Eagles Opposition Report: Redskins Defense

Eagles Opposition Report: Redskins Defense

How are the Washington Redskins 3-1 and in first place in the division? Well, when the defense holds opponents to 15.8 points per game, the third-lowest total in the NFL, that takes a lot of pressure off folks like Rex Grossman.

It's a solid all-around unit that is sixth against the run and eighth against the pass. They've forced a league-high 14 fumbles, are tied for fourth with 15 sacks while the other four teams in the top five have each played one more game than the Skins. And although they have improved their personnel since last season, they are getting it done with many of the same players who have made up the core of their defense in previous years.

ROLB Brian Orakpo
Maybe the best player in the NFC East nobody talks about. The only time Orakpo's name seems to enter the conversation about the game's best pass rushers is when the Redskins are on TV. Sure, his sophomore campaign was something of a down year --  registering *just* 8.5 sacks last season -- but he was the only player Washington had who could get to the quarterback. With an improved defense, Orakpo is off to a blazing start with 3.5 sacks through the first four games, giving the former Longhorn 23 total through his first 35 career games. His speed off the edge could be a real matchup problem for Todd Herremans, who has to move over to left tackle this week after injuries to Jason Peters and King Dunlap.

LOLB Ryan Kerrigan
One of the reasons Orakpo is back on track in 2011 is the addition of Kerrigan, who gives the Skins a legit presence on the other end of the formation. The 16th overall pick in this year's draft, I've seen Kerrigan play a few times already this season, and have no problem saying this kid is the real deal. The 23 year old out of Purdue is more of a power rusher who will drive unsuspecting tackles into the backfield, but he's incredibly active no matter what the scheme calls for, and has shown a knack for getting to the ball. In his first four games, Kerrigan already has two sacks, two forced fumbles, and he's returned an interception for a touchdown. It appears Winston Justice will be making his first start since 2010, and he will have his hands full dealing with this promising rook.

RDE Stephen Bowen and NT Barry Cofield
The Redskins have a much different look up front from a year ago, opting to go with players who actually give their full effort on the football field. That means Albert Haynesworth is out, and Bowen and Cofield are in, both coming over from division rivals.

Bowen spent five seasons in Dallas, primarily as a backup. He finally saw some extensive playing time last year, getting nine of his 11 career starts, and essentially worked his way into a job with Washington. The change of scenery seems to have done him some good, as he is rapidly approaching a personal best with 2.5 sacks after four games. Cofield, a starter for five seasons with the Giants, is still adjusting to playing the nose in a 3-4. He hasn't done much to fill out the stat sheet, but is perfectly capable of teaching young Jason Kelce a thing or two on Sunday.

LDE Adam Carriker
Carriker is the only returning member from last season's front, and he too has benefited from the improvements in the front seven. The former first round pick of the Rams might even shed the bust level if he keeps up this pace. The Nebraska product has three sacks this season, nearly doubling his career total in the process. He'll be working against Justice and Danny Watkins on that right side, so he could have some opportunities to add or even multiply that number.

ILB London Fletcher
The fact that Fletcher is still playing is amazing. The fact that he is still playing at a high level is almost unimagineable. Now in his 14th NFL season, Fletcher continues to be one of the most prolific middle linebackers in the league, racking up tackles in the hundreds every year. You would think a 5'10" MIKE would eventually wear down -- and front offices in St. Louis and Buffalo must have been counting on that as well -- but so far, that has not been the case. When he gets his hands on the ball carrier, the play is over more often than not. However, he won't necessarily kill the offense with big plays either. He doesn't generate a ton of negative stops or create many turnovers.

Rocky McIntosh, a high second round pick from '06, competently mans the other inside linebacker position.

CB DeAngelo Hall
The very definition of a boom or bust player, Hall could either intercept four passes on Sunday, or he could concede four long touchdowns. There's no question he is a very dangerous player with elite speed and ball skills, but his coverage ability has always left something to be desired. Still, he can make the offense pay if they make a mistake, which the Eagles have done at an alarming rate. Vick, a former teammate of Hall's in Atlanta, has thrown nine interceptions so far this season, so you know the Skins' showboaty corner is licking his chops heading into this matchup.

SS LaRon Landry
After missing the first two games of the season with a hammy strain, the sixth overall pick in the '07 draft has bounced back and made his presence felt in two games this season. Landry is a hard hitter who can play close to the line of scrimmage, or is athletic enough to play centerfield in the defensive backfield. He is susceptible to the big play though, as Landry can find himself out of position due to his aggressive style.

O.J. Atogwe, who spent the previous six seasons in St. Louis, joins Landry to fill out the secondary. He's a decent enough player, but has been quiet so far working in a new scheme. Overall, the secondary is an area the Eagles can attack. Washington's DB's are all capable of making the offense pay for their mistakes, but any one of them can be beaten as well, especially by speed. There is already some bad blood between this team and DeSean Jackson, so look for Andy Reid to take some shots downfield early and often -- provided Vick has time to stand in the pocket and deliver the football.

Opportunity with Eagles, talk with Le'Veon Bell has Kenjon Barner hungry

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Opportunity with Eagles, talk with Le'Veon Bell has Kenjon Barner hungry

Kenjon Barner is hungry, literally and figuratively.

After spending 2014 on the Eagles' practice squad and getting just 37 offensive touches in a crowded backfield last season, the running back is looking to carve out a bigger role with the Birds in 2016. DeMarco Murray is gone, and with Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles away from the team earlier this week at practice, it was Barner getting the first-team reps. 

Mathews missed Tuesday's practice with an illness, and Sproles hasn't reported to the Eagles' voluntary workouts, which become mandatory from June 7-9.

So Barner, the 27-year-old RB Chip Kelly coached in college and traded for prior to the 2014 season, has had some opportunities to impress new head coach Doug Pederson. And Barner wants to make clear that despite his Oregon ties — he's one of three remaining players from Oregon that Kelly brought to the Eagles, along with Josh Huff and Taylor Hart — he's not only here because of the coach he outlasted.

"It's a great opportunity," Barner said, "just a fresh start. Go out there and continue to show what you can do, continue to make plays and constantly have your name in the coaches' minds.

"For anybody who says, 'Oh, that's Chip Kelly's guy,' no, I'm a football player. I wouldn't be here if I wasn't a football player. I wouldn't have gotten drafted if I wasn't a football player.

"It's not a chip on my shoulder. Yes I went to Oregon, yes I played under Chip, I love Chip to death, but I'm a football player. I create my own lane. I'm not gonna let anybody place me in a box and tell me what I am."

At 5-9/195, Barner doesn't fit perfectly into the box of a classic bell cow back. He's more of a Sproles-lite, a shifty back who can catch passes out of the backfield. He showed that last preseason, when he rushed 13 times for 91 yards and a touchdown and also caught four passes for 72 yards, including a 50-yarder.

That kind of backfield versatility is necessary in the offense Pederson brings over from the Chiefs, the offense Andy Reid ran for many years here. In Kansas City, Pederson and Reid utilized their running backs often in the passing game, just as they did with the Eagles. Even when Jamaal Charles went down for the year after five games last season, that trend continued with Charcandrick West catching 20 passes and DeAnthony Thomas getting some grabs out of the backfield.

"I fit whatever role they want me to fit," Barner said. "Whether it's catching balls out of the backfield or whatever it is. Jamaal Charles is a great back and if I can do half of what he's done throughout his career I'd be lucky."

Barner has patiently waited three years for this kind of opportunity. Mathews and Sproles are expected to be the Eagles' top-two ball-carriers, but both are getting older and neither is an every-down back, Mathews because of all the injuries and Sproles because he's more of a situational matchup nightmare. So even with the addition of fifth-round pick Wendell Smallwood, there should be some opportunities for Barner, who has done all he can to further his own development.

"Just older, more mature, more professional than I've been in the past," Barner said. "Understanding the offense, really going home and studying, really knowing what my responsibility is.

"For me, man, it's just about being mature, growing. I feel like if you're not growing, what are you doing? You constantly have to grow, have to evolve, not only physically but mentally. That's kind of where I'm at.

"I did take it seriously last year, but having the opportunity to go through what I've been through, go home and be with my family, have guys like (Chris) Maragos, I talk to him on a daily basis about football, about life. Sproles constantly being in my ear still — he may not be here but he's still in my ear. It's a lot of things coming together."

One change Barner made this offseason was to his diet. It came from a conversation with the NFL's best all-around running back, Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell.

"I had a talk with Le'Veon Bell back in January," Barner said. "I spoke with him and we were just talking about eating. I'm the type of guy that if I see somebody and I see a change in them and I see it's positive, I have no problem telling you, 'I like what you're doing, tell me how you did it.' I reached out to him because I've been seeing pictures of him and I've seen his body change. We came in the draft together and he's always been a big guy, but he hasn't been that cut, that ripped. So I reached out to him like, 'Yo, what did you do, what's your diet, what have you been taking, what are you doing and what are you not doing?' Just really trying to pick his brain. 

"I'm trying to be great. And if I see you doing something that's pushing you to the next level I'm gonna ask you how you did it. 

"I'm not gonna say I've been perfect. I'm just really big on sweets, I have a sweet tooth like no other and I can thank my dad for that — growing up he always had candy and snacks by his bed so I would always sneak in his room and eat them. That's the hardest thing, that's like my kryptonite."

Sweets weren't a part of the Chip Kelly regimen, that's for sure. But with the coach who brought Barner to the Eagles now in San Francisco, it's more on the players to keep themselves on track, both in the kitchen and with their sleep schedule.

"It's different, a lot slower, obviously," Barner said of practices under Pederson. "Is that good? I mean, you don't get as tired. But you're not in as good of shape as you were in Chip's offense. Chip's offense, you have to be in tip-top shape. So we're still getting there, still certain times when we're tired, times when you shouldn't be tired. So you have to do a lot of the conditioning on your own outside of here.

"Today, [Pederson] asked us who's getting eight hours of sleep. Everybody cares about it because you want your players to be at their best and you can't be at your best if you're not getting enough sleep, (but they're) two completely different people."

So last night's Union game was pretty crazy

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So last night's Union game was pretty crazy

When the Union played in Orlando last year, the game was a relatively dull scoreless draw.

And for most of Wednesday’s game between the two teams in the same venue, it looked like history was going to repeat itself.

That’s when the Kaká hit the fan.

Here’s a quick recap of all the craziness that happened in the second half of the if-you-turned-away-you-probably-missed-something 2-2 draw:

  • Tranquillo Barnetta, inspired by a story I wrote about him a day earlier, scored his second goal this season -- both of which have come against Orlando

  • Warren Creavalle was taken down from behind in the box but no penalty kick was given and no red card was shown, leading head coach Jim Curtin to call the sequence “embarrassing”

  • Orlando City responded with two rapid-fire semi-controversial goals, scoring the first after Philly goalie Andre Blake was wiped out and the second on a shot Blake appeared to make the save on but the ref ruled was in (where’s goal-line technology when you need it??)

  • Ken Tribbett, the pride of Drexel, scored his first MLS goal after early collecting his first MLS assist -- after only being called into the game because of an injury to Josh Yaro

  • Orlando’s David Mateos was shown a straight red card in the final minute but Barnetta couldn’t convert a close-range free kick to win it

  • Fabinho killed a guy with a trident

To think all but one of those things happened in one half is pretty wild -- and that doesn’t even factor in several other cards, calls, no-calls and a pretty cool set piece the Union ran.

https://twitter.com/KevinKCBS3/status/735820306242232320

Oh, and almost lost in all the commotion, was the fact that Andre Blake gave us another memorable moment in a season full of them when he saved a first-half penalty kick from freaking Kaká.

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In the end, Curtin couldn’t get over some of the refereeing decisions, particularly the no-call on Creavalle -- which, as you can see, was in fact quite bad.

https://twitter.com/TotalMLS/status/735636659576930305

Still, the fact that the Union escaped a tough place like Orlando despite the ref and while playing without three of their top playmakers (Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueria and Ilsinho) is quite a nice achievement that you would never have seen with past Philly teams.

It also moved their unbeaten streak to six heading into Saturday’s showdown between the first-place team in the East (your Philadelphia Union) and the first-place team in the West (the Colorado Rapids) -- who you might recall were two of the worst teams in MLS last season.

See ya in the rockies.

https://twitter.com/KevinKCBS3/status/735653796358049792 

Let the bidding begin for Mike Trout, who Angels must move at some point

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Let the bidding begin for Mike Trout, who Angels must move at some point

Yes, the Angels are going to trade Mike Trout.

It may not happen this year or even next year, but eventually Angels GM Billy Eppler will accept the reality of the bleak future ahead for his franchise. Albert Pujols, who has five years and $140 million remaining on his contract after this season, has taken the baton from Ryan Howard for the worst contract in baseball. Good luck getting out of that deal. Other than the increasingly rare Pujols hot streak, they have nobody equipped to protect Trout in the lineup. 

The starting rotation has been patched together, with both Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney going down with elbow injuries early this season. Unless one of those guys comes back healthy, there isn’t a No. 1 or No. 2 starter on the roster. Theoretically, the Angels will have money to spend on the free-agent market with both C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver coming off the books after the season. But with Andrew Cashner and Jeremy Hellickson the likely headliners on the pitching market, a quick fix for the rotation seems unlikely. 

The 2017 free-agent market for hitters isn’t much better. Should Yoenis Cespedes opt out of his contract with the Mets, he could provide a potent presence behind Trout, but there will be stiff competition for his services and he’ll be in line for a massive payday. 

Toronto’s once-dynamic duo of Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista should be available, but both appear to be trending downward. Giving either player a long-term deal is a risky investment at best. 

Building around the young players in the organization isn’t a viable option. By all accounts, the Angels have the worst farm system in baseball. You can check out those rankings here or here. This is a franchise in dire need of an infusion of young talent. 

We’ve seen the Phillies in a similar situation with Cole Hamels. Once there was no way forward to win with him, the only reasonable option was to trade him. Even the most ardent Hamels supporters have to admit now that moving him made sense.  

Yes, Trout is only 24 years old and is the best all-around player in baseball. The Angels should certainly explore every possible option to build a winner around the South Jersey native, who is in the second season of a six-year deal that will pay him $119 million from 2017 through 2020. But the franchise is trending in the wrong direction. If they cannot honestly see a path to contending with him, they should look to move him and jump-start a rebuild. There will be no shortage of suitors. 

So ignore the notion that you never trade an “inner-circle Hall of Famer,” which Trout certainly is on track to become. He is signed through 2019 and the clock is ticking. 

Let the bidding begin.