Well here we are pre training camp and all excited by Chip "Chess" Kelly and the explosive, uptempo offense that is on the way. Which I think will be very successful in Philadelphia under Chip's leadership this year on the offensive side of the ball, if the health of the O-Line holds up. That being said Mathis just went in for minor ankle surgery. The key to me is the return and health of Kelce.
Defensively the Eagles headed into the Draft with two big needs, or maybe three question marks depending on how and where you line up Fletcher Cox. Assuming our base D is a 4-3 hybrid with the flexibility to switch into the 3-4 when needed. I'm gonna look more at the 4-3 under possibilities in this post. Fletcher Cox ends up starting at the WDT spot. I really think Dion Jordan was the guy Chip was after in the draft to start at the SAM spot and Lane Johnson was what was left after Miami picked. The thought was Miami needed an OT and Johnson would be the pick. Not that Lane Johnson is a bad consolation prize as this free's up Herreman's to move back inside to guard and fortifying an already impressive O-Line if everyone can stay healthy.
So now there are three positions on Defense which have to be answered for both a starter and there back ups on this roster. Weakside DT, Strongside DE, and the SAM LB position. Fletcher Cox could play the WDT spot and it would seem an ideal fit for him. Then there is the Sam LB spot. Connor Barwin played both the Leo or Predator role and the Sam LB in this 4-3 hybrid D at Houston. The thing is he was really good at the Leo or Predator position. I could see Brandon Graham and Connor Barwin both there in rotation which would be really effective. If that's the case who step's up to play Sam LB? Even though Barwin played here he does lack in the pass coverage skills you really need at that position to be effective and lights out. Which is most likely why he is still not in Houston to begin with. Not surprised Eagles still working out LB's looking for a fit. Someone worked out last week at NovaCare and left without a contract.
That brings us to the 5-Tech or Strongside DE which I really thought the Eagles would invest in a high draft pick to address this. Maybe this is where the Eagle's see Bennie Logan lining up? Derek Landri would've been a nice fit at either WDT or SDE, but left the team at the end of March. So if Cox get's plugged into WDT then Dixon, Thornton, Logan or Remington will have to step up. Does Trent Cole come into Camp a little bit heavier at 295 lbs instead of his usual 270 lbs. to fight for a roster spot? Trent Cole would have the athleticism and talent there to be really effective and disruptive at that role. Trent Cole has stated he is dropping weight to contend for an OLB spot. Could Trent Cole play the SAM role or have a shot at the predator role? Neither seems likely.
So going into training camp I am real curious what new Defensive Coordinator Coach Bill Davis ends up doing for these 3 spots and there back ups. There are a few player's who do not fit here that we may be able to trade for a better fit down the road. It's a pity that the Defense was put on the back burner in the Draft. Earl Wolff is a late pick I am excited to see on the field.
There are a lot of new player's on the defense which I am not totally familiar with so will have to sit back and see how it all plays out. I think the Eagle's will be running an aggressive 4-3 Under D. In my mind, this is the best defense for our current personnel to not only improve, but to be successful and consistently create turnovers and a pass rush. When you look at the defense, it will make our defensive holes obvious, but will also clarify a few offseason moves as well.
First, what are the advantages of the 4-3 Under? First and foremost, it allows you to place your playmakers in position to make plays. It produces a lot of one-on-one pass rushing matchups by alignment, and uses your DEs and SAM as primary contain. You can run cover 1, very easily, with your safety over the top having relatively simple reads. Your FS can walk down to man up on any slot receivers and not have to make any drastic changes. This defense favors run-stopping safeties, as they have to be able to play the alley should anyone break contain. Our corners will see a lot of 1-on-1 matchups playing bump and run. If they maintain good inside leverage, they will always have help over the top and should be able to pounce on bad throws forced by the pass rush. The MLB gets to force runs, playing 2 gaps and smashing the FB at the point of attack. Your WLB should be your fastest LB, being able to avoid most linemen as all 3 offensive linemen in front of him have a defensive lineman on them.
This is a typical 4-3 under lined up against a typical I formation. While we talk in more detail about the scheme, we will also examine the type of players necessary to facilitate good D.
4-3 Under is essentially running the weak side of the defensive line to the strong side, and walking down your SAM LB over the TE. It is a primarily run-stopping defense, with the added benefit of being (in my opinion) the best 4-3 defense to rush the passer with. In the diagram above, you see that the RDE and 3-technique tackle are both to the weak side. The NT is lined up in the 1-gap to the strong side, with the LDE in 5-gap, and the SAM on the outside edge of the TE, called the 9-technique. You have your MLB playing over the strong side 3-gap, and the WLB in the backside 1.
Typically, the 2 best players on your 4-3 under need to be your weak side DE and your SAM linebacker. Conveniently, we have Brandon Graham as our uncovered DE and have newly selected Connor Barwin to play SAM. The uncovered DE in the 4-3 under needs to be an absolute beast, being able to take advantage of 1-on-1 matchups in all pass rushing situations while also being the primary contain on outside runs to the weak side. Brandon Graham finally get's to show he is worthy of that first round pick in the draft after all! He is going to see 1-on-1 a lot unless teams are willing to run 2 TE sets all the time. That makes me very happy.
The number one reason why more teams don't run a 4-3 Under is the difficulty in finding a player good enough to play the SAM. He needs to be big, strong, fast, and able to cover or rush the passer at any given time. He lines up on the outside edge of the TE at all times, and harasses him off the line, never allowing a free release, staying underneath on routes because you have your safety over the top. He also gets one-on-one matchups on the outside to pass rush. He needs to be a great run defender as well, because he CANNOT be reached, or there is a huge running lane to the strong side. Can Connor Barwin be that guy and play lights out?
Inside the SAM, you need to have a powerful run-stopping LDE, a certified awesome-run stopping DE. He needs to be able to always occupy the strong side offensive tackle and not be reached or washed out by the strong side guard, who is left uncovered. He is going to catch a lot of single blocks from the RT, or trey blocks from the T and TE, with the FB trying to spill the SAM to open up the inside run.The Eagles will have to find this player in training camp who absolutely solidifies that position, frees up Connor Barwin to wreck havoc, and makes running to the strong side an undesirable option.
Your weak side DT needs to be a premier pass rusher. Being positioned on the backside 3-gap with a DE right outside him makes it very difficult for the offense to double team him. Fletcher Cox should fit there perfectly. A center-guard double team would require the guard to cross his face and leave Sopoaga in open space, while a guard-tackle double team would leave Brandon Graham free. Both unfavorable. We happen to have Fletcher Cox manning the 3 technique spot in our D and I am hoping to see him flourish in this scheme. A speedy pass rusher, Cox's talents were completely wasted in a read-and-react defense. In this scheme, Cox will not only be allowed, but be required, to beat the backside guard one-on-one to rush the passer and break up the run plays. Another great fit.
The 1 technique is vital to the success of this defense. In this scheme, the strong side DT needs to be very big and powerful, able to withstand constant double teams, as he is essentially occupying the center and strong side guard to keep the others free. Isaac Sopoaga or Antonio Dixon could be good fits here.
Moving back to the Linebackers (Connor Barwin at SAM doesn't really count, as he plays on the line the vast majority of the time) we have our Middle Linebacker Demeco Ryans and Weakside Linebacker Mychal Kendricks. The MLB primarily lines up 3-4 yards deep over the play side 3 technique, and his job is to shed that guard and make plays, crush FB isos, and scrape over the top to the play if its outside. In cover one, he will usually be manned up with the first back out to the TE side. DeMeco Ryans at this position is great, as it allows him to attack the line of scrimmage on run plays. His first step is always downhill, looking to blow someone up. If the back he is supposed to cover stays into block, he has the option of blitzing or of setting into a little mid-hook zone, to help deter drags, slants, and curls.
You weakside linebacker in the 4-3 under needs to be your fastest and best coverage linebacker, as he is protected by the defensive lineman in front of him and therefore must be able to get anywhere on the field pretty darn quick. He has control of the backside A (1) gap, and will either shoot the gap on inside runs or scrape over on outside runs. If the play is to his side, he is the primary pursuit to the outside as well. On coverage situations, he generally plays short middle and helps out where he needs to be. Mychal Kendricks, due to his speed and coverage skills, is a great WLB for the 4-3 Under. He will be allowed to make more plays because he will be harassed significantly less by offensive lineman.
The secondary in the 4-3 Under is usually pretty simple. Coverage is almost always Cover 1 or Cover 3, with Cover 1 meaning man underneath except for the WLB and the strong side safety, and Cover 3 being deep thirds zone, split between the CBs and the strong side safety. Safeties in this defense usually need to be able to adjust pretty well to changing situations, and having safeties that can both play the run and provide solid zone coverage are invaluable. I have questions about our safeties' abilities to provide quality, consistent over-the-top support, or to feel comfortable in playing middle deep third alone, but time will tell. One thing to note is safeties usually play sides of the field and interchange responsibilities freely. This will be an interesting battle to watch in camp. Corner play also tends to be simplified in the 4-3 Under. It tends to have simple reads and the base D tends to be Cover 1, Cover 3, or Cover 2 man under. Man coverage schemes tend to be preferred to take advantage of the pass rush. I feel the CB tandem of Williams and Fletcher would both do well in a primarily man scheme, especially if the pass rush does its job.
DT’s on the roster are Fletcher Cox, Isaac Sopoaga, Antonio Dixon, Bennie Logan, Cedric Thornton, Isaac Remington and Ronnie Cameron. Gotta figure Cox, Sopoaga win out the starting spots in the end. DE’s on the roster are Brandon Graham, Trent Cole, Vinny Curry, Clifton Geathers, Damion Square, David King, Phillip Hunt, and Everette Brown. Brandon Graham looked very impressive last year off the edge rushing the QB. Clifton Geathers has good size at 6’7" 325 lbs. and should compete for the starting SDE position. I do not see anyone beating out Brandon Graham for the Predator role on the weak side if he continues to put in the hard work. Hard to say who end’s up being the best 4 or 5 DE’s and wins out to make the final 53 man roster.The SDE is the one position that is most vital for this defense to be effective, whoever wins out will be the rock this defense depends on. Is this where the Eagle's see Bennie Logan playing?
Finally the LB’s on this roster are Demeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Connor Barwin, Jamar Chaney, Emmanuel Acho, Jake Knott, Joe Kruger, Casey Matthews, Chris McCoy, and Jason Phillips. I would believe Mychal Kendricks and Demeco Ryans both have a shot to be the starter’s in their spots from last year. The SAM LB spot is the one I am most interested in, and more than likely Connor Barwin wins out there. I also see a lot of those LB’s filling out the Special teams units! Yeah baby!!!
QB – Vick at #1 might be unlikely due to lack of quick decisions and pre-snap reads, really only Chip Kelly's choice is important and I will support who he believes in. Odds on if I have to pick a starter it's impossible without seeing them all perform in Training Camp.
O-Line starter’s Peters(LT), Herremans(LG), Kelce(Center), Mattis(RG), Lane Johnson(RT)
RDE- Brandon Graham- 4-3 under
WDT- Fletcher Cox – 4-3 under
NT- Sopoaga/ Antonio Dixon – 4-3 under
SDE- Bennie Logan/ Clifton Geathers – 4-3 under
Sam LB- Connor Barwin- 4-3 under
MLB- Demeco Ryans-4-3 under
WIL- Mychal Kendricks-4-3 under
In a 3-4
Still like Logan, Sopoaga, and Cox upfront
3-4 LB’s with Barwin, Ryans, Kendricks, (Trent Cole or Vinny Curry) may find a new home here as an OLB!
WR- Ifeanyi Momah, Desean Jackson
TE- Celek – Ertz
I see Celek, Ertz,Casey, and Momah lining up with Casey and McCoy in the backfield with Foles under Center.
I could even see a pure speed matchup headache with Vick, DeSean, Brown, McCoy and Casey out there with someone at QB other than Vick.
Michael Vick starting at QB would give the inside/outside zone read option a wicked speed threat to run every play!
Just my thoughts and I welcome yours as well.
So all your thoughts on the Defense and our player's welcome. Defense wins Championships!