All-22: Why the Eagles’ Pass-Rush Is Struggling

Here’s an All-22 look at the issues plaguing the Eagles’ pass rush, with a focus on last week’s performance against the Falcons.

Play 1: The Eagles got the Falcons in a 3rd-and-8 on their first possession and sent a blitz. Both linebackers (DeMeco Ryans and Casey Matthews) went after Ryan. Nobody got close to the quarterback.


One-on-one blocks all around, and look at that pocket. Granted, Ryan got rid of the ball quickly, but I would bet the Eagles haven’t given Michael Vick a pocket like this against a six-man pressure all season.

Meanwhile, the Falcons set up with a bunch look to the left. The Eagles appeared to be in man coverage with two deep safeties, but there was one problem: No one accounted for Drew Davis, who was left wide open.


The result is a 15-yard completion and a Falcons first down. After the game, Todd Bowles took responsibility for making a bad call on the first drive. This could have been the play he was talking about.

Play 2: Another clean pocket in the first for Ryan. Here, he finds Tony Gonzalez for an 11-yard completion.


The Falcons kept a running back in to block, and the Eagles only rushed four. But check out Trent Cole. One-on-one with Sam Baker, and he’s nowhere close to affecting the play.

Now is a good time to address the “He got rid of the ball quickly” argument. Last year, J.J. Cooper of Football Outsiders tracked how many “quick sacks” various defensive linemen had. These were sacks that occurred in 2.5 seconds or less from when the ball was snapped. Jason Babin had eight of those, and Cole had five.

Pretty much any time I’ve interviewed a defensive lineman in the past two years, he’s talked about the need to get off the ball quickly to be effective in Jim Washburn’s system. In other words, the pass-rush is supposed to account for quarterbacks getting rid of the ball quickly. That doesn’t always translate into sacks, but it should mean making life difficult for the opposing offense. That’s not happening nearly enough right now.

On the play above, Ryan got rid of the ball in under three seconds, but the Eagles made it pretty easy for him.

Play 3: On the first touchdown, the key was Julio Jones (red circle). Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Kurt Coleman reacted to a possible WR screen as Davis ran right past them.


By the time they realized he was behind them, it was too late. Touchdown.


Again, it didn’t help that Ryan again had a clean pocket. The Falcons kept in seven to block. Babin got a one-on-one, although that was probably because he rushed off the edge. As you can see, he and the Eagles’ other linemen got nowhere near Ryan.


But the touchdown here was clearly on the coverage.

Play 4: Tim already did a good job of breaking down the Jones 63-yard touchdown against Nnamdi Asomugha, but again, look at the pocket for Ryan.


He once again got rid of the ball in under three seconds, so it would have been difficult to sack him, but Eagles defensive linemen are nowhere near him. Brandon Graham got chipped. Derek Landri initially faced a double-team, and then the guard moved to Darryl Tapp. To be fair, it didn’t help that Ryan often had his first read open. On all levels, this was just too easy for the quarterback.

Play 5: Here, it’s another 11-yard completion to Gonzalez. Ryan again gets rid of the ball in under three seconds. But the pocket is clean.


Cullen Jenkins was double-teamed. Everybody else had one-on-ones. You can make the case that Cole got held, but Babin isn’t close to Ryan. Again, too easy for the quarterback.

Play 6: So, if the quarterback’s getting rid of the ball quickly and you’re not getting pressure with the front four, what do you do? One option is to blitz. Overall, the Eagles blitzed seven times – not really an increase from what we saw in the first six games. I showed one of them earlier. Here’s another.

The Eagles send six (Mychal Kendricks and Ryans), but no one gets a hand on Ryan. The blitz goes up the middle, setting up one-on-ones for both ends, but Ryan hits Roddy White on the drag route for 14 yards.

Play 7: It probably goes without saying, but the back end plays a critical role in pressure. Take a look at this play near the end of the first half. Asomugha has single coverage on Jones, and the Falcons try a double-move. Asomugha doesn’t bite, the Eagles pressure Ryan, and they drop him after a 1-yard scramble.

Here, you see that the coverage was good, leading to pressure on the quarterback. Rather than blitzing, this is probably the Eagles’ best option for fixing the pass-rush. Cover better, make the quarterback hold the ball, and give the defensive line more time to get home.

Play 8: Another example here of how this is supposed to work. Graham bull-rushes the right tackle and makes things difficult for Ryan.

Ryan has a receiver open, but the defensive line makes it hard to get rid of the football, so he has to scramble.

And it’s not as if Ryan held onto the ball here. The first image was captured about 1.9 seconds after the ball was snapped. Graham just got to him quickly.

Play 9: In the third quarter, Cole shows he’s capable of doing the same, beating Baker one-on-one and forcing Ryan out of the pocket.

The pressure got there in about 2.1 seconds. It sounds simple, and it is. One way to fix the pass-rush: Get there faster! Again, they did so in 2011. They’re not doing so enough this year.

Play 10: In the red zone in the third, Cedric Thornton breaks the sack drought with a pressure up the middle.

Did Ryan hold on to the ball too long? Nope. This sack took place in about 2.2 seconds. You can see the right guard is pushed back into Ryan’s face. He wanted to go White, but Asomugha had good coverage.

Once again, evidence that the front end and the back end have to work together for this defense to be successful.

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Eagles Wake-Up Call: Trade Deadline Approaches

Philadelphia Eagles running back Dion Lewis.The NFL trade deadline will likely come and go today at 4 p.m. (EST) without much of a splash.

What are the chances the Eagles make a deal?

The answer is probably slim, but don’t rule out the possibility altogether. Scanning the roster, you can certainly find areas where the Birds could use some help. Offensive line and safety depth are the two that come to mind. A good special-teams player, regardless of position, would be helpful also. The problem is teams are unlikely to unload quality players who can contribute right away at this point in the season.

As for the Eagles, running back and defensive line are a couple areas where they could look to deal someone. Dion Lewis, for example, has been inactive for six of seven games, as Bryce Brown continues to serve as the team’s backup running back. Chris Polk has played special teams only and has not produced there for Bobby April. My guess is either guy could probably be had, but would a team give something up for Lewis or Polk? I’m not so sure.

On the defensive line, one name to keep an eye on is Darryl Tapp. Tapp has filled in for Trent Cole at right defensive end and has played 31.6 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps, per Pro Football Focus. But Jim Washburn could give those snaps to Brandon Graham, Phillip Hunt or second-round pick Vinny Curry, who has yet to dress for a game this season.

Also keep in mind that the Eagles currently have 10 defensive linemen on their 53-man roster. They could very well add Mike Patterson (returned to practice last week) soon. Eleven would be a lot to keep, so you could see a preemptive move here.

The Eagles have made a trade (or tried to make a trade) near the deadline in each of the past three seasons. Last year, they tried to trade Ronnie Brown to the Lions for Jerome Harrison, but Harrison was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and the deal didn’t go through. In 2010, they traded Mike Bell to Cleveland for Harrison. And in 2009, they sent a draft pick and wide receiver Brandon Gibson to the Rams in exchange for linebacker Will Witherspoon.

So don’t rule out the possibility of the Eagles making a move today.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Tim and I went All-22 crazy yesterday. He broke down Nnamdi Asomugha’s performance from last week, and I took a look at why the Eagles’ offense was a mess.

Andy Reid announced that Michael Vick will start Monday night against the Saints.

Here’s the weekly roundup of what the national media are saying about the Eagles.

And finally, Tim wonders whether Jeffrey Lurie was listening to the fans at the Linc last week.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Don Banks of SI.com has the Eagles 16th in his power rankings:

The Eagles’ problems at offensive line create so many ripple effects, but one of them is a passing game that doesn’t seem to challenge anyone vertically any more. Most of what Michael Vick has time to complete is underneath these days, and that means it takes Philly going on long and methodical drives to score. And given Vick’s penchant for mistakes in the season’s first seven games, long, methodical drives are in short supply.

Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com, a former scout for the Eagles, thinks it might be time to give Nick Foles a shot:

Vick played soundly in the final four games of the 2011 season. He made quick decisions, protected the football and took what the defense gave him. He utilized tight end Brent Celek and took advantage of opposing safeties lining up extremely deep. I thought that I would see that version of Michael Vick this season, but that hasn’t been the case. In 2012, Vick hasn’t been getting the ball out on time. He’s forcing too many throws into coverage and failing to protect the ball as a runner.

There has been a lot of speculation that Eagles coach Andy Reid could make a change at quarterback in the very near future. Rookie signal-caller Nick Foles played well during the preseason; now might be the right time to see what he can do in a regular-season setting.

COMING UP

The Eagles are back at Novacare preparing for the Saints. We’ll hear from Andy Reid and the players, so be sure to check back early and often.

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Eagles DL Review: Where Are Cole And Babin?

Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Jason BabinThrough seven games, it’s official: Any conversation about why the Eagles are struggling has to include a mention of the defensive line’s lack of production.

It’s true that sacks aren’t everything, and that the front four can affect the game in other ways. We’ve shown that with the All-22 on several occasions. But Jim Washburn’s group just hasn’t been good enough, and the lack of production has been stunning when you consider pretty much the entire organizational philosophy was built around getting pressure from the defensive line.

It’s not as if the Eagles stood pat either. In the offseason, they actually bolstered the unit, spending a first-round pick on Fletcher Cox, who has been their best defensive tackle. They also got a healthy Brandon Graham back, and he has been one of their more productive pass-rushers.

But as a whole, there’s been a huge dropoff. Against the Falcons, I didn’t see a lot of max-protect. Tony Gonzalez stayed in to block just three times, per Pro Football Focus. Atlanta’s backs chipped on occasion, but my guess is they do that every week. Matt Ryan got rid of the ball quickly at times, but he also had all day when he needed it. Per PFF, Ryan was 5-for-7 on passes that traveled 10 yards or more from the line of scrimmage. Combine that with Atlanta’s success on screens, and it’s no wonder that Ryan picked the Eagles apart.

There were a couple minor tweaks in personnel. Graham played more, and Jason Babin played less. Cox, who has played starter’s snaps all season, was actually on the field alongside Cullen Jenkins to begin the game.

Here’s how the production looked. If you’re new to this weekly breakdown, “Hurries” are a stat tracked by Eagles coaches after they look at the tape. And “Pressure Percentage” is how often a player notches a sack or hurry, taken opportunities into account.

 
Pass-Rushing Opportunities
Sacks
Hurries
Pressure Percentage
Trent Cole33026.1%
Cullen Jenkins291417.2%
Fletcher Cox24000%
Cedric Thornton19105.3%
Brandon Graham180211.1%
Jason Babin18015.6%
Derek Landri14000%
Darryl Tapp8000%

I’ll get to the player-by-player breakdown below, but a couple things stand out here. Cole and Babin combined for three hurries and three tackles. That’s not even close to good enough. The four Eagles defensive ends (throw in Graham and Darryl Tapp) had five hurries and no sacks. To put that into perspective, Cole had a sack and eight hurries by himself against Atlanta last year.

Other than Jenkins, the Eagles got little pass-rush production from their defensive tackles – one sack and zero hurries from the other three guys (Derek Landri, Cox and Cedric Thornton).

Here’s the player-by-player breakdown:

Jason Babin – Saw his playing time cut drastically and did not produce when he was on the field. No sacks, one hurry and zero tackles. He had not dropped back into coverage once all season (per PFF), and when Babin did so in the first, he was called for defensive holding on third down. Huge play that allowed the Falcons to continue their drive and eventually score a touchdown. He rushed upfield and got taken to the ground as Ryan scrambled for 10 yards in the second. Babin couldn’t get off Tony Gonzalez’s block as Jacquizz Rodgers found a big lane between him and Jenkins for 10 yards in the second. He fell for the fake handoff as Julio Jones took the end around for 9 yards to his side. Babin bit on the fake toss to Jones, allowing Ryan to shovel the ball to Jason Snelling for an 8-yard gain on 3rd-and-3. He doesn’t give the Eagles much against the run, so if Babin fails to produce a pass-rusher, he’ll likely see his snaps continue to shrink.

Trent Cole – He abused left tackle Sam Baker in last year’s matchup but was mostly a non-factor this time around. Cole was credited with two hurries. The most notable was when he chased Ryan out of the pocket in the red zone in the third, helping to force an incompletion. Cole had three tackles. He dropped Rodgers after a 3-yard run in the first. And he helped bring Michael Turner down after a gain of 4 in the second. Simply not playing at the level Eagles fans have come to expect over the years.

Brandon Graham – He got more snaps, but did not set the world on fire as a pass-rusher with just two hurries. Graham, however, was good against the run. He had six tackles – more than Babin or Cole have achieved in a single game all season. Graham tackled Turner after a 3-yard gain and then after a 1-yard run. He brought Rodgers down after a 1-yard pickup and had another stop for no gain. On the second touchdown (the screen to Snelling), the Falcons left him unblocked. Graham was close to Ryan, and a hand up might have at least made Ryan’s throw more difficult. As a pass-rusher, Graham chased Ryan out of the pocket and forced an incompletion in the third. He had a good bull-rush on the next play, but Ryan scrambled for 7 yards. I’d expect him to continue to get more snaps in Babin’s place.

Darryl Tapp – Not a factor on defense. Not a lot of chances, but zero hurries vs. the Falcons and just one in his last two games.

Fletcher Cox – According to the coaches’ stats, he had 11 tackles, the most of any Eagles defensive lineman all year. Some of those showed up on TV, but I’m guessing his impact will be more evident when the All-22 is released. Defensive tackles don’t get too many opportunities for interceptions, but Cox couldn’t hold on to the one that was right in his hands on the first possession. He tackled Snelling after a 5-yard dumpoff in the first. And Cox showed his athleticism, hustling to get to Jones on a WR screen, but he couldn’t bring the WR down as he picked up 37. Cox dropped Turner for a 1-yard loss in the third. He’s the Eagles’ best DT against the run, but is still inconsistent as a pass-rusher (zero hurries). On the season, Cox has 34 tackles, the most of any Eagles defensive lineman.

Cullen Jenkins – He was easily the team’s best pass-rusher in this one. Jenkins got a “gimme” sack late as Ryan just went down to keep the clock running. But he also had four hurries earlier. Jenkins was all over Turner on the screen where Cox nearly had the interception. He got good pressure on the third down where Babin was called for holding. He dropped Rodgers for a 2-yard loss in the first and pressured Ryan on third-and-goal in the red zone. Jenkins brought Ryan down after a 1-yard scramble. Later in the game, he started lining up at left defensive end in place of Babin and Graham.

Derek Landri – Not sure if he’s injured, but Landri has been a non-factor as a pass-rusher. He had zero hurries for the second straight game. He has one hurry in the last three and three hurries in the last five. He did have five tackles. Landri dropped Turner for a loss of 2 after Thornton got in the backfield. He and Kurt Coleman dropped Turner after a 1-yard gain in the second. Landri was initially double-teamed, but got no pressure at all on Ryan on the 63-yard touchdown to Jones. He nearly sacked Ryan in the second, but couldn’t bring him down behind the line of scrimmage.

Cedric Thornton – He’s showing signs of improvement. Thornton had a career-high eight tackles (six solo) and ended the Eagles’ sack drought with a takedown of Ryan. He got great penetration, but missed a tackle in the first as Landri cleaned up. Good hustle throughout from Thornton. He brought Turner down from behind after a gain of 6 on a screen in the first. He chased Rodgers down after a gain of 5 on another screen. And he was the one who finally tackled Rodgers after a 43-yard gain in the third. Thornton also stopped Turner after a 1-yard gain in the third.

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D-Line Diagnosis: Where Are the Sacks?

When asked last week why the Eagles’ defense has been unable to come up with more sacks, Todd Bowles pointed to four specific things.

“Part of the time, the ball is coming out quick,” he said. “Part of the time they’re max protecting. Part of the time we have to beat one-on-ones. Part of the time, coaching-wise, we have to scheme it better and help those guys get free.”

Let’s take a look at those four things individually.

Matthew Stafford consistently got rid of the ball quickly last week. But here’s the thing: For much of the game, that played right into the Eagles’ hands. Because of Stafford’s lack of patience and his focus on getting the ball out of his hands, he missed several opportunities at big plays downfield (see the All-22 breakdown here). And he also threw a lot of incompletions on the shorter/intermediate routes.

According to Pro Football Focus, before last week, Stafford was completing 77.1 percent of his passes between 0 and 10 yards. Against the Eagles, he completed just 12 of 22, or 54.5 percent. In other words, it’s not as if the defense was just giving up the shorter plays and allowing the Lions to methodically march down the field. They took a good number of those away. On the season, opposing quarterbacks are completing just 52.7 percent of their passes against the Eagles. That’s the best mark in the league. The secondary gets credit for that, but pressure, or even the possibility of pressure, has factored in also.

Bowles also talked about max-protecting. I showed this in the All-22 breakdown, but in case you missed it, here are a couple images.

In both cases, eight blockers against four defensive linemen. Tough to get to the quarterback in these situations. The Eagles simply have to rely on their coverage. It’s not that the Lions max-protected all game, but they chose their spots, specifically on plays downfield. I’d expect other teams to do the same going forward.

Bowles also talked about scheming better and helping the pass-rushers get free. Some might think that means increased blitzing. But I’d be surprised if the Eagles started to send a lot of extra pressure at opposing quarterbacks. The point of bringing Jim Washburn and the wide-nine was to generate pressure from the front four and not have to blitz. The Eagles have enough talent on the defensive line where they should still be able to do that.

“If it works, it’s great. If it’s not, don’t do it,” Bowles said, when asked about his philosophy on blitzing.

In other words, you might see more of it some weeks than others. It all depends on the opponent and the game-plan.

Something Washburn said the other week caught my attention too.

“We used to watch [Bears linebackers Brian] Urlacher and [Lance] Briggs,” Washburn said, via Paul Domowitch of the Daily News. “They’d stand up there in the A-gap. The other team would be scared to death to chip the ends. Urlacher and Briggs rarely came, but their presence standing up there in the A-gap affected what the offense did.”

It might not always be blitzing, but perhaps the threat of blitzing would help create space for the defensive ends.

And finally, winning one-on-one. That’s a simple way of saying the defensive linemen need to play better and take advantage of opportunities that present themselves.

Keeping all that in mind, below is the table we use every week to measure pass-rushing production. It takes into account opportunities (courtesy of Pro Football Focus), sacks and hurries (as tracked by the coaches). It also shows pressure percentage, which is simply the frequency with which each player notches a sack or a hurry.

 
Pass-Rushing Opportunities
Sacks
Hurries
Pressure Percentage
Jason Babin1852.52314.1%
Trent Cole1851.52313.5%
Cullen Jenkins1720148.1%
Fletcher Cox1521N/AN/A
Derek Landri114097.9%
Cedric Thornton83022.4%
Darryl Tapp730.5711.0%
Brandon Graham440.51331.8%
Phillip Hunt28027.1%

What stands out here? Let’s start with the defensive ends. Cole and Babin have combined for just four sacks. Their hurries and opportunities are identical. Both guys have track records of being productive pass-rushers. If Bowles and Washburn can scheme a way to get them more one-on-one opportunities, the sacks and turnovers are likely to follow.

It also seems like Graham is long overdue to get more snaps. On a per-play basis, he’s been easily their most productive pass-rusher. Graham played 24.4 percent of the snaps against the Lions. That number’s got to increase.

Some have asked about second-round pick Vinny Curry getting a shot. I’d have no problem with that. If he’s going to play, it’d almost definitely be for Tapp at right defensive end. Or he could step in for Hunt as the ninth lineman on gamedays, but Hunt plays special teams too.

At defensive tackle, you’ll notice the table is not filled out completely for Cox. That’s because there was a mix-up with his hurry numbers that I’m working to get clarification on.

With 14 hurries, Jenkins has been fine, but the Eagles are getting nothing out of Thornton and Landri.

Landri has nine hurries, but has struggled recently with just three in the last four games. And Thornton has just two hurries all season. Getting more interior pressure is critical going forward.

Note: Soon after I Tweeted out the link to this piece, Derek from Iggles Blog asked about the possibility of going with a 4-DE nickel look. That’d be one way to get Graham on the field more, especially considering what little pass-rush production the Eagles are currently getting from their defensive tackles.

Other than potentially getting Curry into the mix, I don’t see any personnel changes being made here. But getting more production out of this group has to be high on the list of priorities going into the final 10 games.

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

DL Production: Time For Graham To Get More Snaps?

Going into last week’s game, the Eagles appeared to have a big advantage with their defensive line going up against the Steelers offensive line.

But when the teams actually played, Jim Washburn’s group didn’t have much of an impact, failing to get to Ben Roethlisberger and giving up big plays in the run game all day long.

So what happened? Here’s the weekly review of the Eagles defensive line. Let’s start with the numbers:

 
Total Snaps
Pass-Rushing Opportunities
Hurries
Pressure Percentage
Jason Babin522913.4%
Trent Cole502727.4%
Fletcher Cox462800%
Cullen Jenkins422727.4%
Derek Landri311300%
Cedric Thornton291200%
Darryl Tapp2211327.3%
Brandon Graham1811545.5%
Phillip Hunt6200%

You’ll notice there’s no column for sacks because, well, the Eagles didn’t have any for the second straight week. But this performance was far different from the previous week’s one against the Giants. The defensive line absolutely had an impact in that game. In this one, the Eagles did not get enough consistent pressure on Roethlisberger, and when they got close, they were unable to bring him down. To be fair, that’s one of his greatest strengths as a quarterback.

As for the numbers, you’ll see a lot of zeroes across the board. But the guy that should jump out here is Brandon Graham. He played 18 snaps and had 11 opportunities to rush the passer. In that time, Graham led the team with five hurries. Keep in mind that hurries are a stat kept by the team’s coaches, not by me or a league statistician. While the rest of the defensive linemen struggled, Graham got to the quarterback more than 45 percent of the time. He’s jumped ahead of Phillip Hunt in terms of playing time, but Graham needs to get on the field more.

One other thing you’ll notice is the Eagles’ lack of interior pressure. Other than Cullen Jenkins, the defensive tackles really were a non-factor when it came to getting to Roethlisberger. Perhaps because of that, we saw some different looks up front with Trent Cole and Jason Babin lined up inside on a few occasions.

Below is the player-by-player breakdown with some more notes:

Jason Babin – Quiet game with no sacks and one hurry. Jimmy Kempski over at Blogging the Beast took a detailed look at how the Steelers blocked Babin. He was chipped or double-teamed just five times all game. In other words, this was not a case of Pittsburgh consistently using extra blockers against him. As for individual plays, Babin showed great hustle, bringing Rashard Mendenhall down after a 24-yard gain (even though the play was called back). The refs missed a blatant holding call as Heath Miller threw Babin to the ground on Roethlisberger’s 9-yard run during the Steelers’ first scoring drive. Babin lined up in a few different places, including right defensive end and left defensive tackle. He got some pressure off the edge, but Roethliberger stepped up and found Chris Rainey for a 6-yard completion. He forced Roethlisberger to step up and throw incomplete on third down in the third. And Babin got his hand on Roethlisberger, but couldn’t bring him down on the big 3rd-and-12 conversion that went for 20 yards in the fourth. Against the run, Babin got blocked by Miller on a 7-yard Mendenhall run in the third.

Trent Cole – Also a quiet game – no sacks and just two hurries. Jordan Raanan of Bleeding Green Nation charted Cole’s snaps and found that he faced a chip or double-team on nine of 30 pass-rushing attempts. In other words, he had plenty of one-on-one chances. Cole got a hand on Roethlisberger in the second, but couldn’t bring him down on what turned out to be a 9-yard scramble. He lined up in different spots, including inside at defensive tackle. Cole hit Roethlisberger after he stepped up on third down in the third.

Fletcher Cox – Probably his least productive game of the season, although I have to take a look at the All-22 to see how often Cox was double-teamed. Cox got some pressure on Roethlisberger on a third down in the third. On one play, he lined up off the line of scrimmage, standing up, and got a running start. But overall, he struggled to get to the quarterback. Against the run, Cox got blocked on Mendenhall’s 9-yard run. He got blocked (and maybe held) on Isaac Redman’s 13-yard run in the third. Overall, three tackles, including one on Redman after a 2-yard run in the fourth.

Cullen Jenkins – He was easily the Eagles’ best interior pass rusher. Jenkins got decent pressure on a twist around Babin in the first, forcing Roethlisberger to step up. He drew a holding penalty on third down in the first as Willie Colon tackled him to the ground. Jenkins nearly had a sack, but drew a holding penalty instead late in the first half. He lined up at defensive end on a couple occasions. Against the run, Jenkins stopped Mendenhall for no gain in the first.

Derek Landri – Not a good game. Zero hurries, and Landri got blocked on several of the Steelers’ big run plays. Mendenhall ran in Landri’s direction for gains of 5 and 17 in the third. He got blocked on Mendenhall’s 9-yard run in the third and again on Redman’s 13-yard run. The good moments: Landri got his hand on a screen in the third and tackled Rainey after a 6-yard completion. He starts, but as you can see from the snap counts above, Cox consistently plays more.

Cedric Thornton – He was OK. Thornton dropped Rainey for no gain in the first and drew a holding penalty on a run play in the fourth. Thornton also did a good job helping to stop a Redman 4-yard run on the final drive.

Darryl Tapp – The coaches credited him with three hurries, second-most on the team, although I didn’t see him have much of an impact, other than earning a personal foul for unnecessary roughness in the first.

Brandon Graham – Mentioned him above. Graham led the team with five hurries. He hit Roethlisberger as he released the ball on a first-quarter incompletion. He charged through a double-team and hit him again, forcing Roethlisberger to throw it away in the second. Fox didn’t show a good replay, but this was the play where Roethlisberger had something to say to Graham afterwards. Graham drove Miller back with relative ease and pressured Roethlisberger into dumping it off for a 2-yard loss, but Nnamdi Asomugha was called for holding on the play. Made the most of his opportunities once again.

Phillip Hunt – He hasn’t had a lot of opportunities, but Hunt has just two hurries on the season. Played only six snaps against Pittsburgh.

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DL Review: Did Eagles’ Pass-Rush Get To Kolb?

Philadelphia Eagles defensive line coach Jim WashburnIn Sunday’s matchup against the Cardinals, the Eagles’ defensive line accounted for three sacks, but Jim Washburn’s group managed just six hurries.

As a point of comparison, the defensive line had 24 hurries against Joe Flacco and 19 against Brandon Weeden.

The reasons? For starters, Kevin Kolb only dropped back to pass 29 times. And often, his goal was to get rid of the ball quickly. While Kolb hit on the one 37-yard touchdown to Larry Fitzgerald, most of his throws were on short-to-intermediate routes.

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 pressure percentage simply shows how often each player notched either a sack or a hurry.

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

 
Total Snaps
Pass-Rushing Opportunities
Sacks
Hurries
Pressure Percentage
Derek Landri3917000%
Jason Babin35211.5323,8%
Trent Cole34200.5215.0%
Fletcher Cox3316016.3%
Cullen Jenkins3019015.3%
Cedric Thornton288000%
Darryl Tapp2890.5011.1%
Brandon Graham1760.5016.7%
Phillip Hunt123000%

Those are the numbers. Below is the player-by-player breakdown:

Jason Babin – He led the Eagles with 1.5 sacks and three hurries. Babin lined up like a blitzing linebacker and rushed unblocked, splitting a sack with Cole in the first. The Eagles showed the same look on the next third down, but only rushed four, instead of six (like the first time). Babin hit Kolb and nearly had a sack, but he flipped the ball to Fitzgerald. His pressure forced Kolb to scramble on third down in the third. And Babin showed good hustle, chasing and tackling Kolb 1 yard short of the first-down marker on the play. The offensive lineman pushed Babin into Kolb for a sack in the third. Against the run, he tackled Beanie Wells after a 2-yard run in the first. And Babin tackled LaRod Stephens-Howling for a 2-yard loss, somehow avoiding a horse-collar penalty.

Cullen Jenkins – Relatively quiet game for Jenkins. He pressured Kolb out of the pocket and forced him to throw the ball away in the second for his only hurry. A huge hole opened up between Jenkins and Cox on Ryan Williams’ 25-yard run on the 3rd-and-17 draw in the fourth.

Derek Landri – Played more snaps than any other defensive lineman, but was also relatively quiet. Landri dropped Williams for a 1-yard loss in the first. No sacks, no hurries.

Trent Cole – Solid game, but I thought Cole would dominate in this one. He lined up like a blitzing linebacker and steamrolled the center, splitting a sack with Babin in the first. Cole let Kolb spin out of his grasp on the 79-yard pass to Andre Roberts that was called back. I can’t imagine he was excited about dropping back into coverage on 3rd-and-8 in the first. Kolb completed a 12-yard pass to Roberts on the play. Cole and Cox dropped Stephens-Howling for a 1-yard loss in the fourth. And he stopped Wells after a 2-yard run in the first.

Fletcher Cox – He left the game in the second because of a migraine, but would return. Good penetration, forcing a Wells cutback on a 5-yard run in the second. He and Cole dropped Stephens-Howling for a 1-yard loss in the fourth. One hurry, no sacks. It’s worth noting that he started at left defensive tackle in place of Jenkins in the second half.

Cedric Thornton – I thought this was easily his best game of the season. Thornton and Tapp stopped Wells for no gain in the second. On a separate run play in the second half, Thornton shoved the center back into the ballcarrier and then hustled to assist on the tackle near the line of scrimmage. No sacks, no hurries, but Thornton got good push up the middle on the Tapp sack that was taken away because of the holding penalty. Thornton got a good push up the middle again on the sack that Graham and Tapp split.

Darryl Tapp – Also thought this was his best game of the season. Tapp really should have had 1.5 sacks were it not for the botched holding penalty that should have been declined. His pressure forced Kolb to scramble for 3 yards in the fourth. Against the run, he tackled Wells after a 4-yard run. He and Thornton stopped Wells for no gain in the second. Tapp and Mychal Kendricks dropped Williams for a 4-yard loss in the third. And he tackled Stephens-Howling after a 5-yard run. Good game out of Tapp.

Brandon Graham – His snaps have gone from four to nine to 17 in the first three weeks. Graham was credited with half-a-sack. He got pressure on Kolb in the first, but the quarterback stepped up and hit Fitzgerald on a shallow cross. Against the run, Graham dropped Stephens-Howling for a 2-yard loss in the fourth. On the final series, he dropped Stephens-Howling for a loss on consecutive plays.

Phillip Hunt – Quiet game for Hunt, who saw Graham bite into his playing time a bit. No hurries, no sacks in limited opportunities.

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

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.

A Look At Castillo In Year Two

Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Juan CastilloFunny, Juan Castillo was the least talked-about man at the NovaCare facilities this week. While Marty Mornhinweg and Andy Reid and Michael Vick were taking arrows, and DeMeco Ryans and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were being praised, Castillo quietly slipped into the backdrop.

He offers so little at his press conferences, terrified of giving away anything that could help the opposition, that some reporters have given up on the exercise altogether, opting instead to visit the locker room in search of a more willing dance partner. So Castillo sits on stage in front of a modest gathering, speaks about exactly nothing for a few minutes, and then makes his way out of the auditorium and back behind the scenes.

After a year of public struggles and endless criticism, this is undoubtedly the preferred existence. A down effort against the Ravens will bring some of the heat back, but internally there is a sense that the situation has stabilized. The players have noticed a different Juan Castillo in Year Two, and it has had a ripple effect.

“He seems really calm compared to last year,” said Nnamdi Asomugha, who has not always come off as the biggest Castillo backer. “There’s a confidence that he knows what he’s doing. He’s got the right people around him — the right players, the right coaches helping.”

“His confidence in his calls and his demeanor and the way he goes about his business,” said Jason Babin, when asked to describe the differences in the second-year defensive coordinator. “There’s always a learning curve switching from offense to defense, and the small  nuances to deal with — the personalities are obviously different — and the calls and the games. Now you can tell his feet are settled in, he’s home and he’s lighting it on fire.”

It was a rough entry into a foreign world for Castillo, no matter how you slice it. The experiment was as far fetched as it sounded, at least in terms of achieving early success. Skeptical eyes watched as a disjointed defense sputtered and stalled. Players intimated that they had to coach Castillo at times instead of the other way around. It was not a good breeding ground for trust.

Signs of progress over the last quarter of the season, though, helped win over some of the veterans.

“By the time that we got to the point where we understood what we were doing, we were already out of the playoff picture,” said Darryl Tapp. “Those last four games were great to get our confidence together, but we really didn’t get the hang of it until the last four games of the season.”

We know the circumstances: new coach, new players, new scheme, lockout-shortened offseason. Castillo really had no shot.

“The thing that was important that we didn’t get a chance to do the first year, that probably took half the year, was teach the concept,” said Castillo. “Every coverage has a strength and every coverage has a weakness. And to teach the players, ‘OK, when I’m calling this coverage, I’m calling it to take the high-low concept  away. I’m calling it to take this out cut away. I’m calling it to take a horizontal stretch away.’ We didn’t have that kind of time because we barely had time to install the coverages.

“Now I think the guys know, when I call a coverage, they know why I’m calling it, so we’re on the same page together.”

While it is important not to get carried away with a Week 1 performance against a rookie quarterback, it does mean something when Asomugha racks his brain and can’t think of a mistake that the secondary made in coverage. It means something to hold any professional quarterback to a 5.1 QB rating, or a highly-touted back to 2.1 yards per carry. It at least offers hope that this formula might work in the second year.

Part of the key for Castillo is that he is delegating more now.

“The first year we went straight into practices from the lockout and it was like, ‘I’ve got to get my stuff in, and I’ve got to make sure my players understand it.’ He had to coach everybody up — even his coaches,” said Asomugha. “This year, everybody knows the defense. Juan has just been back and basically playing defensive coordinator. He’s doing the overall placement of it while the other guys are doing the little stuff.”

Asomugha said that he is allowing Todd Bowles to really handle the corners when it comes to technique and positioning, and the early results speak for themselves. Pollling players at each of the positions, the sentiment seems to be the same. He’s letting Jim Washburn manage the defensive line, Mike Caldwell the linebackers, Mike Zordich the safeties and Bowles the corners, and tries to make it all fit together.

“Sometimes you get a coach that wants to do everything, but the good thing about Juan is he hasn’t been that way. He lets the coaches below him coach their position,” said Asomugha.

For at least one week, Castillo has the No. 1 defense in the league both overall (210 yards) and against the pass (111). While it is not enough to convince anyone that he is the right man for the job, it has at least temporarily quelled the talk that he is absolutely the wrong man for the job. He was left out of the conversation altogether this week. And that’s a start.

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 Wake-Up Call: Tight End Preview

Philadelphia Eagles TE Clay Harbor.We lead off today with a look at the Eagles’ tight end situation going into Week 1.

Let’s start with Brent Celek. He couldn’t have finished the 2011 season any stronger. Celek averaged just 19.2 yards per game in the first six last season, but that number jumped to 69.6 in the final 10. His catch rate (catches per targets) was 73 percent during that final 10-game stretch. Had he sustained that number for the entire season, Celek would have tied Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Gates for the top mark among tight ends with at least 50 targets.

Michael Vick built a chemistry with Celek, and the tight end earned the quarterback’s trust. He had six drops in the first nine games, but none in the final seven. Celek averaged a career-high 13.1  yards per reception and had 14 catches of 20+ yards, just one fewer than DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, both of whom finished with 15. Celek led the Eagles (and all NFL tight ends) in yards after the catch, finishing with 62 receptions for 811 yards and five touchdowns.

It’s also worth mentioning that he was playing injured and had TWO surgeries (hip and hernia) in the offseason. That only makes his 2011 performance even more impressive.

Given that he’s healthy now, Celek should be a monster in 2012, right? Well, let’s pump the brakes a little bit. One factor in getting Celek going last year was that he was kept in to block less. In the first five games, he blocked 29.9 percent of the time on pass plays, according to Pro Football Focus. In the final 11, just 23 percent of the time. The problem this year is that Jason Peters is out, and the Eagles coaching staff would be wise to give King Dunlap some help against some of the league’s top pass-rushers. That very well could mean Celek being used more as a blocker. He should still have a good season, but Celek may see a dip in targets (96 last season).

Clay Harbor, meanwhile, had a strange summer, but looks ready to contribute. Early in training camp, the Eagles showed interest in Visanthe Shiancoe and Jeremy Shockey, but ended up signing neither guy. Harbor, meanwhile, made a point to stay after practice everyday and catch an extra 50 balls. The work paid off as he caught everything thrown his way at Lehigh, and in the preseason.

Harbor played 33.5 percent of the offensive snaps last year (per PFF), up from 28.6 percent as a rookie. He was used as a run-blocker 56.1 percent of the time; a receiver 32 percent of the time; and a pass blocker 11.9 percent of the time. He got just 19 balls thrown his way all season and caught 13 of them for 163 yards.

Look for Harbor to have a bigger role in 2012. He has the skill set to be more of a contributor in the passing game. It might mean the Eagles using fewer 4-WR sets. It might mean fewer snaps for Jason Avant. Or it might mean Jackson coming off the field in the red zone, where he’s a non-factor. But Harbor should see a bump in playing time and targets in 2012.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Running back Dion Lewis is questionable for Sunday’s game, which could mean a bigger role for Bryce Brown.

We’ve been knocking out the position-by-position season previews. Get them all right here. Yesterday, Tim wrote about the quarterbacks, and I tackled the linebackers.

Everything you need to know about Sunday’s matchup in two posts. One details how the Browns’ offense matches up with the Eagles’ defense. And the other takes a look at the Birds’ offense vs. Cleveland’s D.

McManus and I offer up several Eagles season predictions that are sure to go wrong.

And finally, in case you missed it, Birds 24/7 is now a radio show. T-Mac and I will be on the air every Monday from 6 to 7 p.m. on 97.5 The Fanatic, broadcasting live from 360 at Parx Casino in Bensalem. Some of you asked yesterday about a podcast. We’ll definitely look into it. And you’ll be able to listen live online even if you’re not in the Philadelphia area.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

According to the National Football Post, the Eagles tried to deal Darryl Tapp, but found no takers:

Before the Eagles gave Darryl Tapp a $1.75 million paycut, they shopped him around the league. There were no takers, so taking the cut probably was a smart move for Tapp. He was not going to be making $2.5 million anywhere in the NFL this year.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter writes about how the Eagles looked for a quarterback last offseason:

Now it’s a bit easier to understand why the Eagles inquired about the availability of Peyton Manning, explored a trade up to the No. 2 spot to draft Griffin and had a private session with Tannehill before his pro day at Texas A&M. The Eagles can’t fully trust Michael Vick to play a full season. In four preseason series, Vick bruised his thumb and bruised his ribs. Now, Vick and the Eagles will be lining up each Sunday against some of the league’s top pass-rushers. The Eagles’ opponents combined for 625 sacks last season, which is the fifth most by any group of combined opponents for a team in 2012, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

And finally, per Evan Mathis’ Twitter account, Danny Watkins agreed to eat a cricket for $120. Mathis posted the video and everything.

COMING UP

It’s a travel day, but we’ll have plenty of Eagles-Browns coverage. And in case you were wondering, we’ll be chatting Sunday, starting at 1 p.m.

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

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