Here’s what we saw out of the Eagles’ defense after having re-watched Thursday night’s game against the Steelers.
* Cedric Thornton continues to be the Eagles’ most productive player up front. He helped blow up a 2-yard run in the first and later played with good discipline and technique, spinning off his defender and making a tackle in the run game. Excellent hustle to get downfield and make a tackle on a screen that netted 7 yards. Thornton disrupted a 3-yard LeGarrette Blount run in the first. On one first-quarter play, he lost his leverage and got blocked to the ground. Overall, though, strong performance.
* Fletcher Cox flashed more than he had previously in the preseason. He drove the right tackle to the ground and pressured Ben Roethlisberger on a third-down incompletion in the second. Cox tackled Blount on a 6-yard run in the second. Good effort on the very next play, making a tackle after a 3-yard run.
* Brandon Bair continues to make a strong case for a roster spot. Nice pass-rush in the first, beating his man and pressuring Roethlisberger into an incompletion. Later, he looped outside and batted down a pass. Bair has been strong against the run all preseason. He drew a holding penalty in the second and blew up a third-quarter run play that lost 5 yards.
* Beau Allen rotated in at nose tackle with the first team. Good effort getting to the ball on a 3-yard Blount run in the first. It appeared that Allen didn’t control the gap to his left on a 7-yard run. Bennie Logan started. He was not credited with any tackles, hurries or sacks. Damion Square made a nice play on a 4-yard run in the second.
* Vinny Curry notched another sack, taking Roethlisberger down as he tried to step up in the pocket in the third. He was also in on a tackle after a 4-yard run in the third.
* Connor Barwin started and set the edge nicely before making a tackle on a 2-yard run in the first. Trent Cole got close with his pass-rush on one play in the second. He later leveled Antonio Brown within the 5-yard window to help cause an incompletion.
* Plain and simple: The Steelers could not block Brandon Graham. He walked the left tackle into Roethlisberger’s lap and forced him to flee the pocket in the second. Graham had a sack/forced fumble on the very next play with a straight bull-rush. In the third, his pressure off the edge led to Curry’s sack. And Graham had a tackle for loss against the run in the third.
* I asked Chip Kelly about Marcus Smith II today.
“I think Marcus was a lot more comfortable,” he said. “Got lined up a lot better and did a better job, I think. It seems like things are slowing down for him. He’s settling in, and I thought he set the edge a couple times really well in the run game when they were running the ball at him and he held the tight end up at the line of scrimmage. I just think he was a lot more comfortable in what we were doing in Game 3 than he was in game 2.”
Smith got off the TE’s block and had a TFL in the third. Later, he did the same thing and stopped a Le’Veon Bell run after a 3-yard gain. In coverage, Smith actually did a decent job sticking with Brown on a wheel route down the sideline, but couldn’t find the ball and gave up an 18-yard completion. He showed good discipline, forcing Bruce Gradkowski to slide after a 3-yard run in the third. Smith was whistled for a neutral zone infraction in the third. Overall, though, better performance than the previous week.
* Travis Long cross-trained at inside linebacker.
“Travis did a really nice job,” Kelly said. “He’s played a little bit of it. They did a 3-3 stack when he was in college and has played the second level linebacker. But, again, making that transition from outside to inside is a difficult thing. I thought for first extended time playing in a game like that, we felt like he did a decent job. So he will be another guy to really watch this week in terms of where we can get him on the field against the Jets both inside and outside.”
Long tackled Blount after a 4-yard run in the third. He later came on a blitz and beat the RB, but couldn’t get a hand on Roethlisberger, who escaped and threw a TD.
* DeMeco Ryans made a nice play on a 2-yard Bell run early. He was later called for a personal foul for unloading on a receiver running a slant over the middle on third down. Ryans came off the field in the Eagles’ dime package.
* Mychal Kendricks was all over the place. He came flying in on an A-Gap blitz and pressured Roethlisberger into an incompletion. Later, his speed was on full display, as Kendricks chased Dri Archer on a crosser and made the tackle after a 2-yard gain. Kendricks blew past the left guard and forced Roethlisberger out of the pocket on the Nolan Carroll II interception. On the next series, he came around the left edge and hit Roethlisberger as he threw incomplete. Tremendous job on a screen, making a tackle after a 3-yard gain. Kendricks later made the tackle on a 4-yard screen in the second. He was the only inside LB on the field in the Eagles’ dime package. He sure looks to me like a player who’s ready to make the leap.
* Najee Goode made a nice tackle short of the first-down marker while in coverage. Emmanuel Acho made a tackle after a 2-yard completion in the third.
* Bradley Fletcher and Carroll started on the outside with Cary Williams sidelined. Fletcher was called for illegal contact on a pair of occasions and seems to be struggling with the way the game’s being called downfield. He had good coverage on a deep ball down the sideline on third down, forcing an incompletion.
* When the Eagles went to dime, Carroll moved inside. He got matched up in man coverage against Heath Miller on an early third down. Carroll’s coverage was good, but the throw was perfect, and he allowed an 8-yard completion. Great job on the interception of getting his hands underneath the ball. Carroll will be heard from at some point; it’s just a matter of when.
* Jaylen Watkins played inside also in the dime package. He got beaten on a 10-yard completion on third down in the third, but otherwise was not targeted. Roc Carmichael played outside in dime with the first team. In the second, he had good coverage, but couldn’t break up a slant that gained a first down. Curtis Marsh got beaten on a 14-yard slant and was later called for illegal contact.
* Tough to evaluate these guys off TV, but Nate Allen did a good job in run support on a 5-yard carry in the first. Kelly seems to be happy with him, and he’s going to start in Week 1.
* Malcolm Jenkins made a great play on the ball, swatting a pass down in front of Brown to force a punt in the second. He was also in on a tackle after a 4-yard screen in the second. Jenkins was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for swatting the ball out of Brown’s hands after a first-down catch.
* Kelly’s response to whether Earl Wolff would play vs. the Jets:
“I see Earl Wolf playing, definitely. I don’t think Nate will play, but that depends on the depth at that position. …Earl needs a lot more reps.”
Wolff showed good range, getting to the sideline to break up a pass in the fourth.
* Chris Maragos got beaten on the TD downfield to Miller.