass-rush was “nothing to worry about” and pointed to the fact that the coaches were rotating players in.

“We have very talented guys,” he said. “We take the preseason week by week. Going a few series here and there as a first-team guy, you really can’t get into the groove yet. It don’t work like that. Sacks are hard to come by in this league. It’s very hard to get ’em.”

The primary change the Eagles made in the secondary was signing safety Malcolm Jenkins. So far, though, there doesn’t appear to be significant improvement from the defensive backs as a whole.

If officials are going to continue to call the game tightly, the defense’s best hope for progress will be pressuring the quarterback – something we haven’t seen much of yet in the first two preseason games.

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  • John J. King

    Beau Allen got pressure but over all a stinko job by the ‘D’ line. But pressure was not the main problem I saw. The Pats ran thru us like water through a hose. Terrible ‘D’ all night. And Marsh is a waste of jersey numbers.

    • Bullwinkle

      Beau’s a beast. Maybe he should be used more on 3rd down to collapse the pocket.

    • eaglespur

      Logan will soon be back-up NT. and he’ll be a really good back-up NT. Maybe there are intricacies of playing NT that I know not, but what my untrained eye sees is Allen regularly disrupting the center of the O line.

      • John J. King

        Agreed. Somebody posted the other day that they’d like to see Beau with Logan and Curry on the same line. That would be very interesting.

  • TNA

    That last sentence is the truth. The (more explicitly called) rules offer defenses two ways to play defense. With coverage speed and going after the QB. The two things the Eagles don’t really have with their starters. Carroll needs to get healthy quick. And Wolff needs to be 100%. Because this defense is going to get run off the field. That said, as one of the DL said, they’re pretty vanilla in their calls right now and it’s tough rushing the passer if you have to 2 gap and read the run first. The only way to do both is if you two gap while walking the OL back and continue collapsing the pocket while also containing the edge. It’s a lot to ask for on a consistent basis. Especially since the DL can’t simply use their skills in simply shooting a gap, they’re being limited to simply bull rushes right now. Of course, as scheming and blitz packages force OLines to adjust in regular season games, that’ll make things a lot easier.

  • NickS, Combine Warrior

    We keep this up and we’ll be Phila’elphia.

    • EaglesFanInPhx

      Heh.. took me a sec :)

    • Andy Six Score and Four

      Kudos, my man. Or should I say “Ku’os”?

  • Bryan Clayton

    Let Vinny loose

    • Anebriated

      Vinny looked legit last night, even had some good plays against the run. Not sure it was enough to take over for Thorton or Cox but its a good sign of his improvement.

      • Glenn

        It was enough for me.

    • 370HSSV 0773H

      The guy busted through a double team. He’s a monster!

  • DrFeelgood

    the zebras are ruining the game…i will not watch refs throw flags and ruin the game….wake up Godell.

    • Bullwinkle

      Too many flags, too many lengthy play reviews, and way too many commercials make for an overall boring game. Sometimes I miss parts of the game, because I walk away from the TV to take care of other business during the many down periods where nothing is happening.

  • Thurmon Holliday

    The Eagles will be helped and hurt by these rule changes. The problem is that the offense won’t be helped as much as the already weak defense is hurt. Since the club has not made aggressive efforts to beef up the talent on D, this season could be downright ugly if the club doesn’t figure out a way to put their defensive players in the best position to exploit their limited talents.

  • Kleptolia

    I’m still not concerned about the defense. They are still mixing and matching pieces. They will figure out which pieces fit the best by the second week of the regular season. That’s a conservative estimate.
    Ideally, they will have it figured out before the season starts, but there’s always one or two hiccups.

  • Eagles4Life

    Marcus Smith does not know how to pass rush in the NFL right now. I like him in situations where he drops and covers, but he’s speed rushing and getting run right out of plays and bull rushing to no avail. He’s got no counter moves.

    The two best pass rushers right now are still Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham, which is going to be problematic for us, preseason or not.

    On a positive note, I really like this Beau Allen guy. I’ve also been BEGGING to see Henry Josey out there. Other than size, I don’t see how Polk and Tucker are that much better. Granted, he’s a rook, but he made plays last night.

    • John E. Zang

      I think Polk is a tad overrated myself. I’m hoping for Josey. I feel he can be productive even this season and can play in space.

  • D-Von Funk

    All the more reason VC needs to be on the field in EVERY 3rd-and-long situation, and why we can’t afford to cut BG.

    It also shows that we can’t allow our corners to play off so far and give such a huge cushion. I know they’re slow, but something’s gotta give. Opposing QBs might as well be throwing against air out there.

    Also, I’m not buying the players’ excuses about the flags. I agree, these penalty quotas are ridiculous and excessive, but they have to adapt for the time being. Even with the added emphasis, I don’t think the refs will be calling these games this tight when the reg season rolls around. If so, the NFL is going to have huge problems. The fact is, this team struggled to consistently rush the passer last year, and with these vanilla preseason schemes, the trend is continuing.

    At this point, we simply can’t count on MSII to contribute much in terms of pass rush, at least not initially. He needs to develop some moves first, and by the look of it, hit the weight room (maybe talk to Lane and Jake, haha). As great as it is to see, it’s pretty telling when your pure nose tackle is one of your most effective pass rushers…

  • JofreyRice

    Hard for me to imagine Marcus Smith contributing much passrush at all this year. At one point he got blocked to the ground by the TE, who was just chipping and releasing into his route.

    • Glenn

      That is why he wasn’t projected in the first round. He is a project.

    • Token

      2 preseason games in and I still just cant understand what their offseason plan was. Stand pat and hope for the best? If anything they may have gotten less talented overall. This coaching over talent thing really better work out. But the sloppy play ive seen so far doesnt speak to well to the quality of all the positional coaches.

      Smith doesnt even seem to have much upside as a rusher. He really is a Barwin. I key in on Barwin and im always amazed at how bad he is rushing the passer. He just cant win 1v1 vs anyone. How can a guy that big seemingly always get manhandled when rushing?

      Now seeing Smith and his skill set I will say it was a huge reach. Hes a project drop OLB in a 3-4. That is not 1st rounder material to me.

    • Pennguino

      and he didn’t fight to get back up. He looks real soft on his pass rushing. Hopefully he will learn the violence he needs

  • Glenn

    I think they need to give Curry more snaps. Yes, I understand that Curry is not a two gap stud at this point in his career. But Cox and Thornton aren’t pass rushing studs either. Curry has gotten better. And the name of the game is pass rush, and stopping the pass. Fletcher Cox has been a bitter disappointment, and Thornton offers zero pass rush.

    • John E. Zang

      Curry and Graham need to start. Graham make mistakes in coverage sometimes because he’s never in the damn game. There’s nothing these two guys can do to be promoted that has to wear on them.

  • Jerry Pomroy

    I hate to say it, but this is one of the reasons why I don’t like a 2-gap front. If you consistently play to control the run, even just on 1st & 2nd downs, you’re taking away opportunities of getting into the backfield to either get after the QB or the RB off the snap. You’re basically taking away 3 guys up front and making them wait for 2-3 seconds handling their gap responsibilities. That’s putting ALL the pressure on the OLB to make the play by themselves. So in essence you could have 4 guys (OLBs & DEs) rushing, with the NT staying at home on a delay rush, opposed to just 1 or 2.

    Do you remember when Chip was new and reporters asked his preference for defense and he said basically we’re going to be an attacking style defense. A 2-gap front is quite the contrary to an attacking defense. Unless you’re relying extremely heavily on blitzing, which we haven’t seen much of (if at all) this preseason. With our personnel, while it won’t happen, but I still think a 1-gap front will help the pass rush significantly.

    • Glenn

      Agreed. It is a defense whose success is largely predicated on dominant skilled linebackers. We have one that fits the bill, Kendricks. We need three more. Barwin is versatile but mediocre. Cole is one dimensional. Ryans is slow and at the end of his career. Not to mention the defense has devalued Graham, Cole, Curry, and Cox.

    • Kleptolia

      They aren’t showing their blitz packages yet. The reason Chip wants a 2 gap is because the 3 down lineman form a sort of dragnet, closing the running lanes and QB escape routes. The LBs are the moving pieces. They can blitz from anywhere and everywhere.
      Chip put it out there when he said the reason for a 2 gap 3-4 is numbers. The only good way to defend the spread is with a 2 gap 3-4. It is the best way to cover maximum ground with minimum personnel.
      Stanford used a 2 gap technique for the past 2 years against Oregon, I believe, and to great effect.

      • Jack Waggoner

        There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch… The same gaps exist no matter how you front the defense. The only difference is in who is responsible for them. If it’s not up front that means a linebacker or a safety has to handle the extra gap. And if they do that it has to be their primary responsibility.

        Having the front line two-gap puts less stress on the inside linebackers and secondary.

        • Kleptolia


  • Foles Train

    Time to trade Fletcher Cox. He’s likely got high value for a 4-3 team, and he’s simply not a special player in a 2-gap 3-4. Getting almost as much from Ced Thornton and Bennie Logan. Would sell high on Cox and see what kinds of players/picks we could get in return.

    • Glenn

      Might as well include Graham and Curry in the mix, two other guys who would be valuable in a 4-3, and are devalued in this defense. We need to upgrade the LB position. And I love these guys as players.

      • Max Lightfoot

        Two more strong drafts will get us there, maybe even one.

        • Glenn

          Agreed. I do not think our last draft was strong though.

          • Max Lightfoot

            Too early to tell, IMO. I think Matthews will be very good. Marcus Smith will get there by end of season. Beau Allen should help the run defense. What we really need is for safety and corner draftees to develop, which is a long shot, indeed.

        • paul from nc

          Not if it’s like this years. We did very little to improve the D.
          Jenkins, a FA, for Chung was the only upgrade.

          • Max Lightfoot

            Too early to tell – see my remarks below.

      • paul from nc

        Would Miami take Cox, Graham and Curry for Dion Jordan?
        What else would they want?

        • MagatBrackendale

          You still want Jordan? For 3 players? What has he really shown since being drafted?

          • paul from nc

            3 good players that do not complement our system for one that would fill our biggest need on defense. I doubt Miami would do it because of the cap hit, but it would be a win win.

          • anon

            you don’t know what you’re talking about. 2 first rounders and our best pass rusher for a guy who is suspended the first 4 games? he’s not a great pass rusher which is why he’s not on the field in florida.

    • Pennguino

      Fletcher Cox was just going through the motions. I just re-watched the first couple of quarters and he should have been playing third string.

  • Max Lightfoot

    Hopefully the zebras dial it back a notch during the season. If not, it’s gonna be a great game turning into flag football. I think Goodell is reading the hieroglyphics. We shall see.

  • paul from nc

    Loved Kempski’s “Marsh-Mellow” stick figures last night.
    Put him on a stick, he’s toasted.

  • MagatBrackendale

    Even with the officials supposedly ordered to call every finger brushing every offensive player, I still saw inconsistency. Caught a bit of Settle/San Diego game where the O-lines were blatantly holding, right out in the open and nothing was called. It seems that ALL of the officials didn’t get the memo.

    • RJ

      I think it will still come down to which crew you get in any given game. Sure, the NFL officials committee may say they want ALL of these things called, but not every crew is going to abide by it 100%. Especially the elder ones.

  • TNA

    After some thought on the flags, I agree that it needs to be one way or the other and the guidance from the NFL front office needs to limit ref discretion in terms of what’s allowable and what’s not. In a way, it’s rule of law over rule of man.

    Teams and their players will have to adjust and teams that adapt first will have a HUGE advantage over teams that are resisting adaptation. If things get out of hand and the over under becomes like 100 on average, the rules committee can make rules to sway things like expand the contact zone to within 10 yards.

    Refs will always have discretion. Soccer officiating is the worst. Any given ump’s strike zone is second worst. Taking the decision making away from refs is a good thing. That said, it’d be funny to see receivers wear super baggy loose fitting jerseys and cover them with stick’em to highlight any kind of downfield contact. It’d be the opposite of Barry Sanders coating his jersey with silicone!

  • 370HSSV 0773H

    Curry can spice up a pass rush.

    • RJ

      Assuming that the team uses him enough. You got some writers insinuating he should be traded to a team with a 4-3 defense.

  • EuropeanEagle

    Fletcher Cox is our new version of Brodrick Bunkley. Super strong player whose power and penetrating (yeah I did) abilities are being, in my view, misused. I actually liked our read and react style under JJ when he’d send blitzers at the qb from all quadrants. But with aging defensive ends converted into olbs and a finesse first round pass rusher it’s pretty obvious we’re going to get murdered in the passing game this season. And I’m also keeping in mind what the saints were able to do to us in the run game during the playoffs…

    • RJ

      See that’s why I don’t understand why we signed a DC who wanted to make this team into a 3-4 defense. It doesn’t work. Barwin as an outside linebacker works because he was a force for the Texans, but Curry, Graham, and Cox were all outcast by the move. Cox was drafted as a 4-3 under technique tackle and now he’s a 3-4 end. Graham and Curry were 4-3 ends. And Logan isn’t a prototypical nose tackle (more along the lines of a Cox), which is why I’m glad the team drafted Beau Allen. That kid is a boulder in the middle.