New Eagles head coach Chip Kelly said he wanted to get bigger. Well the Birds have definitely done that at the outside linebacker position by moving defensive end Trent Cole to the outside backer position and acquiring Connor Barwin from the Houston Texans. Immediately they’ve gotten bigger, more intimidating and more physical.
I really liked the job Cole did yesterday when he dropped into pass coverage. This is the question mark about Cole. Can he transition to the linebacker position and be competent in pass coverage?
The Birds had a practice period where they focused on the outside linebackers dropping into coverage and covering the tight ends and running backs man-to-man. I could see that man-to-man coverage is going to be a challenge for Cole and Barwin, if they’re asked to cover somebody with tremendous speed and quickness.
Cole got physical with the receivers in zone coverages and used his teammates’ help to keep the receivers under control. He did a good job of jamming receivers, dropping into his area, getting balanced and up on his toes, with his eyes on the quarterback and staying read to break on the ball. They’ve been doing a good job of coaching Cole and he seems to be picking things up very well.
The pass rusher will likely only be playing pass defense on ten percent of the snaps at most, so they’re not going to make a habit of having Cole drop into coverage. His main job will be getting to the passer.
Barwin, who has his shirt cut off to his shoulders with his guns showing, is the left outside linebacker on first downs. I love the way he beats up on the tight ends when they try to release. He has the arm length to get good jams on the receivers. The Birds weren’t getting this from the other strong side linebackers for years. If you let the tight end release easily he’s going to kill the defense, like so many of them have been doing to the Birds for five or six years.
Jamming receivers has become a lost art in the NFL, yet it is so important. Delaying a receiver for half a second will many times be the difference in the pass rusher getting to the quarterback or a long completion for a first down. Good defenses delay the release of receivers in order to give their pass rushers a chance to get to the quarterback. The game is decided by split seconds, yet so many defenses let the receivers release with no resistance.
I was told that it makes no sense to walk up on a receiver, unless you’re going to jam him and delay his release.
On some of the third downs they have Cole coming off the field and Barwin is lining up all over place for most of those plays. He’s given the freedom to move around before the snap.
I like the Birds having some big linebackers, who can intimidate quarterbacks and running backs. Barwin and Cole give the Birds more versatility. Intimidation is the reason a quarterback throws the ball too early, or he is off target with his throw, or the receiver drops the ball. The Eagles defense has an intimidating look to it. They’ve still got a lot of work to do and the secondary is a work in progress, but I do like the sight of Barwin and Cole patrolling the field and rushing the quarterback.
Defensive coordinator Billy Davis showed a 46 defense look by having Barwin and Cole lining up on the same side. You can bet all the quarterbacks in the league are going to be challenged by that look. The running backs who are going to be asked to pick up either Barwin or Cole are not going to like it one bit. Davis will have plenty of blitz options with them lining up on the same side like that.
There will be times when the offense has no choice but to match up one of its running backs on Barwin or Cole. Can you say mismatch?
Cole and Barwin are being backed up Brandon Graham, Phillip Hunt, and Chris McCoy.