Eagles Better or Worse: Defensive Line

Eagles Better or Worse: Defensive Line

The Eagles famed complex and devastating blitzing schemes have made them one of the most feared defenses in the league during the Andy Reid era. Last season, they didn't have the personnel for it. It was either blitz and risk someone missing their assignment, or sit back and watch the defensive line minus Trent Cole attempt to rush the quarterback.

We all know that wasn't happening, so the front office set out to fix their pressure problems. Did they succeed?

BETTER

Left defensive end

When the Eagles traded up to 13th overall in the draft and selected Brandon Graham, it was a surprise, but the thought was they might have immediately upgraded their pass rush. With the news that Graham has already been promoted to first string, it seems any doubt will quickly begin to fade.

There's a good possibility Graham won't be ready to play at a high level in his rookie season, if ever for that matter, but even if he struggles or hits a wall late in the year, the Eagles still have Juqua Parker in the fold. This will be Parker's sixth year with the club, so you know what you're getting with him—solid but unspectacular play. Still, at worst the team stands to create a strong platoon featuring a capable veteran with a young spark.

At the end of the day, the Birds are counting on Graham to make an impact in 2010. When a team moves into the top half of the first round, that's typically not an unreasonable expectation.

Potential

Besides Graham, the Eagles used two more draft choices on potential defensive ends, another late pick on a defensive tackle, and traded for Darryl Tapp, a five-year veteran. Generally speaking, that number of young players on the roster at one position simultaneously would normally be worrisome. Along the defensive line, it means there's a lot of opportunity.

Like Graham, there's no telling what, if anything, they'll get from their latest crop of young linemen. They're not exactly replacing the most productive bunch of players we've ever seen either. Only Darren Howard has put up numbers in his situational role over the past two years, and he'll be 34 this year, so a decline was likely. It may be a case of throwing a bunch of stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks, but it's not a bad start.

Rush defense

This actually sort of belongs in the linebackers edition, because Stewart Bradley is the biggest reason why the Eagles will improve versus the run. However, it's going to appear at times Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley are having better seasons than '09.

Patt and Bunk form one of the better interior tandems in a league that is trending more and more toward 3-4 defenses (over half the defenses in the league now), but usually not in a way that shows up on the score sheet. They fill gaps and hold the point of attack, which allows their linebackers to finish the plays. Problem last year was they didn't have any linebackers.

As we already noted, if Stew is back, the Eagles will be much improved in this area, but the defensive tackles deserve some of the credit for that as well.

WORSE

The unknown

It's easy to say they're going to be better based on sheer numbers. Realistically, we don't really know.

For starters, Brandon Graham looks like he could become a pass rushing force. Until he does it on Sundays, he's just another guy, albeit it a very high profile guy. Same goes for everybody else they added this off-season.

The Eagles made a concerted effort to improve the defensive line, and considering how lackluster the group was last season, chances are the new contributors will at least become the equivalents of their predecessors. Then again, maybe they won't, at that's the point. It's a tricky thing claiming the defense is better off with a group of unproven players over NFL veterans.

OVERVIEW

Here's a situation where it looked like all four starters would be exactly the same from the previous year, with all of them being at a point in their careers where there is minimal development. Then Brandon Graham jumped onto the scene and started impressing some people. He was brought here to pressure opposing quarterbacks, and if he's able to do that, the entire defense will reap the rewards.

Grade: Better

NBA Playoffs: LeBron James makes history as Cavaliers roll into Finals

NBA Playoffs: LeBron James makes history as Cavaliers roll into Finals

BOX SCORE

BOSTON -- LeBron James scored 35 points and passed Michael Jordan to become the NBA's all-time playoff scoring leader as the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Boston Celtics 135-102 on Thursday night to claim their third straight Eastern Conference title and a return trip to the NBA Finals.

Kyrie Irving added 24 points and Kevin Love finished with 15 for the Cavs, who never trailed and led by as many as 39 points in one of their most dominating wins of the series. The Cavs set an NBA record by winning their 13th consecutive series closeout opportunity.

Cleveland's 4-1 series' win gives it a 12-1 record this postseason and sets up a third consecutive matchup with Western Conference champion Golden State, the team it beat in the Finals last season to claim the franchise's first championship.

It will mark the seventh straight trip to the Finals for James.

Avery Bradley led Boston with 23 points.

The Cavaliers basically conceded the East's top seed to the Celtics at the end of the regular season by opting to rest its starters in advance of the playoffs. But they displayed their superiority over the final two games to wrap up the series.

After allowing the Celtics to seize the early momentum in Game 4, the Cavs barely gave them the chance in Game 5.

Led by its Big Three, Cleveland quickly built a 21-point lead in the first quarter, while getting lots of contributions from their teammates.

Love continued to knock down shots from the outside, Irving sliced his way into the lane to the rim and James got free for several of his one-handed, tomahawk dunks.

It was a very welcomed sight in Irving's case, after he rolled his left ankle in the third quarter of Cleveland's Game 4 win. He showed no signs of lingering issues, though, beating several defenders off the dribble and handing out seven assists.

Meanwhile, J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver all helped spread out Boston's defenders by connecting on several wide-open scoring opportunities.

Deron Williams, who had been quiet for most of the series, also got in on the act with a series-best 14 points for Cleveland.

The Celtics did their best to keep up, but the consistent outside shooting, bench scoring and defense they relied on to stun Cleveland in Game 3 wasn't there Thursday night.

Tip-ins
Cavaliers: James has scored 30 or more points in 11 of Cleveland's 13 games this postseason. ... Improved to 36-5 against Eastern Conference opponents in the playoffs since 2015. ... The 43 points Cleveland scored in the first quarter set a team postseason record for points in a quarter.

Celtics: Injured point guard Isaiah Thomas led his teammates in a pregame huddle before they took the court for warmups. Thomas sat out the rest of the series after aggravating a hip injury in Game 2. ... Held a pregame moment of silence for the victims of the Manchester bombing. ... Were whistled for 16 fouls in the first half.

Best of MLB: Solo homers power Cubs to win over Giants

Best of MLB: Solo homers power Cubs to win over Giants

CHICAGO -- Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist hit solo homers, spot starter Eddie Butler pitched five effective innings and the Chicago Cubs beat the San Francisco Giants 5-1 on Thursday for their third straight win.

Mike Montgomery followed with four scoreless innings and allowed one hit in his first save.

Heyward went deep for the second time in three games and Zobrist added two singles as the Cubs took three of four games in a set with the Giants and finished a homestand at 7-2 (see full recap).

Cruz blast helps Mariners top Nationals
WASHINGTON -- Nelson Cruz greeted reliever Jacob Turner with a go-ahead, three-run homer in the sixth inning, and the Seattle Mariners beat the Washington Nationals 4-2 Thursday to stop a five-game losing streak.

Gio Gonzalez took a 2-0 lead into the sixth, when Jean Segura singled leading off and Guillermo Heredia took a called third strike. That prompted Seattle manager Scott Servais to complain from the dugout, which led to his ejection by plate umpire Adam Hamari.

Robinson Cano singled, and Washington manager Dusty Baker brought in Turner (2-3), despite Cruz having just one hit in 15 at-bats against Gonzalez. Cruz drove a belt-high slider over the fence in left-center for his 12th homer this season and a 3-2 lead. Cruz leads the AL with 40 RBIs.

Cano added an RBI single off Turner in the seventh. Seattle scored multiple runs for the first time since May 18 (see full recap).

Andriese, Rasmus help Rays blank Angels
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Matt Andriese allowed six hits over eight innings, Colby Rasmus drove in four runs and the Tampa Bay Rays salvaged a split of a four-game series with Los Angeles by beating the Angels 4-0 on Thursday.

Andriese (5-1) improved to 4-0 over his last five starts, holding the Angels to 1 for 11 with runners in scoring position. Los Angeles threatened in five innings against the right-hander.

Rasmus had a pair of key two-out hits with the bases loaded: a two-run single in the first and a fifth-inning double that made it 4-0.

Tommy Hunter got three outs to complete a six-hitter (see full recap).