All Eyes on Eagles’ Defense in Second Preseason Game – What We Want to See

All Eyes on Eagles’ Defense in Second Preseason Game – What We Want to See

The Eagles’ defense has been taking a beating all week. First they had to fight Tom Brady and 10 of his best friends last Friday, the result of which was – to put it bluntly – an ass whoopin’. And over the six days since, observers have been picking over the scraps, questioning everything from the defense’s preparedness to switch to the 3-4, to the lack of tackling throughout training camp.

None of which was entirely unfair. The Birds’ defense allowed the Patriots first-team offense to march down the field for six on both of their possessions, the unit surrendered 31 points total – that number easily could have been higher – and they were gashed for two huge running plays that went for over 50 yards. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

Such a ghastly performance supported fears coming into this camp that Philly’s defense might somehow be worse this year than it was last, when (as I probably needn’t remind you) surrendered the fourth-most points in the league. They don’t appear to have all the parts necessary in their front seven to make a 3-4 alignment work, and the rebuilt secondary is a huge question mark. Neither of those concerns was eased much from what we saw.

Of course, this was game one in a new scheme under a new regime, and it’s worth noting the opponent was one of the NFL’s elite. New England hasn’t won fewer than nine games in a season since the last millennium. Their starting quarterback is a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer. To begin with, maybe that wasn’t the most level of playing fields.

With that in mind, I think what I want to see most of all in game two versus the Carolina Panthers is some overall improvement, however marginal. Start small. Don’t allow a 62-yard run on the first play from scrimmage. Don’t make Cam Newton look like Brady. A concept Eagles fans might want to get used to: a good season for their D would probably be middle of the road. Let’s see if they can take a step in that direction tonight.

Here’s what we’re watching:

How the defense handles Cam Newton’s mobility

The Eagles don’t have many dual-threat quarterbacks on their schedule this season, but they will see Robert Griffin III twice, including in the season opener. The fact that Brady can pick the Birds apart is not surprising, sort of a given actually – there are few like him. The secondary should fare better against Newton, a career 58.9% passer, but let’s see how the defense handles somebody back there who can also make plays with his legs. Newton has run for over 700 yards in each of his first two seasons, and at 6-5, 250, he’s a haul to bring down. It’s a whole different kind of test this week.

Get hats on the ball carrier

Missed tackles weren’t as much of the problem last week as some would have you believe. There were some, but the Patriots actually missed more. For the Eagles, the problem more often than not when there was a breakdown was they weren’t even in position to make a tackle. On Stevan Ridley’s 62-yard run, nobody touched him until he was caught from behind, same on LaGarrette Blount’s 51-yard jaunt. Not sure which is worse, but let’s have fewer of both, okay?

Young linemen stepping up

This one is for both sides of the ball. Last week Vinny Curry, Bennie Logan, and Damion Square all made tremendous impacts on the defensive line, blowing up numerous plays in the backfield. All three did it against second-string offensive linemen though. It would be nice to see them rotated in with the first group so we could see them against starting-caliber players. On the other side of the ball, Lane Johnson had a fantastic debut in midnight green as the starting right tackle. Let’s hope he keeps it up.

LeSean McCoy in Chip Kelly’s offense

Shady will play tonight, so it will be our first glimpse into how dangerous he can be in Chip’s offense. Jason Peters is still nursing a hamstring, so McCoy won’t have his full cast of offensive linemen in front of him, but it should be exciting to see what he can do and how he’s utilized. Will we see him lined up in the slot at all, something we saw a little bit of at practice? Reuben Frank has more on why the fourth-year back could be in a for a big season.

[Update: Jason Peters is in uniform, may play tonight after all.]

The quarterbacks

Round two of Chip’s QB derby goes off tonight. By most accounts, Mike Vick has gained a slight edge over Nick Foles, but it will be Foles who gets the first chance under center tonight (as determined by a rotation). I am really starting to enjoy the competition, especially after last week when Vick hit DeSean Jackson on a 47-yard bomb, and Foles tried to one-up him with a 10-play, 66-yard scoring drive. It gave me a sense that there is no wrong choice here – even if that’s probably not the case.

Some impressive numbers for Joel Embiid's All-Star campaign

Some impressive numbers for Joel Embiid's All-Star campaign

Tonight, the All-Star starters will be announced on TNT. It is unlikely the East's starting five will include Joel Embiid -- he was only third among frontcourt fan voting at last check, and coaches and media will likely go with a safer choice (i.e. one that doesn't rank only eighth on his team in total minutes played) anyway. But I think we're officially at the point where it's absurd to think of JoJo possibly not getting considered at all, so before the reserves are announced a week from tonight, here's some numbers that tell the partial story of Embiid's dominance in his rookie season: 

107.1: The Sixers' overall defensive rating, tenth best in the NBA. 

99.3: The Sixers' defensive rating with Embiid on the court, first-best in the NBA. 

99.7: The Sixers' overall offensive rating, worst in the NBA. 

105.0: The Sixers' offensive rating with Embiid on the court, 15th best in the NBA. 

7.7: Embiid's block percentage, highest in the entire NBA. 

15.4: Embiid's assist percentage, third-highest on the Sixers (behind their two point guards).

10: Embiid's current streak of consecutive games with 20 points or more, longer than any Sixer since Iverson. 

7: Number of games where Embiid has shot more than ten free throws. 

4: Number of games last season where anyone on the Sixers shot more than ten more free throws. 

68: Embiid's (positive) plus-minus for the entire season. 

224: The Sixers' (negative) plus-minus for the entire season. 

42.5: Embiid's defensive FG% at the rim, highest for any center in the league. 

28.2: Embiid's scoring per 36 minutes, seventh best in the NBA. 

1: Number of other rookies who have ever scored at that rate before (Wilt Chamberlain). 

10: Number of wins the Sixers had all of last year. 

12: Number of wins, after last night's season-highlight win over the Raptors, that they have this year with Embiid in the lineup.

Eagles Stay or Go Part 4: Chase Daniel to Dillon Gordon

Eagles Stay or Go Part 4: Chase Daniel to Dillon Gordon

In the fourth of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — Part 4 is Daniel to Gordon.

Chase Daniel
Cap hit: $8M

Roob: Carson Wentz’s backup had a heck of a year — completed all his passes, passer rating of 118.7, averaged 16 yards per attempt. Project that over a full season and Chase Daniel is going to Canton. OK, so he threw only one pass. But that’s two straight years Daniel has been perfect. Last year, he was 2 for 2 for the Chiefs. Most importantly, Daniel has a $7 million base salary in 2017, and that makes him the 25th-highest paid quarterback in the NFL in 2017, and the sixth-highest paid Eagle. The numbers are ridiculous, but Daniel is clearly a good influence on Wentz, a valuable mentor. He’s a solid backup, but that contract is just way too lucrative. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: I know fans don’t understand why Daniel is getting paid this much money to be a backup who doesn’t ever play, and at times I have trouble figuring it out myself.  But here’s the reason. When Wentz arrives to the facility during the season at 5:15 a.m. and starts watching film, he’s not watching with Doug Pederson or Frank Reich or John DeFilippo. He’s watching it with Daniel. So while it might not make sense to pay a backup quarterback this much money, don’t think of Daniel as a backup quarterback. Think of him as an asset to the franchise quarterback. Then it doesn’t sound quite as bad. 

Verdict: STAYS

Anthony Denham

Roob: The Eagles must like Denham because he had two stints on the practice squad this year and they re-signed him to a futures deal when the season was over. But barring an injury, there just isn’t room on the roster for another tight end.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Denham is a tight end who was on the Eagles’ practice squad in 2016. Maybe he’d have a shot to make the roster if the Eagles aren’t able to bring back Trey Burton, but I don’t see that happening. They’ll bring him to camp and let him compete and maybe get another year on the practice squad. 

Verdict: GOES

Jon Dorenbos
Cap hit: $1.08M

Roob: Assuming he’s healthy, Dorenbos isn’t going anywhere. Rick Lovato did a nice job filling in at the end of the season, but until Dorenbos decides he wants to pursue magic full-time, there’s a spot for him on this roster.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: During last year’s training camp, I watched Dorenbos walk along the sideline, shaking hands and kissing babies (not literally). Then I looked on the field and saw his “competition” snapping footballs repeatedly to a goal post. That’s when I realized Dorenbos wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. And now he has a new contract. He’ll end up playing more games as an Eagle than anyone in the history of the franchise. 

Verdict: STAYS

Zach Ertz
Cap hit: $5.6M

Roob: Even though he had the second-most catches in the entire NFL over the last 10 weeks of the season, a large segment of Eagles fans have decided Ertz is to blame for everything that went wrong with the Eagles this year. Never mind that he got off to a good start on opening day, then suffered a very serious rib injury, then came back after missing just two games, then after getting healthy finished the season with 67 catches for 685 yards and four TDs in the last 10 games. Not the last one or two or three games. The last 10 games. With a full offseason and preseason with Wentz, I fully expect Ertz to finish 2017 well over 1,000 yards. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: I don’t understand the Zach Ertz hate. He isn’t Rob Gronkowski or Travis Kelce. So what? He’s a really good tight end. Now, I understood why some people questioned the non-block play. I was one of them. But look at the numbers. Here’s a list of tight ends who had more receiving yards than Ertz in 2016: Kelce, Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham, Kyle Rudolph. Not bad company. And some look at his production and say, well, it all came in December. Maybe there will be a year in which his late-season production finally helps the Eagles with a playoff push. And he just signed a new contract, so he’s here for a while. 

Verdict: STAYS

Najee Goode
Unrestricted free agent

Roob: Goode, an unrestricted free agent, is a capable special teamer and emergency backup linebacker, but he would earn $775,000 even on a minimum-wage deal in 2017, and considering the Eagles’ salary cap crunch, they may elect to replace him with a rookie late-round pick or undrafted guy who would earn about $300,000 less. Based on ability, he would stay. But those mid-career veterans with high minimum salaries who don’t play much on offense or defense can be tough to keep around.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: In each of the last two seasons, Goode has managed to be on the team after missing out on the original 53-man roster. Maybe that’s a possibility for this season, but first the Eagles need to re-sign him. It might be time to move on from Goode and find a younger linebacker/special teamer. 

Verdict: GOES

Dillon Gordon
Cap hit: $543M

Roob: Gordon is an intriguing prospect. Like Jason Peters, he was a college tight end who moved to offensive tackle soon after arriving in the NFL. He’s big and strong and athletic, he’s just very new at offensive tackle. The Eagles liked him enough to keep him on the active roster all last year, and I’m guessing they see him as enough of a prospect that they’ll keep him around for at least another year. Especially with so many question marks at offensive tackle.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Gordon was on the Eagles’ roster for the entire season and was inactive in all but one week. He was a college tight end who came to Philly and is learning how to play offensive tackle. (Peters once made the same transition.) Gordon is crazy athletic for his size and the Eagles thought enough of him to put him on the active roster instead of risking losing him by placing him on the practice squad. He’s a project, but one worth keeping. 

Verdict: STAYS