I thought the area of the defense which stood out the most for me was the play of the linebackers, particularly Connor Barwin and Mychael Kendricks. I think they can go into the season with the confidence that they’re going to get big plays out of their linebackers.
The off season trade acquisition is a rangy and savvy veteran, while the second-year, second round draft pick, Kendricks is pure speed, athleticism and energy.
Barwin gave us a look at his versatility, by picking off a pass and collecting a sack early in the game. Versatility is a rare trait for linebackers nowadays. Most of the linebackers in the league are good at one of the following: rushing the passer, defending the run or covering receivers. Barwin is good in all these areas.
On the pass play in which he made the pick, the former Houston Texan was responsible for the outside flat area, but he slid inside because he wasn’t being threatened out in the flat. The former Cincinnati University standout slid into the throwing lane and picked the pass off.
If no receivers threaten you, you need to move to where the receivers are because the offense is flooding a zone somewhere else. You should move over there to help your teammates.
This is the key to good zone defense in the NFL. You don’t play a true zone, you play a man within the zone, which means you are manned up on any receiver, who comes into your area.
If you play a pure zone in the NFL, you will get picked apart because the arm strength and accuracy of the better quarterbacks are so good that playing a pure zone will have you doing nothing but observing them completing passes. You have to play man within the zone, meaning you stick like glue to a receiver, who comes into your zone or area.
You get interceptions as a linebacker by moving to a place where they don’t expect you to be, because you read the route and adjusted. The Eagles need to play a lot of zone defense, but they will need to learn to play it well, by reading routes and communicating. Barwin and middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans have that knowledge, but I don’t think the rest of the defensive players have it.
Good linebackers learn how to read the routes. I’ll explain that to your sometime, but I don’t have the time right now.
Barwin is 6’4″ and his arms are very long, which is the reason he was able to jump and reach high enough to get his hands on the football. He got one hand on it to knock it up in the air, then dove and caught while laying on the ground. It was a big time play.
The sack was a matter of staying with it for Barwin. Jags quarterback Chad Henne felt pressure from the outside pass rush and tried to escape by moving up into the pocket then trying to run, but Barwin was able to get his hands on him.
Kendricks made some nice plays against the Jacksonville running game, by attacking the line of scrimmage. I like the way his tackling has improved. His lack of height gives him an advantage, when it comes to getting up under the ball carrier which is a key to good tackling.
Playing linebacker is similar to being a running back because you play off of the line in front of you. Kendricks is so short, that he gets lost behind the defensive line and comes out of nowhere to pound people. He’s got good, quick and explosiveness.
I want to see him go after the football, by attacking the ball by putting his helmet on it or by punching it out.
The Eagles defense has forced only one turnover in three games. You can’t win in this league at that level.
I was disappointed with what I saw for backup linebacker Chris McCoy, who I thought had shown some promise this summer. He was playing much too passively when he got in the game. McCoy was allowing the Jags to run right at him and gain good yardage each time. The young linebacker was catching the blocks rather than attacking the blockers.
McCoy has the size, long arms and athleticism which you see in Barwin, but he’s got to play the game much more aggressively. I’ve liked his combination of size and athleticism, but he hasn’t made enough plays to make this team. He must have a productive game on Thursday.
If I were his coach I would let him know that his football career was on the line.
I thought Emmanuel Acho got in the game and played aggressively like a linebacker should and shut down the Jags running game to the Birds right side.