After Thursday's preseason debut against the Green Bay Packers, I took a close look at Carson Wentz and the Eagles' offense. After Friday's trade to acquire talented cornerback Ronald Darby, I broke down all of his traits (both positive and negative) and explained how he could fit on the Eagles' roster. It's time to evaluate the defensive performance in the preseason opener, and I want to start with rookie defensive end Derek Barnett.
Barnett hasn't made a ton of splash plays working with the second-team defense. He's beaten tackle Jason Peters at times in team drills and he's won more than his fair share of reps in one-on-one drills, but one thing is blatantly obvious when watching him - he's working hard on honing his craft. Known mostly for winning off the outside with "high-side" rush moves, Barnett has spent a lot of time this offseason developing "low-side" or inside rushing moves. This was at the top of his to-do list upon entering the NFL, and the rookie has been taking big steps in the right direction. During practice every day, he continues to win outside, but also mixes in plenty of speed-to-power rushes, spin moves, and other techniques to keep tackles guessing as to how he plans to attack them on any particular rep. That continued last Thursday night.
Here's Barnett's first sack as an Eagle. It came against tackle Jason Spriggs, Green Bay's second-round selection a year ago. One of Barnett's strengths as a pass rusher, in my eyes, has always been his eye discipline when attacking the quarterback. It's a hard tangible for me to put my finger on, but he consistently displayed a knack for keeping his eyes on the ball. As soon as Spriggs overset even a hair on this play, he saw the path of least resistance open up inside and he attacked the tackle's inside number. Barnett ripped through and brought the quarterback down for a definitive sack.
On his second sack, Barnett won on the outside by displaying the bend and natural flexibility in his ankles that the personnel staff raved about on draft night. He turned the corner on the tackle and found his way to the quarterback, who tripped over Barnett for a sack.
Shot 3 - Barnett also had a couple of really impressive rushes that didn't result in sacks. Strong bull rush vs David Bakhtiari #Eagles pic.twitter.com/uFIPwN3t1w — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) August 15, 2017
Here's Barnett earlier in the game against Green Bay's Pro Bowl left tackle David Bakhtiari. This is a great example of the bull rush he's been working on this offseason. The rookie came off the ball and exploded right into the tackle's chest with tight hands and low pads, running Bakhtiari back into the pocket for a hurry.
Here's that flexibility again as Barnett turned the corner and accelerated on his way to a huge hit in the backfield. Watch the play back a second time and focus closely on his hands. Barnett quickly wiped away the block and flew around the corner on his way to the quarterback.
Barnett did a really good job against the run last week, setting a hard edge and forcing the action back inside when asked. He chased plays down from the back side, and he was even asked to drop in coverage underneath on this creative slot blitz from Jim Schwartz. Overall, it was a very strong outing for the first-round pick, and hopefully a sign of things to come for the rookie.
Before Barnett saw the field, we got to see the Eagles' first-team unit. With two drives, the unit turned in a three-and-out and a turnover, an impressive first live showing. Defensive end Brandon Graham got things started.
Graham beat the block from tight end Martellus Bennett, turned the corner and flew into the backfield to meet the ball carrier for a loss.
On the next drive, watch both Fletcher Cox and Jordan Hicks defeat blocks in the run game at the point of attack and find the ball. Watch Cox's feet here as he completely controlled the block, stayed square to the line of scrimmage, and wrapped the ball carrier up. Hicks met his blocker head on, shed the block and helped punch the ball out to force a fumble and get the offense the ball back in the high red zone.
One of the guys who stayed on the field after most of the starters went to the sidelines was Jalen Mills. From the start of camp until now, I think he's been the most consistent of all the Eagles' corners. Mills has stayed in the starting lineup during practice opposite Ronald Darby since Friday's trade.
Shot 8 - Have always been a fan of Jalen Mills. Has been #Eagles best corner since start of camp. Three big plays from his strong outing. pic.twitter.com/tzxMYTlldB — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) August 15, 2017
The second-year corner was very much involved with the first two defensive stops. In the video above, Mills competed as a tackler, matched routes on the outside, and flashed his route-recognition skills. Is he the fastest corner? No, but he's seeing things well and his reaction quickness allows him to play fast. His competitiveness shows up in everything that he does on the practice field or on gameday. On the first play, Mills matched what was a really good route by Randall Cobb on the perimeter and forced an incomplete pass. On the second play, watch him take a good angle to the catch point and force another incompletion by creating traffic in front of Cobb again. On the last play, you see his willingness and ability to finish one-on-one as a tackler in the flat.
Shot 9 - Outstanding play by Mychal Kendricks here intersecting the route within 5 yards, keeping eye on the QB and finishing on the ball pic.twitter.com/8aPs4zRg8y — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) August 15, 2017
This was an outstanding play in coverage by Mychal Kendricks. As an underneath defender in zone coverage, Kendricks read the crossing route from his right. He stepped up into the passing lane, intersected the route, and created some disruption in the middle of the field, all while maintaining his vision on the quarterback. He stayed strong through contact, felt the route continuing behind him, and used his eyes to follow the ball to the catch point and finished for an interception. It's one of the best coverage plays I've seen Kendricks make in his career here in Philadelphia, and something we hope to see more of as the year progresses.
Shot 10 - Thought Rasul Douglas fared well in his first live action. Looked confident and played fast. Great PBU vs slant here #Eagles pic.twitter.com/CLEtmFbQh6 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) August 15, 2017
Rookie Rasul Douglas quietly had a good game against Green Bay. The big, physical corner was disruptive, competitive, and perhaps, most importantly, he looked confident. You never want to see rookies look like they're swimming out there when they see their first action, and Douglas looked like he belonged. On this play, you can see his ability to disrupt this slant route at the line of scrimmage and force an incomplete pass.
Shot 11 - Another rookie that impressed me was Elijah Qualls. Quiet camp but really stood out in the game, hoping to see it continue THU pic.twitter.com/gU7Sddokrm — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) August 15, 2017
Another rookie who looked far from lost was Elijah Qualls, and that was really good to see. It's been a relatively quiet offseason since his arrival in Philadelphia. After missing OTAs, Qualls was just getting comfortable at minicamp before breaking for the summer. Shortly after the start of Training Camp, the rookie suffered an injury and is just now breaking his way back into the rotation.
Qualls was one of my favorite defensive tackles in this year's draft because of his ability to rush the passer, but also hold up against the run. On the first play, Qualls held up extremely well against a double team, creating one-on-one matchups across the board. On the second play, Qualls won with a quick swim move and you can really see his quick feet and lateral agility. Next, he won with a violent swim move inside. After that, Qualls bull-rushed his man into the backfield to collapse the pocket and create a sack for his teammates. I'm excited to see more of the young defensive tackle on Thursday against Buffalo.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.