RG3: Eagles defense ‘knew what was coming’

RG3: Eagles defense ‘knew what was coming’

We get so caught up talking about the quarterback sometimes, it’s easy to gloss over the job the Eagles’ defense has done this season. They’ve now gone seven consecutive games without allowing an opposing offense to score 21 or more points in a game, and nine of 11 this season.

The rankings still have Philadelphia 31st overall based on yards, but that’s a joke. After holding Washington to 16 on Sunday, the Eagles moved into the top half of the league in points allowed, which even that is a flawed statistic as it does not differentiate scoring off of offensive turnovers or special teams returns.

The defense has been the surprise of the season for the Birds to say the least. Nobody expected them to be above average in the first year of a transition to a 3-4 alignment, let alone good.

Credit Bill Davis for the instant turnaround. The Eagles defensive coordinator managed to take the leftover personnel from the Andy Reid era, plug those players into his scheme and make it work. Now he’s got his unit so well prepared, apparently they know what’s coming beforehand.

At least, that was Robert Griffin III’s complaint following Washington’s 24-16 loss on Sunday, as he explained it to Mike Jones of the Washington Post.

 “They did a good job of scheming us up,” quarterback Robert Griffin said. “They kind of knew what was coming before it was coming and that was disheartening. But like I told the guys, regardless of what’s going on out there, we’re the players and we have to make the plays work, and we just weren’t doing that in the first half.”

“Obviously, we ran the ball well, but in the passing game a lot of times, they were tit for tat. They were there, where they needed to be and a lot of times they were taking the routes that needed to be run and that’s disheartening, but we have to come up with something for that.”

Griffin said he didn’t take the Eagles’ success on defense as a sign that Washington’s attack has become predictable as a whole.

“I don’t think it has become predictable,” he said. “DeMeco Ryans is a good linebacker and they do good things with him and the other guy – Najee Goode. They allowed DeMeco to play the pass first. A lot of times, we were trying to hit those [play-action] holes behind him and he can run to those holes. I think on the back, they did a good job of running to those holes as well – kind of scheming stuff and knowing what type of hole we’re trying to hit on those three level holes, or whatever you might want to call it. I don’t think we’ve become predictable. I just think they had the right call in the right situation and they lucked into some pretty good recoveries.”

How many times have we heard all of that before, only it was somebody from the Eagles’ offense lamenting that their opponent knew what was coming? More than a few times under Reid for sure.

The Eagles have benefited from facing some one- and zero-dimensional offenses this season, but they’re taking care of business. Not every matchup has been cake either. They held Kansas City to 19 despite five turnovers from their own offense. They held Dallas to 17 and the Giants to 15 in consecutive weeks despite getting next to no production. Between RG3, Alfred Morris and Pierre Garcon, Washington had a nice collection of playmakers to stop on Sunday.

And there’s no denying how Davis has individual players performing. Trent Cole switched from defensive end to outside linebacker, and with three sacks in the last three games, his pass rushing is finally catching up to the job he’s done against the run and in coverage. DeMeco Ryans is the heart and soul of the defense and appears to have reverted to Pro Bowl form. Hell, noted bust Nate Allen actually looks like a competent and reliable safety.

They need to finish the season strong, but the Eagles defense is head and shoulders above what anybody believed they would be this season. And for perhaps the first time all season, that defense was arguably the primary reason Philly won on Sunday, not Chip Kelly’s offense.

>> Redskins players: Eagles ‘knew what was coming’ on offense and defense [WaPo]

Eagles Stay or Go Part 6: Taylor Hart to Donnie Jones

Eagles Stay or Go Part 6: Taylor Hart to Donnie Jones

In the sixth 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 6 is Hart to Jones.

Taylor Hart

Roob: No matter how hard the Eagles try, they just can't get rid of Taylor Hart. Chip Kelly drafted Hart in the fifth round in 2014 and then Hart began last season with Kelly in San Francisco before reappearing here later in the season. Hart is going into his fourth NFL season and has 15 games, 12 tackles and no sacks to show for it. He turns 26 next month and has never shown any signs of being a guy who can contribute in a 4-3 defense. I’m going to say he goes, but don't be surprised if he finds his way back onto the roster at some point. 

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Hart was with the Eagles last training camp but cut him on Sept. 4 and he was claimed by the 49ers and Chip Kelly. Then when the Niners cut him, the Eagles claimed him back and he spent the rest of the season watching the Eagles play football. He was inactive in all but the last game and in that one he didn’t play. Hart is a former fifth-round pick who just fits better in a 3-4. The Eagles already played undrafted rookie Destiny Vaeao over him, so it’s time to set him free. 

Verdict: GOES

Jordan Hicks
Cap hit: $796K

Roob: Whenever you blast Chip for getting rid of Shady, DeSean and Jeremy Maclin, you have to mention that he did draft Jordan Hicks in the third round. Hicks, in just 24 games, has become one of the most productive playmaking linebackers in Eagles history. With seven interceptions, he already has the 11th-most interceptions in franchise history by a linebacker, and he led all NFL linebackers with five INTs this past season. Only four linebackers in NFL history have had more interceptions in their first two seasons – Hall of Famer Jack Ham is one of them. But Hicks is more than a ballhawk. He’s a smart, heady linebacker who is stout at the point of attack and is already developing into a terrific locker room leader as well. The future is certainly bright for Hicks.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: He just finished his second year in the NFL, but Hicks is quickly becoming one of the biggest playmaking linebackers in the league. Through the first 24 games of his career, he has seven interceptions. In his first two years, he has 7 INTs, 4 FRs, 1 FF. He’s the fifth player in NFL history to do that in his first two seasons and he’s the only linebacker. That said, Hicks needs to get better against the run and he knows it. Now that he won’t have an injury to heal from this offseason, he plans on hitting the weight room to get stronger and better at stopping the run. He looks like a cornerstone of the franchise. 

Verdict: STAYS

Malcolm Jenkins
Cap hit: $7.5M

Roob: Jenkins had another good year in his third season with the Eagles, although not quite up to his Pro Bowl level of 2015. Jenkins, who turns 30 late next season, is on the books for another four years with some pretty high cap figures — $7.5 million in 2017, then $10 million, $9.75 million and $9.25 million. But as long as Jenkins continues to play at a high level, I don’t see him going anywhere until after the 2018 season at the earliest, when he would count just $3 million in dead money if he’s released. But Jenkins is a guy you'd like to see finish his career in Philly. Hope that happens. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It’s hard to quantify just how much Jenkins means to the Eagles or how much he’s worth. But it’s a lot. The last two seasons have been the best of his career and he’s shown no signs of slowing down. The best Jenkins stat is this: He’s missed just eight defensive snaps since arriving in 2013. Unreal. If the Eagles chose to play him at cornerback last year, he would have probably been their best one. 

Verdict: STAYS

Lane Johnson
Cap hit: $10M

Roob: If he goes, it’ll be because of a third positive drug test. Johnson’s play in the six games he was available to the Eagles was at an All-Pro level. But after two positive tests for banned substances and suspensions of four games in 2014 and 10 games in 2016, he’s now one positive test away from a two-year ban that would essentially end his Eagles career. My gut feeling is Johnson has learned his lesson and won’t take any more chances. That he understands what’s at stake here and isn’t going to risk his career by taking a supplement that hasn’t been pre-tested and cleared. Obviously there are other reasons the Eagles were 5-1 when Johnson played. Those five wins included games against the hapless Browns and Bears and a win against a Cowboys team that wasn’t trying to win. But that said, Johnson’s value is clear. He's a beast. It’s up to Johnson whether he becomes a Pro Bowl offensive tackle or a casualty of the NFL’s substance abuse regulations. I can’t imagine he’ll make the same mistake again.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: A lot was made about Johnson’s suspension voiding the guaranteed portion of his contract. And for a week or so, a bunch of fans were calling into talk radio saying the Eagles should cut him. That was laughable. Johnson is still the Eagles’ best offensive player and as long as he stays on the field and plays the way he did in 2016, he’s going to make most of the money in his contract. He obviously deserves plenty of blame for the way last season went, but he’s a big piece of the future. One more suspension and his career is basically over, so the Eagles just have to hope he doesn’t ruin everything.  

Verdict: STAYS

Marcus Johnson

Roob: Johnson is an interesting guy. Ran a 4.37 so he has wheels, but he didn’t have much of a career at Texas. Then again, Texas didn’t have a legit quarterback while he was there so maybe there’s a lot of untapped potential. The Eagles are so desperate for help at wide receiver they’ll take a good long look at everybody on the roster, even a guy who bounced off and on the practice squad last year. This Longhorn is a longshot to make the roster, but then again, if he catches the football consistently in training camp he’ll give himself a fighting chance.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The receiver was with the Eagles during training camp and flashed some before getting hurt. He joined the practice squad during the season and was there at season’s end. He’ll be brought to camp but is a longshot to make the roster. 

Verdict: GOES

Donnie Jones
Cap hit: $1.25M

Roob: At 36 years old, the greatest punter in Eagles history (sorry Mat McBriar) showed no signs of slowing down. In his 13th NFL season, Jones averaged 45.8 yards per punt with a 40.7 net – both above his career highs. The most amazing thing about Jones is his knack for dropping punts inside the 20 without hitting very many touchbacks. He had 21 inside the 20 this year with just six touchbacks, and in four seasons with the Eagles he has 117 inside the 20 with just 26 touchbacks. When you don’t have an explosive offense, field position is critical, and Jones is a human field position flipping machine. The Eagles signed him to a three-year extension this year, and he’s now under contract through 2019.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: At times during the last two seasons, Jones has looked like the offense’s best weapon. That’s not a good sign for the offense, but it is for Jones. He’s already the best punter in team history. He’ll be 37 by the time the 2017 season starts, but he just signed a contract and will be the team’s punter for at least a couple more years if everything goes to plan. 

Verdict: STAYS