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Eagle Eye: Making progress on defense
Fletcher Cox (left) had two hurries on Tampa Bay's last two drives Sunday. (AP)
Games are won -- and lost -- in the trenches. The biggest reason for the Eagles’ 36-20 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday is because, for the most part, their defensive line dominated Tampa’s offensive line.
Here’s a breakdown of the Eagles’ studs and duds on defense from Sunday’s win over the Bucs at Raymond James Stadium, along with other interesting items that stuck out in tape review.
(To read the film review of the offense, click here.)
We’ll start with the studs.
There were times when the tape showed that Thornton didn’t just play well, but he dominated the man opposite him like a Pro Bowl defensive lineman. It’s just six games, but Thornton has played so well in his fluid role as nose tackle and defensive end that he might really merit Pro Bowl consideration. There was no one on Tampa’s offensive line that could block him.
DeMeco Ryans made 12 tackles, but the tape persistently showed Ryans cleanly getting into gaps once occupied by Thornton, who would have the opposing lineman pushed back three to five yards.
It started early. On the Bucs’ second possession, Thornton’s penetration on a 3rd-and-1 run closed a lane for Doug Martin, who got none and the Bucs were forced to punt. In the second quarter, lined up at defensive end and across from tight end Tim Wright, Thornton ripped past Wright and held Martin to a two-yard gain.
On Tampa’s opening drive of the third, on 2nd-and-4, Thornton pushed center Jeremy Zuttah so far back that Zuttah nearly bumped into Mike Glennon, whose hurried pass was picked by Bradley Fletcher. Five plays later, the Eagles went up 21-17 on Riley Cooper’s 47-yard touchdown.
Thornton abused Zuttah again in the fourth to stop Martin after a one-yard pickup at the Tampa 1-yard line. On the next snap, he again blew past Zuttah and almost tramped Martin as he jumped to obstruct a Glennon pass to Vincent Jackson. If Glennon wasn’t 6-foot-7, that ball isn’t completed.
Easily the best game of the season for the second-year pro. Like Thornton, Cox got the best of the man across him several times and provided a steady pass rush.
In one sequence, he pushed back left guard Ted Larsen (who filled in for MRSA-plagued Carl Nicks) about five yards on a 2nd-and-5 Martin run that ended with Larsen drawing a holding penalty and forcing 2nd-and-15. On that down, he lined up across right guard Davin Joseph and beat the lineman with an inside move to hit Glennon and force the ball to pop straight up in the air.
In the second, Cox pancaked left tackle Donald Penn on a Glennon pass that sailed incomplete. In the third, his penetration against Larsen caused the left guard to bump into Martin, who got slowed up and was tackled by Cox for no gain. Cox had two hurries on Tampa’s last two drives.
The veteran linebacker played his best and smartest game of the season, especially in run defense as Martin gained just 67 yards on 16 carries. Ryans was asked to make several one-on-one tackles against one the NFL’s best running backs and responded.
In total, Ryans led the defense with 12 tackles, all solo. He dropped Martin for no gain on 3rd-and-1 on Tampa’s second drive and provided a 3rd-and-15 hurry in the third. He had a few bumps in a few man coverage situations but also had some good wrap-up tackles across the middle. It’s just a relief to see guys on this team making sound tackles again.
Now for the duds. Two from this game.
In the second quarter on 2nd-and-7, he missed a tackle on Martin in the flat and let the running back get 10 yards. The Bucs would march down the field that drive and score a touchdown to go up 17-14, with Williams making a poor attempt to break up a fade from Glennon to Jackson in the end zone.
It’s fair to wonder if Cole’s got any pass-rushing gas left in the tank. He still doesn’t have a sack after six games and he’s not very disruptive against the run anymore. The hustle is still there, no doubt, but Cole didn’t make any significant plays.
He slipped in coverage on the first play of the third and allowed Wright to catch a 36-yarder, but he had no safety help, which coordinator Billy Davis blamed on himself for a lousy call.
Here are the rest:
Very close to being a stud for the third straight week. Had two breakups on Tampa’s opening drive and intercepted a pass in the third, although Tiquan Underwood gave up on the route. He also had Jackson well covered 40 yards downfield on a first-down bomb from Glennon. The passer rating against him was 13.9, according to Pro Football Focus.
The slot corner wasn’t tested much compared to past games but broke up one pass and drilled speedy running back Jeff Demps on a flash screen that gained just three yards. Demps left with a groin injury after that play.
Another good game for Allen, who made no glaring mistakes and tackled well, with nine tackles. He had Underwood well covered deep down the right seam in fourth quarter. Later on the same drive, he blitzed from deep and stopped Martin for no gain.
Barwin set the edge well in run defense, an unsung part of his job, and provided some pass rush. He got suckered by play action on the Vincent Jackson’s 24-yard touchdown catch and never came close to Glennon after blitzing from the slot, where he was initially lined up against Jackson. He also came up empty on a sack opportunity at the end of the first half and let Glennon escape and find Chris Owusu for 14 yards.
Graham wasn’t much of a pass-rushing force in his 23 snaps. Must have been shaken up by that Michigan loss.
Kendricks saw plenty of action in the blitz game and his rush helped force Glennon into an intentional grounding in the first. He was cut-blocked by Larsen, the left guard, on a Martin 24-yard run that eventually led to Tampa’s go-ahead touchdown. He struggled in coverage on Wright a couple of times.
Before aggravating his shoulder, Chung blitzed from deep and stopped Martin for minus-two in the first quarter. In the second, he stuck Jackson on a timing route in the end zone for a pass breakup, but on the very next play he blitzed and was frozen by play action, allowing Glennon to find Jackson across the middle for a 24-yard touchdown.
A fairly good game for the rookie. His pressure in the first caused Glennon to ditch the ball quickly and get flagged for grounding. He made the biggest stop of the game, obstructing a pass from Glennon to Wright in the end zone on 3rd-and-9 that would have put Tampa ahead in the fourth.
He played 27 snaps, most among the reserve linemen, and had a couple of tackles. He even dropped into coverage once on a 2nd-and-long when the Eagles rushed four.
Got out of his gaps a few times in the first half against the run but came on strong in the second half with two hurries. Played 23 snaps and got better as the game progressed.
The rookie played 18 snaps and came through with some hurries late in the fourth and a sack. Still struggles at times against the run.
Making a rare appearance at cornerback, he committed a questionable pass interference call on a pass from Glennon to Underwood that didn’t look catchable for either guy.
He played 10 snaps, didn’t do much.
Played one snap. I couldn’t find it.