Eagles Better or Worse: Defensive Line

Eagles Better or Worse: Defensive Line

The Eagles famed complex and devastating blitzing schemes have made them one of the most feared defenses in the league during the Andy Reid era. Last season, they didn't have the personnel for it. It was either blitz and risk someone missing their assignment, or sit back and watch the defensive line minus Trent Cole attempt to rush the quarterback.

We all know that wasn't happening, so the front office set out to fix their pressure problems. Did they succeed?

BETTER

Left defensive end

When the Eagles traded up to 13th overall in the draft and selected Brandon Graham, it was a surprise, but the thought was they might have immediately upgraded their pass rush. With the news that Graham has already been promoted to first string, it seems any doubt will quickly begin to fade.

There's a good possibility Graham won't be ready to play at a high level in his rookie season, if ever for that matter, but even if he struggles or hits a wall late in the year, the Eagles still have Juqua Parker in the fold. This will be Parker's sixth year with the club, so you know what you're getting with him—solid but unspectacular play. Still, at worst the team stands to create a strong platoon featuring a capable veteran with a young spark.

At the end of the day, the Birds are counting on Graham to make an impact in 2010. When a team moves into the top half of the first round, that's typically not an unreasonable expectation.

Potential

Besides Graham, the Eagles used two more draft choices on potential defensive ends, another late pick on a defensive tackle, and traded for Darryl Tapp, a five-year veteran. Generally speaking, that number of young players on the roster at one position simultaneously would normally be worrisome. Along the defensive line, it means there's a lot of opportunity.

Like Graham, there's no telling what, if anything, they'll get from their latest crop of young linemen. They're not exactly replacing the most productive bunch of players we've ever seen either. Only Darren Howard has put up numbers in his situational role over the past two years, and he'll be 34 this year, so a decline was likely. It may be a case of throwing a bunch of stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks, but it's not a bad start.

Rush defense

This actually sort of belongs in the linebackers edition, because Stewart Bradley is the biggest reason why the Eagles will improve versus the run. However, it's going to appear at times Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley are having better seasons than '09.

Patt and Bunk form one of the better interior tandems in a league that is trending more and more toward 3-4 defenses (over half the defenses in the league now), but usually not in a way that shows up on the score sheet. They fill gaps and hold the point of attack, which allows their linebackers to finish the plays. Problem last year was they didn't have any linebackers.

As we already noted, if Stew is back, the Eagles will be much improved in this area, but the defensive tackles deserve some of the credit for that as well.

WORSE

The unknown

It's easy to say they're going to be better based on sheer numbers. Realistically, we don't really know.

For starters, Brandon Graham looks like he could become a pass rushing force. Until he does it on Sundays, he's just another guy, albeit it a very high profile guy. Same goes for everybody else they added this off-season.

The Eagles made a concerted effort to improve the defensive line, and considering how lackluster the group was last season, chances are the new contributors will at least become the equivalents of their predecessors. Then again, maybe they won't, at that's the point. It's a tricky thing claiming the defense is better off with a group of unproven players over NFL veterans.

OVERVIEW

Here's a situation where it looked like all four starters would be exactly the same from the previous year, with all of them being at a point in their careers where there is minimal development. Then Brandon Graham jumped onto the scene and started impressing some people. He was brought here to pressure opposing quarterbacks, and if he's able to do that, the entire defense will reap the rewards.

Grade: Better

Best of NBA: Curry, Warriors demolish Cavaliers, 126-91, at home

Best of NBA: Curry, Warriors demolish Cavaliers, 126-91, at home

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors certainly looked ready to trade some more blows with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers come June.

The two-time reigning MVP hit five 3-pointers and had 20 points while matching his season best with 11 assists in Golden State's 126-91 rout of the defending champs Monday.

Klay Thompson scored 26 points with five 3s, and Curry made four steals. Draymond Green produced his third triple-double of the season with 11 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists while matching his career best with five blocks -- and had another dustup with King James in the process.

James had 20 points on 6-of-18 shooting and eight rebounds, and he and Green became the talk once more as their relationship turned even more testy.

Kevin Durant added 21 points, six rebounds, five assists and three blocks for the Warriors in a much-hyped matchup merely weeks after Golden State lost 109-108 in Cleveland on Christmas (see full recap).

Thomas explodes for 17 in fourth quarter to lift Celtics over Hornets
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas scored 17 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter, and the surging Boston Celtics beat the Charlotte Hornets 108-98 on Monday night for their ninth victory in 11games.

It was Thomas' 25th straight game with 20 or more points. He's been putting up big final quarters of late -- scoring 20 or more three times this season. No other NBA player had done it more than once entering Monday.

Al Horford had 22 points, while Kelly Olynyk and Jae Crowder added 15 apiece for Boston, which has won all three meetings with Charlotte this season.

Kemba Walker scored 24 points and Marvin Williams 21 for the Hornets, who lost their fifth straight -- all on the road.

Thomas scored 13 straight points, pushing Boston ahead 93-83 with his 3-pointer from the left wing with 7 minutes left.

Boston led 80-71 entering the final period (see full recap).

Wizards remain hot with win over Trail Blazers
WASHINGTON  -- Bradley Beal scored 25 points and John Wall had 24 as the Washington Wizards took a page from the Portland Trail Blazers' playbook by hitting 13 3-pointers in a comfortable 120-101 victory on Monday afternoon.

The Wizards, who rely less on the 3-pointer than almost any NBA team, were 13 of 23 from beyond the arc in their 12th consecutive home victory. The 3-pointer-heavy Trail Blazers shot 8 of 26 on 3-point attempts.

After Washington coach Scott Brooks called Portland guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum as good as any backcourt in the league, Beal and John Wall outplayed them. Lillard led the Blazers with 22 points and McCollum had 12, but they combined to shoot 11 of 29 from the floor.

The Wizards have won four of their last five games (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Penguins halt Capitals 9-game streak with wild 8-7 OT win

Best of NHL: Penguins halt Capitals 9-game streak with wild 8-7 OT win

PITTSBURGH -- Conor Sheary scored 34 seconds into overtime and the Pittsburgh Penguins ended the Washington Capitals' nine-game winning streak with a wild 8-7 victory Monday night that included nine second-period goals.

Sheary had two goals and an assist for the Penguins, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Evgeni Malkin picked up his 11th career hat trick during a frenetic second period, and Sidney Crosby collected his NHL-leading 27th goal to go with two assists. Bryan Rust and Nick Bonino also scored for Pittsburgh, and Matt Murray got the win despite allowing seven goals on 28 shots.

The Penguins trailed 3-0 before scoring six goals in less than 11 minutes in the second period, more goals than the Capitals had allowed in a game all season. Pittsburgh led 6-5 after 40 minutes.

Lars Eller scored twice for Washington, and T.J. Oshie, Brett Connolly, Nicklas Backstrom, Justin Williams and Andre Burakovsky also found the net. Philipp Grubauer made eight saves after coming on in relief of Braden Holtby, who was pulled during Pittsburgh's second-period deluge (see full recap).

Eichel scores twice to give Sabres' 4-1 win over Stars
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Jack Eichel scored two goals and the Buffalo Sabres defeated the Dallas Stars 4-1 on Monday.

Tyler Ennis scored 19 seconds into the first period. Ennis returned after missing 30 games with a groin injury that required surgery.

Jake McCabe also had a goal and Robin Lehner made 31 saves after missing the past three games with an illness.

The Sabres snapped a two-game losing streak and beat the Stars for the first time in four matchups.

Radek Faksa scored for the Stars in the opener of a three-game road trip. Kari Lehtonen stopped 25 shots. Dallas has lost two in a row and six of eight (see full recap).

Bishop anchors Lightning to 2-1 win over Kings
LOS ANGELES -- Brian Boyle scored the go-ahead goal late in the second period, and the Tampa Bay Lightning opened a six-game road trip with a 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Monday.

Ben Bishop made an early mistake that led to Kyle Clifford's goal for the Kings, but bounced back to make 31 saves in his second start back from a three-week absence with a lower-body injury.

Tyler Johnson scored in the first period for the Lightning, who won for just the second time in seven games.

Peter Budaj stopped 27 shots for the Kings.

Both teams played without stars due to illness. Kings captain Anze Kopitar missed his first game since Nov. 20, and All-Star defenseman Victor Hedman missed his first game of the season for Tampa Bay (see full recap).