Raanan Review: A Close Look at Brandon Graham

Tom Pennington

Jason Babin's exile was more about Brandon Graham than anybody else. This idea that it opened the door for Graham and Vinny Curry was a fraud (for one week at least). Curry played exclusively at right defensive end on Sunday night in Dallas. He served as exclusively as Trent Cole's caddie.

The left defensive end spot previously occupied by Babin and Graham was manned by Graham, Darryl Tapp and Cullen Jenkins in the 38-33 loss to the Cowboys. Yes, Cullen Jenkins. A handful of times the Eagles lined Jenkins (primarily a defensive tackle) at left defensive end in a heavy five-man line formation that featured four tackles. That combined with 24 snaps for Tapp (compared to 19 for Curry) limited Graham's playing time.

In fact, Graham played 31 snaps, just one more than the previous week against the Panthers when Babin was still on the roster. So, for now, the idea that Babin was pushed out the door for a greater look at Graham and Curry, not true.

It is possible that everything changes now that defensive line coach Jim Washburn is out of the way too. That will become more evident this week in Tampa. In the meantime, we're left evaluating Graham off 31 snaps and Curry off 19.

Here's the breakdown:

Brandon Graham -- The third-year pro made some plays against the run and pass. He finished officially with six tackles, 1.5 sacks, two tackles for a loss and four quarterback hurries. That's a nice stat line, especially in less than half the defensive snaps.

What was particularly impressive about Graham was his power. Despite not being the biggest DE, he drove Dallas right tackle Doug Free into the backfield regularly. Graham also showed a quick twitch, getting off the ball really well and beating Free around the edge on several occasions. On one play, he even flashed a nice inside spin move. What impressed me the most, however, was Graham's play against the run. Aside from the end around where he bit badly and was only saved by a Cowboys fumble, Graham fought off blocks and made plays in the run game. On one play late in the second half he even tackled Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray on the other side of the field from behind for a short gain.

Of concern was his pass rush in the second half, which tapered off considerably. Basically, Graham played 32 snaps (one play was negated by penalty), with 16 being in each half. He had just one pressure in the second half. He had 1.5 sacks and three pressures in the first half. That is something to keep an eye on down the stretch of this season. Can the 268-pound Graham hold up with a heavier workload and over the course of a full season?

It should also be noted that Free is one of the league's worst tackles this season. Pro Football Focus has Free rated 68th out of 75 offensive tackles. Darryl Tapp and Phillip Hunt also made plays against Free and had nice games. Each forced a penalty on the Cowboys tackle. Tampa Bay's Demar Dotson should provide a much stiffer test this week.

Vinny Curry -- The rookie second-round pick didn't do much in his second career game. Curry finished with just one tackle on 19 snaps. The previous week he had five tackles and three pressures on 21 snaps. As Andy Reid said on his weekly 94WIP show, Curry was "OK." In Andyspeak, that means he wasn't very good.

Curry's best play came on a pass rush in the first quarter when he showed great strength. He pushed Tyron Smith into the backfield and collapsed the pocket on Tony Romo. Aside from that, Curry was relatively ineffective as a puss rusher. He did get off tackles well and help on a pair of plays in the run game. The one thing I didn't see that may concern me going forward is that Curry didn't seem especially quick off the line in Dallas. It could be that it was his first career road game. Anyway, it's worth watching in Tampa.

Notable Observations:

  • Dennis Kelly played perhaps his best game of the season on Sunday night. He spent most of the evening blocking outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, who had no sacks, only two pressures and no official quarterback hurries. Kelly was especially impressive getting to the second level in the running game. His biggest problems came in the Eagles' patented sprint draw, where he was unable to chuck Spencer far enough upfield to open a hole for Bryce Brown. Still, Kelly's growth will give the Eagles much improved offensive line depth next season.
  • Make it 12 penalties -- seven declined -- on Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie after a pass interference call in the second quarter. He leads all NFL defensive players having been flagged a dozen times this season. The ironic part, as evidenced on Dez Bryant's second touchdown, is that DRC is not a physical player. He's a clutcher and grabber.
  • There was a play late in the fourth quarter from Nick Foles that sold me for next season. With a chance to lead the Eagles downfield for a fourth-quarter come-from-behind victory, he escaped pressure, rolled out left and fired a strike right on target into a tight window to Jason Avant for a key third-down conversion. It was a very impressive play and throw. Of course, two plays later Brown fumbled the game away. Still, give me more Foles next season.
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