Wake-Up Call: Trotter Evaluates the LBs

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This morning we yield the floor to Jeremiah Trotter. 

We asked the Axe Man to give his take on the Eagles’ linebacker play through six games, and he obliged. Pretty simple exercise: we fired a player’s name at Trotter, and he shot back with some analysis. This is how he sees it. Read more »

All-22: The State Of the Eagles’ Defense

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On Monday morning, Earl Wolff woke up, got something to eat and turned on the tape.

He had made his first NFL start about 20 hours earlier in Denver, going up against Peyton Manning and a potent Broncos attack. Even though the Eagles suffered a 32-point loss, there were plenty of lessons to be gained for the rookie safety.

“As soon as I woke up, I ate breakfast, watched the game, went back through a lot of plays,” Wolff said. “I watched it about two or three times. I watched every play about three times and just was trying to figure out what I can do better in certain situations.”

Wolff is not hiding. Did he make his share of mistakes? Absolutely. But he holds himself accountable and is confident he’ll get better each week. Read more »

Davis And the Commitment To the 3-4

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Billy Davis was asked on Tuesday if his personnel is better suited for a 3-4 or a 4-3 scheme.

“I believe we’re a 3-4,” he replied. “We’re moving in a direction. Right now, I stand in front of you and I’ve got the 3-4 that we’ve installed, we’re taking some punches on it right now as we push through to the other side. We just have to get through the transition part and the hard part that we’re living right now. The 3-4 is definitely who we have decided to be.”

Chip Kelly and Davis have both spoken of tailoring their schemes to fit the strengths of the players. The goal was to transition from a Wide-9 4-3 to a two-gap 3-4, with the idea that they would stop at the appropriate in-between point in Year One. Go as far as the personnel allowed them, in other words.

There are elements of the 4-3 still present, as Davis pointed out. But to say the scheme is catering to the players’ strengths would be a big leap from reality. Read more »

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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Instant Observations: Eagles Vs. Jets

Here’s what we saw during the first half of tonight’s Eagles-Jets game.

OFFENSE

* The Eagles’ offense was horrible. Nick Foles and company were shut out on their first six drives. They finally got on the board with a field goal with 2:34 left in the second. But that came after a turnover, and they only went 5 yards before Alex Henery set up for the 38-yard field goal.

* Foles was 6-for-17 for 63 yards. He averaged 3.7 yards per attempt and fumbled once. Of course, it wasn’t only Foles. Protection was bad, and I counted at least three drops. The first-team offensive line from left to right was: Matt Tobin, Allen Barbre, Julian Vandervelde, Danny Watkins and Michael Bamiro.

* Bryce Brown got the start at running back. He carried nine times for 29 yards and also had two catches for 29 yards. One was a 21-yard pick-up in which he broke multiple tackles. The starting wide receivers were Greg Salas and Clay Harbor. Jeff Maehl and Russell Shepard also rotated in. Rookie Zach Ertz started at tight end and had a pair of drops. James Casey also saw some action, but left the game with a hamstring injury.

* The Eagles huddled-up for much of the first half. I didn’t realize it until now, but after watching the first three preseason games, offenses that huddle completely bore me. Let’s not make a habit of doing that in the regular season, please, Chip. Thanks in advance.

* On the second play of the game, the Jets brought a blitz. Two former Eagles draft picks – Ricky Sapp and Jaiquawn Jarrett – sacked Foles, who fumbled. It was his third turnover of the preseason. Foles also had two other fumbles earlier in the preseason that he recovered.

DEFENSE

* Most of the Eagles’ players who will start next Monday night against the Redskins sat vs. the Jets. The first-team defensive line was Clifton Geathers, Damion Square and Bennie Logan. The outside linebackers were Chris McCoy and Brandon Graham. The inside LBs were Jake Knott and Casey Matthews. The corners were Brandon Boykin and Jordan Poyer. And the safeties were Nate Allen and Earl Wolff. One of those two is expected to start in the regular season with Patrick Chung.

* McCoy was the stand-out early. He nearly had an interception and then notched a couple sacks. On one, he came from the QB’s blind side and forced a fumble. McCoy has a good shot to make the roster as the fourth outside linebacker, although the Eagles will still likely look at that position closely when other teams make cuts.

* Graham got matched up with a running back on the first drive, trucked him and then got a hit on Matt Simms. Simms was called for intentional grounding in the end zone, which resulted in a safety.

* If jobs were really on the line tonight, Emmanuel Acho out-played Casey Matthews. Acho had five tackles (four solo), a sack, a tackle for loss, a forced fumble and a QB hit in the first half. He also had good coverage on a third-down incompletion and forced a punt. Matthews had one tackle and was also called for defensive holding in the red zone.

* No one in the Eagles’ secondary played well. Simms went 19-for-25 for 147 yards. Allen, a veteran starter going up against Jets backups, did nothing to stand out. Kurt Coleman saw some time as an outside corner with the Eagles thin at the position.

* Knott seemed to play well. It would be a surprise if he didn’t stick. He had six tackles (four solo), including one for loss and forced a fumble.

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