Eagles-Steelers: Film Review of the Defense

Here’s the breakdown of the Eagles defense in the Steelers game after re-watching the tape (note: the NFL doesn’t provide the all-22 coaches film in the preseason):


Defensive line: I’ll start with the second leg of the rotation up front. Brandon Bair continued to impress and has likely earned a roster spot. The end drove the Steelers starting left tackle into quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and forced an errant pass. A few series later, Bair timed his jump and tipped a third down pass incomplete. Bair also got third down penetration with the second team and busted up a run that led to a 5-yard loss.

Vinny Curry wasn’t as active as he was in the first two preseason games, but he still flashed. He used a bull rush to sack Roethlisberger, who stepped up in the pocket in the third. Earlier, with the first team, Curry fought off a blocker and chipped in on a short run stop. Beau Allen was the first nose tackle off the bench. He broke free on one rush. He hustled to the ball on a 3-yard rush. It looked like he didn’t contain a gap when LeVeon Bell ran seven yards for a first down. Damion Square was also rotated in with the first team. He teamed up with Curry on a short rush. Square also drew a holding penalty. He’s squarely on the roster bubble, pardon the pun.

Now the starters: Fletcher Cox had a solid second quarter. He and Connor Barwin ran a game and he beat his man to Roethlisberger. The quarterback skipped away, but he was flushed up in the pocket and threw incomplete on third down. Cox shed a blocker and assisted on a 6-yard carry. A play later, he was in on a 3-yard tote.

Cedric Thornton played only 16 snaps, but was often around the ball. He bottled up his blocker on Bell’s first carry and turned him toward Connor Barwin. He blew up a lineman, spun and made a run tackle five yards up field. Thornton hustled to catch a tight end after a 7-yard catch. He interrupted a LeGarrette Blount rush with penetration. Bennie Logan played a quiet 14 snaps.

Linebacker: Mychal Kendricks was all over the field as I wrote in my column off the game. He blitzed up the middle early and hurried Roethlisberger into a bad throw. He made two impressive open field tackles, once taking down the swift Dri Archer after a 2-yard catch, and later stopping an over-the-middle screen. He had a big hit on a receiver over the middle. The play was negated by an Eagles penalty. He blitzed up the “A” gap again and forced Roethlisberger out of the pocket where his throw-away pass was intercepted. He met a receiver straight on after another screen and kept the gain to four yards. He did miss one tackle when he didn’t wrap up on a third down conversion over the middle.

DeMeco Ryans slashed to stop Bell on a 2-yard rush. Ryans crushed the running back over the middle after a pass flew through his hands. The hit drew an unsportsmanlike penalty for hitting a defenseless receiver. Ryans later missed a run tackle. He was taken off the field and Kendricks stayed on when the Eagles went with their dime package.

Trent Cole was split wide on receiver Aaron Brown and dropped him to the ground within five yards. The pass sailed incomplete. Connor Barwin set the edge on the first play, got inside the tight end and stopped Bell.

Defensive backs: Nolan Carroll started in place of the injured Cary Williams (hamstring). He moved inside in the dime and saw tight end Heath Miller make an 8-yard grab in front of him on third down. The coverage was tight, but the throw was perfect. He showed good ball skills when he dove and made a pick. Bradley Fletcher was twice whistled for illegal contact. He had good coverage on a sideline route that Roethlisberger overthrew.

Malcolm Jenkins seemed to be doing more work near the line than Allen. He had a diving pass breakup on third down. He failed to wrap up Bell when he ran up the middle for seven yards. He blitzed a few times and once was close to blindsiding Roethlisberger. He aided Kendricks on a screen stop. He took an unnecessary unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when he slapped the ball out of Brown’s hands post-first down pickup.

Nate Allen was once again steady on the back end. He has the safety spot opposite Jenkins all but sewn up. He cleaned up Blount after Ryans missed a run tackle. He was never targeted in pass coverage. He blitzed once off the edge.


Defensive line: Joe Kruger had some nice moments in the first preseason game, but was relegated to mop-up duty in this game. It came as no grand surprise when the Eagles cut one of their 2013 seventh-round draft picks a few days later. Taylor Hart once got pressure on Roethlisberger and forced him to step up where Curry sacked him.

Linebackers: Brandon Graham had his best outing of the preseason. It will be difficult for the Eagles to waive him. He’s arguably their best edge rusher. He kept his legs churning in the second and forced Roethlisberger off his feet in the second. He bull rushed the right guard, sacked Roethlisberger and forced a fumble the Steelers recovered. Graham notched a tackle for loss against the run. He took a bad angle on a screen pass that was brought back by a hold.

Travis Long has been cross-training at both inside and outside linebacker. He played inside in this game. He looked OK considering he had never played it before. He made a run stop after a 4-yard pickup. Long blitzed up the middle and forced Roethlisberger to step outside. The quarterback threw a touchdown, however.

Marcus Smith looked better than he had against the Patriots. His pass rush still needs work. He set the edge, shook off a tight end and tackled Bell for a 1-yard loss. A few plays later, he held up his blocker, forced the runner inside where he made a tackle. He was lined up opposite a receiver and had good coverage down the sideline, but the ball was perfectly placed for an 18-yard gain. He contained the Steelers backup quarterback on a three-yard scramble. He was flagged once for a neutral zone infraction. Bryan Braman missed a tackle on a swing pass near the sideline in the fourth.

Najee Goode took a few of Ryans’ snaps with the first team again. He missed a tackle on a Blount run, but made an open field stop on a short pass. Emmanuel Acho is going to have a hard time making the team. He overran a screen in the fourth. Casey Matthews is on the cut line. He’s still playing inside, but has some versatility having played some outside last season. He helped angle Archer out of bounds after a 2-yard reception.

Defensive backs: Brandon Boykin was out with a hamstring and Jaylen Watkins took his snaps in the slot. He seemed to hold up well. He was beat for a 10-yard pass on third down in the second. Roc Carmichael took Carroll’s spot on the outside in the dime. He had tight coverage on a third down slant to Brown. Curtis Marsh had another rough day. He was beat for 14 yards on a slant. With Marsh playing soft, Brown caught a 22-yard slant in front. He was called for two illegal contact penalties. He had coverage on two incomplete corner fades in the end zone late in the game.

Earl Wolff helped break up a deep third down pass. He still needs repetitions and will start Thursday. Chris Maragos had decent coverage deep on Miller, but Roethlisberger tossed a 27-yard TD strike. It’s difficult to assess safeties without all-22, but Ed Reynolds hasn’t stood out much in the preseason. The fifth-round rookie could be a roster casualty.