Eagles Opposition Report: 49ers Defense

Eagles Opposition Report: 49ers Defense

Statistic that may surprise you: the San Francisco 49ers boast one of the top defenses in the NFL, currently ranked seventh in yards allowed (306.3 per game) and in points (17.3 points per game). Of course, two of their first three opponents this season have been the offensively challenged Seahawks and Bengals, so we'll soon find out whether or not they are for real.

ILB Patrick Willis
Any conversation about the Niners defense begins and ends with Willis. It's a cliche thing to say, but he is the heart and soul of this unit, and everything they want to do revolves around #52. At 6-1, 240, he is one of the most active linebackers in the NFL, whether it's stopping rushers cold, covering tight ends, or rushing passers. A Pro Bowler in each of his first four seasons, and a first team All-Pro selection in three of those, there's really only one way to get around having Willis in the ball carrier's facemask, and that's by going over the top -- not that you couldn't see him 50 yards downfield.

ILB NaVorro Bowman
An underrated piece of the league's third-best run defense (62.7 yards per game), the Penn State product takes over Takeo Spikes' spot as a run-stuffing inside backer. He's impressed so far in his first season as a starter, racking up 30 tackles through three games. If the Eagles commit to a ground attack again on Sunday, Bowman will have another productive game, because...

NT Isaac Sopoaga
It was widely assumed Aubrayo Franklin moving on to New Orleans would be a huge loss for this defense, but so far Sopoaga has filled his role just fine. Sopoaga has played in different spots along the 49er line during his seven-year career, but mostly at left defensive end prior to this season. Right now, he's proving his 6-2, 321 lbs. frame can draw and fight the double teams that give Willis and Bowman the lanes to be aggressive and attack the line of scrimmage. Needless to say, the interior of an offensive line that struggled to get push in short yardage situations against the Giants front last week will have their hands full on Sunday.

RDE Justin Smith
One of the most consistent defenders on San Francisco's D, Smith came over as a free agent from the Bengals in 2008. He's put up at least six sacks in each of his first three seasons there, plus he's a solid two-way player who has earned Pro Bowl recognition in back-to-back seasons. He'll be working on Jason Peters' side, and while usually we talk about how that impacts the game in pass protection, this week it will be interesting to see if Peters gets to those second-level blocks while he fights off the tenacious Smith.

OLBs Ahmad Brooks and Parys Haralson
So where do the Eagles attack this offense? Thankfully, the 49ers become much more pedestrian along the edges. First, the defense lacks the great edge pass rushers such as DeMarcus Ware or Clay Matthews that really make these 3-4 defenses go. Brooks and Haralson have both had their moments -- Brooks has 11 sacks over the past two years as a situational player, while Haralson once reached eight QB takedowns for a season -- but neither of them are somebody that requires extra attention.

CB Carlos Rogers
An old friend of the Eagles, we last saw Rogers in a Redskins uniform, as they were getting torched 59-28 in the middle of their comical 2010 season. A first round pick of Washington in 2005, he's been steady enough to hold a starting job from year to year, but is merely average. His interception last week was only the ninth in his career, so he's generally not a playmaker, nor is he somebody who is going to shut down premier wide receivers.

CB Tarell Brown, SS Donte Whitner, and FS Dashon Goldson
The rest of the defensive backs are a largely faceless mish-mash. Brown is the other starting cornerback by default, Whitner is dealing with a hip injury, and we're not really sure about Goldson, who had a big-play laden 2009, but was around the ball significantly less in 2010.

Clearly the way to attack this defense is through the air, but the Eagles' passing attack has looked inefficient during the first three weeks. There needs to be more focus from the receiving corps, and Michael Vick is going to have to suck it up and play through immense pain, because the numbers suggest they won't be able to lean on Shady McCoy this week.

Stay or Go Part 7: Jason Kelce to Byron Marshall

Stay or Go Part 7: Jason Kelce to Byron Marshall

In the seventh 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 7 is Kelce to Marshall.

Jason Kelce
Cap hit: $6.2M

Roob: I’ll start by saying that Kelce did not play as horribly this past season as some people make it sound like. He was inconsistent. He committed too many penalties. He got pushed around by some bigger defensive tackles. But he remains a very smart, very athletic center who got better as the season went on and was actually playing pretty good football late in the year. That said, Kelce turns 30 next season, the Eagles are trying to get younger and a 30-year-old center with a $6.2 million cap figure is a luxury the Eagles just can’t afford right now. They can save $3.8 million by releasing Kelce, and considering how Isaac Seumalo played when he was in there this past season, moving on from Kelce definitely has some merit. Seumalo comes with a $764,966 cap figure, he just turned 23 and he’s got tons of upside. It’s all about what the roster is going to look like in a couple years, when the Eagles should be in position to get into the playoffs and make a run. Do you want a 32-year-old center in his ninth season? No. This is the time to make the change. Get Seumalo as much experience as possible, as much work with Carson Wentz as possible. There’s no guarantee he’ll become the player Kelce has been, but he was a third-round pick and the Eagles need to find out if he's going to be the guy. And that $3.8 million in cap space is big too. Kelce has been a terrific Eagle for a long time, but it’s time to move on. 

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Kelce has become an unpopular player in recent years and it’s easy to see why. He’s slightly undersized center and just can’t take on nose tackles 1-on-1. But he’s still very good getting downfield to block and hasn’t been nearly as bad as you think. Throughout the season, Kelce was pretty honest when assessing his play and said he knew he needed to get better to stay in Philly. There have been reports the Eagles have been thinking about moving on from Kelce, and I see why that makes sense, especially with Isaac Seumalo waiting. But Kelce can be a constant for Carson Wentz, and it's all about Carson Wentz. 

Verdict: STAYS

Mychal Kendricks
Cap hit: $6.6M

Roob: Kendricks, on the other hand, may still have more value to the Eagles here than elsewhere. You could save $1.8 million under the cap by releasing him, and maybe they will. But, geeze, he’s still just 26 years old and still has the athleticism and tools that made him the 46th player taken in the 2012 draft. I’m not sure what happened to Kendricks. Somewhere along the line, all that potential just sort of stopped turning into plays. Kendricks had 12 sacks, three interceptions and six forced fumbles in his first four seasons but no big plays this past year as his playing time dwindled. I have to think Kendricks is worth keeping around for another year and trying to salvage something out of him on special teams if nothing else. Kendricks was drafted ahead of Bobby Wagner and Lavonte David. Do you just give up on him before his 27th birthday? And it’s not like the Eagles are exactly loaded with young talent at linebacker. So I think they try one more year with Kendricks. 

Verdict: STAYS 

Dave: What’s happened to Kendricks over the past few years has been wild. He went from ultimate fan favorite on the brink of becoming a Pro Bowler with a new contract to a complete afterthought. Kendricks barely played in 2016 and it was clear he wasn’t happy about that. Maybe he can make a difference in a different defense. He’s still young and athletic and could fit in another defense. The Eagles should try everything they can to trade him and get something out of him. It wouldn't save them a lot of money ($1.8 million), but it might just be time to cut ties. 

Verdict: GOES

Bennie Logan
Unrestricted free agent

Roob: I know it looks tough right now to imagine the Eagles finding a way to re-sign Logan, who is an unrestricted free agent and is going to get some pretty hefty offers if he hits the open market. But this is what Howie is best at. Finding ways to keep guys he wants to keep. The Eagles are not going to let a solid, consistent 27-year-old defensive tackle walk. General rule: When a team wants to keep a player and the player wants to stay, they find a way to get it done. By releasing and restructuring other guys, they’ll make room under the cap for Logan. I have a hunch he’s not going anywhere.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Logan is the Eagles’ biggest to-be free agent. He’s said he wants to be back in Philly next year and has talked about the friendships he has on the team, but this is a chance for a big payday – and you never know if one will come again. Because Logan has shown his ability to play in a 4-3 and a 3-4 defense, the number of teams interested in him won’t be limited. That will raise the price. And ultimately, it comes down to price. The Eagles already have a ton of money invested in their defensive line. Will they prioritize signing one more? 

Verdict: GOES

Rick Lovato

Roob: Lovato is one of the two-best long snappers the Eagles have had in the last decade. He got three games in after long-time long snapper Jon Dorenbos suffered a season-ending broken wrist, and he acquitted himself fine. But assuming Dorenbos wants to hold off on a full-time magic career and keep playing football, he’s the guy.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Sorry long-snapper Lovato. You did just fine filling in for Dorenbos, but it’s still the magic man’s job.

Verdict: GOES

Chris Maragos
Cap hit: $2.25M

Roob: With apologies to Kenny Rose, Quintin Mikell, Colt Anderson and Ike Reese, Maragos is the best special teams player I’ve ever seen wear an Eagles uniform. Maragos is 30 years old now, but he ceratinly showed no signs of slowing down. The Eagles did the right thing and locked him up for three more years. We probably don’t talk enough about Dave Fipp’s special teams units, but they have always been among the best in the NFL, and Maragos is one of the main reasons why. He’s one key guy the Eagles don’t have to worry about losing. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Maragos is no longer a defensive player and that’s just fine because he’s an absolutely dynamic special teams player. Really. It’s incredible to watch this guy play teams and there aren’t many who do it near as well. With a new contract, he’ll be around for a few more years and as long as he doesn’t show the signs of age, he will still be playing at a high level. 

Verdict: STAYS

Byron Marshall

Roob: Marshall, an undrafted rookie, got a chance to play late in the season with all the other injuries the Eagles’ running backs had, and he acquitted himself OK, especially in the Dallas game, where he ran 10 times for 42 yards. But the bottom line is with Ryan Mathews not likely to return and Darren Sproles a year from retirement, the Eagles really need to re-build their running back corps from the ground up. Whether there’s room for Marshall in that new-look running back corps remains to be seen. Marshall did enough to earn a look in training camp, but the practice squad remains his most likely landing spot. 

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Marshall, the undrafted running back from Oregon, got a chance to play toward the end of the season and did some nice things. He’s a shifty running back, so fans really seem to like him. Heck, everyone enjoys watching him play. But it took him all year to get a chance and the team doesn’t seem too high on him. He’ll be with the team during training camp but probably not on the roster after that. 

Verdict: GOES

Prank against Steelers suspected in early hotel fire alarm

Prank against Steelers suspected in early hotel fire alarm

BOSTON — A man has been arrested and charged with setting off an early-morning fire alarm at a Boston hotel that roused the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers ahead of their playoff with the New England Patriots.

Massachusetts State Police spokesman Dave Procopio says Pittsburgh's team was staying at the Logan Airport Hilton hotel when a fire alarm went off at about 3:40 a.m. Sunday. Procopio says evidence suggests the pulled alarm was meant as a prank against the Steelers.

Twenty-five-year-old East Boston resident Dennis Harrison has been arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace and pulling a false alarm. Police say they found him walking on the hotel property. He's been released on $100 bail.

The Steelers are scheduled to play the Patriots on Sunday night in the AFC Championship Game.