Happy Warrior: Graham Hopes to Hang on With the Eagles

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Eagles linebacker Brandon Graham is fighting for a spot on the team.

Eagles linebacker Brandon Graham is fighting for a spot on the team.

PHILADELPHIA –As a sports writer, it is a cardinal rule that you’re not supposed to cheer in the press box or openly cheer for your favorite athlete. It’s something us old sportswriters tell younger aspirants entering our profession.

But every now and then we are reminded that we scribes of sports are actually human. There are times we, like fans, often run into players that you wind up cheering for and wishing him all the best.

That’s the case with Eagles linebacker Brandon Graham who is still hanging on with the team by a thread and is not guaranteed to make the final roster. During his time with the Eagles, Graham has been a good guy even through some difficult times with injuries.

Throughout the offseason, Graham has been the subject of trade rumors. Even in the midst of what could be his impending demise here with the Eagles, Graham came into this first set of offseason workouts with a smile and brimming with confidence. That’s why you find yourself rooting for a guy like that.

“I feel like they want me here, I’m still here … I feel like if this is something they wanted to do, I would have been gone,” Graham said of the rumors. “I came in at the right weight 265 (pounds). I’m controlling what I can. Whatever the rumors were, I really didn’t pay attention to it because I got a role to play and that’s to do my part to win games for this year.”

During his sojourn with the Eagles through devastating injuries and coaching changes, Graham has often faced adversity with a smile and a determination to be a contributor any way he can while he’s still with the team. He said the trade rumors have only strengthened his resolve.

“Well you know that chip has always been on my shoulder ever since I hurt my knee, so it never way, but it definitely put a chip on my shoulder,” Graham said.

Playing at the linebacker position in the pro for the first time in his career, Graham had 21 tackles (14 solo) coming off the bench playing behind Trent Cole and Conner Barwin. With a year under his belt, the former University of Michigan star said he has a better grasp of defensive coordinator Billy Davis’ 3-4 defense.

“This year I’m more fast-paced because I know the defense … with a year under my belt, I can take it to another level,” Graham said. “I just want to show them guys that I really want to be here because I love Philadelphia I’ve made it my home and I would be sad if I have to go.”

Complicating Graham’s chances to make this year’s team is that the team drafted pass-rushing linebacker Marcus Smith out of Louisville in the first round. If the rookie has an impressive camp, Graham, who is in the final year of his rookie contract, could be expendable.

“I think it’s just an added guy that’s going to help us win,” Graham said. “It’s all about competition. You can bring in all the competition you want. We’re going to make each better. If it’s here or elsewhere, I’m not shying away from competition.”

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly said Graham has done a good job when he was in games last season, but he also acknowledged that it might be a numbers’ game with the depth at linebacker position.

“Yeah, I think he obviously has the skill set to rush the passer and set the edge. And when he’s been in there, he’s been productive. The issue is that the other guy’s really productive, too,” Kelly said. “How many times can you get them all on the field together? If you put Brandon in, do you take Trent [Cole] out; if you put Brandon in, do you take Connor [Barwin] out? It’s really the pecking order.”

With the numbers the Eagles have at the linebacker position, Graham said he’s confident that he’s going to make the 2014 Birds roster and let the chips fall where they may.

“I feel like I have the opportunity. Any person’s dream is to start,” Graham said. “As long as I’m playing that’s all that matters to me. At the end of the day, I want to get out there and show what I can do. If we’re winning that’s all that matters.”

NFC Wild Card Playoff: Can the Eagles Stop Drew Brees and the Powerful Saints Offense?



By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

The Eagles have to figure out a way to stop Drew Brees and the Saints offense in Saturday's NFC Wildcard Playoff game. Photo by Neworleanssaints.com.

The Eagles have to figure out a way to stop Drew Brees and the Saints offense in Saturday’s NFC Wildcard Playoff game. Photo by Neworleanssaints.com.

PHILADELPHIA—After beating the Dallas Cowboys to win the NFC East and surviving the rigors of an elimination game, the Eagles open their playoff run at Lincoln Financial Field Saturday night against Drew Brees and the potent New Orleans Saints offense.

While Eagles fans can take comfort in the fact that the Saints have never won a playoff game on the road, were 3-5 on the road in the regular season and that dome teams are 3-25 in road playoff games when the temperature dips below 35 degrees, the Birds players and coaches can’t.

The Eagles are expecting the Saints come out to come out on all cylinders and then some.

“They’re a good football and like any good team, they don’t let those outside factors get to them,” said Eagles inside linebacker Mychal Kendrick.  “They’re going to come in here, they’re going to try and play a really good game no matter what the situation is and that’s just what it is.”

On the defensive side of the football, the Eagles will be facing the league’s No. 2 passing offense, led by Brees and a host of playmakers including tight end Jimmy Graham, who has 16 touchdown passes.

“This offense is so efficient and it is run on Drew Brees and his decision-making and quick release,” said Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis. “He really makes you defend the field both horizontally and vertically because all five of his eligible receivers are up and active. …they stretch you horizontally and vertically.”

For an Eagles secondary that’s had to go up against some of the league’s best receivers like Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant, it’s another monumental challenge. Eagles cornerback Cary Williams said he nor the Eagles secondary is fazed by the caliber of talent lined up against him.

“I’m going to play my game, regardless,” Williams said. “I could care less what Drew Brees does with his release. I’m going to be in the guy’s (receiver’s) face, I’m going to disrupt the timing and I’m going to try my best to play 60 minutes as tough as I possibly can.”

What makes this Saints team a difficult challenge for the Eagles is their array of weapons from Graham to wide receiver Marques Colston or even speedy running back Darren Sproles, who caught 71 passes coming out of the backfield during the regular season.

So how do you cover those guys, especially when you have a quarterback like Brees who gets the ball out to his playmakers with the blink of an eye? Do you man up one-on-one and get physical? Should you lay back and play zone?

“I think the key is to change up that type of coverage and it’s more about the quarterback than the actual coverage and what he’s looking at, what he sees and how quick he can read it,” Davis said. “He’s seen every coverage and he’s seen all kinds of different tactics and then so has Sean (Payton, Saints head coach).

“They’ve got adjustments to everything.”

The Eagles are going to have to figure out a way to disrupt Brees timing in the passing game even if they can’t get physically close to touching him. That means pass rushers are going to have to be like basketball shot-blockers and put their hands in the air.

“It’s definitely one of those things where you have to get after him and try to rattle him a little bit,” said Eagles linebacker Brandon Graham. “That’s one of the challenges we have every week is who’s going to get to the quarterback and how many times. I think it will definitely change the game if we can get there a couple of times.”

If there’s a weakness in the Saints offense is that they don’t run the football very well. They are averaging 91 yards per game running the football with backs like Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Sproles.

Considering what Brees can do in the passing game, the Eagles seemed to be more concerned about the Saints backs as receivers.

“That’s going to be our task at hand to handle them coming out of the backfield,” Kendrick said. “Those guys are quick, agile and they can get into small spaces.”