When the Eagles traded Isaac Sopoaga to the Patriots in late October, it was a move roundly considered addition by subtraction.
Forgetting for a second that the Eagles paid the veteran nose tackle $3.25 million for eight games of virtually nothing, the trade did more than just rid the defense of an unproductive player. It paved the way for rookie Bennie Logan.
Over six starts, Logan has shown steady improvement and based on his production against the Vikings on Sunday played his highest percentage of snaps this season. The defensive lineman played 50 of 75 plays, less than Fletcher Cox (63) and more than Cedric Thornton (47) for the first time this season.
Defensive coordinator Bill Davis said Logan's performance in Minnesota was probably his best of the season.
"He’s getting better and better, more comfortable where as I’ve said about a lot of rookies, at certain times they have a lot of confidence, but never really sure, ‘Do I really belong in the NFL?’" Davis said on Tuesday. "Through a lot of success, they relax and excel and say, ‘I do belong, I am good enough.’ They take a huge spike."
Eagles coaches credited Logan with only three tackles, but he had two quarterback hurries, a tipped pass that was intercepted and was disruptive for much of the game. If there was a defensive MVP on a day when the unit was torched for 48 points it was Logan.
“I feel like I did pretty good, but there’s a lot I could have done better," Logan said. "I feel like I still have room for improvement, things I need to work on to get better."
Following my first two looks at rookies Lane Johnson and Zach Ertz, here's an all-22 peek at where Logan stands late in his first season, with examples of both the good and the areas in which he needs improvement:
Logan typically lines up over the center or just outside the center on base run plays, but on this second and one play on the Vikings' first possession, he was over the right guard and Thornton was a shade left of the center. The Vikings guard and tackle combination blocked Logan at the snap:
At this point, Logan has Davis and defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro's two-gap scheme down pat. He showed tremendous strength not losing his balance even though he had more than 600 pounds pressing down on him:
After the tackle moved to the next level to block linebacker Mychal Kendricks (95), Logan regained his stance and pushed back the guard to clog up Matt Asiata's running lane. DeMeco Ryans then shot into the backfield and cleaned up the tackle for no gain:
"The one thing with Bennie that you love is each week he seems to get a little bit better, a little bit more comfortable in what we’re trying to do," Chip Kelly said. We're "getting a lot of production out of him. That’s why he warrants playing time."
A possession later, Logan once again did something in the run game that doesn't show up in the stat sheet. I'll spare you a series of still-shots of this play, but Logan was so quick off the ball that he nearly split the double team. I'm not sure if one of the Vikings offensive linemen was to break off and block Kendricks, but both stuck with Logan and the Eagles linebacker was free to stop Asiata after a short gain:
Logan didn't rack up many sacks and wasn't considered much of a pass rusher at LSU, but that was mostly because the Tigers were stacked with pass rushers. He did the dirty work, one reason why Logan wore the famed No. 18 jersey at LSU, given to the team's most unselfish player.
“When they drafted me Coach Azz told me that he felt that I could push the pocket in the middle," Logan said. "He believed in me when they drafted me."
On this second quarter play, Logan lined up over the center and had one blocker to contend with:
"If I get pressure up the middle and just collapse the pocket and get the quarterback to scramble outside," Logan said, "I know our outside linebackers and our other defensive linemen can get after the quarterback.”
But he got little push and Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel had all sorts of time to go through his reads before hitting a receiver for 19 yards:
Logan doesn't have a lot of pass rushing moves, but he moves pretty fast for his size (6-foot-2, 309 pounds), especially once he gets going. He's had a number of hurries running twists or 'games' with his fellow linemen. Logan curled outside from the nose tackle spot while Cox rushed inside on this second quarter play.
“It's just a little 'game,' Logan said. "There’s certain things we see, we communicate it before the snap and then we just go after them."
The left tackle was late to pick up Logan and the lineman had a clear path to Cassel:
But Logan drove into Cassel's mid-section rather than get his hands up to try and knock his arm, something his coaches said he should have done after watching the film.
"Once I watched the film I understood," Logan said. "If I would have just hit his arm and knocked the ball it would have been an incompletion and maybe a fumble instead of them completing the pass.”
Cassel got the ball out just in time and completed a nine-yard pass:
Later in the quarter, Logan showed impressive athleticsm. Here he was filling a lane just before Cassel faked a handoff to Asiata:
And then less than two seconds later, he ditched the center, looped around Thornton and had another clear path to Cassel:
Cassel had a little more time to get the short pass off than he did on the previous play, but Logan went up high and nearly batted the ball away.
"When they first start, they have to think about moving their technique as they’re using it," Davis said of Logan. "When you move forward, they don’t think about it but still do it. He’s been in the place where he’s been quicker with everything because he’s more natural with it.”
There are times when the scheme doesn't require for Logan to go full blast after the quarterback, but to maintain his gap responsibility and make the play if it comes to him. He conceded that he needed to work on that discipline.
“Just being patient. I got out of my gaps a little too fast a couple of times," Logan said. "I threw the guy off the block too fast instead of just being patient with the blocking scheme, letting the game come to me."
On this third quarter play, though, Logan carried out his two-gap responsibility. As the outside linebackers rushed off the edges, Logan stood his ground and occupied the left guard:
It was a shovel pass (Andy Reid alert!), a play you often see near the goal line, but Logan stood his ground and tackled Asiata after a two-yard gain:
The Vikings scored a touchdown on the next play with a quarterback draw, but it wasn't Logan who vacated his gap.
Later, after the Eagles trimmed the Vikings' lead, Logan made a game-turning play. I wasn't initially sure that he tipped the pass that Kendricks intercepted. The TV review made it seem as if Cassel's pass just glanced off the linemen.
But the all-22 shows all and Logan clearly had his hand up as Cassel threw:
Logan certainly has room to grow, but the strides he's made this season, after playing minimally through the first half of the season, suggest that the Eagles may have gotten a bargain in the third round of the draft.