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.

Best of NFL: Redskins notch 1st win vs. Giants; Cowboys rout Bears

Best of NFL: Redskins notch 1st win vs. Giants; Cowboys rout Bears

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.  -- Dustin Hopkins kicked a 37-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter for his fifth of the game and the Washington Redskins avoid a near-disastrous 0-3 start with a 29-27 win over the penalty- and error-prone New York Giants on Sunday.

Kirk Cousins threw touchdown passes of 44 yards to DeSean Jackson and 55 to Jamison Crowder as the banged-up Redskins (1-2) handed new coach Ben McAdoo his first loss with the Giants (2-1).

Su'a Cravens ended the Giants' final drive with an interception in New York territory. It was Eli Manning's second pick of the quarter, with the other coming in the end zone by Quinton Dunbar after New York got to the Redskins 15 on a big play by Odell Beckham Jr.

This was a wild NFC East matchup that see-sawed the entire second half after Washington rallied from a 21-9 deficit (see full recap).

Prescott, Cowboys rout Bears on SNF
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Dak Prescott led scoring drives on all four Dallas possessions in the first half before throwing his first career touchdown pass, and the Cowboys beat the Chicago Bears 31-17 on Sunday night to snap an eight-game home losing streak.

With his second straight win, Prescott doubled the number of victories the Cowboys (2-1) had in 14 games without injured quarterback Tony Romo over three seasons before the rookie fourth-round pick showed up.

Prescott's first TD pass was a 17-yarder to Dez Bryant for a 31-10 lead in the fourth quarter, and he's up to 99 throws without an interception to start his career. Philadelphia rookie Carson Wentz has 102, and those are the two highest career-opening totals in NFL history.

Brian Hoyer had trouble moving the Chicago offense early with Jay Cutler sidelined by a sprained right thumb as the Bears fell behind 24-3 at halftime and dropped to 0-3 for the second time in two seasons under coach John Fox (see full recap).

Vikings stop Newton, snap Panthers' home win streak
CHARLOTTE, N.C.  -- The Minnesota Vikings keep finding ways to overcome injuries --and keep finding ways to win football games.

Sam Bradford threw a touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph, Marcus Sherels returned a punt for a score and the Vikings snapped the Carolina Panthers' 14-game home winning streak 22-10 on Sunday.

The Vikings put the clamps on Cam Newton, intercepting the league's reigning MVP three times and getting eight sacks, one of those resulting in a safety by Danielle Hunter. The eight sacks were the second-most ever against Newton.

"We have a great team -- the best team I have been a part of," said Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen, who had three sacks. "We come from every area on the field and we get sacks."

Said Newton: "They were dictating to us after they got the momentum."

The Vikings improved 3-0 despite losing running back Adrian Peterson and offensive tackle Matt Kalil to injuries last week. They lost starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the preseason (see full recap).

Bills bounce back with win over Cardinals
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y.  -- LeSean McCoy scored twice and safety Aaron Williams returned a botched field-goal snap 53 yards for a touchdown in leading the Buffalo Bills to a 33-18 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

Quarterback Tyrod Taylor also scored on a 20-yard run at a time the Rex Ryan-coached Bills spent the past week taking the brunt of criticism after opening the season 0-2.

The win also came on the heels of Ryan firing offensive coordinator Greg Roman and replacing him with running backs coach Anthony Lynn.

McCoy scored on 24- and 5-yard runs, and finished with 110 yards rushing after combining for just 117 in his first two games. Taylor had 76 yards rushing, including a 49-yarder, the longest by a quarterback in team history (see full recap).

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Doug Pederson: For the Eagles, 'this was a good benchmark'

Doug Pederson: For the Eagles, 'this was a good benchmark'

On his way to the locker room following his team's stunning 34-3 victory over the Steelers, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson reacted, well, like you probably did.

Pederson had to be surprised by what had just transpired. After all, this wasn't the Browns or the Bears. This was the Steelers, who entered the game with the second-best odds behind New England, per Bovada, of winning the Super Bowl (the Patriots were first). 

And the Eagles didn't just beat them. They clobbered them.

But minutes later, when Pederson met the media for his postgame press conference, he tried his best to act like it was no big thing.

“I told the team way back in OTAs that it just takes a little bit of belief," Pederson said. "Belief in themselves. Trust the process. Believe in the coaches and the coaches believe in one another. That’s what they did tonight. 

"Am I surprised? A little. But at the same time, I know that locker room, I know those guys and I know what they are building. By no means have we accomplished anything yet. The season is still extremely young. But what they did tonight just proves that they are coming together as a football team.”

Yeah, yeah. Sorry, Doug. It's OK to be surprised. Scratch that. Make that stunned. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year. But now? Forget that. 

At least for the next two weeks. The Eagles are on their bye week and don't play again until Oct. 9 at Detroit. 

“It is still a young season, only three games. This was a good benchmark," Pederson said. "That’s a good football team, the Steelers are a great football team. They are going to be there at the end, they always are. Coach (Mike) Tomlin always has those guys ready to play. 

"But for our guys, it is just a little glimpse of that belief that I have been saying since the spring and summer. If they just do their jobs, I just feel that good things can happen. We just protect each other in that dressing room in there and keep coming to work everyday.”

Pederson is the only head coach in team history to win each of his first three games. It's only the ninth time the Eagles have started 3-0.

And of course, a big reason they've done so is their prodigy quarterback Carson Wentz, who became only the second rookie in team history to record a 300-yard passing game (Nick Foles is the other).

More impressively, Wentz now has attempted 102 straight passes without an interception, the longest streak ever begin an NFL career (per ESPN). Dallas'  Dak Prescott is at 99 after the Cowboys beat up the Bears.

But don't ask Pederson to admit he's amazed by Wentz or the fact he had the presence of mind to make plays like the riveting 73-yard TD pass to Darren Sproles (much more on that here).

“You know, you just put on his college film. Just watch him," Pederson said. "We exhausted his college tape and those were the plays that he made at North Dakota State. That play tonight was just a tremendous play by both he and Darren Sproles. Those are the types of things that we know he can do. He just keeps gaining confidence every single week.”

As does the defense, which kept one of the league's most potent offenses out of the end zone

"They just weren’t going to be denied," Pederson said. "They just weren’t going to bow their necks. They weren’t going to let them in the endzone. It just came down to our will versus theirs and I was just so happy with the way the guys played. Just a great team effort.”