Eagles Defensive Performance Reviews: Hey, It's Tom Brady Edition

Eagles Defensive Performance Reviews: Hey, It's Tom Brady Edition

There’s a quote of Trent Cole’s that probably bears repeating after Friday night’s preseason game against the Patriots. Purely a defensive end during his first eight years in the NFL, Cole almost seemed to feel bad for DeMarus Ware back in June. While Cole has been transitioning to outside linebacker in the Eagles’ new 3-4 scheme, Ware has been doing just the opposite in Dallas, learning the 4-3.

"I'm very comfortable now when I'm rushing because there's so much space to work with," Cole said. "You're just able to see so much more of what's in front of you and what's around you and where you can and can't go. Plus, I get to rush over tight ends and running backs now, so that's a lot of fun."

"So that means DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, those guys are going to have to line up right up against the tackle and go at tackles and guards all game, right?" he said. "That's a lot tougher way to go."

It didn’t take very long for Cole to experience outside linebacker, the 3-4, all of that – not so easy. Actually, it took precisely one snap to learn the hard way.

If Cole was able to see more of the field, that didn’t keep him from navigating its obstacles like an elderly person behind the wheel of a Hummer. New England’s offense basically threw a little debris in Trent’s path, and that was enough to make the two-time Pro Bowler take his turns as wide as an 18-wheeler, running himself out of several plays as a result.

Let’s cut the metaphors. Take the first play from scrimmage, where Stevan Ridley rips off a 62-yard run. Quite a bit had to go wrong for this to happen, by the way – we’re not blaming Cole. Fletcher Cox gets pancaked, Nate Allen takes a horrible angle to the ball, nobody sheds their blocks anywhere. It’s simply an example of a player (Cole) learning his new surroundings, because you have to think what he faced was probably OLB 101.

The offset tight end at the top of the screen will wind up blocking Cole one-on-one, sealing him off outside long enough for the rusher to advance out of the backfield. The blocker is not entirely without help though. The wide receiver who came in motion to their side and stopped tight to the formation runs right past Cole’s right shoulder, creating at least the illusion of additional traffic – enough to slow down the attacker it seemed.

Reminder: nothing in terms of the play is even happening out here.

While this was perhaps the most complex diversion Cole faced all night, it wasn’t uncommon to see the 30-year-old’s impact minimized by any bodies moving in his general direction, as he attempted to run around those hurdles every time. On the flip side, the couple of times I noticed a tight end try to divert Connor Barwin, he just tossed them aside.

Save for one solid moment – surprisingly when he dropped into coverage – Cole was largely invisible out there. He’s got a long way to go.

RISING/FALLING

Nate Allen

Took a bad angle to the ball carrier on the first play from scrimmage, turning a 15-to-20-yard gain into a 62-yard sprint. Saw additional reps with second-team defense. Was involved in miscommunication that would have resulted in an easy touchdown had it been the starting quarterback. No signs his window is closing, but didn’t help himself.

Mychal Kendricks

Was marginalized in the running game. Had a chance to hold New England to a field goal on opening drive, but got trucked by LaGarette Blount on 3rd and 1. Ran stride-for-stride with back on touchdown pass that was completed over his outstretched fingertips. Sometimes you can’t help but wonder watching him if size (6-0, 240) is an issue at this level.

Brandon Boykin

Start went to Brandon Hughes, but Boykin did well with the opportunities provided. Kept ball out of the end zone on a punt to help pin New England at their own 1. Maintained picture-perfect coverage against a bigger wide receiver on a fade pattern to the back of the end zone. Tackled well. Basically continued what has been a superb camp.

Vinny Curry

Incredibly disruptive against Patriots’ second string. Whacked the quarterback several times. Didn’t show up on the stat sheet much, but did record a half sack. Playing much bigger than his rookie season (up to 279 lbs.), didn’t seem to slow him down any. Need to see more, but very promising effort.

Jamar Chaney

Fighting for a spot as one of the backups behind Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans. Missed tackles. Didn’t appear to be particularly productive on special teams. Didn’t really do anything good of note at all, finishing with a forgettable two tackles.

Bennie Logan

Had the best night of any Eagles rookie. Moved all over the defensive line, wreaked havoc everywhere. Tied for most total tackles on the team. Tackle for loss: check. Sack: check. Pass batted down at the line of scrimmage: check. Working against second string obviously, but credit where credit is due.

Jake Knott

Did a little bit of everything. Racked up four total tackles, a half sack, and a pass defended. Maneuvered well through traffic, was generally in good position, finished plays when he had the chance. Considering Chaney’s disappointing outing, it seems Knott might have himself a legitimate shot at earning a roster spot at inside linebacker.

MIXED REVIEWS

Bradley Fletcher

Fletcher, a cornerback, led the Eagles with five solo tackles – he only played on the first two series. Had tight coverage on a few plays where Tom Brady had even better timing. From watching him in camp, he seems like a solid-albeit-unremarkable player. Didn’t do anything exceptional, didn’t do anything terrible or even wrong.

Patrick Chung

Played aggressive, sometimes to his detriment. Wasn’t shutdown in man coverage. Then again, he generally diagnosed plays well and could finish them. Sniffed out a bubble screen for no gain on third down, wound up with four tackles overall. Also played nickel corner reasonably well – that kind of versatility is nice. Nothing special here, a few aspects of his game could be cleaned up, but not a bad debut, either.

Brandon Graham

I wanted so much to say his stock is rising, but lost backside contain during Blount’s obscene 51-yard cutback touchdown jaunt. Contributed on special teams. Consistently put varying levels of pressure on the quarterback, even popped him once. None of it quite meant enough to erase that one critical, unnecessary mistake.

Sir Charles and Shaq made things personal last night and it was fantastic

Sir Charles and Shaq made things personal last night and it was fantastic

Shaq always has the trump card -- and by that we mean championship rings -- to throw in Charles Barkley's face. But with that said, Sir Charles is probably a much better trash talker and therefore has a superior mouth to defend himself with and throw barbs back in Shaq's direction.

The mouthy duo got into it a bit last night and it teetered between fun and lighthearted and a little personal.

Shaq attacks Chuck for only playing in one NBA Finals and therefore not really knowing what he was talking about. Charles claps back at Shaq for having ridden Kobe and Dwyane Wade's coattails. 

During an NBA playoffs that has been mostly boring, at least these two can still entertain us.

Fletcher Cox should be at Eagles OTAs, but absence likely meaningless

Fletcher Cox should be at Eagles OTAs, but absence likely meaningless

Fletcher Cox wasn’t at practice with the rest of his Eagles teammates on Tuesday -- well, 86 of them -- and that’s okay. It’s May, and participation in offseason training activities is strictly voluntary. Furthermore, if Cox wants to take a vacation, he is entitled to do so under the collective bargaining agreement.

Cox really should be at OTAs. The Eagles gave him a contract potentially worth over $100 million just last year, and with that comes an obligation. Cox arguably did not live up to that contract last season, too, so he could use the practice. And if he needed a vacation, why didn’t he take one during the three months he was off from work?

As far as I’m concerned, both takes are true. Cox is free to do as he wishes, and people with careers in sports should understand better than anybody the strain it places on families, so I can’t blame most of these guys for taking a little extra time. Then again, this drama with Cox seems like it was completely avoidable, and looks especially bad in light of his contract and disappointing season, so I can’t blame people for being angry, either.

Yet, Cox’s absence almost certainly will have no bearing on the outcome of any games this season. It’s not a sign of disrespect for Eagles coach Doug Pederson or that he’s losing the locker room. It’s not going to send a message to teammates that participation is not expected or important.

Cox missing OTAs on Tuesday was of no consequence to the Eagles at all. By training camp, it will be a forgotten footnote in the story of the 2017 season, only to be mentioned in future Mays whenever somebody else exercises the option to skip a voluntary practice.

Even then, there is clearly a double standard, because the reaction isn’t the same for everybody. When Brandon Graham missed last week while he was believed to be “holding out” for a new contract -- can’t hold out when it’s voluntary -- there were equal parts rage and support for the cause. Jason Peters and Donnie Jones are out this week, too, and while some displeasure has been voiced, those absences were largely met with apathy.

Marcus Smith was missing on Tuesday as well, and it’s not immediately clear why. Pederson made no mention of the former first-round draft pick, and practice was almost over before reporters bothered to notice. In theory, this is a huge mistake, because Smith is fighting for a roster spot. We also don’t know where he is -- perhaps there’s a reasonable explanation -- so it’s unreasonable to jump to conclusions or become outraged.

This is the part where once again we remind everybody that it’s May and these practices are non-contact. And while Cox going away for a week will still be indefensible to some, it never hurts to put yourself in another person’s shoes. Maybe, for whatever reason, he was literally unable to make the trip at a time that would not interfere with Eagles business. Maybe he was simply getting grief at home because he's away so much.

That undoubtedly will be impossible for some people to accept. And, hey, maybe Cox just doesn’t care. Regardless, the practices are voluntary, Cox is expected back next week, and absolutely nobody is going to be talking about this eight months from now, eight weeks from now, or even eight days from now.