The Eagles started their preseason with a home win last night, defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17-9 in what was a very interesting game. While the Eagles were able to come away with a win, there were some causes for concern..surprisingly, not on the unit that struggled the most.
The Eagles Defense stole the show. They didn’t just hold the Bucs to 9 points, they didn’t just sack the quarterback three times, but they dominated in the trenches..an area of severe concern coming off of a disappointing 2015 campaign.
After surrendering more rushing yards than any other team last season, the arrival of Jim Schwartz as the team’s new Defensive Coordinator was met with a lot of excitement. But with the Linebacker depth being so light, it was easy to wonder if an overly aggressive system could cost the birds.
The most impressive statistic from last night was the 31 rushing yards Tampa Bay were held to. The team averaged 1.5 yards per carry on 21 rushing attempts in what was an abysmal display. The Linebackers played outstandingly and praise has to be given to Joe Walker who racked up six tackles on the night including a huge stop on 4th and short.
Surprisingly, the run Defense had become the strongest part of an Eagles Defense striving to carve an identity and bounce back after a shambolic 2015 season..but the pass Defense looked questionable at best.
It’s interesting that the one area many thought would dominate..did the opposite. The Eagles showed a glaring weakness to screen passes, something that many teams will exploit in 2016. With so many players rushing forward, it became all too easy for the Bucs to pick up the easy screen pass yards as well as dumping the ball over the top.
A large part of this was because the corners in these looks sat way too deep or showed a lack of ball awareness. There were countless times where cornerbacks who are competing for starting roles were outsmarted and simply outplayed. From misreading routes to struggles when jamming at the line, the secondary became a huge cause for concern.
The Bucs were able to put up 298 passing yards despite only scoring 9 points. It’s not often that a team can find that much success through the air without scoring. A direct correlation to the Eagles ability to stop the rushing game and force the Bucs into a one dimensional Offense. A missed extra point and a clutch interception from C.J Smith is all that prevented the Bucs from getting back into the game..but the interception came as a result of the Bucs being forced to throw inside the redzone and some great individual play by Smith.
Along with Watkins, Smith was one of the only Secondary standouts of the night, making several big plays when it mattered most. The other cornerback who actually quietly impressed? Eric Rowe. The man who has had such an inconsistent camp that a seventh round pick is listed ahead of him on the depth chart. Why was he so good?
Because Rowe excels at man-to-man coverage. When it comes to jamming the receiver and forcing a tight window, Rowe is exceptional. If it’s blitzing, physical and aggressive play after sitting back..he struggles but when he has to shadow his receiver, he’s among the best on the roster.
It’s strange that the area of the team that’s been shown the most attention and most offseason additions struggled mightily in comparison to a unit light on depth with a starter missing.
It’s easy to applaud the Defense after a stellar effort last night, but don’t overlook the big concerns. There are big flaws when it comes to defending against the pass and the Eagles simply have to get better if they are to have a shot at competing in 2016.
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