Season Predictions: The Pass Rush

NFL: NFC Wildcard Playoff-New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles
As we count down to the start of the regular season, Tim and Sheil try to answer some of the big questions facing the Eagles. On Sunday, they discussed life without DeSean Jackson. On Monday, they predicted what’s next for Nick Foles. Tuesday was a look at the offensive line, which faces an early challenge as Lane Johnson serves his four-game suspension. And they checked in on the secondary yesterday. Today, they take a look at the pass rush.

BIG QUESTION: Are the Eagles in better shape in the pass rush department than they were a year ago?

McManus: Marginally.

It’s Year 2 in Billy Davis‘ system and with that comes an increased comfort level for the returning players. Trent Cole and Brandon Graham are through the most difficult part of the learning curve and have adjusted to rushing from a stand-up position. Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry and Bennie Logan are more familiar with the scheme and Jerry Azzinaro‘s techniques, which theoretically could lead to more production. The Eagles also used their first-round pick on Marcus Smith II, who was second in the NCAA last season with 14.5 sacks.

Smith, though, doesn’t seem ready to contribute in a significant way just yet. As such, it’s hard to imagine Connor Barwin’s role changing much given that he will be the only pure outside linebacker on the field for the majority of the downs. He’ll probably be asked to drop quite a bit once again. A lot of the responsibility will fall on Cole. The 10-year vet turns 32 in October. Is it realistic to think his output will increase at this point in his career?

All things considered, I think this group can be better. But I have my doubts as to whether it will be good enough.

Kapadia: I don’t see it.

Looking at it strictly from a personnel standpoint, the new guys they’ve added up front are linemen Beau Allen and Taylor Hart, along with outside linebackers Smith and Bryan Braman.

Allen showed some flashes of being able to provide a push up the middle during the preseason. Hart seems like a one-dimensional run stopper, and I don’t even think he’s going to dress on gamedays. Braman is a special-teamer. And Smith has admitted that the pass-rush will likely be the last part of his game to come around.

The Eagles’ best hope for an improved pass-rush is from guys who were here last year. Cox needs to take a step forward in that aspect, and Curry/Graham need to get on the field more.

OVER/UNDER: Number of sacks for Marcus Smith — 3 1/2

McManus: I’ll go slightly under and say that he finishes with three. The coaches seem to think that the game is slowing down for Smith. That’s a positive sign. Still, I think it’s going to take some time until he is polished enough to make a real impact on this level.

Kapadia: I’ll take the under. And keep in mind, I think I’m the only person left on the Smith bandwagon.

By the second half of the year, I think he’ll be contributing as someone who can help in the run game and drop in coverage. I just don’t see the pass-rush being a part of his arsenal in Year 1. Smith has to refine his technique and get stronger.

By all accounts, he’s putting in the time. But I don’t think we’re going to see results in the form of sacks this year.


McManus: I’ll say Graham will double his production from a year ago. He finished with three sacks and five hurries last season while playing 27 percent of the snaps. He’s one of the top pass rushers on the team and should be able to handle the other responsibilities that come with his new position a little bit better this season.

I think Cole’s snaps (and numbers) will go down some as Graham’s head north.

Kapadia: Curry will lead the team with 10 sacks. We’re supposed to be bold here, right?

I’ve sensed a bit of a change in tone from the coaching staff when it comes to Curry. It sounds like he’s really trying to play with discipline in the run game, even if he lacks prototypical size for a 3-4 defensive end.

Curry is not going to be a starter for this team. But his role should be similar to Brandon Boykin’s. In nickel, Curry should be on the field so he can pin his ears back and get after the quarterback.

Look for more snaps and more production from Curry in 2014.

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  • JosephR2225

    Kendricks showed some flashes of pass rush acumen, particularly when blitzing the A gap he could get himself matched up on RBs. I wonder if the dime package we heard about will help Kendricks get a few more pass rush opportunities.

    • Pennguino

      I think Kendricks will be utilized a lot more this year as a blitzer. I thought I read that a UDFA is starting at center for the Jags. I can see them sending Mychal up the A gap 4 or 5 times in this game.

    • Corey Dawson

      I’m with you guys on this one. He’s a talented blitzer, able to beat slower o-lineman with his speed. Between the dime package and more of the defense being installed, we might get to see some more blitzes this year from Kendricks. I love his athleticism.

  • Andy

    I think Beau Allen, Brandon Bair, and Taylor Hart are all upgrades along the defensive line and the depth is much better going into this season. Recall that we started last year with Sopoaga, Geathers, and Square in that rotation.

    At the very least the OLB picture is the same as last year with everyone having a year of experience under their belt, plus a first-round potential “Jack of the Future” on the roster.

    I don’t think this front seven is going to scare anybody, but they should be solid against the run again and the pass rush should be improved.

  • FinsterBaby

    I think that the biggest delta for the pass rush could be the effectiveness of dime packages on 3rd down (which we didn’t have the secondary personnel for last season). I think if receivers are covered for an extra beat the pass rushers may get to the quarterback more than they did last year. The Eagles defensive line last year (according to PFF – had more total pressures and more hurries than any other 3-4 unit in the league. Granted the linebackers were among the least effective units in the pass rush department but they were forced to take on a lot of coverage duties due to the limitations of the secondary last season.

    In a nutshell color me a bit more optimistic about the defense than Tim or Sheil.

  • mtn_green

    I think Davis opens up the playbook a lot and we see more pressure and more sacks.
    Weird eagles were getting a lot of pressure but few sacks, that will even out and it will seem like they’re getting a lot more sacks.

    Eagles also have some bad olines this year.

  • Bold Prediction: ILBs and DBs account for 40% of our sack production. [in 2013, they accounted for 11 of 37, or 30%]

    I think Kendricks, of all LBs, is most likely to get > 10 sacks. Demeco had 4 himself last year. I do see Graham’s snaps increasing and Cole’s decreasing, but I don’t think either beats the 6-8 range. Few more from Barwin and MS2.
    But remember, Davis showed a few blitzes last year bringing Everyone’s Favorite Safety and Boykin, OLB. I think Jenkins does better (when asked) in that role, plus a few CB sacks. I could see Wolff taking a few QB shots as well.

    I actually hope I’m wrong with this prediction; not so much the ILB production, but I’d love to see a jump in production from the DL.

    • bill

      My bold prediction? The Eagles run more situational 4-3 under fronts this year, getting Curry, Graham, Cole and Cox more opportunities and more production. Seems like multiple fronts are the wave of the future when it comes to D. I think that’s where this defense is headed, especially considering the stress being place on “versatility” in player evaluation.

      • aub32

        Is that a bold prediction or just you praying we use our pieces in a system that fits them best?

        • bill

          Mostly a, but a little bit of b? :)
          Honestly, I don’t think the 2 gap is going anywhere – I understand why Chip likes the flexibility it gives. But I do think that the ability to disguise your front by flipping it back and forth between 1 gap and 2 gap plans within the game is consonant with Chip’s overall philosophy. And, maybe it was just my perception, but it seemed like they started running more stunts and the like toward the end of last season. I think those are the kinds of things that when disguised well, can really lead to some free runs at the QB.
          I’m predicting, based on my hope (as well as some, but admittedly not overwhelming, evidence) that they’re heading to the ability to have Ryans or Jenkins (whoever the cap is) call out a front based upon what the offense is showing as they walk up to the line. Understand down/distance, count TEs (or whichever position), and make the call, with everyone on the D already doing the same “read” and having a good idea before the captain makes the definitive call.

          • Spfoles

            I completely agree that multiple fronts has to be Kellys goal. It would go against him completely not to. He wants versitility at every single individual position and every position group as a whole. I bet he is the first coach to demand his kicker have to punt, kickoff, and kick field goals. If I remember correctly they have had Kendricks practicing making the calls with Ryan’s. They can go to a 4-3 with Kendricks, Barwin, and Smith at linebacker. Graham, Cox, Logan/Allen/Bair, Curry up front. That plays to the players strengths, which they always tell us they do. I guess we will find out if they do?

        • NickS, Combine Warrior

          Brick, are you just looking at things and saying you love them?

          • Andy Six Score and Four

            Lamp. I love lamp.

    • Wiztopher

      Here’s my kinda bold prediction: due to the new emphasis on defensive holding/grabbing/feeling/touching after five yards we could possibly see Boykin on the outside paired with Carroll. These two are much more athletic who can run with wideouts wo garnering laundry on the field.

  • Bold Prediction:

    Sheil and Tim join the BIRDS 247 Fantasy league at the wire. Stop being so dramatic, guys

  • NickS, Combine Warrior

    Bold prediction(s): The pass rush part actually clicks for MS2 by mid season and he finishes with 5.5 sacks. Barwin adds 4. Cole/Graham combine for 15.5 and the DL (mostly Curry & Cox) add 16. The improved rush allows for less ILB blitzes and Meco adds 1 and Kendricks 4. Throw in 2 sacks from the DBs and we’re looking at 48 sacks for the year.

    • Say No to Marc Mo From Easton

      Bold? More like “walk into a police station terminator style, wielding automatic weapons and threatening lives while asking for parking tickets to be rescinded” prediction.

      • NickS, Combine Warrior

        Not if you’re the Terminator doing the job.

    • jshort

      Watched the 1st half of Jets PS game the other day, focused solely on MS2. He’s not that far away, uses his hands well, sets the edge, reads a pass play and drops into coverage naturally, pass rush almost there, seems a little tentative, but coming along nicely against Jet scrubs anyway.
      Didn’t have time to look at the 2nd half and watch Braman, this guy intrigues me, I think he could be a player not just on ST. IMO

      • NickS, Combine Warrior

        He showed a little improvement but I’m not going to put too much stock into performance against Jets’ scrubs. I don’t think their starting right side of the line is all that good so I can’t imagine how bad the 2nd and 3rd teamers are. However, he’s a hell of an athlete and seems to have a good head on his shoulders, so I feel like he’ll figure it out. Really just a matter of if it’s this season or next. Obviously, we prefer/need it to be this season.

  • DoctorRick

    I agree with T and S that our rush , on paper at least, is only marginally improved if at all. The extra bonus here may be the increased comfort with the Defensive scheme and the additional experience but I am not holding my breath. bill talks about using a situational 4-3 and that is a possibility. A 4-3 under and a 3-4 look a lot alike to me. A lot will hinge on how well Vinny Curry does. Go Vinny Go!

    • Jerry Pomroy

      A little late to the party but the biggest difference I think between the 4-3U & 3-4 is not only spacing, but where the DL line up in correlation to the OL. The Leo (RDE) is in a 3pt stance, while the 5 Tech (LDE) takes on the RT, allowing the SAM LB on rushing downs to get more free looks or face off against TEs and/or RBs depending on the offenses blocking assignments. To be quite honest & I know it’s beating a dead horse, but even after another year of building and adding pieces aimed at the 3-4, I still see personnel as more suited for the 4-3U, than the 3-4. From L to R, Barwin or Marcus Smith (a role he’d flourish in) is your SAM, Cox/Thornton are your LDE (5T), Logan/Allen are your 1T, Curry gets on the field as your 3T & Cole/Graham are your Leo. Of course there is no change at ILB. Man, the more I think about this, we could sub & flip so many guys around in this front that it would give an opposing QB headaches.

  • Andy Six Score and Four

    In the spirit of boldness, Kendricks leads the team in sacks.

    • MagatBrackendale

      It seems a little odd that no one worries about Sproles being held back and nearly invisible during preseason, yet are absolutely convinced that M Smith II somehow is basically a disaster because he didn’t show much in preseason. Yes, one is a vet and one is a rookie, but both have the same sneaky Head Coach. Bold prediction? Let’s see what transpires in the real games. (Is wait-and-see before predicting doom bold?)

      • UKEagle99 à l’orange

        Oooh sneaky. Smith to rush for 1000 yards and Sproles with 10 sacks, the old switcheroo.

        • Andy Six Score and Four

          Shhhh! Gus Bradley reads our comments.

          • MagatBrackendale

            Well, he was almost the Eagles coach and he had something to do with the Sea Hawks defense I heard.
            Tangent: Remember all the thousands of “defensive holding” calls in preseason; also known as the Seattle rule? Not a single one was called against the Sea Hawks according to NFL Network. Maybe they really are disciplined enough to work inside the rules! While making a lot of noise and great tackles. If only another team named for a bird of prey could learn to do the same!

        • MagatBrackendale

          Sproles could slide right underneath all the D linemen and tie the O linemens’ shoelaces together!

    • UKEagle99 à l’orange

      Nah, Boykin will have more than Kendricks.

  • southy

    Let’s not forget the underwhelming “growing pains” first 4 games or so of last season when people were still figuring out how to play a 2-gap 3-4, Billy was experimenting with blitzing Boykin while dropping Cole, and all sorts of nonsense was happening.

    With that squared away, and as others have noted, having upgrades over Soap, Geathers, and Square with Logan/Allen, Bair, and Hart, along with a more robust blitzing scheme from Billy D, a 20% jump in pass rushing stats isn’t a big leap to make.

  • Bullwinkle

    The defensive coaches are pretty smart and the staff is relatively large and experienced (a lot of creative minds). They seem to work together well. I think they will come up with a few surprise schemes that will improve the pass rush significantly.

  • distantfires

    is not Bair a new member of this group?

    • Ramsay

      The aarp group?

    • DoctorRick

      I’m a FD fan, don’t let down the tradition.

  • Amar, CB who bought in

    Has Mcnabb now completely lost it ? Did anybody else see him on Fox Sports predicting doom for Foles.

    • Andy Six Score and Four

      This inspired me to find the clip. IMO, just a toned down version of what he had just said on 97.5, but this time pointing out that there have been other guys with 1 good year and be unable to reproduce it. At least he wasn’t making statements that were patently false. Shrug worthy.

      Here’s the question, shouldn’t he show a little homerism towards the Eagles? Don’t Dawkins, Westbrook, and Jaws? Doesn’t Tom Jackson let his Bronco love show? Bradshaw for the Steelers? Marino for the Dolphins? Tons of former Cowboys for the Cowboys? They’re not full blown homers, they’ll criticize, but they don’t hide from their loyalties either.

      You think McNabb ever actually roots for the Eagles when they play? Think he got excited when Foles threw for 7 touchdowns? He’s probably a full blown Bears fan.

  • I don’t understand what’s happening here. I guess we’re hours away from the start of the season, so we can throw reality out the window and start wishing ourselves a pass rush.

    Dream #1: We can just “scheme” our way to a pass rush!
    Reality: same scheme, same players, same coaches as the end of last year

    Dream #2: Curry will get on the field more!
    Reality: This is starting to feel like an abusive relationship

    Dream #3: Guys who have never been pass rushers at any level of their football careers will suddenly turn into pass rushers!
    Reality: none of our 3-4 DEs have shown they can do that.

    • cliff h-MOAR white goons

      let’s put some music to this post….

      • you had time to find this, but not draft a 24/7 fantasy team?

        • cliff h-MOAR white goons

          you just want me in league cause i was honest about how bad i am at ffl
          plus, i dont care who you are, you’ll be humming that at some point tonight

          • Kleptolia

            I didn’t even click the link and I already have it stuck in my head.

            Thanks. Thanks a lot.

    • southy

      I think it’s reasonable to expect an improvement over last year especially given the mess we were on defense early in the season. Will we have an above average pass rush? Probably not.

      I do think the ultimate aim of this defense is to get LBs who are well-rounded and make up for the lack of a specialist by a scheme that confuses with blitzing (shades of Jim Johnson). That would be the ideal but we are far from there.

      • Yeah, and you know I agree with that. But we don’t have those linebackers, we have the same group we had last year.

        • Will, Always Shady in CA

          They really need to address the D early in the draft next year. We can only keep getting by for so long with patchwork and being cheap. I wont mind if the first pick is OL, though.

    • Andy Six Score and Four

      I’m thinking best D since ’91. But that’s just me.

      • UKEagle99 à l’orange

        Meh, the ’91 D wasn’t all that good, now give me my rose coloured spectacles back!

      • DoctorRick

        Wow, 124th of the Andys, you are “all in.”

    • Andy Six Score and Four

      Regarding my excitement and optimism:
      Whatever improvement we get from our pass rush I expect to come from players who were here last year getting better. Since I have no optimism for Cole, that’s pretty limited.

      But I’m still really excited for this defense, because I think they can boring their way to a top 12 to 16 defense.
      I’m still really excited for this team, because I think they can win this weak division and rack up another 10 win season.

      And yeah, I (not so) secretly think we could surprise people and pull off a 13 win season and earn a first round bye. But a 10-win season in a new regime’s second year still excites me.

      And next year… next year has me drooling.

      And Momah is going to re-sign after week 1 and rack up 22.5 sacks.

      • NickS, Combine Warrior

        Lots of batted passes.

    • DoctorRick

      Stop it, Debbie Downer!
      JK, Rich. I think Kleptolia has it, “incremental” improvement.
      I picked 9-7 last year and had pleasant upside at 10-6. I predict 10-6 this year. We are better overall but it is a tough league.

    • Warhound KnowsHstryWarts&All

      I’ve been a little more bearish about the pass rush potential than Rich but I’m reminded of an old saying: “It’s more about the Jimmies and the Joes and less about the Xs and the Os”

    • Birds4Life

      Yeah, but I’ve heard Tony Dungy and other defensive coaches say that it takes 2 years to switch from a 4-3 to 3-4. I don’t think that you are taking that into account. We had mostly 4-3 guys playing out of position all year last year and it seemed like things were coming together at the end of the year. The season hasn’t even started yet, give them a chance to show what they can do out there.

  • JofreyRice

    I predicted 4 sacks when Smith was drafted. Sad to see that number has been revised down. I really hope he can turn the narrative around as the season goes on, because I don’t want to see another Bust-o-tron 5000 in Reach City. We need to see some real signs of life, even in just dropping or setting the edge.

  • Kleptolia

    The Eagles will see 30% more defensive production on passing downs this year. The defensive line has not been upgraded substantially, but it has been upgraded incrementally. The secondary has seen some upgrades, as well. Between the two, I think there is a chance for the Eagles to have a few “coverage sacks,” which were about as common as snow leopard sightings last year.
    Keep in mind, when I say 30% more production, I’m talking about turnovers, hurries, batted passes, sacks, and intentional grounding calls, combined.

    • DoctorRick

      I like the idea, “incremental.” Good word to describe our situation.

  • Ramsay

    Got my fingers crossed that Cole takes a Robert Mathis like jump in year two of being in a 3-4…

    • Hanibal

      Why? Is Cole and his wife looking to add to their family?

  • Max Lightfoot

    This is gonna take awhile.

    Marcus the 2th may not be ideal, but the Eags had to start somewhere because their need was so dire. Ostensibly, you want your first-round pick to start at some point during their rookie season. But sometimes it takes longer. MS2th might turn out to be merely good, and not great – but we don’t know that yet, and neither does Billy Davis. Right now “good” seems very appealing, at least to me. YMMV

    At this point, I think we need him and the other OLBs to become better at pass rushing – and later perhaps make that leap from good to very good, and then on toward dominating. But all this means more drafts, and T-I-M-E (and maybe some L-U-C-K). Go Eags!

  • igglesfaninportland

    I would like to hear more about any growth or better play out of Logan. It seems he has been plying under the radar (not doing enough to get noticed). Im a typical fan who isnt a study of the line performance unless they are in the backfield or not getting moved off of the ball (see saints playoff game). Is Logan going to take a step up this season or should I start routing for Allen to contribute more.

  • midddletownwatch

    here are several bold predictions:
    1. Kendricks will make the Pro Bowl
    2. Carroll will be the starter by seasons end. Fletcher just is not good enough.
    3. Ertz will also make the Pro Bowl. His career will be very similar to that of his mentor Brent Jones.
    4. Beau Allen will be starting by mid season
    5. The Eagles will have multiple kickoff AND punt return TD’s this year. At least 4 games will be won this year from Special Teams.

    • Will, Always Shady in CA

      I think #2 is almost a given and #4 is very likely.