DL Review: Graham Making Most Of Chances

Here’s a player-by-player review of how the Eagles defensive linemen performed Sunday against the Ravens, after having re-watched the game. Click here to find all of the game reviews.

Let’s start with the numbers. The table below details snap counts and pass-rushing opportunities from Pro Football Focus. Sacks are self-explanatory. Hurries are official team stats kept by Eagles coaches. And finally, you’ll see pressure percentage, which simply shows how often each player notched either a sack or a hurry. The reason for the percentage is that a one-sack game for a defensive lineman who rushed the passer 30 times is different than a one-sack game for someone who had just 10 opportunities.

Note that these numbers are just for Sunday’s game.

 
Total Snaps
Pass-Rushing Opportunities
Sacks
Hurries
Pressure Percentage
Fletcher Cox5234000%
Jason Babin44340514.7%
Trent Cole47331621.2%
Derek Landri36250416.0%
Cullen Jenkins32260415.4%
Darryl Tapp2315000%
Cedric Thornton2214000%
Phillip Hunt1590111.1%
Brandon Graham9404100%

The first thing that jumps out is Graham’s production in limited action. The coaches credited him with four hurries, and he was only on the field for four passing downs, meaning he pressured the quarterback on every opportunity. There’s no doubt in my mind he’s going to see a bump in playing time, starting this Sunday.

Cole led the way with six hurries and the defensive line’s only sack, stripping Joe Flacco from behind in the first.

Landri and Jenkins both got to Flacco quite a bit. Left guard Ramon Harewood was making just his second career start, and the Eagles got the better of him all day. Don’t be thrown off by the fact that Fletcher Cox had zero hurries. There’s a reason he played more snaps than any other defensive tackle (write-up below). And keep in mind, Cox was going up against Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda.

One other thing that stands out: Tapp and Hunt combined for one hurry. Just another reason why I think you’re going to see more of Graham. The Eagles generally reward players who are producing.

Here’s the player-by-player breakdown:

Jason Babin – He had five hurries, but wasn’t as good against the run. Babin pressured Flacco on the play where Cole forced the fumble in the first. Nice hurry in the second, forcing Flacco out of the pocket on a 3-yard completion to Ray Rice. Against the run, Babin was unblocked on Vonta Leach’s 5-yard touchdown, but he made a bee-line to Flacco. Had he read run, Babin probably would have dropped Leach for a loss. The Ravens left him unblocked on the Rice 43-yard run, but Babin couldn’t quite get to him in the backfield. Later, he made an excellent play against the run, dropping Rice after a 2-yard gain. The Eagles showed the look where Babin and Cole line up in the middle like blitzing linebackers. Babin was called for a personal foul after hitting Flacco late on 3rd-and-18 in the fourth.

Trent Cole – His sack/forced fumble was huge as it set up the Eagles’ first score. Cole got good pressure on Flacco in the second, forcing an incompletion. He and Landri hit Flacco on a third down in the third. Cole hit Flacco on the touchdown to Jacoby Jones that was called back. And he got good pressure on the first play of the final drive. Cole lined up at left defensive end on one play. Rice chipped him, Cole got up, and Rice threw him to the ground. That’s one powerful running back. By the way, the zone blitz made its return on a couple plays. Cole dropped back into coverage on a third down in the third.

Cullen Jenkins – Jenkins had four hurries. He got excellent push up the middle on DeMeco Ryans’ sack in the fourth. And Jenkins got good pressure on third down in the fourth, forcing Flacco out of the pocket. He pressured Flacco again on the final drive and actually made contact with the quarterback’s helmet, but the refs didn’t call it. Against the run, Yanda got the better of Jenkins on a couple occasions, including the Leach touchdown run. Jenkins had a chance to make a play on Rice near the line of scrimmage, but couldn’t bring him down on the 16-yard run in the second. The Eagles showed a look with him at right defensive end, Landri and Cox at tackle, and Cole at left defensive end.

Fletcher Cox – I thought he was disruptive throughout. It’s only been two games, but Cox has shown flashes that suggest he can be a dominant defensive tackle. Cox brought Rice down after a 2-yard gain in the second. He went right around Yanda (Pro Bowler) and pressured Flacco into an incompletion in the second. Not sure why the team didn’t credit him with a hurry on that one. Cox’s athleticism was on full display on one play in the second. Yanda tried to use a cut block on him, but Cox stayed on his feet, hustled to the ballcarrier and stopped Rice after a 2-yard gain. Impressive play. He got his hand on a screen to force an incompletion in the third. And Cox fought through a double-team in the fourth, drawing a holding penalty. It’s not as good as a sack, but Cox was responsible for the offense losing 10 yards. He’s going to continue to be the most-used defensive tackle on this team.

Derek Landri – Really good game. Like I mentioned above, Harewood, the Ravens’ left guard, likely saw Landri in his nightmares Sunday night. He got good push up the middle on the Flacco fumble in the first. He got in the backfield on Rice’s 4-yard carry in the first. Landri went right around Harewood and shoved Flacco as he released the ball on a 6-yard completion in the second. Later, he got good pressure, forcing Flacco out of the pocket. Landri pushed a double-team back into Flacco’s face on a third-down incompletion in the third. He shoved Harewood into the backfield, causing a 4-yard loss for Rice. He went right around Harewood and hit Flacco on a fourth-quarter throw that went incomplete. He tackled Rice after a 2-yard gain in the fourth. And he went right around Harewood to pressure Flacco on the final drive. The one negative was the 43-yard Rice run. A big hole opened up between Landri and Cole. But overall, outstanding game.

Cedric Thornton – He’s not doing much in terms of rushing the passer, but Thornton made a few nice plays. He disrupted a Rice run that gained only 2 yards in the second. And he got into the backfield on another Rice 2-yard run, but couldn’t make a play. Thornton recognized a screen and tackled Rice on an incompletion in the third.

Darryl Tapp – Tapp didn’t do much in this one. He hustled to bring Rice down after a 9-yard run in the third.

Phillip Hunt – He was quiet too. No sacks, one hurry, although he didn’t have a lot of opportunities. Hunt dropped back into coverage once from left defensive end.

Brandon Graham – As I mentioned above, he made the most of his opportunities. Graham got around the right tackle and hit Flacco as he threw in the second. He went right around the fullback on a play-action pass and hit Flacco as he threw incomplete. Graham got pressure near Flacco’s feet on a screen attempt in the third. And against the run, he stopped Bernard Pierce for no gain in the fourth. Have to respect the approach he’s taken, despite limited snaps.

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

Eagles ‘Bring The Fight’ To Ravens

Last season, Frank Gore accused the Eagles of folding when the 49ers got physical with them.

“I think playing that second half and the way we came out, the Eagles didn’t want to play no more,” said Gore. “We just kept pounding and kept pounding and making plays and we kind of knocked the fight out of them.”

Their will power was further put into question as a result of blowing five fourth-quarter leads in 2011.

Sunday’s game against the Ravens was a step in the right direction away from that reputation. Not only did the Eagles win in come-from-behind fashion for the second straight week, but did so while playing a nasty brand of ball.

“They wanted to come out and push us around but we weren’t having that,” said DeMeco Ryans. “We had to fight back, bring the intensity and bring the fight to them.”

There were extra-curriculars all over the field Sunday in what felt at times like a playoff atmosphere. The replacement refs had their hands full as shoving matches (and at times more) broke out all over the place. DeSean Jackson and Ravens corner Cary Williams came to blows at one point.

“If I could look back I wouldn’t do it — Coach Reid got on me a little bit — but heat of the moment, go out there and getting into it, and you’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do,” said Jackson.

Added Jeremy Maclin: “I’m not going to just let somebody slap my helmet or put their hands in my face. I’m a man.”

Cullen Jenkins was also mixing it up. He and a Ravens defender were called for offsetting unsportsmanlike conducts on Vonta Leach‘s five-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.

“We want people to know what we’re about. We want people to know we’re going to fight,” said Jenkins. “You’re not going to intimidate us. That’s pretty much it. We’ve still got a lot to improve on and have to clean up our play, but that’s stuff that we can work on. But the fight in this team is definitely there.”

As you might imagine, Baltimore felt it was the Eagles that were going over the line.

“They take a couple of shots,” Ravens tailback Ray Rice said, via CSN Philly. “That’s just how they’re coached and stuff. They play dirty and stuff. They take shots after the play, lot of dirty stuff after plays.”

No matter who you assign blame to, you can say that the Eagles were at the very least up for the challenge.

The Eagles weren’t coming off as overly-cocky afterwards despite improving to 2-0 by beating a quality Ravens team. For one, they exited with some significant injury concerns, and they were well aware that they have now turned the ball over nine times in two games. But there was a feeling of accomplishment that they were able to stare down the league bully, and a late deficit, and overcome them both.

“It just takes fight,” said Ryans. “That’s what it’s all about. In the fourth quarter you have to pull out everything you’ve got. It’s going to take everything you’ve got to fight to make that play, to get off the field, to score that touchdown. Everybody has to have that mindset and that want-to. That’s what you’ve seen from our team last week and again this week, is that will and that fight to win.”

 Follow Tim on Twitter and email him at tmcmanus@phillymag.com.

 

Cheat Sheet: Eagles Defense Vs. Ravens Offense

Here are 10 things to know about the matchup between the Eagles’ defense and the Ravens’ offense Sunday afternoon. We’ll go over the Eagles’ offense and Baltimore’s D on Friday.

1. The Ravens are looking to unleash Joe Flacco this year. The South Jersey product has one of the biggest arms in the league, and Baltimore takes advantage of it. Last year, according to Pro Football Focus, 14.6 percent of Flacco’s passes traveled at least 20 yards from the line of scrimmage – sixth-most in the league, just ahead of Michael Vick. Flacco averaged 10.3 yards per attempt in Week 1, third-highest in the league, and hit on five completions of 20+ yards. The Eagles, of course, allowed just 111 yards passing and two completions of 20+ yards in Week 1, while intercepting Brandon Weeden four times.

2. Flacco will spread the ball around to everyone – wide receivers, tight ends and running backs. Last year, Anquan Boldin led the Ravens with 105 targets. He caught 57 balls for 887 yards and led the team with 15 catches for 20+ yards. Boldin will line up inside and outside. Twenty-three of those catches, and 354 of those yards last year came from the slot, per PFF. The Eagles will have a decision to make when Boldin lines up inside: Let rookie Brandon Boykin handle him, or move Nnamdi Asomugha inside, and get Curtis Marsh on the field. A couple things to note here. Number one, Asomugha played zero snaps in the slot in Week 1. And number two, Marsh has a hamstring injury, so his status for Sunday is uncertain. If Marsh is out and the Eagles still want to use Asomugha inside, Brandon Hughes could see some snaps outside. If not, Boykin, who played great in Week 1, gets the assignment. In Week 1, a third of Boldin’s snaps came in the slot. And that’s where he was lined up when he caught a 34-yard touchdown.

3. The Ravens’ vertical threat is Torrey Smith. The second-year player had 50 catches for 841 yards and seven touchdowns in an impressive rookie campaign. On the first play from scrimmage Monday night, he caught a 52-yard bomb from Flacco. Overall, he had two catches for 57 yards, but the numbers are better when you consider he drew a 20-yard pass interference penalty in the end zone that set up a Ravens touchdown. Given Smith’s speed, the Eagles could look to match up Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie against him. But Smith will line up on both sides of the formation, and against the Bengals, he even saw some snaps in the slot. The third wide receiver to keep an eye on is Jacoby Jones, who signed with Baltimore after spending his first five seasons with the Texans.

4. How did I make it this far without writing about Ray Rice? Other than LeSean McCoy, no back was on the field for more snaps in 2011. Rice set a career-high with 1,364 yards in 2011 and has a healthy 4.6 career YPC average. But it’s not just running the football. Rice stays on the field because he can do it all. He was targeted 104 times last season – second-most on the team – and had 76 catches for 704 yards. Rice has averaged 8.9 yards per catch in his career – that’s the same number as Eagles all-time great Brian Westbrook. In Week 1, Rice had just 10 carries, but he totaled 68 yards and a pair of scores. He also had three catches for 25 yards. And Rice will line up everywhere. On one play, he was out wide to the left of the formation and took a quick screen 18 yards. The Eagles will have to constantly account for No. 27.

5. The Ravens had a lot of moving parts on the offensive line in the preseason, but the group that started last week is a blend of youth and experience. Rookie Kelechi Osemele, a second-round pick out of Iowa State, is the starting right tackle. He’ll go up against Jason Babin, who was probably the Eagles’ best defensive lineman in the opener, notching a sack and six hurries. And Ramon Harewood made his first career start at left guard last week. Harewood, a native of Barbados, didn’t start playing football until college. He’ll likely go up against Derek Landri and Cedric Thornton.

6. At the other three spots, the Ravens have Michael Oher at left tackle, Matt Birk at center and Marshal Yanda at right guard. Oher has flip-flopped between right and left tackle in his first three seasons. Trent Cole had to go up against All-Pro Joe Thomas in Week 1, but still had four hurries. His sack was negated by a Babin penalty, and he should have an advantage against Oher. Birk is 36 and in his 14th NFL season. There were a couple plays last week where he got beaten badly. On one, the defensive tackle steamrolled him to the ground, hit Flacco and nearly forced an interception. On another, the right defensive end looped inside, crushed Birk and sacked Flacco. If the Eagles defensive line is as good as advertised, Jim Washburn’s group should be able to pressure Flacco in this one.

7. The one Ravens offensive lineman to keep an eye on is Yanda (No. 73). The sixth-year player is coming off a Pro Bowl season at right guard, and it’s going to be fun to see him match up against Fletcher Cox and Cullen Jenkins. Last week, Yanda threw some devastating blocks in the run game. Rice ran right behind him on his 7-yard touchdown run, as Yanda threw the linebacker to the ground. He also made a nice trap block on Rice’s 16-yard scamper. The Eagles limited Trent Richardson to 2.1 yards per carry in Week 1, but this is going to be a much stiffer challenge.

8. The Ravens feature two tight ends in their passing game, but they’re not always on the field together. Last week, Dennis Pitta led the team with nine targets, five catches and 73 yards, including a touchdown. He played 44 snaps. Four of Pitta’s five catches were between the numbers. That means DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks will get tested in coverage. Same goes for safeties Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman. Meanwhile, Ed Dickson had 54 catches for 528 yards and five touchdowns last season. He was targeted more than Pitta – 89 to 56 – in 2011. Dickson had a pair of catches for 22 yards on three targets in Week 1. The Ravens used two tight-end sets on 17 of 62 plays last week, or 27.4 percent of the time.

9. The linebackers will also have to deal with fullback Vonta Leach, who’s made the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons. In 2011, the Ravens went with 21 personnel (two running backs, one tight end, two wide receivers) more than any other team in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders. Just 41 percent of their runs came from single-back formations, dead-last in the NFL. While the Ravens may open things up this season, Leach is still a good player who will get on the field. In Week 1, he played 22 of 62 snaps and made an impact. He threw a great lead block on Rice’s 7-yard touchdown. Leach crushed a linebacker on a 13-yard Rice run. And he had three catches for 18 yards.

10. The no-huddle is part of the Ravens’ attack this season. According to The Baltimore Sun, they used it on 21 of 58 plays last week. Ryans’ role as the quarterback of the defense will be tested this Sunday as the defense will need to communicate and limit confusion. The Eagles’ conditioning will be put to the test too. If Flacco goes no-huddle, defensive linemen, who are usually shuffled in and out, could be asked to play more snaps in a row.

Extra point 1: Flacco threw just 12 interceptions in 542 attempts last season. He was outstanding against the Bengals (21-for-29, 299 yards, 2 TDs), but I counted three near-picks on his eight incompletions. He was also sacked three times. The key for the Eagles will be to limit big plays, pressure Flacco and take advantage when he does misfire.

Extra point 2: The Ravens ran two end arounds and one reverse against Cincinnati in the first half. Don’t be surprised if you see a few of those on Sunday.

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

Eagles DL Review: Babin Leads the Charge

Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Jason BabinHere’s a player-by-player review of how the Eagles defensive linemen performed Sunday against the Browns, after having re-watched the game. Click here to find all of the game reviews.

The Eagles kept nine defensive linemen active in Week 1. They all saw the field, although the first group played significantly more, and Brandon Graham only saw a handful of snaps.

The table below details snap counts and pass-rushing opportunities from Pro Football Focus. Sacks are self-explanatory. Hurries are official team stats kept by the Eagles coaches. And finally, you’ll see percentages based on opportunities. The reason for those is that a two-sack game for a defensive lineman who rushed the passer 30 times is different than a two-sack game for someone who had just 10 opportunities.

 
Total Snaps
Pass-Rushing Opportunities
Sacks
Sack %
Hurries
Hurry %
Jason Babin402813.6%621.4%
Trent Cole412800%414.3%
Cullen Jenkins422800%310.7%
Derek Landri332200%29.1%
Fletcher Cox301915.3%210.5%
Cedric Thornton211200%00%
Darryl Tapp211200%00%
Phillip Hunt15700%114.3%
Brandon Graham5400%125%

As you can see, Babin led the way with a sack and six hurries. He was constantly around the quarterback and looked to be at full strength, despite missing the entire preseason with a calf strain. Cole had success too going up against All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas. He had a sack taken away because of a Babin offsides penalty. Good debut for Cox, who had a sack and a couple hurries. Jenkins had three hurries, and Landri added a couple. Hunt and Graham had one each. Obviously, the small number of snaps skews the percentage.

Below is a player-by-player breakdown of how each lineman played.

Jason Babin – Excellent all-around game for Babin. Not used to seeing him make plays against the run, but Babin was strong in that aspect Sunday. He dropped Trent Richardson after a 1-yard gain in the first. In the third, the Browns ran right at him, but Babin tossed the right tackle aside and stopped Richardson after a 1-yard gain. As a pass rusher, he put a hit on Brandon Weeden on third down in the second after he released the ball. Babin probably could have been called for a flag on the play. Late in the first half, he avoided a chip and hit Weeden. Babin got good pressure off the edge, forcing Weeden to scramble on the final play of the first half. He sacked Weeden in the third. Later in the quarter, he beat the right tackle badly and hit Weeden as he threw incomplete. He and Landri crushed Weeden in the third, helping to force a bad throw.

Trent Cole – He went up against one of the best left tackles in the league but found a way to make plays. Cole beat Thomas and stripped Weeden in the first, but the play was called back because of the Babin penalty. He probably got blocked in the back on the 35-yard reverse in the second, or Cole could have had a tackle for loss. He got good pressure and a hand in Weeden’s face, helping to force an incompletion in the third. The Browns tried to block him with a tight end in the third, and Cole beat his man easily, hitting Weeden as he released the ball. I think he’s in store for a big year.

Cullen Jenkins – He played a lot of defensive end in the preseason, but Jenkins played primarily at left defensive tackle in this game. The only time he shifted outside was on 3rd-and-1 a couple times in the second quarter. Powerful play in the first half by Jenkins, stopping Richardson after a 1-yard gain on a run to the left. He looped outside and pressured Weeden on third down, helping to force an incompletion in the second. Jenkins got some pressure on Weeden, forcing him to roll to his right on third down in the third. He made a great play against the run, dropping Richardson for a 3-yard loss in the red zone in the third. And it looked like he tipped a ball at the line of scrimmage later on the same possession.

Derek Landri – He went right past the guard and hit Weeden on the 24-yard completion in the first. Something I noticed upon re-watching: On DeMeco Ryans’ tackle for loss in the second, Landri took on two offensive linemen and allowed the linebacker to attack freely. In fact, that was something I noticed throughout the game. Ryans often didn’t have to deal with linemen in his face, allowing him to make plays. That’s really encouraging, and different from last year. Landri and Babin might have saved a touchdown by nailing Weeden as he threw incomplete to the tight end, who was open in the end zone in the third.

Fletcher Cox – He played left defensive tackle with the second group, but it might only be a matter of time (as in, possibly Sunday against the Ravens) until he moves up to the first group. Cox got good push up the middle on a screen attempt that went incomplete in the second. He picked up his first career sack in the third. And it’s worth noting that with the game on the line in the fourth, he was on the field with Jenkins at defensive tackle. Cox got some pressure on the final play, looping around the left end. Against the run, he brought Richardson down after a 3-yard gain in the second. And he tackled Richardson after a 5-yard gain on the next play.

Cedric Thornton – He played right defensive tackle with the second group and had a relatively quiet game. On one play, Thornton got good penetration, forcing Richardson to cut back on a 5-yard run in the second. Richardson’s longest run went through the hole between Thornton and Tapp for 9 yards. And I believe it was Thornton who jumped offsides in the second, even though the refs called it on Cox.

Darryl Tapp – He played right defensive end with the second group and had a couple good moments. Tapp helped stop Richardson for no gain in the second. And he made a nice tackle on Richardson after a 2-yard gain in the fourth. On the downside, he picked up a 15-yard penalty for jumping on Weeden after the quarterback was already down in the third.

Phillip Hunt – He played left defensive end with the second group, but only got seven chances to rush the passer. On one play, the Browns tried to block him with a tight end and a running back, but that didn’t work as Hunt pressured Weeden, who had to throw the ball away in the second.

Brandon Graham – Only a handful of snaps for Graham. He came in at left defensive end in the second and tackled Richardson after a 5-yard run. Graham got good pressure, hitting Weeden from left defensive end late in the first half.

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

Eagles Snap Count Notes: Limited Action For Graham

The league is releasing snap count data this year, which is very helpful when reviewing games. Here are some notes from yesterday.

OFFENSE

* Clay Harbor was on the field for 36 percent of the snaps. That’s just slightly more than his number last year (33.6 percent, per PFF). Part of that had to do with the Eagles using two tight-end sets. But Harbor was also needed since the team had just four active wide receivers, and Jeremy Maclin went out on two separate occasions with injuries.

* Speaking of Maclin, he played 83 percent of the snaps. DeSean Jackson only came out on four plays. And Brent Celek only came out on six plays.

* The Eagles used fullback Stanley Havili on 18 plays (19 percent). Last year, they used a fullback 15.8 percent of the time, so just a slight increase. Rookie wide receiver Damaris Johnson played 13 snaps (14 percent). Those included 4-WR sets and also when he filled in for Maclin.

* With Dion Lewis inactive due to a hamstring injury, Bryce Brown was the backup running back, which meant he played eight snaps. The Eagles have talked about spelling LeSean McCoy a bit more this season, but yesterday was not the time to do that. He played 85 percent of the snaps (81 overall). Last year, he played 86.1 percent of the snaps.

DEFENSE

* Juan Castillo likes to point out that the Eagles have eight or nine “starting” defensive linemen since they all rotate in and out. But as I’ve pointed out before, that’s not really the case. Going back to last year, the starters play more. Below is a chart that details the snaps of the defensive linemen.

PLAYER
SNAPS
Cullen Jenkins43
Trent Cole42
Jason Babin41
Derek Landri34
Fletcher Cox29
Cedric Thornton20
Darryl Tapp20
Brandon Graham4

* As you can see, Graham was the odd man out, playing just four snaps. The Eagles had five defensive ends active, and clearly, Graham ranks behind the other four on the depth chart (for Week 1, at least). Phillip Hunt played 15 snaps (24 percent). Cullen Jenkins, Trent Cole and Jason Babin saw the most playing time. That will likely be the case during most weeks.

* Three-down player? DeMeco Ryans played 60 of 62 snaps. Mychal Kendricks 55 of 62. Akeem Jordan 20. Brian Rolle 2. And Jamar Chaney 1.

* In the secondary, Brandon Boykin was on the field for 63 percent of the snaps (39 overall) and played well. Curtis Marsh played one snap and suffered an injury. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had a shoulder issue and missed four snaps. Brandon Hughes was called on to play 12 snaps. Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman and Nnamdi Asomugha all played 100 percent of the snaps.

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

Cheat Sheet: Eagles Defense Vs. Browns Offense

Eagles cornerback Brandon BoykinEach week, I’ll post a pair of cheat sheets to get you ready for the Eagles’ upcoming opponent. The first part will focus on the Eagles’ offense against the opponent’s defense, and vice versa for the second installment.

1. Chemistry on the offensive line is important, and four of the Browns’ five starters played all 16 games together last season. Left tackle Joe Thomas, the third overall pick in 2007, has started every game since entering the league and has made the Pro Bowl five years in a row. He’s been an All-Pro each of the last three years. Trent Cole will have his hands full, but is up for the challenge. Darryl Tapp beat Thomas for a sack in the preseason. As a team, Cleveland allowed 39 sacks last year and ranked 16th in adjusted sack rate.

2. As for the rest of the line, center Alex Mack, a first-round pick in 2009, has also started every game since entering the league. Guards Jason Pinkston (left) and Shawn Lauvao (right) started every game last season. Lauvao allowed six sacks and was called for 11 penalties in 2011. Cullen Jenkins should have an advantage in that matchup. Pinkston also had his share of struggles on the left side. The only newcomer is second-round pick Mitchell Schwartz, who will line up opposite Jason Babin at right tackle. Babin, coming off an 18.5-sack season, missed all of the preseason with a calf strain, but has practiced fully this week. He could see fewer snaps than normal, though, and will be spelled by Phillip Hunt and Brandon Graham.

3. At quarterback, 28-year-old rookie Brandon Weeden will make his first start. Weeden (6-4, 221) did not have a great preseason, completing 24 of 49 passes for 297 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. He was also sacked four times. The Browns averaged just 5.8 yards per pass attempt as a team last season, 31st in the NFL. Cleveland had just 32 pass plays of 20+ yards (30th), half as many as the Eagles. Here’s Marty Mornhinweg on Weeden:

“He was one of the just pure passers coming out. I thought he just throws the ball effortlessly. He’s got a big arm. He’s just a natural passer and I can understand why Cleveland took him.”

4. The Browns have worked to revamp the skill positions on offense, but still have plenty of question marks. Last year, they went to rookie Greg Little constantly as he piled up 121 targets, tops on the team, producing mixed results. Little’s 61 catches ranked second among rookies, but his catch rate (catches per targets) of 51 percent was way too low for someone who averaged just 11.6 yards per catch and totaled six receptions of 20+ yards. Little also had 14 drops, according to Pro Football Focus, tied for second-most in the NFL. As a team, the Browns had 43 drops, most in the league.

5. On the other side, the Browns have Mohamed Massaquoi, who was a second-round pick in 2009. As a rookie, Massaquoi showed big-play ability, averaging 18.4 yards per catch. But he’s seen that number drop in each of his three NFL seasons. The same can be said for his receiving yards per game. Massaquoi started 13 games last season, but finished with just 31 catches for 384 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

6. The Browns used a second-round pick in the supplemental draft on wide receiver Josh Gordon (6-3, 224). Gordon has not played since 2010 after being dismissed from Baylor. He had six catches for 105 yards in three preseason games. Against the Eagles, Gordon made a good play on the ball, beating Nnamdi Asomugha for a 28-yard gain. Cleveland also selected speedster Travis Benjamin out of Miami in the fourth round. Benjamin (5-10, 172) ran a 4.36 at the combine. And finally, Joshua Cribbs, who has made his name on special teams, had 41 catches for 518 yards last season and led the team with 10 catches of 20+ yards.

7. In terms of matchups, the one to watch is rookie Brandon Boykin against Little in the slot. According to PFF, 65 of Little’s targets and 35.6 percent of his snaps last year were in the slot. Boykin impressed the coaches with his smarts and athleticism in the preseason, beating Joselio Hanson for the first-team nickel spot. Last year, the Browns played with three wide receivers or more 52 percent of the time, per Football Outsiders. Boykin will be expected to perform at a high level right away.

8. Probably the biggest wild card in this one is running back Trent Richardson. The third overall pick had arthroscopic knee surgery last month and has been a limited participant at practice, although he’s expected to play. The questions are: How much will he be on the field? And will he be 100 percent? At full strength, there’s little doubt that Richardson (5-9, 228) can contribute right away. The Browns’ running game was one of the worst in the league last year, averaging 3.7 yards per carry, ahead of only the Giants. If Richardson is limited, the Browns will lean on Montario Hardesty. Hardesty averaged just 3.0 yards per carry last season and did not have a single run of 20+ yards in 88 rushes.

9. DeMeco Ryans (MIKE), Mychal Kendricks (SAM) and Akeem Jordan (WILL) will be the Eagles’ starting linebackers. Kendricks is expected to stay on the field in nickel. It’s unclear whether Ryans, Jamar Chaney or someone else will join him. On the defensive line, Fletcher Cox was limited at practice Thursday because of knee inflammation. That could mean more snaps for Jenkins, Derek Landri and Cedric Thornton, who had a good summer, but has never played in an NFL game.

10. Don’t expect to see a lot of Nnamdi Asomugha lining up inside in this one. Tight end Benjamin Watson is not a big weapon at tight end, having caught 37 balls for 410 yards last season. I don’t think the Eagles gain much by putting Asomugha inside against Little.

Extra points: This will be a matchup between a terrible red-zone offense and a terrible red-zone defense. The Browns ranked 28th last year, scoring touchdowns 41.94 percent of the time. The Eagles’ D ranked 29th, allowing TDs 59.57 percent of the time. …Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman will start at safety. Jaiquawn Jarrett is likely the first backup. …Curtis Marsh is probably the first backup at cornerback should Asomugha or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie go down. …Look for rookie second-round pick Vinny Curry to be inactive.

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

How the Eagles’ Defensive Talent Stacks Up

Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Trent ColeYesterday, we went over how the Eagles’ offensive talent stacks up.

Today, let’s take a look at the defense.

I sometimes wonder if Sean McDermott looks at the moves the Eagles have made on that side of the ball the last two years and thinks: Where was this when I was the defensive coordinator?

This offseason, the Eagles used three picks in the first two rounds on defensive players. They also acquired middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans from the Texans. But is the Birds’ talent where it needs to be on defense?

Again, we reference Michael Lombardi’s annual project on NFL.com. Lombardi names blue-chip and red-chip players throughout the league. Blue-chip players rank among the top-five at their respective positions. Red-chip players rank among the top-10. On offense, the only Eagles player who got a mention was LeSean McCoy.

But Lombardi seems to like the Birds’ talent on defense a little bit more.

Trent Cole is listed as a blue-chipper, alongside Minnesota’s Jared Allen, the Giants’ Jason Pierre-Paul, Seattle’s Red Bryant and Chicago’s Julius Peppers.

Jason Babin makes the list as a red-chipper. He’s joined by the Giants’ Justin Tuck, Houston’s J.J. Watt, Miami’s Cameron Wake and Detroit’s Cliff Avril.

No Eagles made the cut at defensive tackle, although I think you could probably make the case for Cullen Jenkins as a red-chipper. It’s only one part of the equation, but his 5.5 sacks ranked sixth among defensive tackles in 2011. The Eagles, of course, are hoping that rookie Fletcher Cox reaches red-chip or blue-chip status in the next couple of years.

It’s no surprise that the Eagles were shut out at linebacker. If DeMeco Ryans can be a top-10 inside linebacker this year, Howie Roseman, Andy Reid and Juan Castillo will be thrilled.

At cornerback, despite Nnamdi Asomugha’s underwhelming first season in Philadelphia last year, he is named a red-chip player. Writes Lombardi, “Asomugha struggled in Philadelphia last year, but he is still a solid corner when he plays press coverage.”

Meanwhile, we could find out what the league thinks of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie if he hits the market as a free agent after the season.

And of course, no Eagles at safety.

Overall, per these rankings, the Eagles have two blue-chip players (McCoy and Cole) and two red-chip players (Babin and Asomugha).

Feel free to chime in below on whether you think any other defensive players deserved a mention.

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

DL Review: Tapp Makes His Case

Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Darryl TappHere’s a review of how the Eagles defensive line performed against the Browns after having re-watched Friday night’s game. Click here for the linebacker review and here for the review of the offense.

Cullen Jenkins – Once again, he started at left defensive end. The reason for that is to make the Eagles better against the run on early downs, but Jenkins hasn’t given them much as a pass rusher from that spot in the preseason. On obvious passing downs, he moved inside to right defensive tackle.

Fletcher Cox – Played left defensive tackle with the first team, but had a quiet night. Can’t say I was focused in on him, but Cox was not credited with a tackle.

Derek Landri – He certainly made the most of his limited snaps. Landri got in the backfield and tripped Montario Hardesty up for a 4-yard loss. Good hustle to bring Hardesty down after a 2-yard gain later in first. Good penetration on another run play inside the 5, drawing a holding penalty. And of course, there was the sack and forced fumble in the red zone on the first possession. The guard let him go because Cleveland was running a screen, but Landri was still able to get to Brandon Weeden.

Trent Cole – He put the finishing touches on Hardesty for a 4-yard loss in the first and recovered the Weeden fumble after the Landri sack. You know exactly what you’re getting from Cole on every snap – whether it’s at training camp, the preseason or the playoffs.

Phillip Hunt – If we’re handing out an award for best defensive lineman in the preseason, I think Hunt probably gets it. Good pressure on Weeden from left defensive end, before the QB stepped up and completed a pass to Mohamed Massaquoi in the first. Hunt came unblocked from RDE and hit Weeden, forcing an incompletion in the red zone in the second. Impressive job by him and Brandon Graham, sandwiching Colt McCoy for a sack in the second. Oh, and did you notice who made the tackle at the 14 on kickoff coverage late in the first quarter? It was Hunt.

Darryl Tapp – Browns left tackle Joe Thomas has made five Pro Bowls and been named first-team All-Pro three times. Tapp beat him cleanly, sacking Weeden and stripping the football in the first. He also recovered a Hardesty fumble in the first. I still have a difficult time seeing the Eagles just cut him. The guess here is a trade, or they keep him and go heavy on the defensive line.

Brandon Graham – On the first two series’, Graham was not part of the defensive line rotation with the starters. But when he got in the game, he played well. He was unblocked, but still did a good job to not bite on play-action, pressuring Weeden in the first. Graham went right past tackle Mitchell Schwartz to sack Weeden on 3rd-and-1. He got pretty good pressure off the edge in the red zone, forcing Weeden to step up. He was unblocked on third down in the second and forced Weeden to roll to his right and throw incomplete. Graham got good pressure on a 2nd-and-6 completion in the second. And he and Hunt combined for the sack I mentioned above. So far, good signs all around for Graham this preseason.

Antonio Dixon – Still don’t see much from him as a pass rusher. It looked like Dixon clogged the initial hole on the play where Hardesty cut back and fumbled. Dixon was called for an offsides penalty on third down in the first. That happened quite a bit at Lehigh. He’s on the bubble.

Cedric Thornton – Thornton was in on the hit with Ryan Rau where Hardesty fumbled in the first. He was called for unnecessary roughness on one play, but drew a holding penalty on the next. There was a big hole between Thornton and Dixon on Hardesty’s 6-yard run in the second. He stopped Brandon Jackson for no gain in the second with the Browns backed up inside their own 5. He’s making the team.

Vinny Curry – The rookie came in at right defensive end in the second and was in on four tackles. He brought Jackson down after a 4-yard gain in the second. He and Rau stopped Adonis Thomas for no gain in the third. And Curry stopped Thomas for no gain on another play. He was caught way upfield on a 9-yard run right at him and also called for an offsides penalty. Barring an injury to one of the guys ahead of him, it looks like Curry will probably be one of the gameday inactives once the season starts.

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

Reid Reluctant To Part With Defensive Linemen

You can feel Andy Reid’s grip growing tighter. The closer it gets to cut-down day, the harder he clasps onto his collection of talent along the defensive front.

“You know how I feel about that. If I can keep them all, I will,” said Reid. “As many as you can keep. I think that’s an important position. Put a lot of responsibility on them. We’ll have to see how the numbers turn out, but I don’t like giving up good defensive linemen.”

The Eagles need to get their roster number from 90 to 53 by August 31. There are currently 11 defensive linemen that have done enough to earn a roster spot (and that’s assuming Mike Patterson starts the season on PUP). For a refresher, they are: Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Fletcher Cox, Derek Landri, Brandon Graham, Darryl Tapp, Phillip Hunt, Vinny Curry, Cedric Thornton and  Antonio Dixon. That’s over 20 percent of the roster.

It’s a particularly tricky situation at defensive end, where you have six legitimate contenders to go with Jenkins, who has been working with the first team at left end while Babin continues to work back from a calf injury.

“I’m used to playing D-tackle,” said Jenkins. “End is something I need more learning reps at. So they’re just trying to work me in, get me more learning reps.”

Those reps are affecting the current rotation. On Friday against the Browns, Jenkins played opposite Cole with the first team, followed by the pairing of Hunt and Tapp. Hunt had a half-sack and two quarterback hits, and continues to show explosiveness off the ball. Tapp was a menace himself. He blew up a running play with six minutes left in the opening quarter and forced a Montario Hardesty fumble, which he recovered.

Graham got no snaps with the first unit but certainly made his presence felt when he got the call. The former first-round pick was credited with 1.5 sacks, two tackles for a loss and a pair of quarterback hits. He and Hunt combined for a simultaneous blast on Colt McCoy  at the end of the first half, dropping the QB for a 10-yard loss. Even though they are pitted against one another in a sense, Graham seemed to thoroughly enjoy teaming up with Hunt for the takedown.

“That sandwich is better,” said Graham. “We talked about it just before the play. We said, ‘Man, I’ll meet you at the quarterback,’ and we actually did.”

Graham said the coaching staff may simply be getting Jenkins ready to play defensive end in short-yardage situations, but acknowledged that he is fueled by the competition.

“I don’t know what coach is going to do, but I know that I’m going to show them that I can get in there too,” said Graham. “It motivates me a lot. That’s why every time I get plays I go as hard as I can and let them know, to build that trust. I haven’t been playing so I understand the trust might not be there because I haven’t been in the game and he don’t know what I can do, but I took this preseason to gain the confidence of Coach Wash.”

The idea of Tapp being moved in a trade has been thrown around. He is set to earn around $2.6 million this season and is a free agent next year. Graham, who signed a five-year, $22 million contract in 2010, is making a base of around $1 million.

Would they deal one of their ends to gain strength in another spot? There’s an argument for holding on – and tightly – to all of them.

“Depth is something you want at defensive line, especially in this system,” said Jenkins. “You want to have guys you can rotate in and out and have fresh guys on the field. That’s something that you expect to have, that you need to have.”

Jenkins, Reid Talk Three Separate Times After Spat

Yes, Andy Reid and Cullen Jenkins are back on speaking terms. They are speaking quite a lot, actually.

Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins.Since their sideline spat, which was captured by television crews on Monday Night Football, player and coach have talked on three separate occasions. The first was in-game. Next was on the plane ride back from New England, then again on Wednesday morning right after Reid’s press conference.

“I apologized to him on the plane and we talked a little bit. He talked about how he needs me, this team needs me to step up and be there,” said Jenkins.  “Then we came in today and I saw him, I actually think it was coming off the press conference with you guys, and I apologized to him again about it. He joked with me, ‘Yeah they’re coming to get you now.’”

Jenkins was remorseful and his answers well thought out, but he also offered some levity as he took on the media at his locker. The first question was whether he thought Reid came at him because he’s a leader.

“Nah, I think it’s more because I’m black,” Jenkins joked.

The veteran defensive tackle didn’t get into specifics about the heated conversation, but offer this interpretation:

“He was just trying to control things on the side. Just trying to make sure everything was going the right way. It was getting a little emotional earlier and he was just trying to control things,” he said.

Apparently this is not the first time Jenkins has flown off the handle. Normally an even-keeled guy, he can let his emotions get the better of him on game day.

“I’ve been talked to in the past about trying to calm down and not expend too much unnecessary energy, whether it be at the refs or things on the sidelines,” he said.

Jenkins woke up the next morning and gave an, “Oh, Sh…” His family had been watching the game the night before and the TV was still on ESPN. The incident was being splashed on his screen and all across the free world.

“In the end it turns out to be a distraction,” said Jenkins. “In the end it doesn’t prove anything. It turns out  to be something that now they’re talking about it on TV and it proves to be a distraction towards the team, or more rumors about what is or isn’t going on here. That’s not what you strive to do or what you want.”

Reid doesn’t necessarily see the heated interaction as a negative.

“I like a little fire. That’s OK, that’s alright,” said Reid. “It means something to him. He’s one of the leaders of that group. I get it. I understand.”

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