Eagles-Patriots Game Review: The Defense
Here’s what we saw from the Eagles’ defense during Friday night’s preseason game against the Patriots. We’ll go position-by-position, identifying performances that stood out one way or another.
* The biggest surprise of the night was the play of Vinny Curry. He’d been quiet all summer long, but showed up in a big way against New England. Curry showed some versatility, playing defensive end in three-man fronts and lining up both inside and outside in four-man fronts. In the second quarter, he set up at left defensive tackle (nickel) and shot right past the offensive lineman, getting a hit on Ryan Mallett. Later, he showed an impressive inside move, getting past the right tackle and combining for a sack with Jake Knott on Tim Tebow. Curry’s effort showed up throughout. On the last play of the first half, the Patriots ran a screen, and he was blocked on the ground near the 38-yard-line.
We’ll see this week if Curry gets bumped up the depth chart.
* On the flip side of Curry was Fletcher Cox. Don’t want to put too much stock into one preseason game, but offensive tackle Nate Solder threw Cox to the ground on the 62-yard run in the first quarter. Don’t remember seeing a lineman do that to him at all last year. Cox was blocked on the next play too, an 8-yard scamper. And the Patriots blew him off the line of scrimmage with a double-team on a 3rd-and-1 carry during that drive. Cox bounced back on the next possession, hitting Tom Brady and forcing his only incompletion. No need to overreact yet, but he did not play well.
* Undrafted free agent Damion Square had some nice moments. He rotated between nose tackle and defensive end with Bennie Logan on the second team. Square did a good job on Shane Vereen’s 3-yard run in the first and showed some pass-rushing chops too. Square and Emmanuel Acho combined to hit Mallett in the second. He lined up at RDT and looped outside on the play. Later, he was one of three defenders to land a hit on Tim Tebow. Square looks like he has a good shot to make the team.
* Logan flashed as well. He stopped Vereen after a 3-yard run in the second and showed great hustle to chase Vereen down from behind on a screen later in the game. Logan was really good on one possession in the third. He got some penetration, dropping LeGarrette Blount after a 2-yard run. On the next play, he tackled Blount again after a gain of 2. And finally, he and Chris McCoy combined for a sack. Nice debut for the third-round pick.
* Trent Cole did not look comfortable. He was caught upfield and blocked easily by rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld on the two runs to start the game. Derek Sarley of Iggles Blog has a good breakdown up of the first two plays. According to Pro Football Focus, Cole played 16 snaps. Eight were run plays, eight were pass plays. On the eight pass plays, he dropped back in coverage only once. A sign perhaps of how the Eagles plan to use him?
* Credit Brandon Graham for making a good special-teams tackle to start the game off. He came in for Connor Barwin at left outside linebacker and also lined up at left defensive end in nickel looks. Graham twisted inside behind Curry and hit Mallett to force an incompletion in the second. He looked bad, as many of you saw, on Blount’s 51-yard touchdown run where he reversed field. Graham was on the field for 21 pass plays, per PFF. He rushed 17 times and dropped four times.
* Connor Barwin did a nice job early on against the run. He lined up both standing up and in a three-point stance on nickel downs.
* Chris McCoy has quietly had a nice summer. He did a nice job with his pass rush from the RDE spot in the second and funneled Blount back inside on the 51-yard run. McCoy pressured Tebow near the end of the first half and combined with Logan for a sack in the third. If roster cuts were today, I think I’d have him on the team.
* DeMeco Ryans did not look good. He got caught out of his gap on the 62-yard run to open the game and couldn’t get off the block of the pulling guard on the next play, an 8-yard run. Ryans was outstanding, specifically against the run, last season. So no need to panic yet.
* Mychal Kendricks had issues against the run too. He got handled by the tight end on Blount’s 8-yard carry. Later, on third down, Kendricks met Blount head-on but couldn’t make the play. His coverage on the Vereen touchdown was good. Tom Brady just made a perfect throw.
* Jamar Chaney (shoulder) and Casey Matthews (knee) left the game with injuries. Chaney did not look good, missing a tackle on Sudfeld’s 22-yard catch and run. Matthews had some nice moments. Both are squarely on the roster bubble.
* Another undrafted free agent who showed up was Jake Knott. He batted down a Mallett pass at the line of scrimmage in the second and did a nice job as a blitzer. Knott combined with Curry for a sack in the second and tackled Tebow behind the line of scrimmage in the third. He has been quiet at camp, but played well during the game. Knott has a chance to earn a backup spot.
* If you’re a glass half-full kind of person, at least Bradley Fletcher hustled downfield and brought Ridley down on the 62-yard run. That might have been a touchdown with last year’s corners. Fletcher made a tackle in run support on the next play too. He gave up a few completions, most notably a 6-yard catch on 3rd-and-4 and later a 23-yarder. But to be fair, it’s not like Fletcher was caught out of position or got beaten badly on either play. Let’s see how he does the rest of the preseason.
* Brandon Hughes got the surprise start at left corner. Chip Kelly said after the game that was Billy Davis’ decision. Hughes gave up a 7-yard slant and a 12-yard back-shoulder completion, but was OK.
* Boykin played nickel with the first team and then moved outside. He looked good, shadowing Aaron Dobson on a fade in the back of the end zone to force an incompletion.
* If you were looking for improvement from Nate Allen, you probably were disappointed. The 62-yard run would have been a 15-yard run had he been able to bring Ridley down in the open field. Allen later missed another tackle on Sudfeld’s 22-yard catch and run. Put Allen in the “believe it when I see it” camp for now.
* The good news on Patrick Chung is he looks like a sure tackler. The bad news is I’m not sure he can cover. Chung started at safety and then moved to nickel corner so the coaches could get a look at Boykin on the outside. He did a nice job blowing up a screen on third down in the second, but couldn’t keep up with Julian Edelman on a 22-yard completion near the end of the first half. Chung is still in line to be one of the team’s two starting safeties.
* Kenny Phillips made a nice play at the line of scrimmage, stopping Ridley after a 1-yard gain. He did not look good though on Blount’s 51-yard TD. Tough to evaluate him in coverage without the All-22.
* Earl Wolff was up and down. He missed a tackle on Tebow’s 12-yard run in the third, but played up in the box and had a tackle-for-loss in the third. Again, tough to evaluate in coverage. Overall, I’d say Chung is in line to be a starter, but the other job is up for grabs.