The Eagles will eventually move to a 3-4 or hybrid defensive
alignment under Chip Kelly, you can take that to bank. Whether it happens this
season or in the not-too-distant future remains to be seen though, because
there is some question as to whether the Eagles are ready to make the change
No doubt they already have some of the pieces to run the 3-4
effectively, but who is their big space eater at nose tackle? Who can rush the
passer off of the edge but also drop back into coverage? Howie Roseman addressed
these questions with reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
When it comes to nose tackle, it’s hard to judge whether any
of the Eagles’ interior linemen has that ability to clog up the middle. We
certainly haven’t seen any of the potential candidates commanding constant
double teams or anything.
Then again, we haven’t seen a lot of Antonio Dixon, either.
Roseman thinks he could be a fit.
“I don’t think there’s any question
about it,” Roseman said. “That’s his skill set. He’s a big body, [makes] good
use of his hands, he’s a run stopper – he’s kind of what you’re going to look
for if you’re going to look for a 3-4 nose tackle.”
Dixon is 6’3”, 322 lbs. That’s about what the New England
Patriots list Vince Wilfork at (6-2, 325), and he can probably be considered the
current prototype for the position. Then again, I’m not sure Wilfork doesn’t
weight a lot more than the team is letting on there – he’s a load.
But okay, maybe Dixon is big enough and has the skill set.
After a strong 2010 during which he started 10 games for the Eagles, an injury
cut his following season short, and he fell by the wayside in Jim Washburn’s
wide-9 scheme. The team actually cut him out of training camp, but scooped him
back up once Wash got canned.
It’s a little difficult to envision him as a permanent
solution, but I could see experimenting with it.
What’s much, much harder to swallow was Roseman’s assertion
that Trent Cole could play outside linebacker in a 3-4.
“Trent’s the same way [as Brandon Graham]. Trent can
rush the passer. As you look at 3-4 rush linebackers, Trent has the skill set
that a lot of those guys have.”
Trent could probably create a decent pass rush from the
safety position, at least in his prime. Coming off of a three-sack season, you
have to be concerned about his ability to rush from anywhere in 2013.
We’re willing to give him some benefit of the doubt that he
can bounce back. The problem is rushing the quarterback isn’t that position’s
only job. In order to maintain an air of unpredictability in the 3-4, Cole
would occasionally be expected to drop into coverage – something he has done
poorly in the past.
When Sean McDermott was the Eagles’ defensive coordinator
from 2009-10, Cole dropped back an average of 2.65 times per game. Nobody knew
why, we could all just plainly see it wasn’t working. In ’10, Pro Football
Focus scored Cole a -1.5 as he dropped into coverage a career-high 43 times.
Now Cole is 30 years old. Coverage is just not an area I see
him improving upon after spending eight seasons in the NFL at defensive end.
Of course, last offseason the Colts faced a similar issue
with what to do about Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis in their transition to
the 3-4. The duo showed both edges of the sword. According to PFF, Freeney only
dropped back two times per game and was fine. Mathis, on the other hand, was in
coverage almost seven times per game, and PFF graded him a -5.5.
The Colts also finished with the 26th ranked defense in the NFL, so there's that too.
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