All-22: The State Of the Defense

logan1a_all22_111413In the last six weeks, the Eagles are allowing just 17.7 points per game.

Before the season started, a stretch like that seemed unlikely. After the team gave up 33 to the Chargers in Week 2 and 52 to the Broncos in Week 4, it seemed even more unlikely.

But Billy Davis, his assistants and the players have turned things around. Overall, the defensive is allowing 24.4 points per game (20th) and 5.6  yards per play (22nd). Football Outsiders still has the Eagles’ D ranked 28th overall.

So while no one would deny that there have been massive improvements from the beginning of the season, the question is: With six games left, where is this defense?

As always, we go to the tape for answers, breaking it down category-by-category. Read more »

Wake-Up Call: Logan And the Azzinaro Effect

Eagles DT Bennie Logan on fieldBennie Logan was checking his Twitter feed and kept getting messages that read something to the effect of: “Now is your time.” That’s when he knew something was going on.

Veteran nose guard Isaac Sopoaga had been shipped to New England at the trade deadline, thrusting the third-round pick out of LSU into a starting role.

“It caught me by surprise,” said Logan. “I looked up to Isaac. He was a great influence on me, a great leader. But the next day, once I came here [to the NovaCare facility], I was like, ‘It’s time for me to step up and go forward. Can’t look back. He’s not here anymore. It’s just all on me now.’ ” Read more »

Zone Read: Eagles-Packers, the Day After

ryans_400_111113On their first drive of the game, the Packers set up with a 1st-and-10 from the Eagles’ 31-yard-line.

They were in ’12′ personnel with two tight ends and Eddie Lacy in the backfield. The rookie running back had picked up 21 yards on his first four carries as Green Bay entered field goal range.

DeMeco Ryans lined up at his usual spot at middle linebacker about 4 yards behind nose tackle Damion Square. Seneca Wallace took the snap from under center, turned to his left and handed the ball off. As Lacy looked for a hole, Ryans flowed to his right.

Left tackle David Bakhtiari tried to get to him, but was unsuccessful. Ryans diagnosed the play, got downhill and planted his helmet into Lacy’s mid-section, knocking the 231-pound rookie backwards and onto the ground at Lambeau Field.

Lacy would manage just 54 yards on 19 carries (2.8 YPC) the rest of the day. And Ryans, with a game-high 13 tackles, was a big reason why. Read more »

Eagles Wake-Up Call: Pass-Rush Rankings

Eagles DE Vinny Curry helmet off at practice looking at cameraThrough nine games, the Eagles’ pass-rush remains a work-in-progress.

Last week against Oakland, Billy Davis’ unit took advantage of a QB in Terrelle Pryor who was anxious to escape the pocket all game long.

Overall, the Eagles rank 22nd in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate, which takes into account pass-rushing opportunities.

Granted, numbers don’t tell the whole story, but here’s a look at pass-rushing production from a statistical standpoint. Sacks and hurries are tracked by Eagles coaches.

Pass-rushing opportunities are courtesy of Pro Football Focus. And I calculated pressure percentage, which is sacks/hurries per opportunity. Read more »

All-22: Bennie Logan And ‘No-Run Day’

all22_logan_400Defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro has a philosophy when it comes to getting his guys prepared: coach during the week, and let them play on Sundays.

For the Eagles, the practice week starts on Tuesday. But that session is primarily spent correcting mistakes from the previous game. Wednesday is when the team puts the pads on and looks ahead to the upcoming opponent.

On most weeks, for the defense, that means an emphasis on stopping the run. While much of the league is focused on figuring out ways to get to the quarterback, Billy Davis has employed a two-gap 3-4 scheme that focuses on controlling the ground game. So when defensive linemen arrive at NovaCare on Wednesdays, the game-planning usually starts with the same idea.

“It’s the beginning of the workload week for us,” said rookie Bennie Logan. “So that’s the main thing going into any game is stop the run, try to get teams as one-dimensional as possible. You figure we stop the run against most teams, that pretty much changes their whole offensive plan. And that’s our main thing Wednesday, we call it our no-run day. So we make sure we focus on our technique, getting our hands on the opponent and make sure they don’t get no big runs on us during practice. Because if they get it in practice, pretty sure they’ll get it in games.

“You get your hands on people, anybody, you can pretty much stop the running game. That’s our main thing when we go into games is make sure we get our hands on our opponent and just control the line of scrimmage so the linebackers can flow.” Read more »

Game Review: Eagles Defense Vs. Chargers Offense

Fletcher CoxIf you missed the game review on the Eagles’ offense, click here.

Here’s what we saw from the ‘D’ after having re-watched Sunday’s contest.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

* The Eagles used three-down fronts and four-down fronts. They blitzed, and they dropped eight into coverage. Nothing worked. Philip Rivers carved them up, completing 36 of 47 passes for 419 yards and three touchdowns.

* In last year’s scheme, Fletcher Cox looked like he had a Pro Bowl ceiling. So far in this year’s scheme, he’s been pretty quiet, although Cox did have some moments in the second half. He stopped Danny Woodhead for no gain in the third. He got some pressure on Rivers on third down in the fourth and hit Rivers on the final drive. But through two games in the Eagles’ two-gap 3-4, Cox has not been a difference-maker.

* There were stretches on Sunday where the Eagles just got pushed around up front. Isaac Sopoaga has been a non-factor. He was double-teamed to the ground on Woodhead’s 4-yard run in the second. His backup, Damion Square, was no better. Square got double-teamed to the ground on Ryan Mathews’ 6-yard run in the second and again on the very next play. He was blocked easily on Ronnie Brown’s 8-yard run in the third.

* Cedric Thornton had a couple good moments. He dropped Brown after a 3-yard run in the third and tackled Mathews after a 1-yard run in the fourth. Didn’t see anything from him as a pass-rusher though.

* Rookie Bennie Logan had a strong preseason, but has been quiet so far. He was caught upfield on a delayed handoff in the second that gained 6 yards. Logan made a nice play against the run in the fourth, tackling Woodhead after a 4-yard pickup. He played 27 snaps and didn’t do much as a pass-rusher.

* Clifton Geathers played 14 snaps and didn’t do much. He was blocked on Woodhead’s 8-yard run in the fourth.

* I charted the number of pass-rushers Billy Davis used throughout the game:

Number Of Rushers
Number Of Plays
Completions
Attempts
Yards
353533
4191417175
5151113119
61271181
711111

As you can see, nothing really worked. When the Eagles rushed three or four, Rivers was 17-for-22 for 208 yards (77.3 completion percentage, 9.5 YPA) with one scramble and one pass interference penalty.

When they blitzed with five or more, Rivers was 19-for-25 for 211 yards (76 percent, 8.4 YPA) with two defensive penalties and one sack.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

* Connor Barwin played pretty well, with a few exceptions. He caught rookie right tackle D.J. Fluker off-balance, bull-rushed him and picked up the Eagles’ only sack in the first. He had a good edge rush on third down in the second and hit Rivers as he completed a pass to Woodhead. Against the run, Barwin did a poor job of setting the edge on a 10-yard Mathews run in the first. He did a much better job the rest of the game and dropped Mathews for a 2-yard loss in the first. In coverage, Barwin got beat by Woodhead on a 3rd-and-4 completion on the final drive. Had he forced an incompletion there, it would have been a 54-yard field goal attempt.

* Trent Cole was one of the Eagles’ more active defenders. He rushed off the right edge in the second and hit Rivers. He pressured Rivers in the second, but Cary Williams was called for pass interference. Great hustle in the third, pressuring Rivers and then assisting on a tackle after the QB dumped the ball off to Brown. In the fourth, Cole hit Rivers from behind and forced an incompletion. Against the run, Cole stopped Mathews after a 4-yard gain. He tripped Mathews up after a 3-yard run in the second and drew a holding penalty on the next play. Down in the red zone, Cole forced a fumble for the second straight week. On 41 passing downs, Cole only dropped in coverage twice, per Pro Football Focus. He lined up at right outside linebacker, right defensive end and a couple other spots.

* Casey Matthews came in and played four snaps at outside linebacker behind Barwin.

* Update: As a sign of just how small Brandon Graham’s role is in this defense, I’ll admit I didn’t have a single note on him from this game. Graham played 16 snaps and was a non-factor. Per PFF, on 11 passing downs, he dropped twice and rushed nine times. Given that Cole and Barwin are two of the defenders playing well, I’m not sure Graham is going to see a bump any time soon.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS

* DeMeco Ryans was active, finishing with nine tackles (six solo). Great effort on a second-quarter play. Ryans blitzed, didn’t get home and then pursued Woodhead, tackling him after a 2-yard reception. He got juked badly on Eddie Royal’s 15-yard touchdown in the fourth, running right past the wide receiver. The Eagles sent Ryans on inside blitzes all game long (19 times, per PFF), and he never got home. That was an issue throughout.

* Mychal Kendricks had a day to forget. Tight end Antonio Gates took the second-year player to school. Kendricks got beaten by Gates and missed a tackle on a 21-yard catch and run in the first. Same story on a 14-yard gain in the second. On a big 3rd-and-4 in the third, Gates beat Kendricks for a 7-yard gain. And Gates caught a 6-yarder on 3rd-and-3 against Kendricks in the fourth. Kendricks is the Eagles’ best cover linebacker, but he had issues all game long. Against the run, he was up and down. Kendricks got blocked on Mathews’ 7-yard run in the first. It looked like he tripped on Mathews’ 20-yard run in the first. And he got blocked on an 8-yard Woodhead run in the fourth.

There were some good moments. He got off his block and tackled Woodhead after a 2-yard run in the first. He stopped Mathews after a 3-yard run in the third and dropped him after a 1-yard run. Overall, though, Kendricks struggled.

CORNERBACKS

* Cary Williams also had a day to forget. Three pass interferences – an 18-yarder, a 9-yarder and another that was declined because it was an 18-yard completion anyway. That last one came on 3rd-and-6 in the third. Have to check the All-22, but I believe the 24-yard TD to Royal was on Williams. The Eagles appeared to be in quarters coverage, and because Rivers held on to the ball so long, Williams cheated over to a receiver towards the middle of the field.

* Brandon Boykin wasn’t perfect, but he competed throughout. The second-year corner was targeted all game long and gave up at least four completions. In the second, Royal beat him on a wheel route for 21 yards on 3rd-and-7. And in the fourth, Boykin gave up a 16-yard completion on 3rd-and-7. He broke up a pass down the right sideline in the second and broke up a third-down pass in the third. Boykin also made a great hustle play, chasing Gates down and forcing a fumble in the red zone in the first half.

* Brandon Hughes played 22 snaps and suffered a hamstring injury. I actually only noticed him get targeted once – a 31-yarder to Malcom Floyd down the sideline in the second.

* Eagles safeties continued to struggle. Patrick Chung was called for a huge defensive holding penalty on 3rd-and-4 in the third. The Chargers would have had to punt, but instead, their drive was extended and they took 8:55 off the clock before kicking a field goal. On that same drive, Chung got matched up with Royal and gave up a 12-yard completion on 3rd-and-6. He tried to strip the ball instead of making the tackle and gave up extra yardage. Chung had a couple good plays against the run, including a stop in the third after a 2-yard Mathews run.

* Yet another day to forget for Nate Allen. Where to begin? The Chargers crossed their receivers, and he lost Royal on an 11-yard touchdown in the first half. Allen was blocked/tackled by King Dunlap on the 15-yard screen TD to Royal in the fourth. He got stiff-armed and was called for a face-mask penalty on a Mathews run in the first. He was slow to react on a 19-yard completion to Floyd in the first. Woodhead beat him for a 5-yard completion on 3rd-and-3 in the first. Gates got him for a 15-yard completion on the final drive. And Allen missed a tackle on Gates on a 21-yard catch and run on the very next play. At this point, it’s a matter of when, not if, Allen is yanked from the starting lineup.

* The problem is the coaches don’t feel Earl Wolff is ready. He too was late coming up on a 17-yard completion to Floyd in the second. Gates caught a ball down the seam in front of him for 16 yards. Wolff got matched up with Gates and allowed a 24-yard catch.

But when reviewing the game, I noticed Wolff had some good moments. He assisted in run support, helping to take Mathews down for a 2-yard loss in the first. He dropped Mathews after a 4-yard run in the third. He cleaned up on Royal after Chung missed a tackle in the fourth. And he broke up a pass intended for Gates in the end zone in the fourth. From the outside looking in, the move would seem to be to throw Wolff out there and let him take his lumps. But obviously, the coaches see him every day. He played 49 snaps.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Game Review: Eagles Defense Vs. Redskins Offense

Mychal Kendricks 1If you missed the offense, click here. Below is the position-by-position review of the Eagles’ defensive performance against the Redskins, after having re-watched the game.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

* The starting defensive line from left to right was Cedric Thornton, Isaac Sopoaga and Fletcher Cox. Cox moved around a bit in nickel, sometimes playing left defensive end. A big hole opened up between him and Trent Cole in the first as Alfred Morris picked up 15. But Cox gave great effort on the play and eventually chased him down. He didn’t do much as a pass-rusher until late. Cox got free on a big blitz in the fourth and crushed Robert Griffin III. He later sacked Griffin when the Eagles used just a three-man rush.

* Thornton had a good second half too. He hustled from the back side, dropping Morris for a 2-yard loss and later charged through a double-team on the play where DeMeco Ryans sacked Griffin. Thornton also used his length, batting down a pass at the line of scrimmage. He missed a tackle on a 3rd-and-1 in the fourth, but otherwise played well.

* Tough to grade Sopoaga without the All-22 (not released yet). But he drew a holding penalty on a run play in the third and chased Griffin to the sideline on an incompletion later in the quarter.

* The backups from left to right were Clifton Geathers, Damion Square and Bennie Logan. Geathers got good pressure on two occasions, once fighting a double team and forcing Griffin to scramble. Logan blew up a stretch play in the third as Mychal Kendricks finished the tackle after a 1-yard run. Logan also played some nose tackle and drew a holding penalty in the third.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

* In case you were wondering, Trent Cole was still a beast upon re-watch. The Eagles’ right outside linebacker owned the first half. He flew in from the back side and forced a Morris fumble early on. He jumped on Morris in the end zone to notch a safety. He dropped Morris for no gain on a zone-read play. He came flying in at Griffin and hit him as a pass-rusher. He slipped past the fullback and dropped Morris for no gain. And he tackled Griffin after a scramble on third down, forcing a punt. That was all in the first half.

* Cole dropped 23.8 percent of the time on pass plays, per Pro Football Focus. His best option in coverage might be to drill the opposing receiver. That’s what he did on one play in the third, forcing the receiver to the ground within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. Cole hit Griffin on a play-action pass in the third and closed in on the play where Cox got a sack. Cole gets this week’s award for “player who most exceeded expectations.”

* Connor Barwin also played really well. The Eagles’ primary goal was to limit the Redskins’ ground game early on. Barwin forced Morris out of bounds for a 3-yard loss in the first. He stood up over the center and rushed the QB on the Brandon Boykin interception. He hustled to bring down Pierre Garcon after a 5-yard gain on a screen. And Barwin pressured Griffin on at least four occasions. Really strong debut.

* Brandon Graham played 19 snaps. On 14 passing plays, he never dropped back. Looked a lot more like a nickel pass-rusher than a 3-4 outside linebacker to me. We’ll wee if that continues. Graham set the edge on a Morris run that was dropped for a 2-yard loss and pressured Griffin on two occasions.

* Casey Matthews mixed in for three snaps, and it looked like he was actually playing outside linebacker.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS

* Mychal Kendricks was everywhere. All signs point to a big second-year leap out of him. He flew to the ball and knocked Morris out of bounds for a 3-yard loss early on. Kendricks did a great job to avoid blockers and tackle Morris on a first-quarter screen. His versatility was on full display. Kendricks blitzed seven times, per PFF. He rushed unblocked in the second and crushed Griffin, forcing him into an intentional grounding. And Kendricks leveled Griffin again in the third. On the Cary Williams interception, Kendricks dropped back as a safety. Outstanding performance overall.

* DeMeco Ryans was solid too. He blitzed and knocked over the left guard on a play-action pass in the third and sacked Griffin later in the quarter.

* Jake Knott mixed in a little as well. It looked like Kendricks might have had an equipment issue at one point.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

* It’s difficult to gauge their play based on TV tape. But I didn’t see either Williams or Bradley Fletcher give up a completion in man coverage. There were a few times when they were dropping in zone and allowed receptions in front of them. But that seemed to be the design of the defense. Definitely did not see that performance coming from the starting corners.

* Williams came flying in on a corner blitz and sacked Griffin in the second. He made a fantastic interception near the sideline in the third and broke up a deep fourth-down pass late. Great performance from Employee 26.

* Fletcher was really good too. He made two good plays on the ball, forcing incompletions and once had a little luck on his side as the receiver dropped the ball. Fletcher suffered a concussion, and his status for this weekend is up in the air.

* Brandon Boykin got picked on quite a bit. No one’s confirming, but he may been a little banged-up. Boykin blitzed five times, the most of any defensive back. He played the slot, but then moved outside when Williams and Fletcher got dinged-up in the second half. Boykin would likely play the outside if Fletcher can’t go this week.

* Rookie Jordan Poyer played 17 snaps in the slot and got picked on. It looked like the 10-yard Leonard Hankerson TD was on him, and Poyer also allowed a 5-yard completion on 3rd-and-2. He had trouble getting off his block on a screen to Pierre Garcon that picked up 17.

* Safety is impossible to assess off TV tape, but the Eagles did not give up a completion that traveled more than 20 yards from the line of scrimmage until the Redskins’ final drive. The game-plan once they got the lead seemed to be to blitz and keep all receptions in front of them.

* Overall, Billy Davis dialed up a lot of blitzes. Per Stats, Inc., the Eagles blitzed Griffin 29 times on 56 dropbacks, or 51.8 percent of the time. On those plays, he was 13-for-26 (50 percent) for 121 yards (4.7 YPA). Griffin was sacked twice and took off once.

* Patrick Chung seemed to hold up fine until that fourth-quarter touchdown. “Needs to have better ball skills than that,” said Jon Gruden on the play. Earl Wolff played seven snaps, but mostly, it’s going to be Chung and Nate Allen early on.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Player Survey: Which Eagle Will Have a Big Year?

Damaris JohnsonLast week, we walked around the Eagles’ locker room and approached players with the following request:

Give me one teammate who’s impressed you this summer and is primed for a big year.

Several players didn’t want to get specific, but others provided responses. Below is what they said.

Jason Kelce: “I think Cedric Thornton has really come on well the past couple years. He continues to improve. He’s a very strong player. I would expect him to have a pretty good year for our defensive line. He’s always been a good player, but he’s starting to hone in a lot of other areas of his game. That experience level’s there now where he played a lot last year for us. So I would expect him to have a very good, solid year.”

“Offensively… I think Damaris [Johnson] has had a really good preseason and really good camp so far. And he’s just such a dynamic player in this offense. He could excel.”

***

Michael Vick: Zach Ertz. The reason I say that is he’s fighting something right now. And once he gets that corrected, it’s going to be a beautiful thing.”

What’s he fighting?

“The ball.”

***

Brandon Graham: “I’d say Damaris Johnson. On special teams, that boy is nice. Somebody that comes to work every day. That’s somebody I see having a real big year, especially on special teams.”

***

Fletcher Cox: “I mean, I’ll just go to a lot of players. Lane Johnson has been good. He’s progressed since Day One.”

Has he surprised you?

“I’m not surprised. He got drafted in the first round for a reason. He’s progressed since Day One and going against him, some of the things that he used to do, he don’t do anymore, you can tell.”

Bennie Logan, he’s a guy that’s gonna have a pretty good season as long as he stays focused and just stays on task with everything that we’re doing.”

***

Todd Herremans: “I think Mychal Kendricks is gonna have a big season. I think that he’s had a really good camp. Last year, I think that picking up a new defense, even though this defense is new to him, I think he just feels more comfortable as an NFL player. He’s able to just play football, rather than think a whole lot. So I think he’s gonna have a really big season.”

***

Jason Avant: “I think DeSean [Jackson] will be ready for a big season this year just because the attitude, the approach he’s taken this year. I’d be surprised if he didn’t, barring any injuries or anything like that. I’m pretty sure he’ll be good.”

“I think Brandon Boykin will play a lot better. I think he’s getting better at it, learning how to play the nickel position, so I’m looking forward to that.”

***

Kurt Coleman: “I think Trent Cole and Brandon Graham. I think they’ve had one of the hardest transitions out of anybody, gonna go from defensive end to outside linebacker. The greatest thing that they do bring, when they are able to rush, they are phenomenal at pass-rushes, and it gives them more angles from the depth that they come from at the outside linebacker position. It’s so new for them to be in pass coverage. And I think that they’ve done a great job transitioning and really understanding the fits as far as when they’re dropping. But when they come on rush, it’s deadly. And I’ve seen it show up a lot of times on film. They’re ready to get some sacks and create some havoc, so I’m excited for them to really just show up and to really have a great year.”

***

Mychal Kendricks: “With the way our offense is, I think our core guys, LeSean [McCoy], DeSean [Jackson], [Brent] Celek, our new guys. I feel like the potential is endless with this offense that we’ve got and I’m excited to see what they can do and what’s gonna happen.”

***

Bryce Brown: “I think Cedric Thornton has really impressed me, a guy who kind of emerged late, but he’s really, really improved his game from last year to this year, and he’s looked impressive. He’s running with the ones. He’s doing a great job. It’s just fun to watch him play. I really like the way he’s doing things.”

***

Lane Johnson: “Really, all of our guys up front. With [Jason] Kelce back, he’s really good at communicating what to do. …He’s not indecisive and he says what he means. When you communicate well, it makes the job easier for tackles and guards.”

Evan Mathis had a great season last year. He pushes me a lot. I trained with him there in Arizona. Just training with him in the weight room and on the field, we compete a lot.”

***

Zach Ertz:Jason Avant. He’s been a pro’s pro to me, especially, showing me a lot of the ropes, and he’s been doing really well in practice and in the games so far. So that’d be my guy.”

“His skill set, he can do a lot of things from that slot position, he’s very versatile, he can play inside or outside. So I expect a big year from him.”

***

Chris Polk: “It’s hard to give one name… but I would say LeSean [McCoy], Mike Vick, Mychal Kendricks, Connor [Barwin], [Patrick] Chung, Cary [Williams]. There’s a lot of great athletes.”

What have you noticed about McCoy?

“He’s just hungry. He’s hungrier this year. The year that we put out as a team wasn’t too good and that’s not the note you want to end up on. He’s just working really hard. He’s trying to get back to that level.”

***

Vinny Curry:[Jason] Kelce. Just to see him bounce back from getting hurt. He’s dominating so far, coming in with a new system. He still does his thing, controls the offensive line, controls everything and you just feel like he never missed a beat.”

***

Jake Knott: “Probably DeMeco Ryans. The way he handles himself all the time, the way he goes about his daily business and all that, it’s been impressive to me. So I think that’s gonna lead to great things happening for him.”

***

Earl Wolff:Patrick Chung’s gonna be good for us. I like his aggressiveness. I just like the way he plays the game.”

***

Tim McManus contributed to this report.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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