The Eagles defense was erratic in 2013, but they showed real potential at times. They had a 9-game stretch of holding teams to 21 points or less. With players adjusting to a new scheme, new positions and new coaches, that was pretty impressive. That unit did finish 29th in yards allowed, but was 17th in scoring defense. That looked like a good foundation with hope for the future.
Instead of taking a big step forward, the 2014 defense went the other direction. They only held 5 teams all year to 21 points or less. There was the great Sunday night shutout of the Giants. There was a dominant Monday night win over the Panthers. Too many other games weren’t so fun. The Eagles finished 28th in yards allowed and 22nd in points allowed.
The defense would look great for parts of games, but they just couldn’t sustain that level of play. The big issue was X-plays, the Chip Kelly term for passes of 20 or more yards. The Eagles were burned by all kinds of players and plays. Allen Hurns, Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, DeSean Jackson, Dez Bryant, Frank Gore, Kenny Britt, Arian Foster, Jordy Nelson and Doug Baldwin all burned the Eagles for big plays, most of them long TDs. Rookies. Veterans. Stars. RBs. WRs. Anyone and everyone. Ugh.
The good news…this is the most talent that Bill Davis has had to work with. There are still some holes and some question marks, but this group has a good combination of size, skill, athleticism and experience. This will be the third season in the 3-4 for many of the players. They should be in a real comfort zone when it comes to this scheme.
I think there is better depth this year. There looks to be real competition at ILB and CB. That wasn’t the case in the past. The DL could turn out to be plenty deep if the young guys develop as expected.
When you think about the defense, Malcolm Jenkins might be the most important player. He is the only proven starter at S. He is the only returning starter in the secondary. If he goes down, things get very interesting in a hurry.
I don’t know if the defense will be better. They need to be better, that’s for sure. And I think they can be better. There is hope.
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Whether Bill Davis can run a top flight defense is a whole other subject. I’ll do that as a full and separate post in the near future.
We don’t know what to expect from the OL in 2015. We do know the OL played pretty well last year. They struggled for the first month due to injuries and the suspension of Lane Johnson. Once LJ returned and there was a bit of stability, the line settled down and was very good at times.
The obvious point to bring up is “Yeah, but Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans are gone now.” While that is true, they only combined to play in 17 games last year. The line had some success with guys like Matt Tobin, Andrew Gardner and David Molk on the field.
As for Peters, no surprise there. He can be physically dominant due to his combination of size, power and athleticism. And he’s got the nasty streak that you love to see in a big, strong O-lineman.
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More from Berry:
21. Since Chip Kelly took over in 2013, Eagles quarterbacks have combined to score 594 fantasy points (18.6 per game).
22. During that span, the only quarterbacks with more fantasy points than “Eagles QB” are Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Andrew Luck.
Chip Kelly said a lot of glowing things about Ryan Mathews at a recent PC. With all the attention going to DeMarco Murray, it is easy to forget about Mathews and what a good signing he could prove to be.
The Eagles want to be a running team in 2015. Murray is here to be the primary runner and the key to the offense. Mathews is here for a couple of reasons. He will spell Murray during games so that there isn’t one RB getting 350 touches. Mathews is also here in case Murray does get hurt and miss a game or games.
LeSean McCoy proved to be amazingly durable in the last 2 years. He played in all 32 games and had almost 700 total touches. You can’t count on that, especially with a player like Murray who has dealt with some injuries. If Murray is out for a couple of weeks, you still have Mathews and Darren Sproles.
Remember the end of the Giants game? Trey Burton was put in at RB to eat up some carries. This year you would just hand the ball to Mathews. That rests Murray and allows you to use Sproles the way you want.
Mathews could thrive as a role player. He was a good starting RB for the Chargers. His main issue was durability. If you use him less, the lack of wear and tear could bring out the best in him. Check out these highlights.
There are a couple of things that jump out to me. First, Mathews is one physical runner. He doesn’t go down on first contact. Mathews can break multiple tackles on a single run.
The other thing that stands out is how square Mathews stays to the line of scrimmage. This term refers to when a RB keeps his shoulder pads parallel to the LOS. You want this because it means the RB is running north-south. That helps the runner to break tackles and also leads to more big plays. If there is a gap to hit, the RB gets to it and through it quickly. RBs that run parallel to the LOS (going E-W) are much easier to tackle. You can hit them in the side of the legs, where they have less power and balance.
Mathews isn’t just a power runner. He has enough speed to get out wide and turn the corner. That speed is one of the reasons that Kelly also wants to use him as a KOR.
You can see similarities in Ryan Mathews and Chris Polk. Mathews is more naturally gifted, which is why he has been an NFL starter and Polk has been a #3 RB. Polk also had trouble staying healthy. Mathews wasn’t able to be a consistent 20-carry a game RB for San Diego, but that’s very different from Polk, who had nagging injuries that seemed to slow him each summer and affected him during the season.
Murray and Mathews could prove to be a dynamic duo for the Eagles. They won’t have the spectacular “How did he do that?” highlights that Shady made seem so common, but the M&M boys will run downhill. That’s exactly what Kelly wants and he thinks it can help the offense to be even better in 2015.
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"You can't be whatever you want to be. You can be whatever you work to be." — Jordan Matthews. The whole #Eagles team makes #Chipisms now.
The Eagles concluded a mandatory minicamp on Thursday and will be off for about the next 6 weeks. That’s just enough time for Sam Bradford to come all the way back from his ACL tear, Marcus Smith to remember he’s a former 1st round pick with big potential and the Eagles to build a RG from body parts found in local graveyards (after midnight, of course).
Chip Kelly said in his PC that there aren’t any conclusions to be found at this time of the year. He’s wrong, dead wrong. I know exactly what will happen with this team, but I’ll keep those answers to myself. If I tell you what’s going to happen, you’ll just get bored (until Matt Tobin turns into the TD machine, that is).
Let’s talk about some players and situations.
OG – Allen Barbre is the LG. The RG spot is wide open. Tobin, Andrew Gardner and Dennis Kelly are the 3 primary candidate, but Chip also mentioned Kevin Graf this week. Graf has the size and physicality to play inside. His limited athleticism is less of an issue in there.
The Eagles hope to be choosing the player who looks the best. It is possible they’ll have to settle for the player who sucks the least.
QB – Sam Bradford gets healthier each week. He’s throwing the ball well and definitely looks the part of a starting QB. Mark Sanchez has moments when he looks like a good starting QB. The issue for him is consistency, both from game to game and within games. Sanchez really wants to push Bradford for the starting job. Matt Barkley is the pleasant surprise at QB. I thought he was as good as gone, but Barkley has taken a big step forward. Maybe the light finally went on for him. Tim Tebow? He continues to be a work in progress. Tebow needs to look a lot better in Training Camp to seriously challenge for a roster spot.
WR – Jordan Matthews doesn’t sound at all like a guy who will have a sophomore slump. He’s working as hard as ever. Nelson Agholor continues to impress everyone who goes to practice. He shows speed and good receiver skills. Josh Huff looks improved. The question with him is how good he’ll be. Key role player? Starter? We’ve heard a lot of good things about Miles Austin, both as a player and mentor. A darkhorse to watch…Seyi Ajirotutu. Jimmy Bama has mentioned him a few times and a couple of other writers have as well (their lack of Pulitzers keeps me from mentioning names).
ILB – This spot is so deep that Brad Jones and Emmanuel Acho began taking a lot of reps with the OLBs. Kiko Alonso isn’t showing any signs of being a player on the mend from an ACL tear. Mychal Kendricks went from a player who was sure to be traded to one who had a good spring and is on track to start again. DeMeco Ryans is ahead of schedule in his injury comeback. We heard very little about rookie Jordan Hicks, but I think that is strictly because most eyes were on the big 3. Najee Goode has made a few plays in practice. He went from being the #3 guy to someone fighting for a roster spot. He will battle for his job.
DB – So far, so good for Byron Maxwell, the Eagles highly paid savior at CB. For once, it seems like money well spent. Nolan Carroll is the other starter for now, although that is in very light pencil. Rookie Eric Rowe and JaCorey Shepherd are going to fight for that job. Brandon Boykin has been told he will have a shot at the job. We’ll see about that.
Walter Thurmond moved from CB to FS and seems to be fitting in well. He looks to be the starter opposite of Malcolm Jenkins. Jerome Couplin has gotten some reps with the starters and Chip Kelly said some good things about him this week. Ed Reynolds needs to step up in a big way if he’s going to win a roster spot, let alone a starting job. Earl Wolff has yet to come back from his injury. There is a disconnect between him and the coaching staff. Chris Maragos and Chris Prosinski are in Year 2 of the scheme and that could help them push for time on defense. I think of Maragos as purely a STer. I need to see Prosinski this summer before making any judgments with him.
Jaylen Watkins was going to be a S and then got moved back to CB. I would think they want him at S with Wolff out, but the Eagles put him at CB. Then he did play some at S this week. The Eagles like versatile players, but you have to wonder if all that change hurts Watkins ability to develop.
Many expected Rowe to end up playing S for the Eagles, but they’re adamant about him playing CB for now. They think he can be a star on the outside. I think he’s an ideal fit for this scheme at CB so I’d leave him there. EJ Biggers is another guy that can play inside or outside. We haven’t heard much about him recently. I think he is still working at CB.
Things are unsettled at DB, but I like the depth and the talent of the overall group. There are going to be some growing pains as this group gets used to each other, but there is more potential here than with the secondaries of recent years.
Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham are both coming off career years. They will be the starting OLBs for the Eagles and expectations for them are pretty high. With Graham taking over a starting role this year, that leaves a big opening for the #3 OLB spot.
This is a great opportunity for Marcus Smith, last year’s fairly invisible 1st round pick. If he can win the #3 job for now, that would help the team and slowly get fans on his side. There is no worse role in sports than being the object of the scorn of disappointed Eagles fans. Smith got off to a slow start this spring due to a nagging injury, but is now back on the field. Sheil Kapadia talked about him.
11:51 a.m. – I have joked before about being the lone passenger on the Marcus Smith bandwagon, but I swear that watching him move in practice, he looks like an NFL player. He’s long, athletic, and effort doesn’t seem to be an issue.
Maybe after being ping-ponged from outside linebacker to inside linebacker, it was the mental part that tripped him up last season. We’ll see if that’s the case once the pads come on.
12:58 – Smith comes off the edge to “sack” Barkley. C’mon, I told you, there’s still room on the bandwagon. Anyone? Anyone??
Smith has added about 15 pounds this year. He has all the physical tools necessary to be a good starting OLB in the 3-4. He just has to put everything together. Sheil is hopeful with Smith. So am I. But Chip Kelly isn’t going to wait forever. Smith needs to show serious progress this year.
Are the Eagles optimistic about Smith?
The news that Vinny Curry is now taking some reps at OLB would lead me to believe otherwise. The Eagles know you need 3 OLBs to eat up all the snaps that the defense will play. And that’s if everyone stays healthy. You can’t count on Smith turning into a key OLB. The Eagles want it to happen. They hope it happens. But they are clearly keeping their options open.
Curry is about 280 pounds so it isn’t likely he’ll make the full-time move to OLB, but I do like this move. He is a terrific pass rusher and I’m for getting him more snaps. Using him in the base as a 3-4 DE isn’t optimizing his skills. He has gotten much better at that and is now a good backup, but Curry is at his best in passing situations when he can attack.
Putting him at OLB gives him another chance to attack up the field. He does have some coverage responsibilities there, but the Eagles can limit those when he’s on the field. Curry is studying Barwin and asking him lots of questions as he tries to pick up the subtleties of the position.
Beyond those two, the Eagles have Travis Long and Bryan Braman as OLBs. Braman is mainly a STs demon, but he has good quickness off the edge and could develop into a situational pass rusher. Long is a player the Eagles had high hopes for last year. He tore his ACL in the preseason finale and is on the way back. Domo just posted a good piece on him.
Brad Jones and Emmanuel Acho both came to the Eagles as ILBs, but are getting looks on the outside. Jones has started on the outside in the past. Acho played OLB in the 4-3 in college and has some pass rush ability. Jordan Dewalt-Ondijo is a UDFA with some pass rush ability.
Long is the most interesting guy because of his size and youth. The Eagles list him at 6-4, 255 and he’s just 23 years old. He will play on STs and last summer got some reps at ILB. He is the kind of hard-working, versatile guy you want on the bench. I don’t think he has the burst to ever be a starting OLB in the 3-4, but he could be a valuable role player. Effort will never be a question and he is a tough, physical defender.
The ACL injury doesn’t seem to be slowing Long down this spring. He’s healthy and just got permission to practice without the brace. Smith can benefit from getting pushed by guys like Long, Braman, Jones and Acho. Smith is far more talented than any of them, but he needs to produce results. The other guys are more of the overachiever types. Hopefully being around them will bring out the best in Smith.
The Eagles need someone to step forward and claim the #3 OLB spot.
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