Before we turn our attention to Week 2, I thought I’d drop a few scattered notes and nuggets that didn’t make it into our stories, including items on Todd Herremans, Jason Kelce, Brian Rolle and first impressions from Week 1.
First, the run defense.
Coach Andy Reid elaborated on the Eagles run defense in his appearance on WIP Monday night, and it was insightful stuff, I thought, on how the run D should look, and the early problems the Eagles had against St. Louis. The primary issue early, he said, was that the linebackers and defensive linemen were not “meshing,” (more on that after the coach’s quotes).
“The mesh between the defensive line and the linebackers, there was too much space, there were too many seams and in this defense you’ve got to play downhill. We were a little bit cautious the first series,” he said (echoing something several players said after the game).
Reid said the defensive linemen, whose focus on every snap is getting into the backfield, have to react “on the run” to run plays and that the linebackers have to get to the same level as the D line.
“They’ve all got to be one big wall when it’s all said and done by the time the ball carrier gets to the line of scrimmage,” Reid.
Sounds simple enough, but with the gaps in the defensive line (which are designed into Jim Washburn’s “Wide Nine” scheme), Casey Matthews, Jamar Chaney and Moise Fokou were often facing offensive linemen one-on-one as they tried to get to runners. They were frequently blocked out of plays, or pushed back far enough that they allowed sizable gains. The Eagles seem willing to make that trade off on the ground in exchange for a more intense pass rush.
I wrote Sunday about the Eagles run defense, and how it puts pressure on the linebackers to stop runs in the middle of the field. To summarize, the defensive linemen are basically trying to race into the backfield every play (which they love). They’re primarily concerned with getting to the quarterback, and if it turns out to be a run, they try to adjust – but their first focus is getting at the QB. That leaves the linebackers with a lot of run responsibility. They have assigned gaps, but if a D-lineman gets into a different gap than the play calls for (either because he has found an opening there or been blocked into the gap), then it’s on the linebackers to adjust and change gears. Basically, the D-line does whatever it wants to get into the backfield while the linebackers play off of them.
The strategy worked against the Rams: once the Eagles had the lead and St. Louis had to throw, the front four was teeing off. We’ll see how it holds up against teams that can stay close. After Steven Jackson left the game, Cadillac Williams still averaged 4.8 yards per carry.
-- Todd Herremans talked to several reporters Monday about adjusting to playing right tackle. It was mostly mental concerns he talked about, not physical ones. For example, being at guard, he often heard audibles and line calls as soon as they were made. At tackle, he said, he might not hear them until the third or fourth echo from his fellow linemen.
Also, with Mike Vick now making protection calls, Herremans said he’s had to try to turn off his instinct to adjust based on what he sees. In the past, he said, he helped the centers decipher defenses and change line calls. Now, Herremans said, he still tries to read the D, but has to know not to adjust his plan until he gets a say-so from Vick.
Re-watching the game, Herremans did well at his new position. He even used a spin move, something Howard Mudd loves, to recover on one pass rush and make a block. Looked smooth doing it, too.
-- Jason Kelce looked good overall as well, though he was pushed back a few times by defensive tackles who bulled him into the backfield. You could see what the Eagles like in Kelce though – when he was called on to pull he showed he could run and made blocks on space.
“When he was at the University of Cincinnati, I’m going, ‘this is one of the most athletic centers I’ve ever seen,’” Reid said on WIP.
-- The entire offensive line looked solid. They face another tough test against the Falcons, who had five sacks even as they lost to the Bears.
-- In my grades immediately after the game I criticized Brent Celek’s blocking. Re-watching, though, I saw I was wrong there. Celek actually had a very solid game blocking, often going one-on-one with the Rams’ defensive ends and usually doing well with it. Sometimes a first impression live is mistaken.
-- Another player who stood out was Jarrad Page. He made several timely stops, including making a solid hit on a second quarter third and seven, stopping a receiver just short of the first down marker and forcing a punt. His near interception in the third quarter showed a glimpse of his athletic ability.
-- Dion Lewis: take a knee. Reid said he talked to the rookie running back and returner about his decisions to run back two deep kicks, and was confident that they straightened things out. Lewis can be a playmaker, but he can't put his offense in bad situations.
-- Brian Rolle showed he has power to go with his quickness, especially when he knocked the Rams center flat on his back one play. Keenan Clayton is another speedy linebacker, but Eagles coaches have wanted to see more physical play from him. Rolle seems to have a mix of strength and speed – helping explain why he’s climbed the depth chart.
-- Vick talked extensively about facing the blitz on WIP, which I wrote about today. A couple thiings I found fascinating: he said he only this training camp began to really work on figuring out blitzes and the right protections to use against them. He also continued to give two very different answers about his running. At one point he was cautious, saying he would try to ease up in later games and not take too many hits. Then, in the same radio appearance, his competitive side came out, and Vick basically said he's going to run aggressively until his last down. Vick's confidence levels are off the charts, which tells me he sticks with his aggressive, Superman style. Quotes are in the story.
-- Overall, it was an opening game with few surprises. The offensive line played better than perhaps many of us thought they would. But most facets of the team played as expected. The D blanketed receivers and rushed the passer well, but had some problems with the run. Once they got the lead, they were able to pound the quarterback.
The offense, too, stuck to the script: Vick and LeSean McCoy are the two most reliable weapons. DeSean Jackson can obviously make things happen, too, when he is on, and he was on on Sunday. Jeremy Maclin was less productive than usual – which you probably expected given that he did not play at all in the preseason. Vick was at times spectacular (the TD throw to Jackson, the spin move out of a sack), and at times he was beaten on blitzes. He was far more good than bad. I think that’s about what you can expect for the season, you just wonder how he will hold up physically and what level he will play at when the playoffs arrive.