Oct 12, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles outside linebacker Connor Barwin (98) runs off the field after a win against the New York Giants at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles defeated the Giants, 27-0. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Philadelphia Eagles Linebackers See Greene Light
On August 2, 2014, a story made the news about former All Pro linebacker and linebacker coach Kevin Greene visiting the Philadelphia Eagles training camp to work with the Eagles linebackers. At the time, I knew it would pay dividends. I had no idea just how right I was. As of the end of week six, the Philadelphia Eagles are tied for second place in the NFL with 19 sacks. At this point in the season a year ago, they had 13 sacks.
With the exception of 4 sacks by defensive end Vinny Curry (a pass rush beast in his own right) and a sack by surprising adept defensive end Brandon Bair, the sacks have come from the Eagles linebackers: outside linebackers Connor Barwin (6.0), Trent Cole (3.5), Brandon Graham (2.0), and inside linebackers Mychael Kendricks (1.0) and Casey Matthews (0.5). Rounding out the total is one from a blitzing safety, Nate Allen.
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The defense constructed by defensive coordinator Billy Davis hinges on pressure on the quarterback. Without it, the defensive backs eventually get picked apart. Billy Davis explained this in the off season:
"“I want the defensive unit to disrupt the timing, rhythm of that quarterback, and hit him as often as we can,” Davis said. “Who it comes from, I think we have a lot of guys that have the skill set to get it down. They all understand the defense this year. I think they’ll play a little faster and reckless in their pass rush, because they understand a lot more specifically, it’s comfortable to them now. I don’t think a year ago to them, it was comfortable. Now they know they know. They know what their responsibility is. I anticipate that the group as a whole will be better”"
During the off-season, many expected the Eagles to be very aggressive in meeting the need to rush the passer. With shallow depth at the outside linebacker position, and with several highly rated prospects in the draft, some expected the Eagles to trade up to sign one of the top draft candidates. That didn’t happen. Some fans were more creative, and insisted that despite a much lower than expected performance as a rookie for the Miami Dolphins, defensive end Dion Jordan would be the savior to the Eagles defense. That didn’t happen either. What did happen in the draft perplexed some, and relieved others.
The Eagles traded back in the first round, and with their pick then selected outside linebacker Marcus Smith II. While some saw the move as a reach, the news that other teams had targeted Smith in the first round illustrated just how valuable that skill set is. In the first six weeks of the season, Smith has found it difficult to break the roster.
The one thing fans have come to learn and love about the coaching staff of the Philadelphia Eagles is that they are not passive. Knowing the challenge of a defense that cannot rush the passer, Davis called an old friend and former player, Kevin Green, to stop by training camp and give the Eagles a mini-camp version of pass rushing 101.
Jan 24, 2013; Honolulu, HI, USA; Green Bay Packers linebackers coachKevin Greene
at NFC practice for the 2013 Pro Bowl at Hickam air force base. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The Philadelphia Eagles took to the pass rushing legend quickly and enthusiastically. Connor Barwin, now with six sacks, found a great deal to like and to learn in the presence of Greene:
"“I’ve seen quite a bit of Kevin Greene film,” linebacker Connor Barwin said. “But it’s different when he’s sitting there talking to you and going through exactly what he’s thinking and how he did it. It’s a lot different. You see things you didn’t see before. It’s unbelievable to have [Greene] here for three days, he’s one of the best to ever do it,” Barwin added. “To have him here and pick his brain and hear the way he talks about rushing the passer, dropping in coverage, two-gapping, all of that stuff, it’s really invaluable. There’s a lot of stuff. I’ve been doing this three, four years at outside backer, but there are two or three things he’s pointed out to me in the last two days that I’ve never been coached up before and I can see it helping me in today’s practice."
Even outside linebacker Brandon Graham chimed in enthusiastically over the visit in an interview with Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com
"“I’ve been picking his brain as much as I can,” Brandon Graham said “He’s giving us a whole lot, and it doesn’t stop when he leaves. We have to keep harping on it and remember what he said. So far, so good. It’s just all about staying consistent, master a couple rushes and a couple counter moves and perfect it. That’s what he did. I feel like I’m getting a whole lot out of it.”"
It worked. Since no new talent could be found to make an immediate impact, the Eagles coaches brought the NFL’s best to coach them up and give them new insights.
“Always establish the violent, physical nature of the game up front from the get go,” Greene said. “That’s the No. 1 thing.”
At 5-1 and with nineteen sacks so far, I’d say the Eagles passed the test.