Earlier this week, we graded the Eagles' offense through the quarter pole of the season. Here we'll take on the defense. Spoiler: It's not pretty.
The Eagles’ defensive line is very young and inexperienced. Isaac Sopoaga aside, all the Eagles’ defensive linemen are 25 years of age or younger:
- Fletcher Cox - 22
- Cedric Thornton - 25
- Bennie Logan - 23
- Clifton Geathers - 25
- Damion Square - 24
- Vinny Curry – 25
As you might expect, this unit is going to endure some growing pains. We’ll look at them individually:
There was some hope that Fletcher Cox would step up and become an impact player his second year in the league. While he had shown some flashes, that has not happened. Cox hasn’t been bad. He does have a pair of sacks and a handful of hurries and hits on the QB, but he hasn’t been that dominant force along the DL that some people were hoping he’d be.
Chip Kelly said that Cedric Thornton has been the Eagles’ best defender so far. Derek Sarley illustrated what Kelly was talking about.
Isaac Sopoaga is comically playing the role of an inside linebacker from his NT position. He’s a stopgap until the Eagles can fill that position either in the draft or in free agency with a long-term answer.
Bennie Logan has played 105 snaps. He has 2 tackles. Clifton Geathers and Damion Square have been similar non-factors.
Vinny Curry is the Eagles’ best pass rusher from what we’ve seen this year so far. The Eagles obviously have some kind of reasoning why he’s not on the field in the base defense, and that’s fine. But can we get this guy some playing time on obvious passing downs? CB Brandon Boykin has rushed the passer 24 times this season, according to PFF. Vinny Curry has rushed the passer 16 times.
According to data compiled by ProFootballFocus, Mychal Kendricks leads NFL inside linebackers in missed tackles (8), receptions allowed (24), and yards after the catch (164). He is 2nd in yards allowed, with 231. Those receiving numbers tend to be unreliable at times, as PFF doesn’t always know defensive assignments, but clearly Kendricks has been bad in pass defense. His worst game was against Antonio Gates and the Chargers. In 19 games as a pro, Kendricks has 1 sack, 0 FF and 0 INT. Not good. Kendricks started out on fire against the Washington team Week 1, as he was making plays all over the field, but the last 3 games have been ugly.
At times, DeMeco Ryans is such a physical player. He was blowing up Washington offensive linemen Week 1. He had a huge hit on Malcom Floyd Week 2 that may have been a fumble, as opposed to an incomplete pass. When he gets a chance to throw ball carriers to the ground, he will. However, he has clearly lost a step since his best days with Houston, as is often exposed. He whiffed a few times on Jamaal Charles Week 3, and was ineffective Week 4. Ryans is a good leader and locker room guy, but there’s a great chance he won’t be with the team next season unless he takes a substantial pay cut.
Connor Barwin is the only outside linebacker on the team who is a natural fit at the 3-4 OLB spot. Barwin has played well in coverage, and has a pair of sacks.
Trent Cole has also played well enough. The sacks aren’t there, but he has forced 2 fumbles that led to turnovers, and has played the run well.
It’s really hard to critique Brandon Graham when the Eagles are asking him to do things he should not be doing, like lining up against wide receivers in the passing game (picture via Derek Sarley, Eagletarian). This should clearly never happen:
Graham is a square peg in a round hole in the Eagles' D, and I have a hard time blaming him for that.
The corners are getting more bad publicity than they should. Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher have been far from awful. Week 1, Williams had a diving pick, a sack, and huge pass breakup on a key 4th down. In Week 3 against the Chiefs, he made several sure tackles on quick patterns. He did struggle against the Chargers and Broncos, as have a lot of corners this season, but it's fair to criticize his consistency. As for Fletcher, the only play I can really recall him giving up was an indefensible fade pattern TD to Demaryius Thomas. Fletcher has been solid. Meanwhile, Brandon Boykin is developing into one of the better slot corners in he league. Believe it or not, it could really be a lot worse in the Eagles secondary if the corners weren’t partially holding up their end of the bargain.
No matter who has been out there, they’ve missed tackles, they’ve taken bad angles, they’ve given up big plays in the passing game, and nobody has delivered a big play of their own. Earl Wolff has good speed and he flies around, so that’s encouraging, but for now this group is a complete mess.