After looking closely at the performance of the Eagles' offense in the preseason game against the Miami Dolphins, it's time now to look how the defense did. The defensive line was once again dominant in this game, with every wave of the unit stepping in and disrupting Miami's flow offensively both in the run game and in the passing game as well. The man who got it all going for that group was starting defensive end Vinny Curry.
We know what Brandon Graham can do. We've seen all summer what Derek Barnett will be capable of as a rookie. Curry is an established veteran who stood out against one of the most talented offensive line prospects in football. But one name who has flown under the radar all summer is Chris Long, who has been good in practice but has really shined during the three games. Every week, the veteran is making plays against the run and the pass. I'll admit he's looked much more spry and explosive than I expected when he was brought in this spring.
Shot 3 - Chris Long has gone very much under the radar this summer, but he's been consistently disruptive the entire preseason. #Eagles pic.twitter.com/EvtoFGspEJ — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) August 28, 2017
On the first snap above, Long wins with a quick hand swipe on the outside as he jets into the backfield for a tackle for loss. On the next snap, he wins inside when the tackle tries to quick-set him. Long fires into the backfield, forces the back to reverse field, and creates a tackle for loss for cornerback Rasul Douglas. If the Eagles can have the kind of productive rotation all season long that they've had this preseason, it will go a long way toward making everyone more effective through the end of games, especially as the cold weather comes into play.
Shot 4 - Steven Means continues to show up week in and week out. Beats Tunsil inside on first play and dominates TE in run game on second pic.twitter.com/04J76L0Xya — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) August 28, 2017
Another player who consistently shines every single week is Steven Means, who is battling for a spot on the back end of the roster. A relentless pass rusher who attacks blockers in a variety of different ways, Means didn't have the sack production on Thursday, but he put pressure on the quarterback and was disruptive in the run game once again. The veteran defensive end made plays at the point of attack, like what you see in the second play above, and in pursuit from the back side.
Shot 5 - The depth on the #Eagles D-Line has been apparent to anyone watching this summer. They've done a great job acquiring/developing pic.twitter.com/2LhFp4ErmA — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) August 28, 2017
The depth of the line is very impressive, and not just on the second team, but on the third-team defense as well. Whether it's on the outside with Means and second-year man Alex McCalister or on the inside with rookie Elijah Qualls and young veteran Justin Hamilton, the Eagles will have some decisions to make at the end of this week as they put the finishing touches on the 53-man roster.
The hard decisions won't just be on the defensive line because the battle at linebacker will be interesting to follow as well on Thursday night. You have your three starters in Jordan Hicks, Nigel Bradham, and Mychal Kendricks, but everything after that is a mystery. Veteran Najee Goode, who wasn't on the team for the start of the season a year ago, seems like the top backup across the board as well as a special teams stalwart. Second-year linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill was an ace on special teams last year thanks to his top-end athleticism.
Last year's seventh-round pick, Joe Walker, has steadily improved throughout the summer and seems to be in the mix as the direct backup to Hicks. Second-year linebacker Don Cherry has impressed as well. He's not the prototype at the position athletically, but he always seems to be in the right position and has competed well on special teams all offseason. There's also rookie Nathan Gerry, who as a fifth-round pick, has worked his way to the top of the depth chart on all four special teams units. How will it pan out? We'll find out in a couple of days, but it's been a fun competition to watch all summer. Some of those players stood out against Miami.
Shot 6 - The battle @ backup LB is fun to watch. Joe Walker had a second strong game in a row. Good job attacking outside run / screen plays pic.twitter.com/mdfaC8OhGT — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) August 28, 2017
There's two shots of Walker making plays on defense, one where he sees a crease and shoots through a gap on the back side of a run play, showing off decisiveness in the box that we only saw flashes of last year before his injury. We also see the discipline in the screen game as he bluffs as a blitzer then reads the screen and attacks downhill to finish one-on-one against a back.
One can't help but love this play by Cherry, who gets into his gap in the run game before reading pass and getting back to his landmark in coverage. Cherry peeks into the secondary, sees the crossing route coming from the opposite side of the field, and gets right into the passing lane, putting himself in position to come away with the pick and a huge play to set up the game-winning score.
Mychal Kendricks made headlines again after another strong performance that was highlighted by an interception return for a touchdown. While it was great to see Kendricks pick this off and take it to the house, the play was created by second-year cornerback C.J .Smith. The North Dakota State product does a good job of disrupting this pass at the catch point, getting the ball up in the air, and helping force the turnover.
Shot 8 - Great pick 6 for Mychal Kendricks created by CJ Smith. Young corner aggressive at the catch point, disrupts pass for turnover pic.twitter.com/E7aUbTNIel — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) August 28, 2017
In general, I thought the secondary had another good showing. Yes, they gave up some plays down the field, but some of those passes were either as result of really good play design by Miami or just great catches by the receivers.
Shot 9 - All of the #Eagles corners have been aggressive this preseason. Watch Darby and Douglas both jumping routes here from off coverage pic.twitter.com/A4kB0ier9F — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) August 28, 2017
Ronald Darby and Rasul Douglas both attack the throws from off coverage, getting to the catch point to either get the ball on the ground or tackle the receiver immediately. This is an aggressive, competitive group, and it's going to be fun to watch them develop over the course of this season and the years to come.
The Eagles added another piece to the puzzle on Sunday with cornerback Dexter McDougle, a former third-round pick out of Maryland in 2014. McDougle is a player I was fond of, personally, during his pre-draft process. I saw a quick, tough player with position versatility and high upside. Injuries and a scheme change have hurt him throughout his career in New York, but I'm anxious to see him with a fresh start here in Philadelphia. He put some good film out this summer in the preseason.
Shot 10 - New #Eagles CB Dexter McDougle is quick, aggressive, competitive and versatile. Excited to see his fit. Liked him out of Maryland pic.twitter.com/cVgEcSFtov — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) August 28, 2017
McDougle is quick and competitive. His ability to play both inside and outside gives the Eagles an option to line up over the slot against the likes of Cole Beasley, Jamison Crowder, Sterling Shepard, and the rest of the talented inside receivers on the schedule this season. I'm excited to see him suit up this week against his former team as he has an opportunity to show the coaches and front office why he was worth trading a reliable veteran backup in Terrence Brooks.
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.