Eagles Preseason Evaluations: What Is This Defense's Strength?

Eagles Preseason Evaluations: What Is This Defense's Strength?

As the old saying goes, it all starts up front in the game of football, and that certainly rang true for the Eagles’ defense against Carolina this past Thursday. Coming off of what one might go so far as to describe as a humiliating effort versus New England a week earlier, defensive coordinator Billy Davis’ unit took control of the line of scrimmage in their second outing, and by extension, the game.

End result: after surrendering 31 points to the Patriots, they held the Panthers to just 9, all on field goals.

The biggest difference was on the ground. After New England gashed Philly for 248 yards rushing on eight yards per carry – including two carries of 50-plus – the Birds were having none of that this time. Carolina was limited to 74 yards at 3.0 per carry, with a long gain of 17. And that was with Cam Newton under center, a quarterback who can hurt you with his legs as much as or more than he can with his arm.

Newton didn’t beat them that way, either. He was under duress a good portion of the time he dropped back to pass, as were all Panthers signal callers, leading to an erratic 8-for-17 for 112 yards. Cam may have missed on a throw or two, but considering he spent a lot of the night breaking from the pocket and taking hits, it’s hard to fault him.

The Eagles’ success in the trenches is even more impressive considering Trent Cole, Connor Barwin, Fletcher Cox, Isaac Sopoaga, and DeMeco Ryans all had quiet games again. It’s not the guys with the name recognition that have stood out in the front seven. It’s kids like Cedric Thornton, Vinny Curry, Bennie Logan, Damion Square, and Clifton Geathers – largely anonymous players that are getting themselves noticed for doing the dirty work.

Don’t let their youth or – in several cases – lesser pedigrees fool you. All five have a chance to make a big impact this season. That’s right, all five. Thornton, Curry, and Logan are locks to make the 53-man roster, and the way Square and Geathers are playing, they should be here at the end of the month, too.

The biggest issue right now is they are all so untested at the NFL level. None of them is older than 25. Geathers is in his third year in the league, which makes him the veteran of the bunch, while Thornton has played the most – precisely 406 snaps, all last season. Logan and Square are rookies. None of Geathers, Thornton, or Square were even drafted when the time came.

They’re getting the job done so far though, and not just against backups. Each of them took reps with the first-team defense, and were instrumental in keeping the Panthers out of the end zone over 60 minutes.

Fletcher Cox is out to a slow start, but he’ll eventually join them as a force at the point of attack, and while Sopoaga is probably adequate at best, he’s a strong leader for the unit. If the Eagles’ unproven linemen continue to develop at a rapid pace, the position could very well become the strength of this defense.

RISING/FALLING

Mychal Kendricks

Quite possibly had the best night of any individual on defense. Did everything well. Was effective blitzing through the A gap. Blew up several runs, earning one tackle for loss. Pressured the quarterback a bunch, flushing him from the pocket once, and landing a (clean) shot on another. Also had a very impressive tackle on Cam Newton all alone in the open field that proved critical in holding Carolina to three points on the series. Good bounce-back effort after a disappointing first week for the second-year linebacker.

Trent Cole

Nice rebound for Trent at outside linebacker. Moved more fluidly in traffic this week. Took better angles to the quarterback, attacking blockers at times. It didn’t result in much more pressure, but at least he was in the play. Appeared to be in surprisingly good position when dropping into coverage, which he did a considerable amount. Was solid against the run, making two tackles. This might work.

Patrick Chung

Starting to see glimpses of the player he was in New England a few years ago. Plays very well in the box. Diagnosed a screen pass, making the tackle for a minimal gain. Shut down a run at the line of scrimmage after Kendricks disrupted the timing in the backfield. Finished with four total tackles, tied for most on the team. Also caused a wide receiver short arm a pass coming over the middle. Still can get lost in traffic because of his aggressiveness, but it didn’t hurt them in this contest.

Vinny Curry

Talked about the defensive line up top, but worth highlighting Curry again here. With his burst and now up to 279 lbs., just seems to be a load for interior linemen to block. Even when he was picked up against Carolina, it was a battle for the guard. Lived in the Panthers’ backfield, shutting down runs and rushing the passer. Finished with two tackles for loss. Outstanding game.

Brandon Hughes

Part of the cornerback tandem that made David Gettis look like a superstar (five receptions for 82 yards). Game notes largely read: “Hughes beat in man coverage.” Did have his man on one deep ball that landed incomplete, but receiver may have had a step. Also was penalized for delay of game when he tried to draw a false start – didn’t agree with the call, but it was unnecessary. I’ve never really seen in Hughes whatever NFL coaching staffs do.

Brandon Graham

They’re not dropping him into coverage very often, which is probably for the best. He’s been very disruptive at the point of attack. Caved the left side of the line with Curry to get in on a tackle for loss. Counted three legit pressures on the quarterback and a tackle for a loss. Official stats only credit Graham for one tackle, but I have him in the play on at least three others. Would have been here last week were it not for a single costly mistake – none of that this time around.

Eddie Whitley

Wasn’t on the field much, only in the fourth quarter, but made his presence felt. Had blanket coverage of a receiver on a deep ball. Came up and made a nice tackle in the running game, navigating through traffic to get to the ball carrier. Had a nice camp, wouldn’t mind see a little more of him.

Billy Davis

See all the up arrows? Don’t think I’m being overly-positive. After all, the Eagles did hold Carolina to nine points on 10 possessions. Credit the defensive coordinator for making adjustments and having his guys ready to play. Was a lot more aggressive with blitz calls. Did a good job of mixing up who was rushing and who was dropping without getting overly exotic. Still in a feeling-out process with his personnel, so great job by Billy Davis considering.

MIXED REVIEWS

Cary Williams

Not a horrific debut, but not one that quite backs up all of the talking, either. One thing about both he Williams and Bradley Fletcher is they tackle. Cary led the team with four solos on Thursday. Wouldn’t let the back gain the edge on running plays to his side. Of course, another reason he had all those tackles is Steve Smith was lighting him up on the outside. Smith is one of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL, and Williams kept everything in front of him, so there’s something to be said for that. But he didn’t exactly bring the fear back, either.

DeMeco Ryans

Hasn’t been actively bad, but not much to speak of in the terms of positives. He’s not been around the ball a whole lot. Has filled the wrong gap a couple of times against the run. Takes on blockers, but hasn’t been especially good at getting off of them. Non-factor when he blitzes, and not special in coverage – neither of which is news exactly, but haven’t changed. Ryans looks like a safe start, and that’s about all. Same as last preseason though, and thought he played fine last year.

Emmanuel Acho

Acho seems like a solid tackler who loves to play downhill. He’s made several big plays around the line of scrimmage in both games. That aggressive style of play also tends to get him into trouble though. Against the Patriots, Acho appeared to be guilty of overpursuing LaGarrette Blount to the boundary on that 51-yard cutback run, one reason why the heavy back had the space to completely change course. Against Carolina, Acho got sucked in on a play-action pass on third down, which his assignment wound up converting. The 22 year old has talent, but still lacks discipline.

NFL Notes: Luck has successful right shoulder surgery, owner says

NFL Notes: Luck has successful right shoulder surgery, owner says

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has undergone surgery on the right shoulder that's bothered him the past two seasons.

Colts owner Jim Irsay announced Thursday on Twitter that Luck was recovering from successful outpatient surgery. Irsay says Luck will be ready for the 2017 season.

Luck was listed on the Colts injury report throughout this season and missed several practices, with coach Chuck Pagano saying the team had a plan for keeping Luck healthy while he dealt with a sore throwing shoulder.

Luck missed two games early in the 2015 season because of the shoulder injury. He threw for 4,240 yards and 31 touchdowns this past season after signing a six-year, $140 million contract in June.

Roethlisberger chasing Brady 
PITTSBURGH -- Ben Roethlisberger intended for the moment to be private. The camera following him to midfield and the microphone tucked inside Tom Brady's shoulder pads ended up making that impossible.

Their brief exchange before Brady and the New England Patriots visited the Pittsburgh Steelers in October provided a snapshot into a rivalry that never was. They bro-hugged. They lamented the left knee injury that forced Roethlisberger out the lineup on that warm late fall afternoon.

And then Roethlisberger made an uncharacteristic request : a signed Brady jersey to hang on the wall in Roethlisberger's home office next to Hall of Famers Dan Marino, John Elway and Jim Kelly.

"I consider him one, if not the best of all-time," Roethlisberger said.

A group Roethlisberger does not include himself in.

Not even with as many championships as Brady's longtime friend and occasional foil Peyton Manning (two). Not even with a spot in the top 10 in just about every major statistical category out there on Roethlisberger's still growing resume. Not even with a bust in Canton one day alongside Brady and the rest of the guys whose jerseys adorn the walls of his home almost assured regardless of what happens in Sunday's AFC title game.

The reason is simple: rings. Brady has four, including two he earned while carving a path through the playoffs that included victories in Pittsburgh in 2001 and 2004. Roethlisberger has two, neither of which required Roethlisberger or the Steelers to take out Brady along the way.

It's why Roethlisberger just shakes his head when asked if he's part of the "gold standard" label that he so eagerly attaches to Brady.

"Not as (his) level," Roethlisberger said. "Obviously, with all the Super Bowls he has."

This weekend provides Roethlisberger his best - and maybe his last - chance to do to Brady what Brady has done to so many others over the last 16 years. Even if the last thing Roethlisberger wants to do is get pulled into the "star quarterback vs. star quarterback" narrative that fueled so many showdowns between Brady and Manning through the years.

"It's obviously bigger than the two of us," Roethlisberger said. "I know he is used to it, with the Peyton Manning and Tom thing. This is two football teams that have won championships. Us going against each other is more than just one man. We aren't playing tennis. We are going out there to play a football game with 11 guys at a time."

Salute to service award finalists
HOUSTON -- Falcons coach Dan Quinn and Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva are the finalists for the NFL's Salute to Service Award.

The winner of the honor, presented by USAA, the official military appreciation sponsor of the league, will be announced during NFL Honors the night before the Super Bowl. Both Quinn's and Villanueva's teams, of course, are still in the running to play in that game on Feb. 5.

Quinn and Villanueva were selected for their exceptional efforts to honor and support members of the military community.

Last spring, Quinn hosted a "Rookie Club Olympics" for which he invited 100 military members from Fort Benning, Georgia to the Falcons' training facility to participate. He created the event as a way for NFL players and the military community to unite and work together as a team.

"The military represents team on the highest level," says Quinn, who in his second year as Atlanta's coach and has it hosting the NFC championship game Sunday against Green Bay. "It's an honor to be up for this award that recognizes the standard of excellence set by our nation's military and encourages our community to give back and support service members and their families who serve our nation."

Quinn also stages a military day at training camp and hosts 20 military members at each Falcons home game throughout the season. He also provided an opportunity for families of fallen soldiers with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) to attend the Falcons' Salute to Service game on Nov. 27. All 63 families attending were given a VIP visit at practice and were provided a one-night hotel stay in Atlanta courtesy of Quinn. Each player wore the initials of a fallen hero on his helmet during the game and during practice; the families were given a replica helmet of that player with a personalized note in honor of their hero.

Last offseason, Quinn led four Falcons players on a weeklong USO tour through the Pacific.

Villanueva grew up as a military child, living in the United States and Europe, where he played high school football. He then attended West Point, where he was a tight end, and was commissioned in the Army in 2010.

Promoted to captain in 2014, Villanueva was deployed three times. He received the Bronze Star Medal and the Bronze Star Medal for Valor for heroism in combat.

For the first time, NBC Sports regional networks add live, local Major League Baseball streaming

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AP

For the first time, NBC Sports regional networks add live, local Major League Baseball streaming

STAMFORD, Conn. – January 19, 2017 – NBC Sports Regional Networks today announced an agreement with MLBAM to stream local market MLB games, as well as pre- and postgame shows, beginning with the 2017 regular season. This new streaming offering is available at no additional cost to authenticated pay TV subscribers of NBC Sports Group’s CSN regional sports networks (RSNs). This local initiative advances NBCUniversal’s implementation of “TV Everywhere,” which strives to make quality content available to authenticated customers both in and out of the home, and on multiple platforms.

CSN’s local streaming allows authenticated viewers in their respective markets to live stream games and related programming that is carried by their pay TV provider of the Chicago Cubs (CSN Chicago), Chicago White Sox (CSN Chicago), Philadelphia Phillies (CSN Philadelphia), Oakland Athletics (CSN California) and San Francisco Giants (CSN Bay Area). Game broadcast schedules will be announced at a later date.

“This is a home run for our local sports fans,” said David Preschlack, President, NBC Sports Regional Networks, and NBC Sports Group Platform and Content Strategy. “We are constantly looking for ways to better serve our fans and provide comprehensive coverage of their favorite teams. With the addition of MLB in-market streaming rights, they don’t have to miss a pitch.”

The addition of MLB authenticated in-market streaming completes the local streaming portfolio for the NBC Sports Regional Networks, which also includes local NBA and NHL live streaming. The RSNs first introduced NBA streaming in 2014 and last fall announced the addition of NHL in-market streaming, beginning with the 2016-17 season. 

The NBC Sports Regional Networks now have partnerships for in-market streaming of the Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings, San Jose Sharks, San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s (CSN Bay Area/CSN California); Chicago Bulls, Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox (CSN Chicago); Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals (CSN Mid-Atlantic); Philadelphia 76ers, Philadelphia Flyers and Philadelphia Phillies (CSN Philadelphia); and Boston Celtics (CSN New England).

Authenticated CSN subscribers can access live MLB, NBA and NHL games, as well as other sports programming, anywhere in the United States.  During the 2017 MLB season, all in-market MLB games will be streamed on the respective local CSN regional network site on PCs as well as on the NBC Sports app—NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product for desktops, mobile devices, tablets and connected TVs. The NBC Sports app is available on the iTunes App Store, Google Play, Windows Store, Roku Channel Store, Apple TV and Amazon Fire.