With defensive coordinator (whoops, I meant defensive line coach) Jim Washburn exiled, the Eagles made changes. The most notable were the disappearance of the infamous wide-nine and the shift of Mychal Kendricks to weakside linebacker.
Kendricks, who started the first 12 games of his career at strongside linebacker, was thought to be a weakside linebacker when the Eagles drafted him in the second round out of California this year. But the Eagles had something different in mind. They immediately named Kendricks, all 5-foot-11 and 239 pounds of him, the strongside linebacker. It was a curious decision at best.
Not surprisingly, after a strong start to the season, Kendricks' play has tapered off. He's had trouble getting off blocks and covering tight ends and running backs. One theory could be that the physical grind from lining up on the strongside of the offensive formation - opposite the tight end - and the long NFL season have taken its toll.
It's probably not a coincidence that Kendricks' best game since Week 2 came in his first at weakside linebacker. The rookie had seven tackles and three passes defended, including one that was almost intercepted.
But it was in the run game that things changed for Kendricks with a new base defensive formation ahead of him and in a new position on the weakside. He was able to run more freely and make plays.
Here's where Kendricks really made a difference using his speed from the weakside.
Jamar Chaney, the new starting strongside linebacker, lined up on the right side at the line of scrimmage, the strong side of the formation. His job was to set the edge, keeping the running back inside. Kendricks in his new role lined up on the weakside is on the opposite side from the tight end.
Watch as Kendricks flies laterally across the field towards the ball carrier.
He makes the tackle on running back Doug Martin for a four-yard gain.
Clearly, that's a play that the previous weakside linebacker Akeem Jordan - not known for his speed - would have been able to make. It's why the Eagles have such high expectations for Kendricks. He's able to use his speed and athleticism to make plays from the linebacker position. He did it much more effectively Sunday in Tampa.
And while nothing really changed for the rookie in pass coverage, maybe the comfort at the position he played in college contributed to one of his better games there as well.
Other notable observations:
- Brandon Graham had another strong first half where he drew two holding penalties and helped Cullen Jenkins record a sack with pressure on Josh Freeman from the edge. For the second straight game though, Graham was less effective in the second half. It's something to keep an eye on going forward.
- The Eagles again used a handful of five-man front in attempt to slow down the run, moving Chaney to the line of scrimmage (like on the play above) almost as a defensive end. Expect to see more of that again this week against the Bengals in running situations.
- Curtis Marsh played 18 snaps (some when Nnamdi Asomugha exited with an injury, a few in place of DRC and a few in dime packages) on Sunday with mixed results. Marsh whiffed on a pair of jam attempts at the line of scrimmage when he first came into the game. One resulted in a Vincent Jackson reception. Later, in for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie he provided the wide receiver way too much space, but was baled out by an inaccurate throw by Freeman. Marsh did get a good jam on wide receiver Mike Williams on a play that resulted in a sack. He also had good coverage down the sideline and knocked down a pass to Williams. There was some good and bad from Marsh in his most significant action this season.
- Both the Eagles tackles - King Dunlap and Dennis Kelly - had rough afternoons in Tampa Bay. While Dunlap's man didn't record the first two sacks of Foles, it was Dunlap's man who forced the quarterback into the waiting arms of a helping defender. Dunlap was also beat cleanly for a sack by ex-Eagle Daniel Te'o-Nesheim.