eagles film review

Eagles Film Review: Alshon Jeffery's hidden impact

Eagles Film Review: Alshon Jeffery's hidden impact

Through four games, Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery has 17 receptions for 215 yards and 2 touchdowns. That puts him on pace to finish 2017 with 68 receptions, 860 yards and 8 touchdowns.

That’s good – but is it $9.5-million-per-year good?

That’s the amount the Eagles agreed to pay Jeffery in March, and while it was only a one-year contract, we’re a quarter of the way through the season, and there’s a sense we may be no closer to knowing whether he was worth it. That figure doesn’t even include incentives, of which he’s currently on pace to earn another $400,000.

Ten million dollars for good-not-great production. Of course, there’s more to a player’s value than statistics.

Jeffery may not be busting out of the box score on a weekly basis, but he’s doing a heck of a lot more damage than the numbers suggest. Look no further than what the presence of a true No. 1 receiver has done for Eagles tight end Zach Ertz.

“It’s benefited (Ertz) tremendously,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Friday. “He’s getting a little more of the one-on-one stuff. You’re not seeing the combo coverages necessarily on Zach until you get in the red zone area.

“Having Alshon on the outside, on the perimeter, has really allowed him to have better one-on-one matchups. He does a great job with that, and a good route-runner – obviously, it’s really helped him.”

Ertz is currently tied for fourth in the NFL with 26 receptions and ranks sixth with 326 receiving yards. The fifth-year player is off to the by far best start of his career, and it is absolutely thanks in part to Jeffery.

Look at Ertz’s 38-yard catch against the Chargers in Week 4. Jeffery is at the top of the screen in a twin-receiver set with Nelson Agholor, with two tight ends bunched at the bottom. Right away, you can see the single-high safety is shaded to the receiver-side of the field – he’s on the right hash mark, and the ball is being snapped on the left.

But with Jeffery and Agholor running shallow crosses, Ertz is really who the deep safety needs to be worried about.

Further compounding the matter for the Chargers, Brent Celek’s route to the sideline is going to draw the defensive back, leaving a linebacker stuck on Ertz down the field.

The defense winds up with five players looking at Jeffery and Agholor, a defensive back on 32-year-old Celek – and Ertz soon to be all alone. It’s a nice play-design all-around, but the lack of safety help over the top is what allows this to go for a huge gain.

These plays rarely happened in 2016 because the Eagles didn’t have a legitimate big-play threat on the outside. Jordan Matthews was the best wide receiver on the team, and he lined up primarily in the slot. That made life easy on defenses, which could focus all of the attention on the middle of the field, where Ertz does the bulk of his work.

“It spreads people out,” Pederson said. “Defensively, you’re worried about a couple of guys, not just one or an area of the field. “

It’s not just Ertz that’s benefiting, either. Agholor pulled in a 36-yard reception on a similar look in the first quarter, and Torrey Smith would’ve had a big play, too, if he could only hold on to the football.

Jeffery may not have the pure numbers to justify his salary, but there’s no question he’s making a difference. Plus, in addition to drawing safety help to his side of the field, Jeffery has often drawn the defense’s No. 1 cornerback as well – Josh Norman, Marcus Peters, Janoris Jenkins and Casey Heyward thus far.

“That’s part of it,” Pederson said. “Any time you put their top defender against your top receiver, I don’t want to say it eliminates the field, but it definitely draws your attention to other areas. They can be part of the – I don’t want to say a problem – but it can be a part of the lack of targets and things like that because it’s a solid matchup.

“You’re not going to sit there and try to shove sand when you don’t need to. You still have a tight end and a couple other receivers and the run game that you can work.”

In other words, when the Cardinals have Patrick Peterson locked on Jeffery all day this Sunday (see 5 matchups to watch), don’t be surprised when the Eagles target Ertz or look to their other options instead.

Eagles Film Review: Still without a sack, Derek Barnett showing his motor

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NFL

Eagles Film Review: Still without a sack, Derek Barnett showing his motor

Through four games, Eagles rookie Derek Barnett probably hasn't shown up on the stat sheet the way many fans predicted or hoped. 

He hasn't made any mistakes either.

"He's had very few missed assignments," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "I don't want to give gold stars for that because that's what expected of us. But I think that's also a good sign coming from a rookie that's getting significant playing time, specifically in some key situations." 

The numbers aren't there yet, though. The 14th overall pick doesn't yet have a sack; he has six quarterback hurries and one quarterback hit. He has just five tackles. 

But as always, the numbers don't tell the whole story. Schwartz said on Tuesday that Barnett has had an up and down first four games but played a better game against the Chargers. Barnett had an impact on Sunday in the Eagles' 26-24 win. 

And even when he didn't, he was showing off one of the traits his coaches absolutely love: his motor. 

Let's take a look at the rookie's performance on Sunday: 

This is Barnett's second snap of the game, and it comes on the very first drive of the game. The previous play was an incompletion. On this one, Barnett is lined up against former Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion Russell Okung. And Melvin Gordon in the backfield is going to offer Okung some help. 

Barnett does something he hasn't done much of yet this season. For most of his first three games he's relied on his quick outside pass rush. Not this time. On this play, Barnett uses a simple bull rush against a pretty good left tackle. There's a chance Okung just wasn't ready for Barnett to go with a power move. 

But it works. Barnett pushes Okung back into Philip Rivers' grill. Rivers feels the pressure and is about to escape the pocket. On the back end of the play, you'll see Chris Long begin his pursuit from behind. 

Barnett already did his first job on the play. His pressure set it up. But as Long is about to get a strip sack, the rookie never stops his pursuit. We've seen this on Barnett's film from Tennessee and the preseason. He never gives up on plays and he actually has the speed to get back in a lot of them. Barnett's hustle on this play gives him his first fumble recovery of his young career. And this play was huge. It gave the Eagles a short field for their first touchdown and completely altered the momentum. 

OK, so this isn't ideal. On this play in the second quarter, Barnett is lined up in coverage in the slot against Keenan Allen, who just happens to be the Chargers' best receiver. That's an obvious advantage. Allen was motioned into the slot just before the snap. The Eagles at times like to use these zone blitzes and this time, Jordan Hicks is going to rush. 

Schwartz said the Chargers caught them in a motion. The Eagles had actually changed their blitz specifically to avoid that situation, but they were stuck. 

"As soon as I saw that matchup, I was like 'oh my gosh,'" Schwartz said, "but he was the right guy to have out there."

Once Rasul Douglas sees Antonio Gates start to run a shallow slant, he drives. That is going to leave a lot of space to that side of the field. Still, Barnett has pretty tight coverage. 

Rivers just has to wait for the play to develop. While Barnett offers good coverage early, he knows Allen is going to be able to speed away from him. The Chargers' offensive line does a great job of picking up every hat, including Hicks, who was coming on the blitz. It looks like Long might have a case that he was held. Oh well. 

"I'll tell you what, [Barnett] did a good job of getting that," Schwartz said. "We didn't get enough pressure. He shouldn't have to cover for that long. Obviously it's a zone blitz and he shouldn't have to cover for that long." 

Barnett actually does a pretty decent job of covering Allen, but he just had no real chance to cover him for that long. Allen catches a 21-yarder to move the chains, but Barnett never completely lost him and is able to tackle him. "It certainly showed his athletic ability and his speed," Schwartz said. 

Obviously, the Eagles shouldn't want to have Barnett on a WR1. That can be an obvious downside when a receiver lines up inside during a zone blitz. But the athleticism Barnett showed on this play should allow Schwartz to use zone blitzes with him in the future. He might not be able to cover Allen for an extended period of time, but a tight end is a different story. 

It obviously won't become his full-time role though. 

"We didn't draft him for coverage," Schwartz said. "We drafted him to rush the passer." 

I think the most impressive thing about this series wasn't that Barnett had decent coverage on a really good receiver. It was that on the very next play, after running down the field 21 yards to make a tackle, Barnett came back and picked up the second tackle for loss of his young career. 

With Okung on him again, Barnett shows good get-off at the line. Okung doesn't get much of him before turning his attention to a charging Nigel Bradham. But Gordon isn't going to get that far. 

Barnett gets in the backfield and blows up the play. On the next snap, Beau Allen tackles Branden Oliver for a five-yard loss; Barnett had good push on that one too. 

No, Barnett isn't getting sacks yet. And, no, the Eagles didn't draft him with the 14th pick to get just a hustle player. But eventually, the sacks should come. And if they don't, it won't be for lack of effort. That motor is running at full force. 

Eagles Film Review: Rodney McLeod has been sorely missed

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USA Today Images

Eagles Film Review: Rodney McLeod has been sorely missed

But for two plays, the Eagles' defense has played stellar in 2017. And the two big plays the Eagles' defense has surrendered this season occurred at least in part because free safety Rodney McLeod was out of the lineup.

McLeod is set to return in Week 4 after a missing a game-and-a-half with a hamstring injury, and not a moment too soon. His replacement was largely to blame for both a 53-yard touchdown run by Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt and 77-yard touchdown reception by Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepherd.

Those just happen to be by far the two biggest scoring plays against the Eagles' defense so far this season — and some real backbreakers at that.

Let’s jump back to Hunt’s run in Week 2, already in progress. Obviously, one look at this frame can tell you this was going to be trouble from the start. Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks loses track of the football, and gap integrity along with it, leaving the middle of the football field wide open.

McLeod’s replacement — Corey Graham in this case, at the top of the screen — becomes the last line of defense.

Here is the precise moment Hunt begins to make his move — a simple cut to the left. It’s unfair how much room the ball carrier has to work with, but he’s also going to catch Graham a little flat-footed here.

Does McLeod definitely make this tackle? No. Hunt has been sensational, with at least one rushing attempt of 50 yards more in each of his first three NFL games. This is a difficult spot for just about anybody.

But McLeod is 27 years old and generally does a solid job at free safety. Graham is a 32-year-old journeyman whose move from cornerback to safety a few seasons ago was at least in part the result of his losing a step.

The point here isn’t to bag on Graham, but to merely point out McLeod may have come up with this stop. Instead, the Chiefs took a 13-10 lead in the third quarter, and the Eagles were never ahead again.

A case could be made Hunt scores regardless. Shepherd’s touchdown this past Sunday, on the other hand, was a disaster brought about almost entirely by a player in an unfamiliar role.

Two hamstring injuries later, the Eagles are down to Chris Maragos at free safety. A special teams ace, Maragos lines up on defense so infrequently, he saw a grand total of 19 snaps during the preseason. Now, there he is on the far right side of the frame, with the receiver coming on the slant.

Shepherd beats Patrick Robinson in man coverage, and Giants quarterback Eli Manning fits a perfect ball between the linebackers in zone. There’s really not much the Eagles can do about this except tackle the receiver and minimize the damage.

Except not only does Maragos miss the tackle, but he also barrels right into Robinson, knocking the one person trailing Shepherd out of the play as well. Rather than hold the Giants to a first down and force them to drive the field, the Eagles give them the touchdown and a 21-14 fourth-quarter lead in one chunk play.

Again, the point here is not to rip Maragos, who did an otherwise solid job. However, this is an example of a play McLeod almost certainly makes, if for no other reason than he has far more experience and this is a common play free safeties are asked to make all the time.

McLeod isn’t quite a star himself, but he’s a good to very good player. Clearly, the Eagles missed him the last few weeks, and now that he’s back, maybe these huge plays over the middle will become much more infrequent.