Porous Run Defense Offsets Eagles' Pass-Rush Progress
By Frank Irving
The Philadelphia Eagles' 31-24 win over Jacksonville on Aug. 24 rendered a composite picture of the defense that looks like this: highly vulnerable against the run; better than expected against the pass.
For the second time in three preseason games, the Eagles defense allowed a runner to dart through the front, backers and secondary relatively untouched en route to a 60-plus-yard gain. Jordan Todman, a second-year pro signed by the Jaguars from the Minnesota Vikings' practice squad last November, should have been contained for no more than a 20-yard gain, but Eagles S Earl Wolff took a bad angle from his support position and let the back escape to the right sideline all the way for a 63-yard touchdown. Two weeks prior, Patriots RB Stevan Ridley had jolted the Birds for a 62-yard burst on the first play from scrimmage.
After three games, the Eagles rank dead last in the NFL against the run, having given up an average of 175 yards per game on the ground, more than 20 yards worse per game than any other team in the league. In comparison, at the top end of the scale, Detroit, Houston, the New York Giants and Seattle are all yielding 75 rushing yards per game or less.
During the 2012 regular season, Philadelphia surrendered 126 yards rushing per game, 10th worst in the league, and 10 yards per game worse than the NFL average.
The Eagles have allowed 23 rushing first downs in the preseason, fourth most in the league among teams that have played three games. In comparison, Houston, Seattle, Green Bay and Denver have each given up 10 or less rushing first downs.
ProFootballFocus (PFF), which grades every NFL player on every snap of the ball and compiles totals for every team, rates the Eagles 30th against the rush so far this preseason. Among Eagles defenders battling for roster spots, LBs Casey Matthews and Chris McCoy have graded out near the bottom of the team in rush defense, according to PFF.
DE Vinny Curry, LB Brandon Graham, LB Jake Knott and DT Bennie Logan have performed best against the run with only one missed tackle among them. Together, they've combined for 18 tackles, four assists and 16 stops.
Respectable Against The Pass (With Good Pressure)
When opponents take to the air, however, things don't look quite so bleak.
The Eagles have given up 200 receiving yards per game, seventh best in the league behind San Francisco, Washington, San Diego, Miami, Seattle and Baltimore. Over the course of the 2012 regular season, the Birds gave up 217 yards passing per game (compared to the league average of 231 yards per game).
They're tied for 12th in receiving first downs allowed with 34.
They've prevented the bomb — Philadelphia hasn't given up a pass play of 40 yards or more — but only eight teams have allowed more receptions in excess of 20 yards than the Eagles, who have surrendered nine.
Overall, opposing quarterbacks have completed 55 percent of their passes against the Eagles, the sixth lowest percentage in the league.
A notable bright spot has been the Eagles pass rush. They're in a three-way tie for fifth with 11 team sacks. San Francisco and New Orleans have 13 each, Carolina and Miami have 12 each, and Pittsburgh and Houston have 11, according to CBS Sports.
Against Jacksonville, Curry recorded a pressure/hit, a sack on QB Chad Henne and a forced fumble. Overall, he has two quarterback sacks, two hits and three hurries in 60 total plays.
DE/LB Everette Brown had a sack, a hit and two hurries in 22 snaps against the Jaguars.
A Work In Progress
Coach Chip Kelly accurately assessed the Eagles' defense as a "work in progress" following the Jacksonville game. They've given up four rushing touchdowns and three receiving touchdowns in the 2013 preseason. Their allowance of 21 points per game puts them at 16th in the league, midway between Seattle and Arizona, who've allowed just 10 points per game, and Jacksonville, which has allowed 32.
Philadelphia's pass rush — with Curry, Brown, LB Mychal Kendricks, Knott, Logan and DT Cedric Thornton leading the way — is second best in the league (behind only Detroit), according to PFF. Perhaps due to solid pressure being applied up front, their pass coverage grades out at 12th best in the NFL.
On the flip side, defensive players grading out poorly include LB Trent Cole, NT Isaac Sopoaga, S Nate Allen, DB Bradley Fletcher and LB DeMeco Ryans.
PFF ranks the Eagles overall defense 16th. When combined with their eighth overall ranking on offense — with a surprisingly potent rushing attack, tied for second with Seattle and trailing only Washington — Philadelphia has the makings of a competitive team heading into the regular season.
First Round Of Cuts
On Aug. 25, a day ahead of the NFL deadline for cutting rosters to a 75-man limit, Philadelphia released 12 players.
LB Jamar Chaney, who seems more suited to a 4-3 defensive alignment than the Eagles' 3-4 scheme, and S Kenny Phillips, who played only 30 snaps in the preseason due to injuries, were the biggest names among the cuts.
The following players were also released:
- TE Derek Carrier
- WR Nick Miller
- DT Eddie McClam
- OT Nic Purcell
- DT/OT Isaac Remington
- TE Will Shaw
- DT Daryell Walker
- Long-snapper James Winchester
- P Brad Wing
- CB Eddie Whitley