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.]
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.