Eagles-Panthers Game Review: The Defense
Below is a position-by-position review of what stood out from the Eagles’ defense against the Panthers, after having reviewed the game. If you missed the offense, click here.
* Note: Snap counts are courtesy of Pro Football Focus.
* Bennie Logan looks like a player. He manhandled the left guard and got a big hit on Cam Newton in the first. Later, he dropped Tauren Poole after a 2-yard run in the second. Logan used his 34-inch arms to bat down a Newton pass at the line of scrimmage in the second. And he tackled Poole after a gain of 4 on the very next play. If the coaches think he’s big enough, Logan could get bumped up to nose tackle and replace Isaac Sopoaga with the first team pretty soon.
* Cedric Thornton had some good moments. He showed excellent strength against right tackle Byron Bell, pressuring Newton out of the pocket and forcing him to throw the ball away in the first. The Panthers decided to just not block Thornton later in the quarter, and he burst through the backfield, tackling DeAngelo Williams for a 5-yard loss.
* Fletcher Cox looked better than he did vs. New England. He wasn’t the first man to break through, but hustled to chase Newton out of the pocket and into a throw-away on the first possession. Later in the series, Cox showed his athleticism, rushing from the LDT spot, chasing Newton out of the pocket and hitting him.
* Vinny Curry showed up again. He burst through the backfield and dropped Poole for a 2-yard loss in the third, got in the backfield again on the next series, got pressure up the middle as a pass-rusher and tackled Kenjon Barner after a 1-yard run. Maybe this will be the week he moves up the depth chart?
* The jury’s still out on Trent Cole. Billy Davis hopes his scheme will create one-on-one rushing opportunities for his outside linebackers against tight ends and running backs. That was the case in the second when Cole got the better of TE Richie Brockel and forced Newton to scramble. Later, Cole had a good bull-rush on third down, pushing the left tackle back into Newton. He blew up the fullback and dropped Williams for no gain in the second. Per PFF, Cole was on the field for 15 passing plays. He rushed the QB on seven of them and dropped back on eight. Apparently, Davis is still evaluating that part of his skill set.
* Brandon Graham got into the game in the second quarter. Really don’t know how many snaps he’s going to get once the real games start. But he was productive in this one. Graham and Logan combined to drop Poole after a 4-yard run in the second. He beat tackle Garry Williams off the edge, drawing a holding penalty and forcing a Newton incompletion on third down late in the second. Graham got off his block and dropped Poole after a 2-yard run in the third. He shed a block and dropped Barner for a loss late in the third and had a nice pass-rush on the very next play. Graham played LOLB with the second unit. He only dropped back three times on 14 pass plays, per PFF.
* The Eagles have mostly been going with four down linemen in nickel looks, but I think that’s a case of Davis not wanting to show his hand in the preseason. On a 3rd-and-20 play in the first, we got a glimpse of how I believe he’ll use Connor Barwin in nickel situations.
Here, you can see him standing up next to the nose tackle, threatening the A-Gap between the center and left guard before the ball is snapped.
Mychal Kendricks is also lurking as a potential blitzer.
But when the ball is snapped, both players retreat into coverage, and the Eagles only rush three.
With eight players in coverage, Newton had nowhere to go, forced a throw and was nearly picked off by Brandon Boykin.
When the regular season starts, look for a lot of pre-snap movement from Barwin in nickel.
* The standout player here was clearly Mychal Kendricks. What was notable was how Davis used him on passing downs. Per PFF, Kendricks was on the field for 16 passing downs, and on five of those, he blitzed. Keep in mind, he only played the first half. To put that into perspective, Kendricks blitzed a total of 37 times all of last year, or 2.3 times per game. He blitzed five or more times just once in 16 regular-season games.
Clearly, Davis wants to be creative in how he uses one of his more talented defensive players. As a junior at Cal, Kendricks had seven sacks. In the first quarter here, he blitzed the B-Gap (between the guard and tackle), side-stepped Williams and forced Newton out of the pocket on third down. Later, Kendricks blitzed the A-Gap and hit Newton. He was good even when he wasn’t rushing the passer. Kendricks brought Newton down one-on-one in the open field in the second. He also shot into the backfield and dropped Williams for a 1-yard loss. Excellent all-around game for the second-year player.
* This is always a tough position to judge without the benefit of the All-22, but Cary Williams played exactly like we should have expected him to play, based on last year’s performance. He gives up a lot of catches, but is a sure tackler.
Williams allowed a 16-yard completion to Brandon LaFell on the first play of the game. He later allowed a 10-yard completion to Steve Smith and a 15-yarder on 3rd-and-6. Smith is on the short list of “guys you don’t mess with” in the league. The feisty wide receiver tossed Williams to the ground on an early run play.
Williams was recovering from a hamstring injury, but again, this seems like what you should expect from him. Physical player, not a shut-down corner.
* I have a feeling we’re going to be saying this about Bradley Fletcher all season long: “He gave up the reception, but had really good coverage.” That’s been the story through the first two preseason games. Every time he’s targeted, it seems Fletcher is in the receiver’s pocket. Sometimes, he gives up completions, like the 20-yarder to tight end Greg Olsen. Other times, he makes the play, like forcing an incompletion to Smith in the end zone. Overall, though, I’d say Fletcher’s been solid so far.
* Brandon Boykin played nickel with the first team and then played on the outside in the second half. He dropped an interception in the first and gave up completions of 14 and 21 yards while on the outside. But Boykin came back with a couple really nice plays. He forced an incompletion on a back-shoulder throw in the end zone in the third, nearly coming up with a pick. And he had excellent coverage on the next play too. Boykin also turned in a great kick return, giving the Eagles’ offense field position at its own 43 in the second half. He’s clearly the most athletic corner on the team.
* Another position that’s difficult to evaluate off of TV tape. But we have to mention Patrick Chung, who played really well. Nice job reading the screen and bringing Williams down after a 3-yard gain in the first. On the very next play, Chung came up in run support and dropped Williams after a 3-yard gain. He also made a tackle after a 1-yard run in the first half. Per PFF, Chung has not missed a tackle through two preseason games.