Free Agency Preview: Outside Linebackers

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Dallas Cowboys

It’s no secret that the Eagles are in need of outside linebacker help.

Connor Barwin showcased his versatility last year and is a keeper on the left side. He’s not a prolific pass-rusher, but Barwin is excellent against the run, can line up in a variety of places and is good in coverage.

On the other side, Trent Cole did an admirable job of transitioning to a 3-4 OLB. But he’ll turn 32 next season and is still a bit of a square peg/round hole option. And the coaching staff saw Brandon Graham as purely a rotational player last season.

It’s possible that the Eagles go into 2014 with those same three rotating, but the better bet is that they add a piece either through free agency or the draft.

Keeping that in mind, here are four guys who will be on the market when free agency starts Tuesday. The two biggest names – Brian Orakpo and Jason Worilds - are staying with the Redskins and Steelers, respectively. So this is a watered-down group. Read more »

Wake-Up Call: ‘We Don’t Want To Force Anything’

NFL: Combine

When it comes to adding new pieces, NFL personnel people often fear the unknown.

The condition usually stems from past mistakes: wasting money on a player who didn’t fit, reaching on a draft pick who failed to pan out, etc.

The draft requires the most challenging projections. But free agency, in theory, should be easier. Coaches and GMs can watch as much tape as they want of the players going up against pro-level competition; they can talk to guys who have coached or played alongside the free agent; and they should be able to get a decent idea of how they’re spending their money.

But, as Howie Roseman often points out, it’s still an arranged marriage. Until the player and team are living under the same roof and get to know each other up close and personal, there is a degree of uncertainty.

That’s one of the reasons the organization has been sending out signals for weeks indicating it’s not going to make a big splash in free agency. In some ways, Roseman sounds a bit gun-shy after what happened in the summer of 2011. Read more »

Eagles Wake-Up Call: On Barwin’s Role

barwin_940_1016

Connor Barwin was not among the first wave of new players the Eagles signed last offseason.

On the first day of free agency, the team added five new players, three of whom ended up starting games on defense (Isaac Sopoaga, Bradley Fletcher and Patrick Chung).

But with Barwin, the Eagles waited to see how the market played out. They had him on their list, but Howie Roseman wasn’t sure what the demand would be for the outside linebacker. Barwin followed up an 11.5-sack season in 2011 with just three sacks in 2012. Clearly, teams were not convinced he was an elite pass-rusher, and so the Eagles saw a chance to pounce, signing the 26-year-old to a deal that included $8 million in guaranteed money.

Barwin ended up being one of the Eagles’ best free-agent acquisitions. He provided leadership, energy and was by all accounts a great teammate. In terms of production, he was arguably the Eagles’ most consistent defender. Read more »

Offseason Outlook: Outside Linebackers

Trent Cole had one sack in the Eagles’ first 10 games. He has seven in the last five, including three against the Bears.

This week, we’ll continue to offer offseason outlooks for the Eagles, position-by-position. Each day, we’ll answer a pressing question and rank the position on the priority scale. First up was quarterback. We covered running backswide receiverstight endsoffensive line and defensive line. Now let’s talk outside linebackers.

PRESSING QUESTION: Will there be a new starter on the outside in 2014?

McManus: I will say no, at least to start the year.

Connor Barwin may not be an elite pass-rusher but there is great value in his versatility. I think his starting job is secure. Trent Cole‘s spot really is the one to focus on. Cole is extremely well-respected within the organization and was regularly lauded by Chip Kelly and Billy Davis during the season, both noting that the numbers don’t tell the whole story when it comes to Cole’s impact on the game. And the numbers weren’t bad. Despite playing OLB for the first time in his nine-year career, he finished with eight sacks, 15 hurries and 10 tackles for a loss.

Still, Cole is 31, his pass-rushing production wasn’t consistent and the Eagles absolutely need to bolster this position. Brandon Graham contributed three sacks this season, but it’s still questionable whether he’s a fit for this team. Read more »

Three Eagles Leftovers

barwin_940_1016

From Connor Barwin’s role to Chip Kelly’s love for DeMeco Ryans to Cary Williams’ future, here are three Eagles leftovers.

1. The Eagles’ two outside linebacker positions were not created equal in 2013. Trent Cole made the transition from defensive end, usually lining up on the right side. Barwin’s spot was labeled the “jack” by Billy Davis, as in jack of all trades. That meant Barwin usually lined up on the left side and dropped back into coverage far more often than Cole.

According to Pro Football Focus, Barwin dropped 42.3 percent of the time on passing downs and rushed the QB 57.7 percent of the time.

“I can do it so it fits my skill set and I’m fine with it,” Barwin said last week. “Whatever way Billy [Davis] wants to use me. And I’m sure, who knows how it’ll evolve next year? I could see myself being in a similar role or I could see it being different. It just matters how this defensive evolves, what happens. But I don’t mind at all. I think it makes our defense better. I think Billy did a great job of utilizing the talent that we had.” Read more »

Final Eagles Pass-Rusher Rankings

Trent Cole had one sack in the Eagles’ first 10 games. He has seven in the last five, including three against the Bears.

For most of the year, we kept track of how productive Eagles defensive players were when rushing the passer.

With all 16 regular-season games and the playoff loss to the Saints in the rear-view mirror, it’s time for one final tally.

Sacks, hurries and batted passes are tracked by the Eagles’ coaches. The Penalties column tracks instances when the defender forces an offensive holding or an intentional grounding call. Chances are tracked by Pro Football Focus. And I calculated the final column as the percentage of times a defender did something (sack, hurry, batted ball, forced penalty) to affect the passer, given the opportunities. Read more »

Wake-Up Call: The ‘Batting Average’ Approach

USATSI_6845876_168380503_lowres
There was no good reason for the Eagles to swing for the fences in free agency last season.

They were coming off a 4-12 campaign and were in the midst of an organizational reboot. The focus was on foundation building and no one knew exactly how long that build would take; it made little sense to splurge for big-ticket players at that time. Instead, they went shopping for “mid-level” free agents and ended up with the likes of Connor Barwin, James Casey, Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Patrick Chung, Donnie Jones, Jason Phillips, Isaac Sopoaga and Kenny Phillips. Some good, some bad, some in-between. Decent return rate.

“That group as a whole I think contributed a lot to our football team. We certainly weren’t perfect on our free-agent signings but I thought it matched what was out there in free agency last year and served us well,” said Howie Roseman.

The team is in a much different place than it was a year ago. The turnaround happened quickly, and Chip Kelly claimed an NFC East title in his first year. The Eagles are further along and presumably in position to contend. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will alter their plan when free agency opens on March 11. Last year’s approach was more about a shift in philosophy than it was a reaction to circumstance. Read more »

Eagles Wake-Up Call: Next Step For the Defense?

barwin_940_1016

With the 2013 season in the books, Connor Barwin could finally admit it: He had some doubts about this defense after the Eagles got off to a slow start and gave up 52 points to the Broncos in Week 4.

“Maybe a little bit, but I wouldn’t share it with you or anybody,” he said at his locker earlier this week. “Yeah, there were a couple weeks that looked a little… but obviously you really did believe in Billy [Davis]. Billy came in and said the right things, and I was like, ‘Alright man, I trust this guy.’ And he was exactly right. We kept our head down and kept working and gradually got better and better.”

After the Broncos game, the Eagles’ defense went on a nice little run, limiting opponents to 21 points or fewer in 11 of 13 games. There were stumbles along the way, and the defense didn’t exactly finish strong – getting picked apart in Week 15 against the Vikings and struggling in the second half against New Orleans. But overall, most would agree this unit exceeded expectations. Read more »

Zone Read: Eagles-Saints, the Day After

Jan 4, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) prepares to throw the ball as Philadelphia Eagles outside linebacker Trent Cole (58) and Eagles defensive end Fletcher Cox (91) chase in the first quarter during the 2013 NFC wild card playoff football game at Lincoln Financial Field. Photo |  Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 4, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) prepares to throw the ball as Philadelphia Eagles outside linebacker Trent Cole (58) and Eagles defensive end Fletcher Cox (91) chase in the first quarter during the 2013 NFC wild card playoff football game at Lincoln Financial Field. Photo | Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Going into Saturday night’s matchup with the Saints, the Eagles’ defensive gameplan focused on daring Sean Payton to take the football out of Drew Brees’ hands.

New Orleans has been a pass-first offense and was playing without its leading rusher in Pierre Thomas. Unlike most weeks, Davis figured he could pay less attention to the run game and instead scheme to limit big plays in the passing game. Payton responded by handing the ball off over and over again to the tune of 36 carries and 185 yards.

“That’s on me,” Davis said. “I made the calls for the passing game to make sure we keep the big plays off us. It was a lot more split safety and a lot more pass-oriented calls, so some of the runs leaked out. I could have called more of a run-based defensive game, shut that down, but we were trying to keep the points down and the big plays off us. So that run game comes down to me, not the players.” Read more »

Game Review: Eagles Defense Vs. Dallas

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys

Here’s a position-by-position review of the Eagles’ defensive performance against Dallas after having watched the coaches tape.

DEFENSIVE LINE

* This group limited DeMarco Murray to 51 yards on 17 carries (3.0 YPC). Cedric Thornton probably had the best game of any of the linemen. He combined with Bennie Logan to stop Murray after a 3-yard run in the first half. In the third, Thornton and Brandon Boykin dropped Murry for a 4-yard loss, putting Dallas in a tough third-down spot. Thornton finished with two tackles.

* Fletcher Cox was quiet – one tackle, no sacks, no hurries. Logan had three tackles. He pressured Kyle Orton and helped force him into a bad throw in the second.

* All three starting defensive linemen jumped early once, drawing flags. Read more »

« Older Posts  |  Newer Posts »