Friday, September 14, 2012

Eagles Defense Shuts Down Browns, Will be Tested in Week Two

-Brenden Peddigree
Boykin and DRC are two of the three parts of an impressive
group of cornerbacks.

The Eagles defense was under the microscope on Sunday to see if they would be the Achilles heel that they were last season. With rookies Mychal Kendricks and Brandon Boykin, offseason acquisition DeMeco Ryans, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie newly starting outside along with Nnamdi Asomugha, new faces as starters would again determine the outcome of the Eagles season on the defensive side of the ball.

With Juan Castillo still at the helm, the defensive game plan was still a question. Throughout training camp and preseason Kendricks looked like he would be the second coming of Patrick Willis. Tremendous speed and sure tackling put the Cal stud on another level than the rookies and backups he was playing against. He finished Sunday’s game with six tackles, sharing the team lead, and had no trouble in pass coverage when he was asked to drop back.

Right next to him was DeMeco Ryans who didn’t exactly impress in the preseason. Questionable comments about Head Coach Andy Reid’s reactions to preseason penalties put him on the bad side of some fans and analysts. However, a very strong outing on Sunday silenced and critics. Without a single impressive game in four preseason games Ryans looked like he might not be the star acquisition of the offseason and may never be able to return to his pre-injury form. With five tackles Ryans was an important piece to what looks like a very impressive duo at the linebacker position.

After last season’s weakness proved to be the linebacking corps, exposed by the wide nine scheme, it was known that the Eagles would address the position in the offseason but it was expected to come via draft by means of Boston College’s Luke Kuechly (drafted by Carolina). The Eagles lost their chance when he was drafted early and decided to sure up the middle of the line with Fletcher Cox as their first pick. Uncertainty surrounded and still surrounds the future of Mike Patterson’s, another former first round pick, season and possibly even his future career in football making defensive tackle was an important hole to fill.

A surprise trade in March brought DeMeco to the Eagles for virtually nothing and the second round pick Mychal Kendricks was set to flank him almost from day one. With the two new acquisitions and Brian Rolle losing his job after preseason game three, Akeem Jordan rounded off what would be a completely new heart of the defense.

Just as impressive as the linebackers in their first regular season action as a new group was the defensive backs. Specifically, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. On Sunday, if a Browns receiver looked across and saw DRC was covering him, he knew the ball wasn’t, or shouldn’t, be thrown in his direction. However, with rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden and inexperienced receivers, the mistake was made of throwing the ball anywhere near DRC. It is looking more and more like last year's trade acquisition will be one of the season’s most difficult corners to beat. With Nnamdi Asomugha on the opposite sideline, DRC is likely to have a lot of balls thrown with the intention of completing them to his receiver. From his performance in training camp not allowing a single pass to be completed during one-on-ones to his two interception outing Sunday, the former Pro Bowler who was virtually non-existant a season ago, proved he is back to his old form and possibly even better. He finished Sunday's game with a pair of interceptions along with Kurt Coleman's two to start Brandon Weeden's career with a 0-4 touchdown-interception ratio.

With these two superstars on the ends, a lot of pressure was put on Brandon Boykin and he will continue to be pressured. Shutting down his receiver almost all day Sunday, Boykin proved he is up to the task. Boykin immediately started off great and stepped up late to keep the Eagles in the game when he broke up two passes on a single drive. One came while he was blanketing his receiver and another when he was forced to recover and make a diving swat at the ball. Boykin is set to be tested further this week against Anquan Boldin, currently making his home in Baltimore as a slot receiver. Boldin has consistently been a great receiver year after year and is great at separating from his coverage. He was able to reel in four catches for over 60 yards and a touchdown in his first game of the season against the Bengals. Boykin will certainly have his opportunity to flourish or fail and show Eagles fans what he will bring to the team in addition to his electric return abilities.

The Eagles defense handled the Browns with ease Sunday. The only thing that kept the game close was Michael Vick’s interceptions and the offense’s quick three and out drives. Substitutions, a staple in the Eagles defense, will be difficult to make with the no-huddle offense the Ravens are now running. Joe Flacco, who was 21-for-29 for just under three touchdowns against the Bengals on Monday night, will truly test the defense and show the Eagles what it is like to play a Super Bowl contender, not a young rebuilding team like the Browns.

Sunday at 1:00 will be the Eagles first test of the season and show what kind of season we, as fans, are in store for.

Follow me on Twitter @brendenp2011 or check out GCobb.com for more of my work.

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