Defense Coming Together

Posted: September 13th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 130 Comments »

The Eagles allowed 306 yards to the Jags. That number doesn’t stand out as good or bad. Under 300 is good for sure. Above 300 and you have to check out some other stats for comparison’s sake. So let’s do that.

Last year the Eagles only allowed less than 325 yards twice. One of those games was the snow bowl against the Lions (231). The other game was the blowout of the Bears late in the season (257). The 306 yards from the opener would have been the third best game for last year. That shows some progress.

You might argue that the Eagles were only playing Chad Henne and the Jags. That’s a fair point, but remember last year the Eagles gave up 396 yards to the Packers without Aaron Rodgers. Matt Cassell and the Vikings put 455 yards on the Eagles. Part of being a good defense is shutting down the teams you are supposed to shut down.

For this year, the Eagles are 7th in yards allowed and tied for 10th in points allowed. One game is obviously way too small a sample size to come to any conclusions, but it is good to see the unit showing progress. Going up against Andrew Luck and the Colts will offer a much better test for how good this defense really is.

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Set aside stats and just focus on execution. The defense is worlds better in that regard.

Watch the KellyStrator segment from PE.com to see Chip showing the defense in action. Players are executing their assignments better and that makes the scheme all the more effective.

One of the things that Kelly shows in the video is tight coverage on a play where Henne is under some pressure. Bill Davis has talked about this. Juan Castillo used to try and explain it. Coverage and a good rush go hand in hand. If you can’t cover, the pass rush won’t be effective. If you can’t rush, coverage won’t be able to stick with receivers.

We talked a lot in the offseason about the need for Trent Cole and the pass rushers to play a lot better. That was true, but better play by the secondary will help the guys up front quite a bit. The Eagles got that on Sunday (after the 1st Qtr) and the pass rush had a good day. Henne was sacked 3 times. He was hit several others. He was uncomfortable in the pocket on a regular basis.

Luck will be a huge challenge because of his mobility and the fact he’s got better receivers. They’ll be harder to cover and he will be harder to pressure.

The Eagles can win a shootout on Monday night, buut I’m curious to see if the defense can surprise a few people and play better than expected.

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One player who helped the D last week is Brandon Graham. Bob Brookover wrote about Graham and how he’s fighting to carve out a role on this team and also get his career going.

“Yeah, I used to think too much [about playing time],” Graham said. “And then I’d get to that day and not play that much. It was kind of like a downer because of how hard I worked during the week. Now I’m just coming in with high spirits. We’ve got a great team, and I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help us get to the championship.”

Davis is pleased with Graham’s progress, but making no promises about future playing time.

“He’s a good option,” Davis said. “It’s having three solid players there, so you just want to make sure now that any of the three that are in there can play and roll and they are going to produce. We are very pleased with Brandon. He had a solid game. He really did.”

While Graham waits for a chance to play more, he can offer some counseling to Smith, who dressed but never set foot on the field Sunday.

“I told him not to be discouraged,” Graham said. “I’ve been there before. You do what you have to do to get on the field and that [for Smith] is special teams right now. Whenever that opportunity comes he has to take advantage of it.”

If Graham continues to play well, the playing time will come. The worst thing he can do is try to do too much. Graham needs to play within the framework of the scheme. He’s talented enough to make plays, like he did last week.

I still don’t think Graham has much of a future in Philly (bad fit to the 3-4), but I would love for him to prove me wrong.

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No Lane Johnson

Posted: September 12th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 59 Comments »

The NFL and the NFLPA are on the verge of an agreement in regard to a new drug policy. The policy will take effect immediately and some players will have suspensions reduced.

But…

Too bad. The OL could use a boost from Johnson right now.

Apparently he used PEDs and they are not affected. Only substance abuse matters.

* * * * *

This would make some sense, if Smith can get up to speed. Dennis Kelly has never started at LG in the NFL. He hasn’t played in a real game since 2012. Smith was a starting LG for all of 2013 and knows the position inside-out.

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Fran Duffy’s All-22 preview of the Colts is must read material.

This is a big step up in competition from the opener.

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Building a Unit

Posted: September 12th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 191 Comments »

The Eagles defense got off to a slow start on Sunday, but then shut down the Jags for the final 44 minutes. The overall numbers are pretty good. The D only gave up 17 points. Jim Johnson always wanted to hold an opponent to 17 or less. The D gave up 306 yards, but 51 of those came on the final drive against a prevent defense.

You can’t build a good defense over night. It takes time to acquire pieces and develop the scheme. A year ago the Eagles looked to be worlds away from even running a competent defense. Now, the unit might turn out to be good.

One of the big reasons is the class of 2012. I wrote about that draft class for BGN. The article is about the whole class, but there is a lot of defensive firepower there.

1st round – DL Fletcher Cox
2nd round – ILB Mychal Kendricks
2nd round – DL Vinny Curry
4th round – CB Brandon Boykin

2012 is also when the Eagles got DeMeco Ryans in a trade from the Texans (who else?).

Last year the Eagles added Connor Barwin, Bennie Logan, Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher.

Those two groups form the bulk of the defense. The Eagles aren’t done building yet, but they’re starting to get enough of the right pieces into place that you can see real hope for this group.

Aside from talent, the transition to the 3-4 is also making big strides. Think about the player improvement in the last year from Trent Cole, Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Brandon Graham, Mychal Kendricks, Vinny Curry and Nate Allen.

While watching the Steelers get shredded last night, something occurred to me.

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The Eagles added WR Cobi Hamilton to the practice squad the other day. I have yet to write about the move.

Hamilton fits the Kelly description. He is a big WR at 6-2, 212. He has good RAC ability and works the middle of the field well. He runs in the 4.5 range, which is good speed for that size. The big issue I had with him was inconsistency. Sometimes at Arkansas he would be dominant. Other times he would disappear. At the Senior Bowl, you saw the same thing. Hamilton would look great for a few plays, then pedestrian on others.

I’m surprised the Eagles added another WR to the PS. I thought they would go for an O-linemen.

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Andrew Luck has been a godsend for the Colts organization. They made the playoffs in both of his years. But go look at the roster. That is not a compelling team. They have some talent, but you take Luck away and that team falls completely apart.

He truly is a franchise QB.

While the Eagles are the more talented team, beating the Colts won’t be easy. They lost in the opener to Denver and that doesn’t bode well for the Eagles.

There is a lot of luck and circumstance behind that stat, but you can’t totally dismiss it. There is a real mental and emotional toughness to the Colts that keeps them from staying down.

Sheil Kapadia wrote a good piece introducing you to the Colts team. My favorite nugget.

3. The offensive line talent is unimpressive, but sacking Luck is not easy. The Colts had the sixth-best adjusted sack rate in the NFL last season, according to Football Outsiders. The Broncos, however, got Luck three times in Week 1.

Indy starts rookies at both guard spots. Hugh Thornton, a third-round pick out of Illinois, will set up at right guard. Jack Mewhort, a second-round pick out of Ohio State, mans the left side. A.Q. Shipley, a former Eagles practice-squadder, will start at center.

The Eagles did a fantastic job of pressuring Henne last week. There are weaknesses on the Colts’ offensive line that Billy Davis will look to expose.

The Eagles can win this game on the LOS. Bennie Logan could give Shipley fits. And Vinny Curry could be deadly in the Nickel and Dime units when he slides to the inside.

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Detailed Game Review – PHI 34, JAX 17

Posted: September 11th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 139 Comments »

PHI 34 , JAX 17

A tale of 2 halfs. Or halves. Or whatever you want to call it. The first 30 minutes and final 30 minutes could not have been more different. Jacksonville jumped out to a 17-0 lead. The Eagles looked like they were playing in the preseason opener instead of a real game. For a while, it seemed as if Nick Foles and Cary Williams were having a contest to see who could play worse. (it was a tie)

Things started to change in the 2nd Qtr. The Jags went up 17-0 less than a minute in, but didn’t score the rest of the game. Once the Eagles defense did wake up, it played well. The offense put together a long drive only to see Foles throw a terrible INT in the end zone. The offense had another drive stall just inside the JAX 40. There was hope, but still no points.

I was nervous. The game was still winnable because there was plenty of time left, but any long time Eagles fan knows there are just some days when the team won’t score. There was the infamous 13-13 game vs the Bengals in 2008. There was the 2007 season opener when the Eagles lost 16-13 to Green Bay. Who will ever forget the 13-9 loss to the Raiders in 2009? There was a 13-6 loss to the Jaguars back in 2006. And of course there was the entire 1998 season.

Would this be one of those days?

I thought scoring those first points, especially if a TD, would make all the difference in the world. Seeing Darren Sproles sprint up the middle of the field for a 49-yd TD took the weight of the world off my shoulders. I was able to breathe and felt worlds better about the game. When the Eagles cut the score to 17-14, I felt like winning was inevitable. I was still nervous, but then I’m nervous when the Eagles are up 13 points with 4 minutes left.

The Eagles ended up dominating the 2nd half and winning 34-17.

It was frustrating to see the team play so poorly for parts of the game, especially against a lesser opponent. Gus Bradley has the Jags pointed in the right direction, but they still need a lot of talent on that team. The Eagles mistakes were largely self-inflicted.

But there is plenty of reason to be happy as well. Look at those games I listed earlier. Those were ugly performances that ended as losses (and one tie). The Eagles were able to right the ship on Sunday and win. By 17 points. I think that really says something when the team can snap out of major struggles and then still win big. That tells you the coaching staff is smart. That tells you the team has a lot of firepower. And that tells you that the players are resilient.

Anyone can get down. Good teams don’t stay down. They can shrug off a bad quarter or half and win ugly. That’s exactly what the Eagles did on Sunday.      Read the rest of this entry »


So Much For Stability

Posted: September 10th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 304 Comments »

The Eagles suffered some injuries in the season opener. RT Allen Barbre is out for the year with an ankle injury. ILB Najee Goode is out for the year with a torn pectoral muscle. LG Evan Mathis is on short term IR with his MCL injury. That meant the team needed to make some roster changes. Let’s meet the new guys.

Wade Smith was signed to help the OL. He has started 98 games in his career, most of that coming as the LG of the Houston Texans. Smith is the kind of versatile, veteran player the team wanted to add. It should be easier to get him coached up on the scheme and playbook than if they added a young guy. Smith knows LG inside and out. He now has to learn the Eagles version of LG.

Emmanuel Acho was promoted from the practice squad to replace Goode. This is a big chance for Acho. He will get some playing time on defense and plenty on STs. Acho needs to show that he can play in the NFL. It will be especially important for him to stand out on STs.

Kevin Graf was promoted from the PS to the roster to replace Barbre. Graf played RT in college at USC, but played LT and LG for most of the summer. His lack of athleticism would seriously concern me if he ever had to play.

Chip Kelly would not say what the plan on the OL is for now. Smith is an experienced LG, but wasn’t good enough to keep a spot on a shaky Seattle OL. Dennis Kelly is here already and knows the scheme, but has mostly played RG. David Molk had a solid showing, but ideally you want him as your backup G/C.

The best plan is to play Smith at LG. Have Molk and Kelly as the backups. If one of the OTs gets hurt, put Todd Herremans at that spot and insert Kelly at RG.

Scratch that. The best plan is to tell the guys to quit getting hurt.

The stability on the OL was great last year. Right now Jeff Stoutland and Chip Kelly are playing a bizarro version of Tetris with the Eagles O-line. Which piece fits best where?

Oh, and thanks a lot Lane Johnson. Not that we could use you or anything like that.

* * * * *

A couple of spots opened up on the practice squad.

The Eagles signed ILB Brandon Hepburn. PE.com has some info on him.

The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Hepburn was selected by the Detroit Lions in the seventh round of the 2013 NFL Draft out of Florida A&M. Hepburn spent last season on the Lions’ practice squad and was re-signed this offseason by Detroit to a futures contract.

The second player to be drafted out of Florida A&M since 2010, Hepburn finished his college career with 163 tackles (109 solo), including 15 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, 11 pass defenses, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. Hepburn earned All-MEAC honors and was named to the All-State/AFCA Good Works Team.

The Eagles needed a young ILB with a mixture of experience and potential. Hepburn has an understanding of the NFL, but must learn the Eagles system. He is a good athlete. Gil Brandt has his Pro Day info.

Brandon Hepburn, ILB (6-foot-2 7/8, 241 pounds) — Hepburn ran the 40-yard dash in 4.54 and 4.56 seconds. He had a 36-inch vertical jump, a 4.47-second short shuttle and did the three-cone drill in 7.31 seconds. He stood on his numbers from the NFL Scouting Combine in the broad jump (10-foot-4, and good and bench press (21 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press).

Hepburn is a guy you think of as a STer and backup. If anything happens to Acho, Hepburn will have a shot at that roster spot. He needs to shine in practice to impress the coaches. Seems like a good signing.

The team also added OL Tyler Hoover.

The 6-foot-7, 297-pound Hoover was a defensive lineman at Michigan State and with the Indianapolis Colts, but did play tight end in high school as well as defensive end. Hoover originally entered the league this year as a rookie free agent of the Colts. He was re-signed by the Colts to the practice squad following the preseason, but released on September 2.

At Michigan State, Hoover played in 48 career games (23 starts) and recorded 93 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, six passes defensed, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. As a senior in 2013, Hoover started 11 games and posted career highs in tackles for loss (4.5) and sacks (4.0). He was also named Michigan State’s Big Ten Sportsmanship Award recipient.

This is an interesting move. The Eagles need OL help right now. Yet, they signed a project. Hoover must be a player they had long term interest in and just wanted to grab for the future. The Eagles have had interest in him since college. They had someone meet with him at his Pro Day. I don’t know if that was a scout or coach, and if it was as a DL or OL.

The Eagles released OLB Colton Underwood from the PS and now have a spot to fill. My guess is that they find an O-lineman with some experience and who can be promoted to play if needed.

So much for roster stability, huh?

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A little adversity can be a good thing. You don’t mind the team getting out of its comfort zone. Sometimes that can bring out the best in players.

Maybe playing behind a makeshift OL will cause Nick Foles to get the ball out quicker. He cannot drop back and look vertically behind this group on a regular basis. Maybe quicker throws will help the offense get into a better rhythm. And so on and so on.

Mathis can come back in 8 weeks. Johnson will hopefully be the RT by that point. If the starting OL can gel quickly, the Eagles could be set to dominate up front down the stretch run.

And that would be cool with me.

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