Eagles Defense: Report Card At the Bye
We handed out grades for the Eagles’ offense yesterday. Now onto the defense.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B+
These guys lay the foundation of the Eagles’ defense, and they’ve played very well. As we’ve noted previously, the Birds are one of two teams with three defensive linemen who rank in the top-15 in overall tackles. Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton and Bennie Logan have all played really well against the run. Overall, the Eagles’ run defense ranks ninth, according to Football Outsiders.
From a pass-rush perspective, the two biggest producers have been Cox and Vinny Curry. Cox has no sacks and four hurries, but he’s been a factor every week with his interior pass-rush. Curry has found a role in sub packages as a pass-rush specialist, and he’s second on the team with four sacks.
Backups Beau Allen and Brandon Bair have looked a lot better in the last two weeks than they did earlier in the season.
Overall, this group shows up and does its job every week.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: A
The coaches ask this group to do three things: rush the quarterback, set the edge in the run game and drop into coverage. In Year 2 of the 3-4, the Eagles’ outside linebackers have stepped up.
Connor Barwin (6), Trent Cole (3.5) and Brandon Graham (2) have combined for 11.5 sacks and 27 hurries.
Barwin had his best game as an Eagle last week. In addition to the sack and hurry (10) numbers, he’s batted down three passes at the line of scrimmage and forced a fumble. Barwin is one of the best at his position at setting the edge, has seven tackles for loss, and he’s always had the versatility to drop in coverage.
Cole has had some issues in the run game, but he always plays with great effort and leads the team with 11 hurries to go along with three forced fumbles.
At times, Graham has looked like the best pass-rusher on the team. The coaches have enough confidence in him now to play Graham at both the Jack (Barwin) and Predator (Cole) spots. In addition to his two sacks, Graham has six hurries, seven tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. He’s also drawn praise from Chip Kelly for his work on special teams.
The Eagles’ pass-rush has been good as of late, but if it falters in the second half, don’t be surprised to see Graham earn more playing time. He’s the best on the team when it comes to beating tackles one-on-one and getting to the quarterback.
INSIDE LINEBACKERS: B
There’s nothing spectacular about this group, but the inside linebackers have been steady.
DeMeco Ryans is the Eagles’ leading tackler (53), and the coaching staff finds his ability to get everyone in the right spots pre-snap to be of great value. Ryans played through a groin injury against the Giants and helped the Eagles execute Billy Davis’ game plan. He’s played 93 percent of the Eagles’ snaps and has not had many issues in coverage.
Mychal Kendricks went down in Week 2. His absence has hurt, but Casey Matthews and Emmanuel Acho have done a good job filling in. Neither is good in coverage, but Matthews, specifically, has played well against the run. Marcus Smith II has played limited snaps at inside linebacker, but hasn’t been a factor.
Najee Goode went down in Week 1 and is out for the season.
Overall, this group has been playing without two of its best three players (Kendricks and Goode), but the inside linebackers have held up well. The defense should get a major boost when Kendricks returns from injury.
This is a tough evaluation because of expectations. I don’t think Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher are playing below their talent level, but they have allowed way too many big plays on the outside. Opposing quarterbacks target them frequently and often have success. Fletcher has had his share of breakups, but has looked outmatched at times and struggles to break on the ball. Williams has been victimized by fades down the sideline and gave up catches of 25+ yards in three straight games before last week.
Brandon Boykin continues to play well. And Nolan Carroll II is still finding his way as the dime corner. The Eagles rank fourth at defending opposing tight ends, and Carroll deserves at least some of the credit for that.
This group has turned in its best performances against Andrew Luck and Eli Manning, but the corners had breakdowns against Austin Davis and Kirk Cousins. You don’t quite know what you’re getting from them on a week-to-week basis.
Malcolm Jenkins, aside from the game against the Rams, has played great. He has three interceptions and four pass break-ups. Jenkins is excellent against the run and at times can drop down and cover slot receivers. He was billed as the DeMeco Ryans of the secondary and has lived up to that title through the first six games.
Nate Allen has had his share of struggles. At times, you can get by with him, but his weaknesses have been glaring during some games.
Earl Wolff has been a disappointment in his second season. The former fifth-round pick continues to battle through a knee injury, and the coaches only put him on the field when they’re forced to. He has not been in competition with Allen really since the start of training camp.
Based on what we’ve seen so far, the Eagles hit on the Jenkins signing. But the other spot has been shaky.