10 Observations: An Eagles Slant To the Playoffs

NFL: NFC Championship-San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks

Here are 10 observations with an Eagles slant from Sunday’s conference title games:

1. I think if the Seahawks and 49ers played 10 times, they would probably split five and five. Or maybe San Francisco would win six and Seattle would win four. But the Seahawks made the big play at the end to advance. If Broncos-Seahawks comes close to being as entertaining as the NFC title game, we’ll all be happy. Denver opens as a 2.5-point favorite. My initial thought? Peyton Manning, for as well as he played yesterday, is going to have a tough time against that Seattle defense. On the other hand, while the Seahawks’ offense got things going in the second half, they have been up-and-down on that side of the ball. I think we have ourselves a good matchup for Super Bowl XLVII. Read more »

Eagles Trade Sopoaga To Patriots

Eagles DT Isaac Sopoaga on field warm-upThe Eagles have traded defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga and a sixth-round pick to New England for a fifth-round draft choice in 2014, per a league source.

The nine-year vet did not perform up to expectation in his short stint in Philadelphia, posting 10 tackles in eight games.

The 32-year old was inked to a three-year, $11 million deal this offseason that included a $2.75 million signing bonus. His $1 million base salary this season is fully guaranteed, as is $1 million of his base next season. Read more »

Game Review: Eagles Defense Vs. Chargers Offense

Fletcher CoxIf you missed the game review on the Eagles’ offense, click here.

Here’s what we saw from the ‘D’ after having re-watched Sunday’s contest.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

* The Eagles used three-down fronts and four-down fronts. They blitzed, and they dropped eight into coverage. Nothing worked. Philip Rivers carved them up, completing 36 of 47 passes for 419 yards and three touchdowns.

* In last year’s scheme, Fletcher Cox looked like he had a Pro Bowl ceiling. So far in this year’s scheme, he’s been pretty quiet, although Cox did have some moments in the second half. He stopped Danny Woodhead for no gain in the third. He got some pressure on Rivers on third down in the fourth and hit Rivers on the final drive. But through two games in the Eagles’ two-gap 3-4, Cox has not been a difference-maker.

* There were stretches on Sunday where the Eagles just got pushed around up front. Isaac Sopoaga has been a non-factor. He was double-teamed to the ground on Woodhead’s 4-yard run in the second. His backup, Damion Square, was no better. Square got double-teamed to the ground on Ryan Mathews’ 6-yard run in the second and again on the very next play. He was blocked easily on Ronnie Brown’s 8-yard run in the third.

* Cedric Thornton had a couple good moments. He dropped Brown after a 3-yard run in the third and tackled Mathews after a 1-yard run in the fourth. Didn’t see anything from him as a pass-rusher though.

* Rookie Bennie Logan had a strong preseason, but has been quiet so far. He was caught upfield on a delayed handoff in the second that gained 6 yards. Logan made a nice play against the run in the fourth, tackling Woodhead after a 4-yard pickup. He played 27 snaps and didn’t do much as a pass-rusher.

* Clifton Geathers played 14 snaps and didn’t do much. He was blocked on Woodhead’s 8-yard run in the fourth.

* I charted the number of pass-rushers Billy Davis used throughout the game:

Number Of Rushers
Number Of Plays
Completions
Attempts
Yards
353533
4191417175
5151113119
61271181
711111

As you can see, nothing really worked. When the Eagles rushed three or four, Rivers was 17-for-22 for 208 yards (77.3 completion percentage, 9.5 YPA) with one scramble and one pass interference penalty.

When they blitzed with five or more, Rivers was 19-for-25 for 211 yards (76 percent, 8.4 YPA) with two defensive penalties and one sack.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

* Connor Barwin played pretty well, with a few exceptions. He caught rookie right tackle D.J. Fluker off-balance, bull-rushed him and picked up the Eagles’ only sack in the first. He had a good edge rush on third down in the second and hit Rivers as he completed a pass to Woodhead. Against the run, Barwin did a poor job of setting the edge on a 10-yard Mathews run in the first. He did a much better job the rest of the game and dropped Mathews for a 2-yard loss in the first. In coverage, Barwin got beat by Woodhead on a 3rd-and-4 completion on the final drive. Had he forced an incompletion there, it would have been a 54-yard field goal attempt.

* Trent Cole was one of the Eagles’ more active defenders. He rushed off the right edge in the second and hit Rivers. He pressured Rivers in the second, but Cary Williams was called for pass interference. Great hustle in the third, pressuring Rivers and then assisting on a tackle after the QB dumped the ball off to Brown. In the fourth, Cole hit Rivers from behind and forced an incompletion. Against the run, Cole stopped Mathews after a 4-yard gain. He tripped Mathews up after a 3-yard run in the second and drew a holding penalty on the next play. Down in the red zone, Cole forced a fumble for the second straight week. On 41 passing downs, Cole only dropped in coverage twice, per Pro Football Focus. He lined up at right outside linebacker, right defensive end and a couple other spots.

* Casey Matthews came in and played four snaps at outside linebacker behind Barwin.

* Update: As a sign of just how small Brandon Graham’s role is in this defense, I’ll admit I didn’t have a single note on him from this game. Graham played 16 snaps and was a non-factor. Per PFF, on 11 passing downs, he dropped twice and rushed nine times. Given that Cole and Barwin are two of the defenders playing well, I’m not sure Graham is going to see a bump any time soon.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS

* DeMeco Ryans was active, finishing with nine tackles (six solo). Great effort on a second-quarter play. Ryans blitzed, didn’t get home and then pursued Woodhead, tackling him after a 2-yard reception. He got juked badly on Eddie Royal’s 15-yard touchdown in the fourth, running right past the wide receiver. The Eagles sent Ryans on inside blitzes all game long (19 times, per PFF), and he never got home. That was an issue throughout.

* Mychal Kendricks had a day to forget. Tight end Antonio Gates took the second-year player to school. Kendricks got beaten by Gates and missed a tackle on a 21-yard catch and run in the first. Same story on a 14-yard gain in the second. On a big 3rd-and-4 in the third, Gates beat Kendricks for a 7-yard gain. And Gates caught a 6-yarder on 3rd-and-3 against Kendricks in the fourth. Kendricks is the Eagles’ best cover linebacker, but he had issues all game long. Against the run, he was up and down. Kendricks got blocked on Mathews’ 7-yard run in the first. It looked like he tripped on Mathews’ 20-yard run in the first. And he got blocked on an 8-yard Woodhead run in the fourth.

There were some good moments. He got off his block and tackled Woodhead after a 2-yard run in the first. He stopped Mathews after a 3-yard run in the third and dropped him after a 1-yard run. Overall, though, Kendricks struggled.

CORNERBACKS

* Cary Williams also had a day to forget. Three pass interferences – an 18-yarder, a 9-yarder and another that was declined because it was an 18-yard completion anyway. That last one came on 3rd-and-6 in the third. Have to check the All-22, but I believe the 24-yard TD to Royal was on Williams. The Eagles appeared to be in quarters coverage, and because Rivers held on to the ball so long, Williams cheated over to a receiver towards the middle of the field.

* Brandon Boykin wasn’t perfect, but he competed throughout. The second-year corner was targeted all game long and gave up at least four completions. In the second, Royal beat him on a wheel route for 21 yards on 3rd-and-7. And in the fourth, Boykin gave up a 16-yard completion on 3rd-and-7. He broke up a pass down the right sideline in the second and broke up a third-down pass in the third. Boykin also made a great hustle play, chasing Gates down and forcing a fumble in the red zone in the first half.

* Brandon Hughes played 22 snaps and suffered a hamstring injury. I actually only noticed him get targeted once – a 31-yarder to Malcom Floyd down the sideline in the second.

* Eagles safeties continued to struggle. Patrick Chung was called for a huge defensive holding penalty on 3rd-and-4 in the third. The Chargers would have had to punt, but instead, their drive was extended and they took 8:55 off the clock before kicking a field goal. On that same drive, Chung got matched up with Royal and gave up a 12-yard completion on 3rd-and-6. He tried to strip the ball instead of making the tackle and gave up extra yardage. Chung had a couple good plays against the run, including a stop in the third after a 2-yard Mathews run.

* Yet another day to forget for Nate Allen. Where to begin? The Chargers crossed their receivers, and he lost Royal on an 11-yard touchdown in the first half. Allen was blocked/tackled by King Dunlap on the 15-yard screen TD to Royal in the fourth. He got stiff-armed and was called for a face-mask penalty on a Mathews run in the first. He was slow to react on a 19-yard completion to Floyd in the first. Woodhead beat him for a 5-yard completion on 3rd-and-3 in the first. Gates got him for a 15-yard completion on the final drive. And Allen missed a tackle on Gates on a 21-yard catch and run on the very next play. At this point, it’s a matter of when, not if, Allen is yanked from the starting lineup.

* The problem is the coaches don’t feel Earl Wolff is ready. He too was late coming up on a 17-yard completion to Floyd in the second. Gates caught a ball down the seam in front of him for 16 yards. Wolff got matched up with Gates and allowed a 24-yard catch.

But when reviewing the game, I noticed Wolff had some good moments. He assisted in run support, helping to take Mathews down for a 2-yard loss in the first. He dropped Mathews after a 4-yard run in the third. He cleaned up on Royal after Chung missed a tackle in the fourth. And he broke up a pass intended for Gates in the end zone in the fourth. From the outside looking in, the move would seem to be to throw Wolff out there and let him take his lumps. But obviously, the coaches see him every day. He played 49 snaps.

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Game Review: Eagles Defense Vs. Redskins Offense

Mychal Kendricks 1If you missed the offense, click here. Below is the position-by-position review of the Eagles’ defensive performance against the Redskins, after having re-watched the game.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

* The starting defensive line from left to right was Cedric Thornton, Isaac Sopoaga and Fletcher Cox. Cox moved around a bit in nickel, sometimes playing left defensive end. A big hole opened up between him and Trent Cole in the first as Alfred Morris picked up 15. But Cox gave great effort on the play and eventually chased him down. He didn’t do much as a pass-rusher until late. Cox got free on a big blitz in the fourth and crushed Robert Griffin III. He later sacked Griffin when the Eagles used just a three-man rush.

* Thornton had a good second half too. He hustled from the back side, dropping Morris for a 2-yard loss and later charged through a double-team on the play where DeMeco Ryans sacked Griffin. Thornton also used his length, batting down a pass at the line of scrimmage. He missed a tackle on a 3rd-and-1 in the fourth, but otherwise played well.

* Tough to grade Sopoaga without the All-22 (not released yet). But he drew a holding penalty on a run play in the third and chased Griffin to the sideline on an incompletion later in the quarter.

* The backups from left to right were Clifton Geathers, Damion Square and Bennie Logan. Geathers got good pressure on two occasions, once fighting a double team and forcing Griffin to scramble. Logan blew up a stretch play in the third as Mychal Kendricks finished the tackle after a 1-yard run. Logan also played some nose tackle and drew a holding penalty in the third.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

* In case you were wondering, Trent Cole was still a beast upon re-watch. The Eagles’ right outside linebacker owned the first half. He flew in from the back side and forced a Morris fumble early on. He jumped on Morris in the end zone to notch a safety. He dropped Morris for no gain on a zone-read play. He came flying in at Griffin and hit him as a pass-rusher. He slipped past the fullback and dropped Morris for no gain. And he tackled Griffin after a scramble on third down, forcing a punt. That was all in the first half.

* Cole dropped 23.8 percent of the time on pass plays, per Pro Football Focus. His best option in coverage might be to drill the opposing receiver. That’s what he did on one play in the third, forcing the receiver to the ground within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. Cole hit Griffin on a play-action pass in the third and closed in on the play where Cox got a sack. Cole gets this week’s award for “player who most exceeded expectations.”

* Connor Barwin also played really well. The Eagles’ primary goal was to limit the Redskins’ ground game early on. Barwin forced Morris out of bounds for a 3-yard loss in the first. He stood up over the center and rushed the QB on the Brandon Boykin interception. He hustled to bring down Pierre Garcon after a 5-yard gain on a screen. And Barwin pressured Griffin on at least four occasions. Really strong debut.

* Brandon Graham played 19 snaps. On 14 passing plays, he never dropped back. Looked a lot more like a nickel pass-rusher than a 3-4 outside linebacker to me. We’ll wee if that continues. Graham set the edge on a Morris run that was dropped for a 2-yard loss and pressured Griffin on two occasions.

* Casey Matthews mixed in for three snaps, and it looked like he was actually playing outside linebacker.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS

* Mychal Kendricks was everywhere. All signs point to a big second-year leap out of him. He flew to the ball and knocked Morris out of bounds for a 3-yard loss early on. Kendricks did a great job to avoid blockers and tackle Morris on a first-quarter screen. His versatility was on full display. Kendricks blitzed seven times, per PFF. He rushed unblocked in the second and crushed Griffin, forcing him into an intentional grounding. And Kendricks leveled Griffin again in the third. On the Cary Williams interception, Kendricks dropped back as a safety. Outstanding performance overall.

* DeMeco Ryans was solid too. He blitzed and knocked over the left guard on a play-action pass in the third and sacked Griffin later in the quarter.

* Jake Knott mixed in a little as well. It looked like Kendricks might have had an equipment issue at one point.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

* It’s difficult to gauge their play based on TV tape. But I didn’t see either Williams or Bradley Fletcher give up a completion in man coverage. There were a few times when they were dropping in zone and allowed receptions in front of them. But that seemed to be the design of the defense. Definitely did not see that performance coming from the starting corners.

* Williams came flying in on a corner blitz and sacked Griffin in the second. He made a fantastic interception near the sideline in the third and broke up a deep fourth-down pass late. Great performance from Employee 26.

* Fletcher was really good too. He made two good plays on the ball, forcing incompletions and once had a little luck on his side as the receiver dropped the ball. Fletcher suffered a concussion, and his status for this weekend is up in the air.

* Brandon Boykin got picked on quite a bit. No one’s confirming, but he may been a little banged-up. Boykin blitzed five times, the most of any defensive back. He played the slot, but then moved outside when Williams and Fletcher got dinged-up in the second half. Boykin would likely play the outside if Fletcher can’t go this week.

* Rookie Jordan Poyer played 17 snaps in the slot and got picked on. It looked like the 10-yard Leonard Hankerson TD was on him, and Poyer also allowed a 5-yard completion on 3rd-and-2. He had trouble getting off his block on a screen to Pierre Garcon that picked up 17.

* Safety is impossible to assess off TV tape, but the Eagles did not give up a completion that traveled more than 20 yards from the line of scrimmage until the Redskins’ final drive. The game-plan once they got the lead seemed to be to blitz and keep all receptions in front of them.

* Overall, Billy Davis dialed up a lot of blitzes. Per Stats, Inc., the Eagles blitzed Griffin 29 times on 56 dropbacks, or 51.8 percent of the time. On those plays, he was 13-for-26 (50 percent) for 121 yards (4.7 YPA). Griffin was sacked twice and took off once.

* Patrick Chung seemed to hold up fine until that fourth-quarter touchdown. “Needs to have better ball skills than that,” said Jon Gruden on the play. Earl Wolff played seven snaps, but mostly, it’s going to be Chung and Nate Allen early on.

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Eagles Depth Chart Outlook: Defensive Line

This is the fifth in a series. Throughout the next week or two, we’ll take a position-by-position look at the Eagles’ roster. What you’ve missed so far:


Take a look at the defensive linemen who took the field for the Eagles in Week 1 of the 2012 season: Jason Babin, Cullen JenkinsTrent Cole, Fletcher Cox, Derek Landri, Cedric Thornton, Phillip Hunt and Brandon Graham.

Of that group, three (Babin, Jenkins, Landri) are gone, along with Mike Patterson. Three are expected to make the switch to outside linebacker (Cole, Hunt and Graham). And two (Cox and Thornton) remain on the defensive line.

Vinny Curry, who was inactive for the first 10 games last season, will also stay at defensive line (for now).

In the offseason, the Eagles added veteran nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga from the 49ers. Ronnie Cameron was added to the practice squad at the end of last season. And the team acquired Clifton Geathers via trade with the Colts. Veteran Antonio Dixon is back with the Birds as well.

The Eagles added competition in the draft, selecting LSU’s Bennie Logan in the third round, along with Utah’s Joe Kruger and Oklahoma’s David King in the seventh.

Meanwhile, Alabama’s Damion Square and Oregon’s Isaac Remington joined the team as undrafted free agents.

A lot of bodies, but few proven commodities.

Among the 14 teams that ran a 3-4 or some kind of hybrid last year, the average number of defensive linemen kept on the 53-man roster was 6.9.

Here’s a look at the players on the roster:

 
Height
Weight
Age
Years/Starts
Ronnie Cameron6-2295231/0
Fletcher Cox6-4300221/9
Vinny Curry6-3279241/0
Antonio Dixon6-3325274/10
Clifton Geathers6-8340252/0
David King6-4281230/0
Joe Kruger6-6269200/0
Bennie Logan6-2309230/0
Isaac Remington6-6305230/0
Isaac Sopoaga6-2330318/80
Damion Square6-3286240/0
Cedric Thornton6-4309242/0

Pencil ‘em in: Cox, Logan, Sopoaga.

It flew under the radar because of the 4-12 record, but Cox had a really good rookie season. He had seven tackles for loss and was the Eagles’ best defensive tackle against the run. He improved as a pass-rusher, finishing with 5.5 sacks to go along with 24 hurries. It seems clear that he has a Pro Bowl ceiling, but Cox is already on his third defensive line coach.

As for fit, Cox’s versatility is part of what the Eagles found attractive when they traded up to get him in last year’s draft. He can line up at the 5-technique (defensive end) in a 3-4, and he can be an interior pass-rusher in four-man fronts.

Meanwhile, Logan, a third-round pick, is a lock to make the roster. He’s only 6-2, but has long arms (34 inches). In four-man fronts, Logan is a defensive tackle. In three-man fronts, it remains to be seen where he lines up. At 309 pounds, Logan can play nose tackle, and he could probably line up at the 5-tech too.

One thing that stands out from the table above is that the Eagles only have one defensive lineman with more than 10 career starts, and that’s Sopoaga. He’s not a three-down player, but is probably the favorite to line up at nose tackle. Sopoaga will also be expected to fill the leader/veteran presence role with this group.

Fighting for spots: Curry, Thornton, Kruger, Cameron, Dixon, Geathers, King, Remington, Square.

There are clear favorites in this group: Thornton, Kruger and Curry.

Curry saw limited action last year and didn’t show much as a pass-rusher. A 2012 second-round pick, he’ll get every opportunity to make the roster and should stick. But there’s not an obvious fit for him. It’s possible he could move over to outside linebacker at some point.

Thornton showed last year that he can be an effective rotational player, and he will likely make the team too. But I wasn’t ready to mark him down as a lock. He has good length and fits as a 5-tech in 3-4 fronts and a defensive tackle in four-man fronts.

Kruger is a developmental player. He’s 6-6 and only 20-years-old. It would be a surprise if he didn’t make the team.

Assuming those three stick, that will likely only leave a spot or two for Cameron, Dixon, Geathers, Remington and Square. Dixon does not present much versatility. He could be a nose tackle in a 3-4 or a run-stopping DT in a 4-3, but he doesn’t offer much as a pass-rusher.

Geathers (6-8) takes over for King Dunlap as the team’s tallest player, but has played very little since entering the league in 2010. King was a seventh-round pick out of Oklahoma. Remington (Oregon) and Square (Alabama) are undrafted free agents.

Again, lots of bodies, but not a lot of known quantities. It’s not out of the question that the Eagles add a piece or two between now and the start of the season.

UPDATE: After this was posted, the Eagles signed DE Daryell Walker (Hampton) and released Cameron.

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The State Of the Eagles’ Pass-Rush And D-Line

Since the start of free agency, the Eagles have added nine new players, but only one true pass-rusher – Connor Barwin.

Much of the offseason focus has been on rebuilding the secondary, but Howie Roseman, Chip Kelly and company still have work to do in bolstering the front seven – specifically, the defensive line.

Gone from last year’s squad are veterans Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Darryl Tapp, Derek Landri and Mike Patterson.

Trent Cole, Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry are expected to make the switch to outside linebacker (joining Barwin). Isaac Sopoaga has been brought in to play nose tackle, and Antonio Dixon could provide some depth on the interior. Fletcher Cox is expected to play DE in a 3-4, and Cedric Thornton will get a shot there too.

DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks figure to get the nod at inside linebacker.

Before we take a look at what areas still need to be addressed, let’s look at what the Eagles have on their current roster. There are six players who got at least 100 opportunities to rush the passer last year.

Below is a table showing pass-rushing chances, sacks, hurries, QB hits and balls batted at the line of scrimmage. The data is courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

The last column shows the frequency with which each player notched a sack, hurry, hit or batted ball.

 
Pass-Rushing Chances
Sacks
Hurries
Hits
Passes Batted
Success
Connor Barwin6403261467.7%
Trent Cole43232913110.6%
Brandon Graham2205.5317120.5%
Fletcher Cox3035.514618.9%
Cedric Thornton18118105.5%
Isaac Sopoaga16222203.7%

What stands out here? First of all, it’s clear that Graham should have received more playing time last year. His production on a per-snap basis far exceeded any of the other players in the table. Graham made something happen on 20.5 percent of his opportunities.

As we explained previously, Barwin got more pass-rushing chances in 2012 than he did in 2011 when he totaled 11 sacks. He wasn’t very productive at getting after the quarterback last season, although that could have been because his role changed (we’re currently taking a look at the All-22 for clarification).

One thing to take note of is Barwin batted six balls down at the line of scrimmage. In 2011, he batted seven. I’m guessing Kelly also values Barwin’s versatility. He played over 94 percent of Houston’s defensive snaps – 1,019 total. That was fifth-most among all 3-4 outside linebackers in 2012. Barwin will be expected to start, but if the Eagles use a rotation like Oregon utilized on defense, he’ll see fewer snaps.

Cole had a down year, but as you can see by the numbers, he wasn’t entirely invisible.

The numbers for the interior pass-rushers are naturally going to be lower. Cox showed pass-rushing chops as a rookie and should only improve in his second season. He figures to transition smoothly to a 3-4 defensive end. Thornton didn’t do much as a pass-rusher in 2012. And Sopoaga figures to come off the field in pass-rushing situations.

A quick sampling of 3-4 teams shows they generally keep six or seven defensive linemen. That means the Eagles have roster spots to fill. Cox and Sopoaga have a hold on two of them. Thornton will get a long look. Dixon and Ronnie Cameron have a shot too.

But don’t be surprised to see the Eagles add several more defensive linemen to the roster. They were interested in Desmond Bryant and Ricky Jean-Francois before they signed with the Browns and Colts, respectively. Over the weekend, the Eagles were linked to Vaughn Martin, although he could end up back with the Chargers.

The key (and this has been a running them) is versatility. The Eagles need players who can play 3-4 defensive end and rush the passer from the interior in sub packages. There aren’t a lot of young options available who fit that mold, so this could be an area the Eagles target with draft picks and undrafted free agents.

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Sopoaga Says Eagles Will ‘Shock the World’

Nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga opened some eyes at the introductory press conference for he and tight end James Casey Wednesday. After politely thanking the Eagles, God and the city of Philadelphia, he amped things up.

“We are here to hunt. We are here to win. I promise that we’re going to shock the world,” said the 6-2, 330-pound veteran.

Sopoaga, formerly of the Niners, was asked to expound on that statement.

“Coach Kelly has a solid book that teams in this league haven’t seen yet,” he said. “I believe we are going to utilize it on this level. That’s what I mean. I know they are doing their best to hunt and look for the perfect guys for this system, both defense, offense and special teams. That’s what I mean, we are going to surprise and shock the world.”

Chip Kelly, who was on the stage alongside Sopoaga, Casey and general manager Howie Roseman, appreciates that kind of mentality.

“If you don’t plan on coming in here and winning, we’re not going to talk to you,” the head coach said. “The statements that he makes is exactly how everyone in this football program feels and what it’s all about. But we also know that it’s not about talk, because what you say in March and April doesn’t have anything to do with what you do on Sundays.”

Sopoaga,  a 6-2, 330-pound native of American Somoa, can play nose tackle if the Eagles run some version of a 3-4, as expected. But Kelly sees a little more to him than that.

“He can line up as a nose — he’s done a tremendous job in this league doing it — but he can also provide an inside pass rush in a four-down defense and push the pocket,” said Kelly. “The more versatile you are as a player, I think it helps you as a group…You better have some versatility on the offensive side of the ball as well as the defensive side of the ball to make it into a team that’s a little bit difficult to defend or to attack because you don’t know exactly what they’re going to present.”

What They’re Saying About the Free-Agent Signings

The Eagles did not go with a lot of household names for their first wave of free agent signings. Time to study up.

To get a little bit better of an understanding of what tight end James Casey, nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, cornerback Bradley Fletcher, safetyPatrick Chung and linebacker Jason Phillips bring to the table, we rounded up some analysis of the players and reaction to the signings.

Greg Cosell and Adam Caplan did a film session on Sopoaga recently for the team’s website. This is what Cosell had to say:

I’ll tell you what, I thought he played very well in limited snaps in the playoffs. He’s a true nose, and he’s very good at it. But there were games this year, depending on who the 49ers played, where he only played seven, eight snaps, and there were other games where he played 25. So it really depends what kind of offense you are playing against.

Now you have to start thinking of what division you are in. Do the teams in your division play a lot of three wide? Because he’s not likely to be on the field. It comes down to, how many snaps will Sopoaga play in your defense?

Tommy Lawlor over at Iggles Blitz profiles Fletcher.

You may look at the stat sheet and see that Fletcher wasn’t a full time starter in 2012 and wonder what the Eagles were thinking.  Watch the tape.  I wrote a few times about this guy recently.  He had the best pure cover skills of any CB on the market.  Is there risk in signing him? Only in the sense that he hasn’t started at CB for 16 games in his 4-year career.  Before you get fired up about durability, Fletcher played in 16 games in 2010 and 2012.  He started 15 in 2010.  He started 4 last year.  Why just 4? Because the Rams spent big money on Cortland Finnegan and an early pick on Janoris Jenkins.  Fletcher was coming off an injury and they made him the #3 CB.  The twist here is that STL put one of the other guys in the slot and Fletcher played LCB.  He faced top flight competition.  I watched him in several games.  Fluid player.  Good speed.  Good coverage instincts.  I wanted the Eagles to get him because Fletcher was the best cover guy available. Simple as that.  He gives us a very talented starting CB.

And here are his thoughts on Phillips:

Funny, I’ve been after Jason for a while.  I had him as a 3rd round target of the Eagles back in the 2009 draft.  He was cut before the 2009 season began and I had interest.  He was cut by the Ravens in 2011 and I had interest.  Always seemed like a good STer and backup ILB.  Let’s be honest about the current backup ILBs. I don’t trust Jamar Chaney or Casey Matthews.  Phillips will likely take one of their jobs.  The other two can battle it out for the other spot.

Dan Graziano likes the Casey signing in particular.

The idea of someone like Casey, who can function as a blocker, a receiver out of the backfield or a tight end, has to seem exciting to a coach who likes to experiment and stay as multiple as possible on offense. Kelly will want options, and having an H-back or “joker” type of player available to Michael Vick (or whoever the quarterback ends up being this year or down the road) can only help with that. The Eagles can run double-tight end looks with Casey andBrent Celek or line the new guy up in the backfield and force teams to have to account for him as something more than a blocker.

I like the signing. It’s not a big, splashy one, but Casey is a guy who was drawing interest around the league from teams that thought the Texans underused him. The Eagles have work to do on defense, but the defensive back market is overloaded and likely to move slowly. It’s fitting that Kelly’s first big move was on offense, and it’s a move that’s likely to pay dividends as he gets creative.

This John McCLain piece from 2009 on the difficulties that Casey has overcome is a must-read.

Jimmy Kempski of Blogging The Beast dug up a highlight reel of Chung that demonstrates the safety’s ability to lay a lick.

Whenever I needed to feel safe, I used to put on some soothing music, light a candle, and sit down in the Eagles secondary. Chung will make the Eagles secondary a little more uncomfortable.