Philadelphia Eagles: Who and What to Watch on Defense vs. Patriots
Everyone is excited about Chip Kelly, his offense and the quarterback battle. But the fact is, Kelly will likely be very vanilla tonight and offensive tackle Jason Peters will not start.
This is why the defense should be more of the focus tonight. At least, that is what I will focus on.
Kelly and new defensive coordinator Billy Davis are installing a 3-4 scheme, and as we've seen in the past, teams generally need some time to get fully acclimated to a 3-4 immediately after switching from a 4-3. Players have to learn new positions, new techniques and, sometimes, it doesn't click right away.
It will be interesting to watch what kind of defense the Eagles have installed. Here are some things to watch:
Fletcher Cox, Isaac Sopoaga and Cedric Thornton are listed on the first-team defensive line with Clifton Geathers, Bennie Logan and Vinny Curry on the second team.
Cox has great size for a 3-4 defensive end (6'4", 300 lbs) and showed well as a pass-rusher and tackler as he led the team in sacks with 5.5. He also led defensive linemen in tackles with 65. It's possible Cox is used similarly to J.J. Watt, as more of a penetrating 3-4 DE.
Sopoaga was brought in to anchor the front line on early downs. At 6'2" and 330 pounds, Sopoaga can help clog up running lanes. I'll be interested to see if he is on the field on passing downs, as well.
Thornton, Geathers and Logan all look promising as well and can all rotate at defensive end.
Curry is going to be quite the study. Where will they line him up and how will they use him?
Connor Barwin is locked in as the primary pass-rusher. Trent Cole is listed as a starter opposite him. Cole and Brandon Graham are two of the players who have to learn new positions and techniques. Along with rushing the pass and stopping the run, these two have also had to develop the ability to drop back into coverage. Tonight is our first chance at seeing how they have developed, so far, and how they may possibly be rotated.
DeMeco Ryans had been labeled in the past as not being able to play in the 3-4. Tonight is his first opportunity to stop those criticisms. I'm also curious to see how Mychal Kendricks is used. He is another linebacker who has the ability to blitz.
One guy I, personally, want to watch is Jake Knott, the undrafted linebacker from Iowa State. With Jason Phillips out for the year, Knott has a chance to step up and possibly earn a backup and special teams role.
This year's version can't possibly be as bad as last year. But it certainly isn't looking too pretty at the moment.
Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams, the two free agents signed by the Eagles, haven't had the greatest start to camp. Williams, who got in trouble this week for getting into a scuffle with Patriots rookie WR Aaron Dobson (per Jordan Raanan of NJ.com) will sit out tonight's game with a hamstring injury.
This should allow second-year CB Brandon Boykin to step up after being arguably the best CB on the team last season. He has gotten off to a very nice start in camp and will get the start opposite Fletcher tonight, likely moving inside when in nickel, with Curtis Marsh on the inside.
I'll be interested to see who Boykin lines up against. Do they line him up on Danny Amendola and put Fletcher on whoever the "X" receiver is? Let's see if Boykin's nice start to camp carries over.
Safety is still a bit of a question, though Patrick Chung seems to have locked up one of the safety spots, with Nate Allen looking like the favorite for the other. Kenny Phillips and Kurt Coleman are still lurking, though when asked about some disappointments, Tim McManus of Philly Mag: Birds 24/7 said Phillips "isn't moving very well."
Earl Wolff, the fifth-round selection from North Carolina State, is a guy to watch, here. He's not one of those star-studded safeties, but he can be a blue-chip player and can sneak in as a backup safety with a good showing in the preseason.
Also, keep your eye on seventh-round pick Jordan Poyer. I liked what I saw from him at Oregon State and was very surprised he lasted all the way until the seventh round. I think the Eagles got a steal.
Remember, tonight is mostly about seeing how players are looking, so far, not necessarily scheme. It's too early for teams to tip their hand, but it's a nice opportunity to see players we wouldn't normally see and get a chance to see what they could bring to the table.
Bottom line, football is back. Enjoy it.
Before you know it, it will be September 9 and the Eagles will be facing Washington in Week 1.
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