With the first quarter of the season in the books, it's a good time to take a look at where the Eagles stand.
I'll go over the defense today and the offense on Saturday.
Bright side: Let's start with the Eagles' best player on defense: Trent Cole. He creates havoc on a consistent basis at right defensive end. Cole has three sacks and has been responsible for several more. He was fairly quiet against the Redskins, but overall has been playing at an elite level.
Juqua Parker has also been a bright spot. He's playing less than 40 percent of the snaps, but has been extremely productive with four sacks. Word out of NovaCare today is that Parker has won back the starting job from Brandon Graham in the base defense.
Downside: It's not fair to blame all of the Eagles' struggles against the run on the tackles, but they have not had a strong start. Brodrick Bunkley was very good in the opener, but has not been heard from since. Against Detroit and Jacksonville, he and Mike Patterson weren't on the field as much, but against the Redskins, they saw their most playing time this season. Patterson got manhandled at times against Detroit and has not made much of an impact overall. Last week, the Redskins were able to get their linemen to the second level and block the Eagles linebackers quite a bit. The linebackers haven't been good, but they could use some more help from the tackles.
Graham has been OK. Everyone (myself included) probably got a little carried away with his performance at Lehigh and in the preseason. He's had some good moments against the pass, but Graham has not impressed in the run game. It'll be interesting to see if teams continue to run at him. Graham's played exclusively on the outside the last two games. Even though he's not starting this week, Graham will be on the field quite a bit.
Upside: Hmm... anyone got something for me?
Let's put on our kelly-green spectacles for a moment. It's reasonable to assume that Stewart Bradley will improve as the season goes on. He's only played 10 quarters since tearing his ACL a little over a year ago.
Downside: I would argue that the performance of the Eagles linebackers has been the single biggest disappointment in 2010.
This unit was bad last year, but the We don't have Bradley excuse was a relevant one. The Eagles thought the addition of Ernie Sims would help, and Akeem Jordan seemed capable of manning the strong side.
Four games in, and Sims has been average at best. He's struggled quite a bit against the run. Sims has been the Eagles' most frequent blitzer, but sending him after opposing quarterbacks has not proven to be very effective.
Bradley was good against the Jaguars, but bad against the Redskins. The Eagles are probably leaning too much on him, considering Bradley's still recovering from injury, but as we saw against the Lions, they are in big trouble if he goes down again. Omar Gaither does not look like a capable fill-in at this point.
As for Jordan, it looks like he'll be losing his job - for this week, at least. Moise Fokou will get a shot to be the starter on the strong side. Fokou finished last season as the starter, replacing Chris Gocong. He began training camp with the first unit too before Sean McDermott moved Jordan over.
Aside from the Jaguars game, Jordan has been invisible. However, looking back at last season and this season, the best performance the Eagles got from a weak-side linebacker probably came from Jordan at the start of 2009. If Fokou plays well, it'll be interesting to see if Jordan takes away some snaps from Sims on the weak side.
Upside: Before the season, I targeted the cornerbacks as the biggest concern on this defense. Through four weeks, I've been pleasantly surprised. Asante Samuel has been very good in coverage, and opposing quarterbacks seem to be throwing at him less than ever. Ellis Hobbs has had ups and downs, but has not been a liability. And Joselio Hanson has done a good job as the nickel corner.
Nate Allen has probably been the biggest bright spot on defense. He leads the team with three interceptions and has looked solid in all aspects. Big upgrade from a year ago at free safety.
Downside: Hobbs has been called for three penalties in the last two weeks, and he's given up a couple big plays in the passing game. He'll be tested a little more this week as the No. 1 corner (with Samuel out) and even moreso in the second half of the season against a strong group of quarterbacks.
Quintin Mikell has had ups and downs. He got off to the horrible start in last week's game and has dropped multiple interceptions. Mikell's been called on quite a bit to help in run support, and overall, he's having a better year than he had in 2009.
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