Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Is the Eagles defense too small?

As big as he is, Andy Reid believes good things come in small packages.

Is the Eagles defense too small?

The Eagles drafted Brandon Graham in the first round of the 2010 draft. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
The Eagles drafted Brandon Graham in the first round of the 2010 draft. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

As big as he is, Andy Reid believes good things come in small packages.

The Eagles coach may not actively pursue defensive players that are below average in size, but when you value speed over strength you're going to end up with pieces that are more pawn than rook.

"On defense, I like fast players and like guys that can run and play fast," Reid said last month at the owners meetings. "Size – I don’t really necessarily get too caught up on the size. I care about playing strength and speed and quickness."

While it may be hard to argue with the success of Reid's defensive units over 12 seasons, the results haven't been as strong over the last two seasons. And those struggles have only strengthened (puns intended) the argument from those that criticize Reid for his undersized defense.

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And his defense is on the smaller size. The numbers (see below) from 2010 say so. But the argument that Reid's defenses are no longer as dominant because of their relative lack of size is a difficult one to make. While many of the last season's top units were on the larger size, success may have had as much to do with being a 3-4 defense.

Reid and general manager Howie Roseman have said they don't necessarily look at the measurables when they evaluate players. They look at the tape. But with the draft less than a month away and with a number of holes on defense, it's safe to assume the Eagles will grade speed guys higher than strength guys.

"Obviously it’s hard not to look at how tall they are and how much they weight and how long their arms are," Roseman said. "But I wouldn’t say it’s a conscious effort either way to either just get smaller guys in terms of height or go the other way and make sure we’re getting really big guys. We’re just trying to find good players."

Whether they were reacting to the smurf charges or not, Roseman said the Eagles re-evaluated their approach in the off-season. He used 2010 No. 1 pick Brandon Graham as an example.

"Graham is 275 pounds [he's listed 6-2, 268] as a defensive end," Roseman said. "Yeah, he’s probably a little shorter than the height-weight specifics you’d look for in a defensive lineman. But he’s not an undersized guy and sometimes that helps for defensive linemen for leverage. … I think ideally you’d like big, fast guys. You’d like them at every position. But it’s hard to find those guys."

Comparatively speaking, Graham's weight is in line with many NFL ends, but as Roseman said, his height isn't. Graham's listed height is also a stretch, although most teams fib some in that regard. Trent Cole measured out at 6-2, 238 pounds coming out of Cincinnati as a linebacker. He is now a stout 6-3, 270.

Juqua Parker, Cole's starting counterpart, is 6-2, 250. He has wore down over the past two seasons, although that could have more to do with age (32) than with size. Defensive end Darryl Tapp is 6-1, 270. Last-season rookies Daniel Te'o-Nesheim (6-3, 263) and Ricky Sapp (6-4, 252) are perhaps better suited to a 3-4 defense, but they may just need time -- as Cole once did -- to grow into their frames.

But it's not just at end where the Eagles are on the smaller side. Defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley (6-2, 306) and Mike Patterson (6-1, 300) have always been among the undersized at their position, although the emergence of Antoinio Dixon (6-3, 322) has given the Eagles some girth in the middle.

Middle linebacker Stewart Bradley has Brian Urlacher-type size (6-4, 258) -- if not skill -- but Moise Fokou (6-1, 236) and Ernie Sims (6-0, 230) are petite for a strong-side and weak-side linebacker. Sims may be as fast as linebackers come but his instincts were tortoise-slow and he's likely not back next season.

Second-year linebackers Jamar Chaney (6-0, 242) and Keenan Clayton (6-1, 229), both of whom are expected to compete for starting spots, are also undersized.

While the average size of the Eagles' front seven (6-2, 267) is below the league average (6-3, 276) it isn't that far off from the how other 4-3 defenses (6-2.5, 269) stack up. Even though there's one less defensive lineman, 3-4s are for the most part bigger than 4-3s. Here's how the Eagles compare to other 4-3s (and 3-4s) and how each defense ranked by the end of the season.

Team - Height - Weight - Rank
Raiders - 6-4 - 280 - 11th
Seahawks - 6-2 - 281 - 27th
Bengals - 6-3 - 275 - 15th
Texans, 6-2, 274 - 15th
Jags - 6-3 - 273 - 28th
Bears - 6-3 - 272 - 9th
Vikings - 6-4 - 271 - 8th
Rams - 6-2 - 271 - 19th
Eagles - 6-2 - 267 - 12th
Saints - 6-2 - 267 - 4th
Bucs - 6-2 - 265 - 17th
Giants - 6-4 - 263 - 7th
Colts - 6-1 - 262 - 20th
Falcons - 6-2 - 261 - 16th
Panthers - 6-2 - 261 - 18th
Titans - 6-2 - 256 - 26th
Average - 6-2.5 - 269

Team - Height - Weight - Rank
Redskins - 6-3 - 284 - 31st
Ravens - 6-2 - 284 - 10th
Browns - 6-3 - 281 - 22d
Packers - 6-2 - 282 - 5th
Dolphins - 6-3 - 278 - 6th
Broncos - 6-2 - 279 - 32d
Jets - 6-3 - 277 - 3d
Cowboys - 6-4 -276 - 23d
Pats - 6-2 - 276 - 25th
49ers - 6-3 - 273 - 13th
Chiefs - 6-3 - 273 - 14th
Chargers - 6-3 - 270 - 1st
Steelers - 6-2 - 271 - 2d
Bills - 6-2 - 267 - 24th
Cards - 6-4 - 265 - 29th
Average - 6-3 - 276


Staff Writer
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