Category Archives: defense

Defensive Line Shines in Season Debut

All of the talk this offseason has been about the Eagles improved secondary, and the embarrassment of riches they have at the cornerback position. But if the defensive line can play like they did last night on a consistent basis, it may not matter who is lining up at cornerback for the Eagles.

The Eagles defensive line looked absolutely dominant against the Baltimore Ravens in the first preseason game of the season last night, 13-6 win for the Eagles. Right from the start, it was clear that the upgrade from Rory Seagrest to Jim Washburn might prove to be the best addition the team made.

On the Ravens first possession, the Eagles front four were in the Ravens back field on every play. After letting up a big play on a blown assignment in the secondary, the Eagles defensive line pushed the offense back behind big plays from Trent Cole and Jason Babin. On one play, Babin beat his man and got to Flacco, forcing him to Coles side- who finished the play off with a sack.

While the sack went down as Coles, the Pro-Bowl defensive end said it really belongs to the whole team.

“It was a lot of effort put in by a lot of guys on the d-line. There was a lot of guys that got back there with me.  A lot of guys pressured that guy to move like that,” said Cole. “That’s what we want, a lot of pressure back there. Whoever makes the play, makes the play. It’s a team effort. The d-line did a great job of getting pressure on the quarterback, getting him to take off up the field. The secondary did a heck of job covering, linebackers as well too. We couldn’t get that sack without a team effort.”

The Eagles got more pressure from the edges last night then it seems like they did all last season, as even the second team was able to get after the quarterback. Darryl Tapp, sporting #55, looked as fast as a linebacker out their, and finished the night with 2 sacks.

In the third quarter, Jarrad Page was the beneficiary of more pressure from the defensive line. Keenan Clayton rushed past the Ravens offensive line like they weren’t even their, causing Ravens quarterback Tyrod Taylor to throw the ball right into Page’s lap in the corner of the end zone.

The Eagles still have a long way to go until the regular season, but it is clear that top to bottom, this line is significantly better then the line last season.

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Defense Will Be Ok with Casey Matthews

It seems that Eagles fans have been spoiled by the Phillies.

The Phillies, a 70 win baseball team, are constantly knit picked apart by the fans. An extra arm is needed. The bench is weak. Ryan Howard isn’t clutch. It is their passion that causes them to do this, but the fact is at the end of the day, the Phillies are just fine.

Now, the Eagles defense is not on the same level as the Phillies. Questions about how this team will gel together are fair. Whether or not Juan Castillo will be able to adjust to making play calls on the fly is a legitimate concern. How the young safeties will play is unknown. And how Casey Matthews, the Eagles rookie linebacker from Oregon, will adjust to one of the most important positions on the defense is a concern that has most fans worried sick.

[vimeo 27384137]

But if the Eagles biggest problem it has all season is Casey Matthews, it will be ok.

The rookie middle linebacker is slated to start, much to the shagrin of the local fan base. With Nnamdi Asomugha on board, the feeling is that the team should move Asante Samuel for a middle linebacker. But unless they are able to get a top 5 middle linebacker- which is unlikely- the team should give Matthews a chance.

Matthews has looked good in camp so far, and seems to have done a good job grasping the playbook. Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo has moved players all around, but the one constant has been Matthews in the middle. Castillo has spoke at volume about the leadership Matthew has shown.

If Matthews was going to be expected to be a playmaker on the defense, then concerns would be valid. But by having the Pro-Bowl trio of Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel & Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the outside, and having an improved defensive line in front of him, Matthews will only be expected to hold fort in the middle. It will also make Matthews better, something that players on the defense have not done for each other in a long time.

We will find out a lot about Matthews over the next few weeks, as he takes the field for what should be a very interesting pre-season.

But so far, so good for Matthews.

Eagles Will Move Nnamdi All Around

Today was the day that Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, Ronnie Brown and others have been waiting for- the day they can finally put on the pads and practice.

For media and the fans, it was also the day that the Eagles would be forced to tip their hand on what they planned to do with their trio of all star corners.

Asomugha will be all over this year for the Eagles

After warming up, the Eagles defense took the field for install. Asante Samuel lined up at his usual right cornerback position, with Nnamdi lined up on the left. It is very clear from watching the Eagles today that when they play two cornerbacks, it is Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie who is going to be the odd man out.

When the team went into dime and nickel packages, Nnamdi moved inside as Rodgers-Cromartie lined up on the left. Nnamdi lined up next to Trent Cole on the left side, showing blitz every time he was their. On some plays, he ran in and on others, he dropped back into coverage. Juan Castillo moved Nnamdi inside on a number of plays, as it was clear he has all kinds of ideas of his new defensive toy. Making things even better for Castillo is Nnamdi’s willingness to experiment, as he even lined up in the backfield for some plays.

Opposing offensive coordinators are going to be staying up at night worried about where Nnamdi will be. The Eagles wealth of cornerbacks allow them to take the best one in the game and move him all around. Nnamdi’s size makes him an ideal fit to line up and show blitz, and he will be able to get in quick and get his long arms up in the air. When he has to drop back, he has the size to cover tight ends.

Although Rodgers-Cromartie did not line up as a starter, he was on the field a ton. The former Arizona Cardinal might just be the best athlete on the team, as he did not get beat down the field once during the morning practice. His speed and size, in addition to his long arms, allow him to make the play even if he is a step behind.

While Nnamdi and Rodgers-Cromartie moved all around, Asante Samuel was on the right side the entire practice. It makes sense to keep Samuel their, as he has shown is he a turnover machine from that side. In addition, he really can’t move inside as the other two can, as he lacks the size to play their.

Overall, the Eagles showed one thing this morning: that if they get a lead on a team, it is going to be near impossible for opposing teams to throw on this defense and catch up.

Eagles To-Do List

For the first time since the draft, the Eagles are now able to finish their off-season plans to improve their team. GM Howie Roseman has been very vocal about his plan to be aggressive when the lockout ended, and emphasized the feeling that the time to win is now.

But how do the Eagles finally get over the top and host the Lombardi trophey?

Rumors have run wild this off-season on what the Eagles might do. With the lockout over, lets sort through the rumors and figure out what the Eagles should do before training camp begins.

Moving Kolb is a risk, but one the Eagles have to take

1. Address the Kevin Kolb situation

The face of the lockout may finally get the chance to be the face of a new team. Whether or not trading Kolb is a good idea was discussed in depth here, but more then likely Kolb will be moved.  Teams like the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks most likely called the NovaCare Complex as soon as the lockout ended, looking to workout a deal for the career back up. If the Eagles are going to move Kolb, they need to do it before they get into camp. Once camp hits, weird injuries happen. The last thing Reid needs is his most valuable asset on the injured reserve. While the Eagles could roll the dice and hope a better offer comes due to an injury on another team, it is to much of a risk. Unless they are offered a top of the line cornerback (Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie?), the Eagles need to move Kolb for the highest pick they can get. GM’s around the league are going to be doing deals at a rapid pace now, and won’t have the luxury to play the waiting game as their competition makes moves. Take the first round pick for Kolb, and start scoreboard watching.

2. Address the backup quarterback situation

With Kolb most likely out of the picture, the Eagles will be in the market for a veteran back up. Names such as Vince Young will be thrown around, and while he is talented, putting a project behind Michal Vick may be to risky. Vick’s dangerous playing style has been written about at depth, and for good reason. The Eagles need someone who could step in, know the system, and hold ship. Who will be available that fits that description? Mac Bulger is out there. But another name that might make sense for the Eagles would be Jim Sorgi, who spent last season backing up Eli Manning with the New York Giants. Why Sorgi? The career backup spent most of his career backing up Eli’s brother, Peyton, in Indianapolis. Sorgi learned the complicated, quarterback driven offensive line schemes of Howard Mudd- the Eagles new offensive line coach. Sorgi could be a big help to Vick in terms of teaching him the ins and outs of the system. Of course, Sorgi on the field may not be very much help. Other then Sorgi, look for names like Young, Trent Edwards, Kyle Boller and maybe even Brett Favre to surface.

3. Bring in a cornerback 

Perhaps the only other name talked about more in regard to the Eagles then Kevin Kolb was Nnamdi Asomugha, and he’s not even a member of the team. Making a move for Asomugha would certainly fit the bill as aggressive. Rumor has it the Eagles perfered Asomugha to Asante Samuel a few years back, but Asomugha is 30 now- the magical cut off line for Eagles free agents. Other then the age, Asomugha’s big contract request could turn the Eagles off. Asomugha is expected to ask for around 18 million dollars a year, and it is unlike the Eagles to invest a lot of money in one position. It is rumored the Eagles have close to $20 million in cap space, so don’t expect them to make a move for Asomugha. The former Oakland Raider also is used to playing a press style of coverage, something the Eagles did not play last year, and are not expected to play this year.

Where does that leave the Eagles? With Samuel on the other side, another top flight corner is not needed. The Eagles need to look for a solid tackler with height. Ike Taylor of Pittsburgh fits that description. Johnathon Joseph of Cincinnati should both be available, but by all reports had a down year last year. Both are a few tiers below Asomugha, but will also come a lot cheaper. If the Eagles are unable to land a corner through a Kolb deal, look for them to go for a cheaper cornerback on the open market.

Mikell brings experience to an otherwise young Eagles secondary

4. Sign Quintin Mikell, David Akers, Stewart Bradley

The writing is on the wall for Mikell. I spoke to him a few months back at Powertrain Fitness in New Jersey, and he talked like a man who knew his fate. The fact is, the chances of the Eagles resigning Mikell are slim to none, but that doesn’t make it the right call. The Eagles are extremely young at saftey, with Nate Allen, Jaiquawn Jarrett and Kurt Coleman all expected to play a major role next season. While each is talented and has potential, the Eagles are a win now team. They cannot afford to be beat for long plays all season long due to rookie-style mistakes. Mikell may not be a big playmaker, but he is solid and a good locker room guy.

Although Stewart Bradley is injury prone, he is still a young talented linebacker- and their are not many of those on the free agent market. Bradley also represents veteran leadership on a young defense at a position the Eagles traditionally have not been strong at. Bradley will be needed to make the calls on the field in Juan Castillo’s new defense.

The reasoning for bringing back David Akers is simple- this is a win now team. Can the team trust a rookie kicker to come through when they need him to? The Eagles will be in tight games, where every point will matter. And as Andy Reid put it: we can all count.

5. Acquire Albert Haynesworth

One player that stood out on the Eagles line last season was Antonio Dixon, a 322 pound defensive tackle that was able to collapse the pocket on opposing quarterbacks. Andy Reid will sing it till the cows come home- the game is won on the offensive and defensive line, and in todays game, the line has to be big. Dixon showed Eagles fans that.

Haynesworth is a monster when he is motivated- which he will be for Washburn

When the Eagles brought over Jim Washburn, one thought came to fans mind, and it was a good one: Albert Haynesworth. Haynesworth is the biggest, baddest defensive tackle in the NFL when he is at  the top of his game- and just bad when he is not. His off the field antics are well documented, and last season in Washington is not something Haynesworth should be proud of. But given the circus that Washington was last season, and the fact that Mike Shanahan even got into it with the consummate professional Donovan  McNabb, should count for something. It is rumored that the Redskins will do whatever it takes to keep Haynesworth off of the Eagles, but at the end of the day they will not pay him another big paycheck to disrupt the team. If Haynesworth can come in and play for his old defensive line coach Washburn, the Eagles will have one of the best defensive players in the league. Their are very few game changers in the league on defense- Haynesworth is one of them.

6. Look for bargain prices on Babin, Bush

Whenever the possibility of signing a free agent is discussed, it needs to come with this disclaimer: unless the price is right. Any player can be a good signing for the right price. Andre Iguodala for 6 years, 80 million? Bad signing. Iguodala at 5 years, 40 million? Good signing.

Would the addition of Jason Babin and Reggie Bush improve the Eagles? Yes. But it is very clear that in both cases, money will be the deciding factor. Babin has made no secret that he would like to come back to the Eagles- for the right price. He even joked to the media that Andy Reid can make up for the mistake of letting him go last year with a “nice contract.” Babin had an outstanding year last year, but investing a lot of money in a one year wonder is not usually the Eagles style, and nor should it be. If signing Babin costs enough that it turns into the Eagles big off-season signing, then it will be a mistake.

Reggie Bush would be very dangerous in the Eagles offensive system, but will want a lot of touches wherever he goes. If he wants to take a bargain deal to come here, return punts, spilt out wide and scare opposing defenses, then the Eagles should jump. But giving him big money, then splitting touches with LeSean McCoy is not what this already dynamic offense needs.

7. Bring in Plaxico

The decision to bring in Plaxico is a tough one. There are many unknowns at this point. Has he matured? How will he be in the locker room? Can he still play? All are very valid questions, and all could very well be no. Burress could come in with a bad attitude, tick off DeSean Jackson by taking away touches, and create a bad dynamic in an otherwise tight locker room.

Burress may be older and slower, but he is definitely not one thing- shorter

Burress will look for money as he has lost a lot due to his time in jail. He might not come as cheap as the Eagles want him to, but this team is in desperate need of height at the wide receiver position. Burress may have lost a step, but he didn’t loose an inch. His 6’5 frame would instantly be a red zone threat. Vick has shown he can put touch on the ball, and Vick lofting it up to Burress would be a major problem for opposing defenses. Riley Cooper was drafted to be that player, and very well could be. But letting Riley sit for a year and learn behind Burress is not a bad thing. Add Burress in with the Eagles other offensive weapons, and you have an offense thats close to unstoppable.

If Burress is not what the Eagles want, they can cut him at any time. The team has enough weapons to survive without him. But being deep at a position does not mean it cannot be improved. Ask Reuben Amaro Jr. about adding talent to a deep position. If Burress can be even 70% of what he was in New York, the Eagles will have something they have been trying to find for a long time- a tall wide receiver that can play. Burress wants to be here. He is motivated to redo his image. Bring him in, and continue to reap the benefits of bringing in Michal Vick two years ago.

8. Get to work

The lockout is finally over. The Eagles did little in terms of offseason work outs, and the players that gathered in New Jersey did little more then an organized catch. If the Eagles make the right off season moved, they will be one of the favorites going into the season and rightfully so. It is time for Vick to hit the film room with his coaches, learn the offensive line schemes, and take this team to the next level.

A hint on how Castillo’s defense will look? (Video)

Yesterday, a report by Adam Caplan of NFL Network said that the Eagles were interested in Ike Taylor, a cornerback that spend last season with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Juan Castillo wants to simplify things for his young playmakers on defense

Lost in that report was another nugget by Caplan. Caplan had some news about how new Defensive Coordinator Juan Castillo’s defense may look. Here’s what Caplan had to report, per Pro Football Talk:

“Philadelphia is considering playing more zone coverage under first-year defensive coordinator Juan Castillo in order to complement changes up front. Along the defensive line, new position coach Jim Washburn is implementing a wide nine philosophy in which both ends line up well outside of the offensive tackles trying to block them. The defensive tackles will be up-field pass rushers.”

This makes sense after what Castillo told me along with the other reporters at his introductory news conference. Castillo stressed that he wanted his defense to be an attack first defense. In order to do this, he talked about simplifying the defense so his players could react quicker. It’s been well documented about how rookies and some veterans had trouble grasping Ex-Defensive Coordinator Sean McDermott’s schemes.

Zone coverage, if implemented correctly, would allow players like rookie safety Jaiquawn Jarrett to only worry about their zone, react quicker and make plays.  A zone defense also requires a lot of trust amongst the players, which could be a problem if their is a short training camp- or no training camp at all.  Castillo is famous for his over night  film watching sessions, and it seems he will expect that from his players at fist to get the zone down.

Castillo also talked about playing to his defenses strengths, which is speed. This ties into the report that new Defensive Line Coach Jim Washburn is thinking of having his ends play outside of the offensive tackles. Players like Brandon Graham would benefit from such a system, as he would be able to use his speed to get around the guard, and not get held up on the line. Another player that would benefit from this could be Jason Babin, who could be brought in as a free agent.

One thing Castillo talked about at length during his press conference was his ability to use what he learned as a offensive line coach to help. Here is some footage I shot for Gcobb.com, where Castillo talks about how his knowledge could benefit the linebackers in particular.