IT’S GAMEDAY. Philadelphia Eagles football is back as the team prepare for a showdown with the Washington Redskins, and while there is plenty of excitement surrounding a shiny new offense, it’s the ruthless Defense that will aim to set the tone when the teams clash this afternoon. Here are five things to watch out for.
A new role for Kendricks?
From being shopped around for months to avoiding snaps in the team’s fourth preseason game that sparked his decline to begin with, Mychal Kendricks has had an extremely strong preseason. The 2012 second-round pick has tallied an interception in each of the Eagles three preseason games he played in, while also notching four tackles and a sack. In those three preseason games, the former Cal Bear has matched his career regular season total for interceptions. The surge in production saw Kendricks secure a previously unseated roster spot, but what does it mean going forward?
Well, with a rebuilt secondary we may see a lot more in the way of blitzing…and if that comes to fruition, the Eagles have a very familiar weapon in Kendricks.
Surprisingly, the Eagles didn’t actually blitz that much at all last year. In fact, the team only blitzed 142 times during their 7-9 campaign, amassing just 11 sacks of their season total 34. There were several contributing factors to the team’s inconsistency when rushing the quarterback…but the most pressing was the secondary. Ronald Darby should attract a lot of attention but if the Eagles feel comfortable enough with their corners to send more men forward, watch out for a Kendricks break out.
How will the new look secondary fare?
The Eagles gave up a total of 1,024 passing yards on routes of 20 yards or more this season, the most in the NFL. A large reason behind this astonishingly high number was a lack of man-to-man prowess. It didn’t take long for opposing offenses to realize that throwing underneath was all too easy with a severe lack of man-coverage capability. One year later however and things look far more encouraging.
Not a single cornerback starter from last year remains on the roster and after a surprising trade landed them Ronald Darby, the future outlook seemed far brighter. The development of Jalen Mills from seventh round pick into starting corner in just one season has been long documented and with Patrick Robinson honing his slot craft, it’s finally a time to trust in the Eagles secondary.
The near-uncoverable Terrelle Pryor and incredibly crisp Jamison Crowder will look to make life difficult however. The Eagles corners will be dropped in the deep end right out of the gate with two very dangerous wideouts who have the ability to make most defensive coordinators bite their nails to the bed. The matchups on the outside will have a huge impact on the game and act as a huge insight into just how this secondary may look in the upcoming season, rising to the challenges of formidable wideouts.
Bringing down the hammer:
Kirk Cousins isn’t exactly the league’s most incredible quarterback, but he has a distinct ability to make every Eagles fan “dislike that”. With a 4-1 record against the Eagles, scoring twelve touchdowns and throwing just three picks, Cousins has been able to make the most of a transitional Eagles team.
The new starting DT tandem should take double teams out of the equation, but the revamped Eagles pass rush simply has to survive and thrive in the backfield in order to force Cousins to make quick, scrappy throws and give a young, surging secondary a chance.
Can new additions add fuel to the fire?
Derek Barnett. Timmy Jernigan. Chris Long. Ronald Darby. Patrick Robinson. Rasul Douglas.
The Eagles have plenty of new and exciting additions on Defense, many of whom will be starters in the week one clash with Washington. We know that the Jim Schwartz Defense needs to set the tone, but will first round pick Derek Barnett feature heavily in doing so, and can the new cornerbacks finally bring some comfort to a position of unrest? Only time will tell, but expect to see an infusion of new explosiveness when the Eagles hit FedEx Field today.
The Nickel battle:
As things stand, Patrick Robinson is the team’s starting slot-corner. Robinson struggled on the outside from the moment OTA’s began, but it’s no quiet fact that he had a career year in the slot while playing for the Colts in 2015. Robinson is still on a prove-it deal however, so the addition of former Jets CB, Dexter McDougle, gives the Eagles a slightly longer-term insurance policy. All it takes is one look at the tape to see why the Birds were so quick to pull the trigger however. It’s clear that McDougle could be destined for a role far greater than a CB3 backup.
Robinson will start inside to begin with, but if he struggles or allows a big play or two, it will be very interesting to see how McDougle fairs after an impressive preseason with the Jets transpired into a game against his former team in preseason week 4.
The idea of prolific tight end Jordan Reed lining up in the slot occasionally isn’t exactly going to instill a sense of serenity for any nickel cornerback, but a hungry underdog in McDougle may be chomping at the bit for such an opportunity, especially if Robinson does begin to struggle.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports