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.

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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.

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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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Eagles Wake-Up Call: 5 Players To Focus On

0V3J7988The third and most important preseason game is almost upon us. Saturday’s game in Jacksonville will be the final tune-up for the starting units before the season opener against the Redskins. It also represents some players’ last chance to impress the coaches before the roster gets trimmed to 75 on Tuesday. (The number goes all the way down to 53 by Aug. 31.)

Here are five Eagles that we’ll be paying close attention to:

Kenny Phillips

Phillips took part in the team walkthrough on Thursday and said he “likes his chances” of playing Saturday in Jacksonville. The veteran safety has been slowed by a quad strain recently. The bigger issue for him is his history of knee issues.

“At the end of the day they kind of leave it in my hands,” said Phillips. “As much as I want to go out there and play I have to be smart. We still have one more preseason game left (beyond Saturday) so if I don’t have a chance to play this week I definitely have next week.

“The biggest thing is they want me to be healthy so when I am out there I can put some good things on tape. I’m definitely pressing the issue because I definitely want to get out there and show them exactly what I [can] do.”

Given the state of the safety position, the Eagles would love Phillips to show them something. But it has to happen soon.

Trent Cole/Brandon Graham

The Eagles are lacking experience at the outside linebacker position in a pretty big way. Connor Barwin has played the position but the two other key contributors — Cole and Graham — are green. The other potential option at OLB — Chris McCoy — has not played a regular-season snap at this level.

Can they get by with what they have, or do they need to go onto the open market?

“You know, they’re learning,” said Chip Kelly. “I think Connor Barwin has great experience at that position because he’s played here before and I’ve been really impressed with Trent and Brandon as they come along, but you always want more depth no matter what position you’re at.  You’d like to have another guy or two there that you can count on.  But there’s want‑to‑haves and need‑to‑haves, and again, it depends on what’s available.”

Danny Watkins

Watkins has returned to action following a concussion and is expected to play against the Jaguars. In the preseason opener versus the Patriots, he played right guard with the second team.

Todd Herremans missed some time this week with knee inflammation. Allen Barbre apparently worked with the first unit in his absence instead of Watkins, and could get the start against the Jags if Herremans can’t go.

Is Watkins in the team’s plans? The guess here is that he makes it, but I don’t know that it’s a sure thing. Curious to see how he looks Saturday.

Russell Shepard

Shepard enjoyed a strong camp (particularly early) but only has one grab for four yards (on six targets) in preseason play. He might be right on the bubble. Do the Eagles carry both Greg Salas and Shepard? Just one? If so, can Shepard win the job?

Perhaps Saturday’s game will help influence management’s decision.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Kelly says time of possession “is how much time can the other team waste.”

Vick ranked No. 1 in the team’s offseason program.

Another great play breakdown by Sheil, this one on the Eagles’ latest triple option. 

Vick says he “will be a threat” to run in the Eagles’ offense.

Jason Peters is bullish on this offense.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

ESPN.com has DeSean Jackson ranked as the 16th best player in the NFC East.

When he has the ball in his hands, he’s a threat to go the distance from anywhere on the field. The issue with Jackson the past few years has been an inability to consistently get open, and it’s fair to assume the inconsistent quarterback play the Eagles have had in recent seasons has factored in as well. Jackson hasn’t had a 60-catch season since 2009 or a 1,000-yard season since 2010, and he’s only scored six touchdowns, total, the past two years. But the ability is clearly there to do big things. And if Kelly can find a way to get Jackson the ball, there’s still a chance to see that potential translate into a big-numbers wide receiver year the likes of which we’ve been anticipating from Jackson since he arrived in the league.

Les Bowen notes that Lane Johnson hasn’t looked very “raw” despite having that label coming out of college.

“If he was, he’s not anymore,” left guard Evan Mathis said yesterday…

Johnson heard all the “raw” talk, and was acutely aware that he lacked an extensive offensive-line background.

“You’re going into a new environment, there’s going to be new tests, but once you get into the fire, it’s not as bad as what it seems,” he said.

COMING UP

Travel day for the Eagles. We’ll be checking in live from Jacksonville.

Davis Updates Starter Battles On Defense

Billy Davis indicated today that he’ll make his final evaluations on starters after Saturday night’s preseason game against the Jaguars.

Keeping that in mind, here’s a position-by-position look at which spots are up for grabs, along with comments from Davis.

DEFENSIVE LINE

The starters up front have been Isaac Sopoaga at nose tackle, Cedric Thornton at LDE and Fletcher Cox at RDE. Cox is a mainstay, but the other two are being pushed.

Bennie Logan has played very well through two games and has the versatility to line up at the nose or defensive end.

“Bennie has had two good games,” Davis said. “Like all of them, they’re pushing and we’ll see with this game. …This is a real big determining factor, this will help see where Bennie is. He’s taken each step, he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do and has played very solid in the two preseason games he’s played.”

Undrafted free agent Damion Square has also shown flashes. And 2012 second-round pick Vinny Curry has been perhaps the Eagles’ best defensive player in the preseason.

Asked if Curry’s still in the mix to start, Davis said: “Absolutely. Nothing has been determined yet in terms of starters, and we are continuing to evaluate all of them, and Vinny’s absolutely in the mix.”

Both Davis and Chip Kelly have indicated that the Eagles will likely rotate six defensive linemen in the regular season. That de-emphasizes the importance of starters, but in the past, the first-team guys have still played the most snaps.

The other thing to note here is that the Eagles will be in their sub packages probably 50 percent of the time. That means, in most cases, two defensive linemen on the field, playing as interior pass-rushers.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

We can pencil Connor Barwin in at one starting spot, and by all accounts, Trent Cole will man the right side.

That means Brandon Graham starting the season as a rotational player.

Asked about the progress Cole and Graham have made with their position switches from the first game to the second game, Davis said: “They’ve done a nice job. We keep putting them in drop situations. Again, we’re evaluating what the package can do and who can do it and we’ve tried to put them in as many drop scenarios as we can. And they’re really working hard at it, they look good. They’re much more comfortable moving backwards.”

“You can see that they’re really getting the feel for the little nuances of how to play the ‘I’m dropping, no I’m rushing’ game with quarterbacks. And it’s really coming along well.”

The truth is, we won’t really know what Davis thinks of Graham and Cole until Week 1 of the regular season when the games count.

* Note: Nothing to add on inside linebackers. It’ll be DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks starting.

CORNERBACKS

Davis went in a couple different directions when asked about Brandon Boykin. The sense I got, though, is that he prefers to have Boykin focus on playing inside, with Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams on the outside.

Davis said Boykin is “pushing the other two” but when asked about the possibility of starting the second-year player on the outside and then moving him inside when the Eagles are in nickel, he sounded a bit hesitant.

“I do think that’s challenging… especially in the same series,” Davis said. “When you start the season, to start at corner and to start at nickel, it becomes more challenging. It is something usually the older veterans can pull off, guys that have played a lot of nickel or played a lot of outside corner. Early on, it’s a little more challenging.

“If you can make it easier without deteriorating from the best 11 on the field, then you can have a guy do one, not both. If there’s clear separation, then you try to get a guy to do both.”

SAFETIES

Patrick Chung seems to have nailed down one starting spot. Nate Allen will get the nod at the other spot on Saturday night. But Davis said he’ll likely rotate other guys in during the first half.

The one player Davis has gotten a lot of questions about is Kenny Phillips. Phillips has had trouble staying healthy and is currently dealing with a quad injury. It’s unclear whether he’ll be on the field Saturday night.

“Anybody that goes through the injury process, doesn’t get into the games or even into the practices, it does make it harder to evaluate when you get less looks at a guy,” Davis said. “I think that just goes without saying.”

Davis added that the Eagles have tape on Phillips, but obviously that was in a different scheme.

If Allen is a disaster against the Jaguars, Davis could shake up the starting lineup before Week 1. But if Allen at least looks competent, he’ll likely get the nod to start the season.

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Eagles-Panthers Game Review: The Defense

Below is a position-by-position review of what stood out from the Eagles’ defense against the Panthers, after having reviewed the game. If you missed the offense, click here.

* Note: Snap counts are courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

DEFENSIVE LINE

* Bennie Logan looks like a player. He manhandled the left guard and got a big hit on Cam Newton in the first. Later, he dropped Tauren Poole after a 2-yard run in the second. Logan used his 34-inch arms to bat down a Newton pass at the line of scrimmage in the second. And he tackled Poole after a gain of 4 on the very next play. If the coaches think he’s big enough, Logan could get bumped up to nose tackle and replace Isaac Sopoaga with the first team pretty soon.

* Cedric Thornton had some good moments. He showed excellent strength against right tackle Byron Bell, pressuring Newton out of the pocket and forcing him to throw the ball away in the first. The Panthers decided to just not block Thornton later in the quarter, and he burst through the backfield, tackling DeAngelo Williams for a 5-yard loss.

* Fletcher Cox looked better than he did vs. New England. He wasn’t the first man to break through, but hustled to chase Newton out of the pocket and into a throw-away on the first possession. Later in the series, Cox showed his athleticism, rushing from the LDT spot, chasing Newton out of the pocket and hitting him.

* Vinny Curry showed up again. He burst through the backfield and dropped Poole for a 2-yard loss in the third, got in the backfield again on the next series, got pressure up the middle as a pass-rusher and tackled Kenjon Barner after a 1-yard run. Maybe this will be the week he moves up the depth chart?

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

* The jury’s still out on Trent Cole. Billy Davis hopes his scheme will create one-on-one rushing opportunities for his outside linebackers against tight ends and running backs. That was the case in the second when Cole got the better of TE Richie Brockel and forced Newton to scramble. Later, Cole had a good bull-rush on third down, pushing the left tackle back into Newton. He blew up the fullback and dropped Williams for no gain in the second. Per PFF, Cole was on the field for 15 passing plays. He rushed the QB on seven of them and dropped back on eight. Apparently, Davis is still evaluating that part of his skill set.

* Brandon Graham got into the game in the second quarter. Really don’t know how many snaps he’s going to get once the real games start. But he was productive in this one. Graham and Logan combined to drop Poole after a 4-yard run in the second. He beat tackle Garry Williams off the edge, drawing a holding penalty and forcing a Newton incompletion on third down late in the second. Graham got off his block and dropped Poole after a 2-yard run in the third. He shed a block and dropped Barner for a loss late in the third and had a nice pass-rush on the very next play. Graham played LOLB with the second unit. He only dropped back three times on 14 pass plays, per PFF.

* The Eagles have mostly been going with four down linemen in nickel looks, but I think that’s a case of Davis not wanting to show his hand in the preseason. On a 3rd-and-20 play in the first, we got a glimpse of how I believe he’ll use Connor Barwin in nickel situations.

Here, you can see him standing up next to the nose tackle, threatening the A-Gap between the center and left guard before the ball is snapped.

barwin1a

Mychal Kendricks is also lurking as a potential blitzer.

But when the ball is snapped, both players retreat into coverage, and the Eagles only rush three.

barwin1b

With eight players in coverage, Newton had nowhere to go, forced a throw and was nearly picked off by Brandon Boykin.

When the regular season starts, look for a lot of pre-snap movement from Barwin in nickel.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS

* The standout player here was clearly Mychal Kendricks. What was notable was how Davis used him on passing downs. Per PFF, Kendricks was on the field for 16 passing downs, and on five of those, he blitzed. Keep in mind, he only played the first half. To put that into perspective, Kendricks blitzed a total of 37 times all of last year, or 2.3 times per game. He blitzed five or more times just once in 16 regular-season games.

Clearly, Davis wants to be creative in how he uses one of his more talented defensive players. As a junior at Cal, Kendricks had seven sacks. In the first quarter here, he blitzed the B-Gap (between the guard and tackle), side-stepped Williams and forced Newton out of the pocket on third down. Later, Kendricks blitzed the A-Gap and hit Newton. He was good even when he wasn’t rushing the passer. Kendricks brought Newton down one-on-one in the open field in the second. He also shot into the backfield and dropped Williams for a 1-yard loss. Excellent all-around game for the second-year player.

CORNERBACKS

* This is always a tough position to judge without the benefit of the All-22, but Cary Williams played exactly like we should have expected him to play, based on last year’s performance. He gives up a lot of catches, but is a sure tackler.

Williams allowed a 16-yard completion to Brandon LaFell on the first play of the game. He later allowed a 10-yard completion to Steve Smith and a 15-yarder on 3rd-and-6. Smith is on the short list of “guys you don’t mess with” in the league. The feisty wide receiver tossed Williams to the ground on an early run play.

Williams was recovering from a hamstring injury, but again, this seems like what you should expect from him. Physical player, not a shut-down corner.

* I have a feeling we’re going to be saying this about Bradley Fletcher all season long: “He gave up the reception, but had really good coverage.” That’s been the story through the first two preseason games. Every time he’s targeted, it seems Fletcher is in the receiver’s pocket. Sometimes, he gives up completions, like the 20-yarder to tight end Greg Olsen. Other times, he makes the play, like forcing an incompletion to Smith in the end zone. Overall, though, I’d say Fletcher’s been solid so far.

* Brandon Boykin played nickel with the first team and then played on the outside in the second half. He dropped an interception in the first and gave up completions of 14 and 21 yards while on the outside. But Boykin came back with a couple really nice plays. He forced an incompletion on a back-shoulder throw in the end zone in the third, nearly coming up with a pick. And he had excellent coverage on the next play too. Boykin also turned in a great kick return, giving the Eagles’ offense field position at its own 43 in the second half. He’s clearly the most athletic corner on the team.

SAFETY

* Another position that’s difficult to evaluate off of TV tape. But we have to mention Patrick Chung, who played really well. Nice job reading the screen and bringing Williams down after a 3-yard gain in the first. On the very next play, Chung came up in run support and dropped Williams after a 3-yard gain. He also made a tackle after a 1-yard run in the first half. Per PFF, Chung has not missed a tackle through two preseason games.

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Trent Cole: ‘It’s Coming Natural Now’

With the Panthers facing a 1st-and-15 early in the contest Thursday, Cam Newton takes the snap, drops back and looks in the direction of Steve Smith for the quick strike. A scan of the area, and Newton likely realizes that the receiver is facing a double-team.

Cole 2

So he went off his first read. By the time he got to his second read, Cedric Thornton had made his way into the backfield. Newton was flushed to his right and was forced to throw it away.

Who was double-teaming Smith on the left side along with Cary Williams?

photo (35)

None other than Trent Cole.

“It’s coming natural now,” said Cole of dropping into coverage. “I’ve dropped in previous years, but dropping all the time now it’s becoming natural.

“The first game against the Patriots I was a little hesitant because I was trying to do straight assignment. Now I have that mindset to come out here and play assignment football and go get it. I got things down now. I’m out there comfortable. Watch the game — I’m relaxed out there, just ready to play ball.”

Cole is one of the most important players on the team when it comes to undergoing a successful defensive transformation in Year One. The 30-year-old is being asked to move to a 3-4 outside linebacker role after eight (largely successful) years as a 4-3 defensive end. He is penciled in as the starter opposite Connor Barwin.

Defensive coordinator Billy Davis seems to be pleased with Cole’s development to date.

“I think they did a nice job tonight,” said Davis of the outside linebackers. “The coverage aspect of it is something you’re always looking at. I’ve put them in coverage to see how they do and they haven’t put in harm’s way at all. They’re doing a nice job.”

Barwin has experience playing the position but the other two key members of the positional group — Cole and Brandon Graham — are brand new to the post.

Cole did drop into coverage about 100 times under Sean McDermott back in 2010, according to outside linebackers coach Bill McGovern. But he only dropped 14 times over the last two seasons.

The new role certainly won’t be all about coverage. Cole is primarily a pass-rusher and will be attacking the quarterback more times than not — just from a new vantage point.

“I love it,” said Cole, when asked about life as a linebacker. “It’s different and I’m having fun with it because I get to run around, I’m not getting double-teamed, and I get to come flying in. I’m used to coming off the line and hitting guys. Now I’m flying in on a running start. And they’re either going to take it or get out of the way.”

Cole has 71 career sacks, so Davis  knows what to expect from him in that department. It’s dropping that is still an unknown. If Cole can manage the added responsibility, the transition process will be made all the easier for Davis and this Eagles defense.

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Eagles-Panthers Cheat Sheet: 10 Things To Watch

Greg SalasHere are 10 things we’re tracking during tonight’s Eagles-Panthers game:

1. The quarterbacks

You didn’t think we were going to start somewhere else, did you?

Nick Foles will get the start. He led the Eagles on an up-tempo, efficient touchdown drive last week vs. the Patriots. What do we want to see this week? Foles chuck it downfield. Last week, none of his attempts traveled more than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. Foles has the arm, but he had issues with mechanics on the deep ball last year. It’d be nice to see him take a shot or two downfield in this one.

As for Vick, the Eagles slowed things down with him in the game last week. The guess here is he’ll be asked to operate the tempo package this time around. Vick looked great vs. New England, but he needs to show he’s capable of making sound decisions in an offense that gives the quarterback options. Hopefully we get a chance to see him in that environment tonight.

2. The progress of the O-Line

Lane Johnson looked like the real deal in the run game last week. The Eagles are looking for steady improvement from their first-round pick in the preseason.

Todd Herremans, meanwhile, did not play well last week. He’s got eight years of experience and 100 starts under his belt, so one quarter of one preseason game is nothing to panic about, but it’d be nice to see him play better vs. Carolina.

And then there are the depth spots. Allen Barbre will likely get the nod at left tackle with the first team tonight. He could end up being the top backup lineman on the roster – at both guard and tackle. The backup center battle continues with Julian Vandervelde, Dallas Reynolds and Matt Tennant.

3. Wide receiver depth

If Greg Salas continues to show up, he’s going to make it hard for the Eagles to cut him. Perhaps he’ll be bumped up the depth chart and get a chance to prove himself against better competition in the first half.

Russell Shepard is also fighting for a roster spot. Matt Barkley had a shot to connect with Shepard deep last week, but underthrew him. The undrafted free agent should see plenty of action in the second half.

4. Finding Zach Ertz

Ertz figures to have a prominent role in the Eagles’ passing game this season, but he looked shaky as a blocker vs. New England. Ertz missed much of the spring because of the NCAA’s graduation rules, but has had a pretty good camp.

Keep an eye on where he lines up and how he stacks up as a blocker tonight.

5. Fletcher Cox’s progress

The second-year player looked bad early on vs. New England. But 16 snaps in one preseason game is not enough to erase Cox’s outstanding rookie season.

As the Eagles move towards a 3-4, Cox is being asked to two-gap (explanation here) up front. He’ll need to continue to get more comfortable in the new scheme, and Billy Davis will have to make sure he’s putting Cox in position to succeed.

6. Defending a mobile QB

Within their division, the Eagles will face quarterbacks with different skill sets. For example, it could be Robert Griffin III one week and Eli Manning a few weeks later. That means incorporating a defense flexible enough to adapt to different offensive attacks.

Last week, the Eagles faced Tom Brady. This week, it’ll be Cam Newton. Newton ran for 741 yards last year, second among quarterbacks to only RGIII. The Eagles could get a glimpse of the read-option, but it’s not just designed runs they have to worry about. They’ll need to be disciplined with their pass rush as well.

7. Signs from Vinny Curry

The 2012 second-round pick was probably the Eagles’ best defensive player against New England. He looked comfortable in a variety of roles on the defensive line, using his quickness to create disruption behind the line of scrimmage.

Chip Kelly said earlier this week that he knows Curry can rush the passer, but indicated he’s looking for the second-year player to show he has a complete skill set. The Eagles are expected to rotate defensive linemen up front, but if Curry keeps improving, he could be in line for significant playing time once the real games start.

8. The Trent Cole/Brandon Graham transition

It’s been a storyline all offseason and will continue for the next several weeks. Cole, specifically, did not look good early on vs. New England. It’s not just dropping back into coverage. It’s new responsibilities in the run game and using different methods to rush the passer. Cole and Graham will continue to be under the microscope vs. Carolina.

9. Cary Williams’ debut

The Eagles’ new cornerback does not shy away from microphones. That much we know. He said last week that the defense needs to play with more of an edge, disagreeing publicly with the way Kelly handled the joint practices with the Patriots.

On the field, Williams missed most of the spring and has dealt with a hamstring injury this summer. By statistical measures, Williams was mediocre at best last year with the Ravens. He’s expected to start tonight and will get a chance to make headlines for his play, one way or another.

10. Safety? Hello? Anyone?

It’s a question for the Eagles pretty much every summer. Who will step up at safety? Patrick Chung looked like a sure tackler against his former team and is expected to win one of the starting jobs.

But the other one is up for grabs. Nate Allen continued to struggle against New England. And Earl Wolff got a chance to run with the first team earlier this week. The rookie could get a shot in the first half to prove he deserves serious consideration for the starting job.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Eagles Wake-Up Call: Three Things We’ve Learned At Camp

Chris PolkThe Eagles will have a walk-through today with the Patriots, but for all intents and purposes, the first wave of training camp is over.

Eleven full-squad practices, each running a little more than two hours. That means plenty of film for the coaches to evaluate as they prepare for Friday night’s preseason game.

Keeping that in mind, here are three things we’ve learned so far on the practice fields:

1. Chris Polk is in the mix for the No. 2 RB job.

Going into camp, I thought the first two spots were accounted for with LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown. I also thought Polk would be on the roster bubble, fighting for a job.

But the second-year running back has been impressive. Back in June, Polk said he shed 15 pounds and was down to 215. And it’s shown. He’s reeled off big runs on a daily basis, can catch the ball out of the backfield and is the Eagles’ best blocking back.

Granted, there has been no tackling to the ground, and Polk will need to prove himself in games, but clearly, Chip Kelly and the coaches have taken notice. Kelly called Polk the most improved back on the roster earlier this week, and on Wednesday, with McCoy sidelined, Polk took the bulk of the first-team reps.

With the expectation being that the Eagles are going to rely on a heavy dose of the run game, Polk has a chance to steal carries away from Brown if he outplays him in the coming weeks.

2. The secondary is a giant question mark.

This might not really be something we “learned” since we knew it in the spring. But there was some thought that we’d get a clearer picture of what the defensive backfield might look like by this point in camp. That hasn’t happened.

Cary Williams didn’t show up for much of the spring. He was pulled on Tuesday after getting into a scuffle. And he has also been dealing with a hamstring injury that has kept him off the field. Bradley Fletcher, meanwhile, has not shown any consistency whatsoever. And Curtis Marsh got abused by the Patriots during Wednesday’s practice.

Brandon Boykin has been easily the Eagles’ best corner at camp. It looks like he’ll get a legitimate shot to start on the outside.

Safety might be the biggest mystery on the team. Patrick Chung will likely start at one spot, but even that’s no lock. Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, Kenny Phillips, Earl Wolff, Colt Anderson and David Sims are all competing for playing time. But there’s been no clear separation from the pack during camp.

The faces are different, and so is the scheme. But there’s no guarantee that the results will be different for the Eagles’ defensive backs.

3. There’s no defined plan for Brandon Graham.

He was the Eagles’ best pass-rusher a year ago, but Graham’s role is very much a mystery. Most of his reps have come at left outside linebacker with the second team behind Connor Barwin. If there’s a way to get Barwin, Graham and Trent Cole on the field together, defensive coordinator Billy Davis has yet to unveil it.

Davis has maintained that he needs pads and live tackling to properly evaluate his players. But Graham has not looked comfortable dropping back into coverage.

Will Graham get a chance to consistently rush the passer? Will he play a prominent role in 2013? Those are questions that still need answers in the coming weeks.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Here is your running diary of practice observations from Wednesday’s session.

The secondary, minus Cary Williams, got lit up by Tom Brady.

A roundup of what the national media are saying about the Eagles.

T-Mac takes a look at the Eagles’ wide receiver options in free agency.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Dick Vermeil weighs in on the QB situation, via Les Bowen of the Daily News:

Of course, Vermeil is 76 now and he isn’t coaching the Eagles, hasn’t in three decades. But he was watching Chip Kelly’s training camp practice with the Patriots Wednesday, and it was an obvious question to ask him. “It doesn’t make any difference what I think. I don’t see ‘em every day,” Vermeil said by way of disclaimer. “I’ve seen Michael Vick play a lot over the years, and I just kind of believe when it all boils down … if I were going to bet on it, I would bet on him.”

Tommy Lawlor of IgglesBlitz.com offers thoughts on Mychal Kendricks:

He can be a playmaking ILB. If you want to run a good 3-4, you need that. Brian Cushing, Houston. Lawrence Timmons, Pittsburgh. Both guys in SF. And so on. I think we all remember what a wrecking crew Daryl Washington was all by himself last September.

COMING UP

A light joint practice at 10:25. We’ll be there.

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