Philadelphia Eagles: Handing out Regular Season Grades for Key Defensive Players
A terrific 2013 regular season was highlighted by a string of tremendous defensive performances in which the Philadelphia Eagles allowed 21 or fewer points for nine straight games.
Defensive coordinator Billy Davis' defense overachieved all season, and Davis was able to coax strong games out of a handful of key veterans. As a result, the Eagles' high-powered offense was complemented by an equally effective defense, which should bode well for Philadelphia in the playoffs. The following is a breakdown of each key defensive player's performance in '13.
Click here to read Part 1 of the regular season grades, which featured the offensive players.
The Philadelphia Eagles’ first-round pick from 2012 had another strong season, especially considering he switched to the 5-technique end position. The new 3-4 defense means Fletcher Cox won’t be putting up a high number of sacks, but he’ll be tasked with both stopping the run and taking up blockers so the linebackers can get to the opposing quarterback.
Cox registered just three sacks and 29 tackles for the season. But he did finish with 39 quarterback pressures, a higher number than that of J.J. Watt, and he’s been a top player for an underrated Eagles’ defense.
The Eagles were getting very little production from Isaac Sopoaga when they traded him and moved Bennie Logan into the starting role.
Logan didn’t put up gaudy statistics and saw action in only about half the snaps over the second half of the season. He was a component in a defense that allowed 21 or fewer points for nine straight weeks, and he’s still just 23 years old.
Few players on the Eagles surprised as much as Cedric Thornton did in 2013. The third-year end is virtually a non-factor on passing plays, to the extent that Vinny Curry spells him on obvious passing downs.
But Thornton is a tremendous run stuffer. In fact, there aren’t too many players at his position better at it. Per Pro Football Focus, Thornton rated as the eighth-best overall 3-4 end in the league, even higher than teammate Cox. Only Watt and Sheldon Richardson rated as better ends against the run.
The Eagles’ second-year end was a force on passing plays this season. Curry appeared in just 322 snaps, but he registered 22 quarterback hurries and four sacks. That’s a rate of a quarterback hurry every 14.5 plays, and while this was inflated by the fact that Curry primarily played on third downs, he still was a terrific defensive player.
The Eagles have to be hoping that Curry can continue his pass-rushing prowess next year.
The fact that Trent Cole was able to transition to pass-rushing linebacker at this point in his career is a testament to him being a true football player.
Cole began the season with no sacks in his first eight games. He ended with eight sacks in his final eight games, moving into second place on the franchise’s all-time list in sacks.
Only two 3-4 linebackers had more quarterback hits than Cole (14). And he rated as the seventh best overall player at his position, per Pro Football Focus.
The quarterback of the team’s defense, DeMeco Ryans enjoyed a very underrated campaign. He racked up 102 tackles, recorded four sacks and intercepted two passes. He’s just the 10th player since 2000 to accumulate at least 100 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions.
Ryans also led all inside ‘backers in defensive snaps played (1,176). That speaks volumes about his durability and conditioning.
Mychal Kendricks took a major step forward in his 2013 production. He still got beat way too much in coverage and tied for the league lead in missed tackles (21).
But it seemed he was making a big play every single game down the stretch. Kendricks recorded a sack and an interception against the Minnesota Vikings. He had five tackles and two more sacks the next week against the Chicago Bears. And he had an interception, eight tackles and a forced fumble in the division-clinching win against the Dallas Cowboys.
For the season, Kendricks was the first player in 15 years to record at least four sacks, four fumble recoveries, three interceptions and two forced fumbles.
The pure sack totals don’t reflect how good of a player Connor Barwin is. He’s one of the more important players on the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense for his ability to both rush the passer and drop back into coverage.
He finished 2013 with five sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. And it was his huge pass knockdown in Week 17 against the Dallas Cowboys that helped save the Eagles’ season.
The Eagles didn’t get a huge output from Brandon Graham in 2013. By the pure numbers, he was the most effective pass rusher in the league the previous season, per Pro Football Focus.
Graham wasn’t bad this year—he had three sacks and 17 hurries in 331 snaps. It just seemed that he disappeared for long stretches at a time.
Last year, Cary Williams allowed the fourth most passing yards of any cornerback. He gave up six touchdown passes and a 98.4 passer rating in coverage.
Williams was significantly better this year—he gave up just an 80.4 passer rating and recorded three interceptions, including a spectacular diving one on opening week. Williams held some of the game’s finest receivers in check, shutting down Calvin Johnson in the Snow Bowl and holding Pierre Garcon to just two catches in their second meeting.
And Williams made a season-saving pass knockdown on a two-point conversion attempt last week that helped propel the Philadelphia Eagles to the postseason.
Bradley Fletcher quietly turned in a pretty good season. He recorded a pair of interceptions and 15 knockdowns, and he held opponents to a 58.2 completion percentage and 82.1 passer rating.
He continued his propensity for penalties, finishing tied for sixth with eight of them. But he’s a quality corner for a solid Eagles defense.
The Eagles got a Pro Bowl caliber season out of their second-year cornerback Brandon Boykin. He made the play of the year when he picked off Kyle Orton to preserve an NFC East title in Week 17. He intercepted Robert Griffin III to win a midseason game. And he had a pick-six among his six interceptions, more interceptions than any corner not named Richard Sherman.
Boykin rated No. 1 in the league in Pro Football Focus’s cover statistic, and he has a bright future ahead of him.
Who would have thought Nate Allen would play well enough in 2013 that the team may bring him back once he hits free agency?
Allen was a bust as recently as early this season, but he’s really turned his play around. Allen’s best play was a leaping interception off of Carson Palmer in Week 13.
It’s not looking good for Patrick Chung’s future in Philadelphia. The free-agent acquisition has really struggled as a stopgap starting strong safety. He’s gotten torched week after week, topping out last game when he couldn’t wrap up Dez Bryant on a key fourth-down play late in the fourth quarter.
Chung’s season statistics show he’s allowed five touchdowns and a 124.8 passer rating in 32 passes his way, and that’s all without Chung recording an interception.
Earl Wolff’s importance to the team can’t be understated given the struggles of Chung. Wolff is just a fifth-round pick, so he may never develop into a quality starter.
This season, he’s pushed Chung out of a starting spot before missing time recently due to a knee injury. Wolff has an interception and 36 tackles in the 11 games in which he’s played.