All-22: How the Eagles Lean On Cover 3

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Your 2014 Eagles Almanac is now available for pre-order.

If you’ve missed this publication the past two years, it’s a comprehensive look at the season ahead with contributions from a variety of talented writers.

There are also some untalented writers who are allowed to pen chapters. That’s where Tim and I come in.

My piece this year focused on the defense as a whole. What did Billy Davis run in his first year as the Eagles’ coordinator? What were the strengths and weaknesses? What changes are in store going forward?

Below is part of what I wrote, focusing on one of the Eagles’ primary schemes on the back end: the Cover 3.

And remember, order your Eagles Almanac today! Read more »

Inside Zone: The Foundation Of the Eagles’ Offense

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Before the drill begins, Jeff Stoutland shouts out a two-digit number, signaling the call to his offensive linemen.

He sets up a couple yards behind the line of scrimmage as Jason Kelce prepares to snap the ball, flanked by guards Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans. With 16 offensive linemen in camp, Stoutland is in charge of the largest positional group on the roster. But that can be a good thing on days like this. Before it’s their turn for reps, a couple backups hold orange blocking pads and set up as down defensive linemen. Two more stand behind them imitating linebackers.

It’s an 81-degree day in early June, and the Eagles are on the practice fields at the NovaCare Complex working on the blocking scheme for a familiar call: the inside zone. It’s a play Stoutland ran frequently at his previous stop, Alabama. And it was Chip Kelly’s go-to-work play during his time at Oregon.

When Kelly made the jump to the NFL last year, the inside zone served as the foundation for an offense that set franchise records in yards and points. So there’s a good reason why Stoutland yells the same number for the same call over and over again during practice. The pre-snap communication has to be mastered. The footwork has to be flawless. The combination blocks have to be executed. And the second-level linebackers have to be driven down the field with authority.

“It’s something we work on every day,” said offensive tackle Lane Johnson. “It’s always gonna be our bread and butter.” Read more »

All-22: Double Posts In the Red Zone

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Chip Kelly doesn’t understand the typically accepted definition of the red zone.

“It’s always kind of been humorous to me where the line, the 20, became the official red zone,” he said during a PhiladelphiaEagles.com video last year. “It starts at the 20. And if you’re at the 21, it’s not a red zone.

“The red zone for us is the scoring zone. So what’s the yard to gain for us? And if we don’t score, can we put our field goal team out on the field and kick a field goal? Usually if it’s a good day, no weather involved, it’s somewhere between the 33- and 35-yard line. And that’s where the red zone starts for us offensively. For our defense, it’s the same thing.”

Regardless, one concept Kelly went to when the Eagles reached that scoring zone was double posts – a common red-zone call around the NFL. Read more »

All-22: Why Kelly Wanted Darren Sproles

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Chip Kelly is OK with a certain degree of predictability.

The Eagles’ head coach has acquired a handful of new offensive players in his first two offseasons, and in each case, common principles exist. He wants guys who are capable of contributing in multiple ways; players who can be productive lining up in a variety of spots; and playmakers who are good with the ball in their hands.

Which brings us to yesterday’s acquisition of Darren Sproles. The Eagles dealt a fifth-round pick to the Saints in exchange for the nine-year veteran.

Having seen Kelly’s offense in action for a year and having looked at how Sproles performed in 2013, we can get a sense of what his role might be with the Eagles. Read more »

All-22 Free Agent Profile: Malcolm Jenkins

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The one word that comes to mind with free agent safety Malcolm Jenkins is versatility.

And that was one of Chip Kelly’s main talking points during Year 1 with the Eagles. Last offseason, Kelly raved about Connor Barwin’s ability to perform a variety of tasks on defense. On the flip side, he stressed how tight ends like Zach Ertz could line up all over the formation and create mismatches.

So with the team in dire need of safety help, Jenkins is one of the mid-tier options to keep an eye on. Read more »

All-22: Why Mitchell Could Be a Fit

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At this time last year, there weren’t many positive things to say about Mike Mitchell’s NFL career.

Drafted earlier than many projected (second round, 47th overall) by the Raiders back in 2009, the Ohio product managed to start just nine games in four seasons. He signed with the Panthers on a one-year, $1 million deal, and after a solid 2013 campaign, Mitchell could be an attractive option for teams needing safety help this offseason. Read more »

All-22 Free Agent Profile: T.J. Ward

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T.J. Ward is exactly the kind of player the Browns should be looking to keep in Cleveland.

With the franchise having once again undergone major changes at the top, Ward is a homegrown talent (drafted in the second round of 2010) who has started 30 of 32 games the last two seasons and earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2013.

The Browns have the franchise tag in their back pocket, but with new decision-makers leading the charge, the possibility exists that Ward hits the open market.

Considering the team in Philadelphia is in dire need of safety help, we went to the All-22 to get a better idea of what Ward brings to the table. Read more »

All-22: The Jairus Byrd Question

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On the surface, Jairus Byrd appears to be a near-perfect fit.

That’s why he’s the free agent Birds 24/7 readers have asked about the most in recent weeks. Byrd played his college ball at Oregon, and for two seasons while he was there, Chip Kelly was the Ducks’ offensive coordinator. At 27, he is a three-time Pro Bowler and appears set to hit the open market.

At this point, we don’t even need to discuss the need for the Eagles to upgrade at safety. It’s been a position of weakness for five straight years, and the personnel whiffs have led to struggles on the back end of the Birds’ defense.

While Howie Roseman has dropped hint after hint this offseason that the Eagles won’t be pursuing big-name free agents, I decided to take a closer look at Byrd anyway. Read more »

All-22: Why the Eagles’ Offense Stalled

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With 3:54 left in the third quarter of last week’s playoff game against the Saints, the Eagles’ offense took the field for the ninth time.

The results of the first eight drives were ugly: six punts, one missed field goal and a touchdown. The Saints finished fourth in the regular season in scoring defense, and for much of Saturday’s game, Rob Ryan’s group got the better of the Eagles.

Nick Foles and company scored on their final three possessions to give the Eagles a 24-23 lead, but ultimately, it wasn’t enough.

Defense and special teams certainly shared responsibility for the 26-24 loss, but given the way the offense had played all season, it’s worth exploring why that side of the ball struggled for the first 41 minutes of the game. Read more »

All-22: Why the Run Defense Faltered

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Since the day he was hired as the Eagles’ defensive coordinator, Billy Davis has talked about competing against opposing play-callers and quarterbacks on gamedays.

Last week against the Saints, he went up against one of the best duos in the league in that respect: Sean Payton and Drew Brees.

“He’s probably one of the best in formations and matchups and adjustments,” Davis said of Payton. “He’s got a great mind as far as he makes you defend the width and the depth of the field.

“And I think him and Drew are really one and the same person. They have worked so much together that their understanding together that no matter what is in Sean’s head, Drew can execute. And that’s the key to great offensive football is when the quarterback has the same understanding as at coordinator or the head coach in this case, and they play very efficient.”

The Saints entered the postseason with the reputation as one of the league’s more pass-happy teams. That figured to be even more the case Saturday, considering they were without their leading rusher in Pierre Thomas. The Eagles, meanwhile, had the fifth-best run defense in the NFL since Week 10 and had shown vulnerabilities against the pass.

All week, the question was whether the Eagles could handle Brees. No one paid much attention to the Saints’ running game. Read more »

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