Key Mismatches Favor the Eagles in Week 2 Versus the Chargers

Key Mismatches Favor the Eagles in Week 2 Versus the Chargers

Breaking down matchups the Eagles could potentially exploit against their upcoming opponent was often an exercise in futility during the Andy Reid era. It didn’t matter whether the Raiders had the 32nd-ranked run defense in the NFL or winds were gusting up to 60 miles per hour in Cincinnati. The Birds were throwing the football.

Chip Kelly on the other hand says he’s all about coaching to the personnel, which you have to think means attacking the opponent’s weaknesses – and in the case of the San Diego Chargers, there appear to be quite a few of them. Below we look at some of the key players in Philadelphia's home opener on Sunday and attempt once again to predict how it will all play out on the field.

Favorable: Trent Cole vs. King Dunlap

Remember last year when Jason Peters went down and everybody condemned the Eagles’ front office for not having quality depth at left tackle? Well, the guy who wound up replacing Peters is a starter in San Diego.

We all know what King Dunlap is. He’s somebody you’re just hoping to get by with at left tackle, preferably for only a game or two – not all season like the Chargers are resigned to doing. Godspeed, Philip Rivers.

Dunlap’s primary assignment will likely be Trent Cole, who looked rejuvenated in the Birds’ Week 1 win over Washington – not lost in the switch to outside linebacker like many people expected. The two-time Pro Bowler registered four tackles (1 TFL), a forced fumble and two hits on the quarterback.

Cole, 30, is coming off of his worst season in the NFL with just three sacks in 2012. He looked like his old self on Monday though, only at a new position. Dunlap and Rivers by extension should be in for a long afternoon at the Linc provided Cole's rebound continues.

Favorable: DeSean Jackson vs. Derek Cox

The Chargers’ best cornerback is Derek Cox, who they acquired from Jacksonville through free agency. So just to be clear, even the Jaguars – the Jaguars! – ultimately didn’t want the top corner now in San Diego.

Defenses could do worse than Cox, but he’s not a guy you can count on to shut down elite wide receivers. The fifth-year veteran was part of a crew that conceded 146 yards off of 12 receptions to Andre Johnson against the Texans in Week 1.

DeSean Jackson may not be Andre Johnson – who by the way is quietly building a Hall of Fame resume in Houston – but DJacc proved he can still be a huge threat against the Redskins. The two-time Pro Bowler caught seven of the nine passes intended for him, going for 104 yards and a 25-yard score.

It’s all downhill from there for the Bolts’ cornerbacks, so whoever is lined up on Jackson, the receiver should have the advantage. San Diego is better suited for stopping the run, and they might place added emphasis in that phase after the Eagles racked up 263 yards on the ground on Monday night. Look for Chip Kelly to exploit the Chargers through the air with Jackson as the go-to target.

Favorable: Brent Celek and Zach Ertz vs. Bront Bird

San Diego used their second-round pick on inside linebacker Manti Te’o in April’s draft, but he’s expected to be out with a foot injury. Standing in for Te’o is this Bront Bird character The Evster is so up in arms over, and aside from having a funny name, he’s not a very good football player. Here’s what John Gennaro of the Chargers blog Bolts From The Blue had to say about the backup’s performance in Week 1:

Hoooooo boy. Want to know why Bront Bird led the Chargers in tackles last night? It's because [Texans head coach] Gary Kubiak's gigantic playsheet had written "Throw/run at Bront Bird" in every box.

Bird is terrible. He was good last year, he was bad in 2011, he obviously does some things well....but he can not be a starter. Not for another game. Not ever.

Bird was beat badly in man coverage by tight ends on two touchdown passes inside the red zone against Houston – one by the respectable Owen Daniels, the other by a relatively anonymous Garrett Graham. Daniels caught another TD earlier in the same game in the area vacated by Bird on play-action.

Quite simply, Bront is a liability in coverage. He doesn’t have the speed or the instinct to keep up with Brent Celek or Zach Ertz, which means one or both of them should have a favorable matchup in the passing attack whenever No. 97 is on the field.

Unfavorable: Brandon Hughes vs. Vincent Brown

Cornerback Bradley Fletcher is out with a concussion, but don’t expect a huge drop-off from his replacement. Brandon Boykin will slide over from his usual position in the slot in two-receiver sets, and if training camp and preseason football are any indication, he’ll do fine on the outside.

The problem that arises is who takes Boykin’s place in nickel packages. Boykin told reporters that he will reprise his role in the slot when San Diego shifts to three receivers, making fourth-year veteran Brandon Hughes the likely candidate to take Fletcher’s place in those situations.

If Chargers head coach Mike McCoy sticks with last week’s lineup, it means Hughes would see a lot of Vincent Brown on the perimeter. A third-round pick in 2011, Brown remains a bit of an unknown for the Bolts. He had some decent outings in his rookie year, but missed all of last season with a broken ankle.

Brown wasn’t much of a factor against the Texans, catching just two passes – although one went for six points. If he and Rivers can get on the same page however, Hughes is a replacement-level player who can be beaten.

Prediction

When I look at the depth chart for San Diego, I see a team that has far more numerous and glaring holes than the Eagles. Philip Rivers shoulders a lot of the blame for the franchise’s recent downturn, but he doesn’t get much protection in the pocket, nor does he have many weapons with which to work.

Meanwhile, one game in it looks as though it could be awhile before defenses figure out how to slow Chip Kelly’s offense down, and if they sell out to stop the run – or even if they don’t – big plays should be there in the passing game. It will come down to whether or not Mike Vick can hit them the way he was able to in Washington.

Throw in the fact that the Chargers are traveling across the country on a short week, coming off a demoralizing loss in which they blew a 21-point lead at home, and it could be a rough outing for the visitors. I like another convincing victory for the Eagles on Sunday.

Score: Eagles 41, Chargers 23

Eagles Mailbag: Bennie Logan, top WRs in draft, Jeremy Maclin return?

Eagles Mailbag: Bennie Logan, top WRs in draft, Jeremy Maclin return?

There hasn't been much Eagles talk recently. The last few weeks have been pretty dead. 

That's about to change soon enough. Next week, the football world will take over Indianapolis for the combine and just after that, free agency will begin on March 9. After that, the draft isn't too far away. 

So let's jump into your mailbag questions: 

Yeah, I think there's a real chance Bennie Logan isn't an Eagle next year. Howie Roseman has been pretty consistent in saying he wants Logan to return, but it's fair to wonder about the price. Logan has now proven that he can play in a 4-3 or a 3-4 scheme, so there will be plenty of teams interested. 

If the Eagles lose Logan, their defense will take a big hit. There's not really a way around that. He's a good player and has been an important part of the line. But with a ton of money devoted to the defensive line over the next few years -- even assuming Connor Barwin isn't back -- will the Eagles pay another? I'm not so sure. 

And I agree that Logan was really good against the run last year. But I think his real value is in being great against the run while also being able to generate some pass rush. I think Beau Allen can be a decent run-stuffer, but he's clearly not the same player as Logan. 

I can't give a real answer here. Sorry. While I don't wholeheartedly agree with the best player available notion, the Eagles also can't prioritize one need over the other in this scenario. There will be either 13 or 14 picks before the Eagles are on the board. 

Really, it's going to depend on which players are left. Are Mike Williams and Corey Davis on the board? How about the top corners? There's a lot of them. If the player the Eagles really want at one of those positions is off the board, they could look elsewhere. And it's not automatic they'll take a receiver or a cornerback. What if they opt for an edge rusher? 

But getting back to corner vs. receiver, there are a couple thoughts: 

1. They'll pick a corner because receivers are far from a sure thing. Roseman made it a point to talk about how the 2014 draft changed expectations for rookie receivers. And the Eagles haven't had much luck recently drafting receivers in the first round. And Roseman has also said that while it might make sense to grab a first-round corner in the second round because of depth, there's often a run at positions where a draft is strong. It would be better to just get the best one. 

2. On the flip side of that, maybe they'll pick a receiver with the idea that at least one really good corner will be on the board in the second round. That would maximize value, especially if they get the receiver they want in the first round. 

That's a long way to say: I don't think it'll be about position as much as it will be about the specific player at 14 or 15. 

This is a tough one. I really think the margin separating these two is so close that the combine could flip them for me. But for now, I'm going with Mike Williams. 

Clemson listed him at 6-3, 225 and I think he's going to come close to that at the combine. And he might not have Corey Davis' speed or quick twitch, but he makes up for it. I really want to see how he performs at the combine; I expect it to confirm my belief that he's the top receiver in the draft. Davis will reportedly not run at the combine because of an ankle injury. 

It's possible a team like the Eagles could fall in love with Davis' deep threat ability. That's clearly what they value right now. But ultimately, I think Williams is the top guy. 

I don't think Ryan Mathews will be back next season. He's 29, coming off a serious neck injury and is way too expensive. The Eagles can save $4 million by cutting him. I expect that to happen and for the Eagles to try to find some younger, healthier talent. 

Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy! Let's get the band back together! 

I understand why the Maclin questions are rolling in. An ESPN column recently suggested that the Chiefs could cut the former Eagle. Maclin is familiar with the Eagles' offense and Doug Pederson, which means the move would make some sense. 

But from a football standpoint, Jackson would give the Eagles what they need more than Maclin. Over the last couple years, Maclin has really been utilized in the slot, which happens to be where the Eagles' only decent receiver plays. Sure, Pederson will move around his receivers, but there are probably better fits out there for the Eagles than Maclin. If he does become a free agent, though, it's at least worth inquiring. 

Former Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans joins 49ers coaching staff

Former Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans joins 49ers coaching staff

About a year ago, while in Indianapolis for the combine, the Eagles cut veteran linebacker DeMeco Ryans. 

Ryans has finally found his next job ... as a coach. 

The 32-year-old former linebacker has been named a defensive quality control coach on Kyle Shanahan's staff in San Francisco. Shanahan was on the Texans' staff for the first four years of Ryans' pro career. Niners defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was also on that Houston staff. 

After the Eagles cut him last Feb. 24, Ryans was out of the league in 2016 after 10 NFL seasons. He played the first six years of his career in Houston, where he was a two-time Pro Bowler, before joining the Eagles through a trade in 2012. 

While the Eagles cut Ryans after the 2015 season to save $3.5 million in cap space, they made a point to go out of their way to praise him on his way out. He was very well-thought of in the locker room and throughout the building. 

While Ryans played one season under Andy Reid, he quickly became a favorite of Chip Kelly, who frequently called Ryans the "Mufasa" of the Eagles' defense. 

Kelly didn't forget about Ryans when he went to San Francisco to coach the 49ers for the 2016 season. In fact, in Kelly's questionnaire in the NFL's 2016 information guide, Kelly listed Ryans as a player who'd make a great head coach.