All rookies and veterans reported to training camp at Lehigh this year. That makes it only the third time in the last decade that the Eagles have had everyone show up.
A brief rundown of your holdouts and no-shows:
2011: DeSean Jackson
2010: Brandon Graham
2009: Jeremy Maclin
2008: Shawn Andrews
2006: Broderick Bunkley
2005: Brian Westbrook*
2003: Jerome McDougle
*Terrell Owens actually reported on time. But it was worse than if he hadn’t.
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.
The chart on the right (stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus) helps us see who’s in to put pressure on the quarterback — and who’s not. Let’s start from the bottom then work our way up.
Patterson and Bunkley have become situational players in the 2010 defense. The Eagles have long rotated the two big-bodied starters out on passing downs, but they’re doing that more often than ever. Last year the two rushed the passer about 50 percent of the time that they were in. By taking them out more often, McDermott has given more rushing opportunities to players who actually cause pressure.
Interesting to see Brandon Graham on the Trent Cole diet of close to equal pass and run play percentages. Basically what that means is that the two of them play on almost every snap — regardless of type. They are the Birds’ most complete linemen…
Defense is an area where the Eagles, both under the late Jim Johnson and second-year defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, like to rotate players. Often the depth on the defensive line is as important as the starters, given how many substitutions the Eagles make in any given game.
Yet there are essentially four types of defensive players — full-time starters, contributors who play most of the time, situational players and backups. The fabulous data compiled by Pro Football Focus can give us a better read on those divisions as they shake out in the early part of the season.
Let’s dive into the numbers…
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.
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).
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…