Much has been made of the Philadelphia Eagles former 4-3 defensive ends (see: Trent Cole, Brandon Graham) transitioning to their new positions at 3-4 outside linebacker. Their new position requires them to do new things, such as dropping into coverage. It's obviously an aspect of the game where Cole and Graham lack (recent, at least) experience, so naturally it raises concern.
But exactly how often will Graham and Cole, among other Eagles OLBs, drop into coverage? Let's look at what's been asked of them in the 2013 preseason so far:
(Note: the tables in the post are sortable! Click on a column header to sort the data.)
|Coverage snaps||Total Snaps||Coverage/Total Snaps||Snaps vs Pass||Coverage/Snaps vs Pass|
|Phillip Hunt (IR)||4||30||13.33%||20||20%|
The first thing we see is that the most the Eagles have asked a OLB to drop into coverage is no more than 22.22% of their total snaps on defense. That's not a lot. The number obviously jumps up when you eliminate run plays and only account for the amount of times they dropped in coverage versus a pass play. Even still, a key Eagles OLB has not been asked to cover a majority of the time.
I included the backups OLB data for comparison purposes. None of them were asked to drop into coverage too often either, save for Travis Long in an even smaller sample size. Chris McCoy is probably going to make the Eagles 53 man roster as a backup OLB, but Hunt (who's injured) and Travis Long/Everette Brown probably won't make the roster.
It's no surprise that Connor Barwin leads the Eagles in coverage snaps. He's the best Eagles coverage OLB and the eye test confirms these results. Barwin played in a 3-4 defense with the Texans. Trent Cole wasn't too far behind Barwin. Cole being asked to cover often doesn't seem encouraging. Brandon Graham's coverage numbers are much lower. Graham isn't necessarily inspiring in coverage, so it makes sense to have him do that less.
Now that we know how often the Eagles OLBs have dropped in coverage, let's look at their performance when doing so:
|Phillip Hunt (IR)||4||1||0||0||0|
No Eagles OLB has been targeted more than once. Only Graham and McCoy have allowed significant offensive plays. It's a small sample, but clearly OLB coverage hasn't been a huge weakness on the Eagles defense.
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I'm not sure how revealing these numbers are since it's a small sample size and it's only preseason. Therefore I'm not making much of a statement by them. Take them for what it's worth. But what we can tell from this data seems to jive with common sense: that the Eagles won't ask their players to do things often at which they're not good.
Another note on these numbers: since it's preseason, it's possible they're inflated because the Eagles coaching staff wants to evaluate these players in coverage. That's what preseason is really about anyway: evaluation. It's not unreasonable, then, to think that the percentage of times these players drop in coverage could be even less in the regular season.
Before giving up on these players making the transition [especially Graham/Cole], let's realize that they're not being asked to cover a majority of the time. They also deserve time to prove they can play in the new scheme. The Eagles defense is a work in progress. Patience is key.
A big special thank you to Ben Pugsley for helping me figure out how to use sortable tables. You're awesome, Ben. Obligatory plug: Ben is an editor at SBN's Manchester City blog, Bitter and Blue. Follow him on Twitter @benjaminpugsley.
Numbers used in tables are courtesy of PFF.