Adventures at Summer Camp: Lehigh Day 2

Because someone has to read all the news coming out of the Eagles training camp.

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When double-negatives attack. Bobby April told the press, in as roundabout a way as he could manage, that DeSean Jackson won’t be the primary punt returner anymore, now that he has his big contract:

"I don’t think that we’re not going to use him," April said. "I just don’t know if he’s going to be the primary guy. … He’ll continue to work at the positiion. He just won’t get as much work as he normally does."

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Can’t lower the bar enough. April also said that while he was looking to bring in competition for Chas Henry, the former Florida punter did well for a rookie. That is simply not true. Among his fellow rookies, Henry had the second-lowest net average and tied for the lowest ratio of punts inside the 20 yard line to touchbacks, a rough measure of placement and touch. Needless to say, those stats look even worse compared to veterans.

UPDATE: Eagles signed former Cowboy Mat McBriar.

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My kingdom for a Washburn post-game press conference. Jim Washburn is so candid. He talked to the press yesterday, and the quotes were flying. On Mike Patterson coming back from brain surgery:

"Mike Patterson might be one of the best people I’ve ever had," said Washburn. "He doesn’t have to come to these rookie meetings at night and in the afternoon, he doesn’t have to be there, but guess what? He’s there. I said, ‘Mike, you don’t have to be here,’ and he said, ‘I like to be here.’ He likes football. He’s a good one. God dang, we miss him now."

On Antonio Dixon:

"I was so disappointed," said Washburn. "I couldn’t tell if he had any talent… I couldn’t tell if the guy was a good player or not. I couldn’t tell if he was a good athlete. He weighed 365 or something like that. His back was killing him. He was out of shape. I couldn’t even tell if he was a player. This spring, he worked his butt off. He’s down, I don’t know how much he weighs, he’s maybe 330 from 360 or whatever it was. He’s in so much better shape and I went, ‘Wow, this guy’s got some quickness.’ He likes to play and he’s tough, but he’s got ability."

On Trent Cole:

“He told me when I first got here, ‘I ain’t rotating,’” Washburn said Tuesday at Eagles training camp. “Said it right up there in that meeting room. I said, ‘Yes, you are … or your ass ain’t going to play.’ He’s a great kid, Trent.”

On Brandon Graham:

"He changed some of the habits in his life, I think," Washburn said. "He got serious. … I don’t know, [he’s] a mild-mannered guy. He was a good player in college, he was. I watched every game he played in college for a year or two. He was a good player. Should be a good player here. Lost his weight. Got too heavy.” Graham, of course, is coming back from knee surgery after losing most of 2011.

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Tearjerker. If you’re not rooting for lifelong Eagles fan Vinny Curry before, you will Be after you read Jeff McLane’s article about him. Plus, bonus Washburn quotes!

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Mini-Asante? Multiple reports talked about UDFA Cliff Harris picking off a few passes during yesterday’s practices, putting him out to an early lead in the Training Camp Darling category. But let’s not go crazy here. There are no good wide receivers at camp, and some of the picks just demonstrate how bad Trent Edwards is.

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On the other hand, I’m starting to let the continued positive reports on Mychal Kendricks get to me. He seems much more prepared than Casey Matthews was, at any rate.

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Poorly Written Articles Edition. Bill Barnwell gives us what he pretends to be a statistical analysis of the top running backs in the game, but somehow concludes that Ray Rice is better than LeSean McCoy without demonstrating any number that backs that up.

Even less insightful was the book excerpt in Fast Company about how Jeff Lurie turned around the Eagles. What a waste of time.

Post-Draft Position Breakdown: Defensive Tackle

Mike Patterson

What the Eagles did: Around the end of January, I started to get the feeling that, other than linebacker, defensive line made the most sense for the Eagles in the first round. Then, as Derek Landri lingered in free agency longer than we expected and the team held a private workout with Fletcher Cox (in tandem with the Dontari Poe parade), the hints were getting stronger and stronger.

Still, I’m not sure any Eagles fan, even the most optimistic Cox supporter, necessarily expected the Eagles to snag a player who was instantly hailed as a perfect fit in Jim Washburn’s system. There aren’t many defensive tackles with Cox’s combination of size, speed, and production. With any luck Washburn can make him into a dominating force like Albert Haynesworth was. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

As to the rest of the group, let me once again put up the pass rushing stats from last year:

2011 Eagles Defensive Tackles

Unsurprisingly, Trevor Laws was let go. Although he had his moments last year, overall the former second round pick was a major disappointment. I suppose he has the excuse of having played for three different defensive coordinators and three other defensive line coaches during his four year tenure, if you want to throw him that bone.

Mike Patterson and Cullen Jenkins will be the starters. Both are solid veteran players, even if no one is likely to gameplan specifically for them. Jenkins’s 17 sacks over the least three seasons are near the top for all defensive tackles and while Patterson has generally been more of a run stuffer, you see above that Washburn made him the 17th most effective pass rusher in the league from that spot last year. Again, Cox’s ceiling is much higher, but until he’s ready these two are fine in the middle.

Just like with the defensive ends, the other backup spots at tackle are up in the air. Antonio Dixon probably has the inside track to the nose tackle job. He missed nearly all of last year, but signed a restricted free agent tender at the second round level. Derek Landri will certainly continue to make the most of his talents. He was tremendously productive in 2011, but got little interest in free agency. Then there’s Cedric Thornton, who spent most of last season on the team’s practice squad.

What I would have done: Howie Roseman on a roll. This position looks great.

Way-too-early prediction: Is it too optimistic to predict that Cox will start at least six games? Some combination of injury and ridiculous physical potential seem likely to make that happen. If not, he should at least make an immediate contribution in the rotation. As to the fourth spot, it must be Dixon’s to lose, given his youth and talent. Will be interesting to see if he can (a) show the spark he had in 2010, (b) adjust to Washburn’s scheme, and (c) be consistent — but I bet he’ll get every opportunity to do so. Landri’s probably fighting for the Eagles to keep five tackles as much as any specific other player.

Photo from Getty.

What Derek Landri Tells Us About DT Draft Plans

There’s no denying that Derek Landri was a great surprise find for the Eagles last season. While he looked good in training camp, the team couldn’t find a roster spot for him, but after Antonio Dixon was lost for the year, they got a pass rushing boost picking up Landri after week four.

Here’s a chart I posted before, showing Landri as the top pass rusher per snap among Eagles defensive tackles last year:

2011 Eagles Defensive Tackles

Tommy Lawlor spent some time yesterday talking about his favorite player of all time. He speculated as to why Landri hasn’t re-signed with the Eagles yet:

I imagine the Eagles are offering him a cheap deal and also aren’t guaranteeing any playing time. [Mike Patterson, Cullen Jenkins, and Dixon] are locks to play. The rookie and Ced Thornton should be battling for snaps. And there sits Derek Landri on the outside.

I think Tommy’s observation is astute, and it gives us a window into the Eagles plans regarding the defensive tackle position. Barring injury, Jenkins and Patterson will be the starters, and Dixon’s back-up spot is secure since he signed his second round tender.

The Eagles only kept four defensive tackles last season, and they are likely to do the same in 2012. Knowing that, Landri should be happy to sign on as the fourth guy, right? And the Eagles should be happy to have him, right?

Well, unless the Eagles are thinking about drafting another defensive tackle early in the draft. I’m sure Howie Roseman would like to have Landri back, but he won’t be handing out any kind of guarantee if Landri has no chance (outside of injuries) to make the roster. On the flipside, Landri won’t be eager to re-sign if he knows what’s going on.

At the end of the day, Landri may decide he doesn’t have any better options than to fight an uphill battle in Philly. But the length of time he’s taken to make his decision suggests that neither side is eager to have him back. And that, in turn, points to the imminent arrival of another, more important defensive tackle prospect.

Photo from Getty.

An Eagles Pass Rush Worth Keeping

Trent Cole Philadelphia Eagles

With the bottle still spinning in the Eagles presumed search for a new defensive coordinator, the fate of defensive line coach Jim Washburn is up in the air. Will Steve Spagnuolo, the free agent front runner, see working with Washburn, or are the tactical and personality differences too great to overcome?

All I know is, it would be an absolute shame if Spagnuolo or any other new coordinator failed to incorporate Washburn into his scheme. The numbers bear out what an amazing job Washburn did with the Eagles defensive line, turning it into the best pass rushing front four in the whole NFL.

Pro Football Focus has a great statistic on this, Pass Rushing Productivity (PRP). The stat measures the percentage of pass rushes in which players record a sack, hit, or hurry (weighted 75 percent for the latter two).

Here’s what PRP had for the Eagles defensive ends in 2010, with Jason Babin’s year in Tennessee included for reference. “25% Rank” is the player’s standing next to all other pass rushers with at least 25 percent of their team’s defensive snaps.

2010 Eagles Defensive Ends

As you can see, the Eagles defensive line was very effective under Sean McDermott. Darryl Tapp was the worst regular contributor, and he ranked 29th among all defensive ends. Trent Cole led the league in hurries and Brandon Graham showed promise before his knee injury.

But what about 2011:

2011 Eagles Defensive Ends

There were a number of changes. For starters, even without Graham, substitutions were up. Cole was in on over 100 fewer passing plays. Also, the zone coverage attempts by defensive ends that marked 5-10 percent of plays in 2010 were largely eliminated.

The result of these changes and the new Wide Nine technique was an across the board jump in pressure from the ends. Cole moved up to number one in the NFL, Babin improved on his Titans production, and Darryl Tapp — still the laggard — brought up the rear at 10th best in the league. Moreover, even the back ups scored highly in limited snaps.

That is a remarkable improvement. To be complete, let’s also check the defensive tackles’ pass rushing:

2010 Eagles Defensive Tackles

2011 Eagles Defensive Tackles

Broderick Bunkley had the highest PRP among Eagles defensive tackles in 2010. In 2011, the Eagles had three (almost four) who scored higher than Bunkley. That says pretty much everything that needs to be said there.

All the numbers above are interesting, and you can pull out other nuggets in the comments (such as Hunt’s efficiency or Laws’s ineffectiveness), but overall this tells a clear story about the positive impact Jim Washburn has had on this defensive line.

I’m optimistic that a good coordinator can adapt to Washburn’s strengths, but I fear that whoever the Eagles bring in will be too stubborn to do so. Cross your fingers.

Photo from Getty.

Measuring the Jim Washburn Effect

Trent Cole Mike Patterson Cullen Jenkins Sack

Yesterday, I detailed how Jim Washburn’s coaching resurrected Jason Babin’s career and turned him into a sack machine. But what about other players? How is Washburn and the wide nine formation treating veteran Eagles defensive linemen?

That’s the question I set out to answer, using Pro Football Focus’s great stats. Below is a table calculated based on snap counts and pressure data compiled in 2010 and 2011 for Eagles linemen who have played in both Washburn’s system and Sean McDermott’s.

Jim Washburn Philadelphia Eagles DLThe first column shows change (Δ) in frequency of pass rushes per snap the player is in the game. There are some interesting trends there alone.

Mike Patterson used to be a largely first and second down defensive tackle, but he’s now getting the chance to rush the passer more. The opposite appears to be true for Trevor Laws. Meanwhile, Washburn has smartly eliminated Trent Cole’s occasional coverage responsibilities in 2010.

So, once these players are going for the quarterback, how are they doing? There are clearly some winners and some losers.

Patterson, Cole, and Darryl Tapp are all way up in total pressure per rush (sacks, hits, pressures). Antonio Dixon was too, before his season-ending injury. Juqua Parker seemed like he’d be a good fit for Washburn’s scheme, especially because Babin’s addition would keep him fresh. But that hasn’t happened at all. As for Laws, the numbers don’t match up with my anecdotal memory of his solid performance.

Overall, it’s clear that Washburn and the addition of successful free agents is having a big, positive effect on the Eagles pass rushers. You probably already knew that, but now at least you have the stats to back it up.

Photo from Getty.

2011 Eagles Offseason Guide: Defensive Line

Trent Cole Eagles Defensive Ends 2011

This is the sixth in a series of posts breaking down the Eagles position by position in advance of the upcoming draft and (hopefully) free agency. We’ve already looked at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, and offensive line. Today we’ll examine the defensive line.

2010 Recap: At defensive end, last season was all about the injuries. Only Trent Cole had another normal, star season at defensive end — where he posted 10 sacks and 55 hurries. Former second round pick Victor Abiamiri missed the entire season after undergoing microfracture surgery. The Eagles fifth round selection in 2010, Ricky Sapp, was also lost for the year after arthroscopic knee surgery. Brandon Graham, the defensive end that the Eagles traded up in the draft to get, showed some early promise. He started six games, compiled three sacks, and on a per pass rush basis, was actually one of the most effective defensive linemen in the NFC East. However, Graham was also bit by the injury bug, succumbing to a torn ACL in Week 14.

Veteran Juqua Parker shared playing time with Graham for most of the season and although he’s never been a star, Parker began to show some liability, especially against mobile quarterbacks like Minnesota’s Joe Webb. Darryl Tapp, who the Eagles traded for in the offseason, contributed four sacks as a rotational player. Another rookie, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim did little to justify his third round selection. Finally there were the host of other names that came in and out during the year: Antwan Barnes, Derrick Burgess, and Bobby McCray.

At defensive tackle, the longtime starters Mike Patterson and Broderick Bunkley were finally pushed. Patterson started the whole year, with his typically solid run defense and lackluster pass rush. But Bunkley, after missing two games with an elbow injury, lost his starting spot to Antonio Dixon, a player the Eagles claimed on waivers after he went undrafted in 2009. Dixon, 6’3” 325 lbs, is the biggest Eagles tackle and perhaps the most explosive off the ball. Trevor Laws, who looked like a bust a year ago, resurrected his career somewhat as a solid inside pass rusher. Finally, 2010 7th round selection Jeff Owens spent most of the year on the practice squad only to be called up in Week 16 and promptly rupture his left patellar tendon.

Who’s Leaving: McCray’s a free agent. DT Jeremy Clark, another late season pick up, will compete but is a long shot. Through an odd loophole of the Physically Unable to Perform list, Abiamiri’s 2011 free agency was delayed a year — meaning he’ll get one more chance to show what he’s got.

2011 Depth Chart: Cole and Parker are probably the starters at defensive end, assuming it takes Graham more than six months to recover from ACL surgery. Tapp, Te’o-Nesheim, Sapp, Abiamiri, and Canadian Football League star Philip Hunt (16 sacks in 2010) will compete for the backup spots, and one or more will probably end up on the outside looking in. Seems like there should be open competition at tackle, where the scheme set up by new defensive line coach Jim Washburn will have a big impact on who starts, and who potentially become trade bait. Not even sure I can handicap that race right now.

Potential Additions: Some fans have talked about bringing back DE Jason Babin, who had 12.5 sacks last year working with Washburn. I doubt the Eagles will be the highest bidder for his services. I also don’t expect the Eagles to trade for Washington malcontent Albert Haynesworth, despite his immense talent. If the team does want to add veteran talent, Vikings end Ray Edwards would be a potential target.

The defensive line is considered a strong area of this year’s draft. Players like Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan could get a long look in the first round.

Future Outlook: The future depends a great deal on Washburn’s new philosophy and who fits into his system. But certainly Graham’s injury deals a big set back to the Eagles plans at defensive line. The team will need other young, talented defensive ends to ensure an acceptable transfer into the post-Cole era.

Originally published at NBC Philadelphia. Photo from Getty.

Friday Figures: Eagles 2009 Pass Rush Numbers

Philadelphia Eagles Pass Rush 2008 2009 Sack Ben Rothlisberger Dan Klecko Juqua Parker Omar Gaither

One of the biggest stories of the offseason (second only to the reason I started this blog) has been the complete retooling of the Eagles’ defensive line.

While the Eagles still blitzed a lot with new Defensive Coordinator Sean McDermott, the coaches clearly wanted better production from the front four:

"It would be nice if we’re able to get pressure from just rushing four and not [have to] rely on the blitz as we had to last year to some extent," McDermott said. "When you can get pressure from your front four, that alleviates a lot of your problems."

But was the front four really the problem? Looking at PFF’s defensive stats from the last two years, we can see how effective various parts of the pass rush were from the late Jim Johnson in 2008 to McDermott in 2009. The chart below shows the change in percent of total rushes and negatve plays (Sacks, Hits, Pressues, Batted Passes) made by each unit.

Eagles Pass Rush Efficiency by Position

In case the chart isn’t completely intuitive, “DE % Rush” is the percent of total “Pass Rushes” by defensive ends (including the DEs that move inside on passing downs). “DE % Eff” is just the negative plays caused by this group, divided by their number of rushes. Then there’s the year-over-year difference.

As we’ve talked about on multiple occasions, the pass rush from defensive tackles is basically non-existant. Although guys like Bunkley, Patterson, Laws, and Dixon were in the game on more than one quarter of pass plays, they caused negative plays for the offense less than five percent of the time. That’s the most obvious sign yet that the Eagles are getting no pressure from those big fellas.

The linebackers, despite the drastic injuries, seem to have come out pretty much even on blitz pressure. The defensive backs definitely were less effective — but they account for only seven percent of all pass rushes. Still, perhaps because their blitzing was so infrequent, it was more effective than anything else.

So that brings us back to the defensive ends, the guys who are being paid pretty much exclusively to get after the quarterback. How’d they do? Pretty much the same overall from 2008. There was a drop by a little more than a percentage point. This is a much bigger portion of the total rushes, so one percent means a lot more, but it still doesn’t tell me that the Eagles got significantly worse all of sudden along the front line.

What if we compare by player? Here’s 2008 and 2009, for every player who rushed the passer at least 20 times (“Per Game” stats are based on ~62 offensive plays, all passes).

2008 Eagles Pass Rush by Player

2009 Eagles Pass Rush by Player

All of the defensive ends outside of Trent Cole and Victor Abiamiri declined from 2008 to 2009. And considering none are really up-and-coming youngsters, it probably was a good idea to bring in some fresh blood.

Other interesting things: Sheldon Brown went from 35 blitzes under Jim Johnson to a mere five with McDermott. A healthy Joselio Hanson looks like his still and effective blitzer from the slot. Surprising no one, Asante Samuel has only blitzed six times in in the last two seasons.

Omar Gaither is a really effective blitzer. Too bad his days in Philly seem numbered. And here’s yet more evidence that Chris Gocong probably should not have been stuck at SAM linebacker.

I really kind of like this “Negative Plays Per Rush” stat. It might be interesting to compare various players, such as Trent Cole, to others around the NFL at their positions…