Donald Penn vs. Trent Cole
I began this week’s edition with the thought of doing a Carnell Williams vs. Philly Front 7 matchup, but the further I got into it and the more Eagle film I watched, the more I knew there was another matchup that warranted discussion. What stood out to me when watching the Eagles’ ’09 contests was how Trent Cole made plays all over the field. The man is a rush end who will chase you to the locker room in order to make a play. I knew he was good (predicted him as my ’08 NFL Defensive MVP), but he just continues to get better as a pro. I thought, wow, we’re going to have our hands full slowing him down. In this week’s contest, the majority of that responsibility will fall on the shoulders of Donald Penn.
Penn, in his 4th year as a Buccaneer, has allowed 2 sack this season, but none of them came at the hands of DeMarcus Ware (20 sacks in ’08), Aaron Schoebel (a sack in each of his other 3 games this year), or Osi Umenyiora (sacks in 2 of 4 games this year). No, those 2 sacks came from Ryan Denney (Buffalo) and Brian Orakpo (Washington).
During the Buffalo game, Denney recorded a garbage time sack with under a minute left in the contest. It was an awkward 2nd and 1 play where Bills defenders were scrambling around at the snap. Penn was trying to call out a blocking assignment when Leftwich called for the ball, and the left tackle never looked set on the play. Denney got free when Leftwich stepped up in the pocket, and he did a better job of finishing the play than did Penn.
Last week with less that 30 seconds left in the first half, Orakpo bested Penn and forced the Bucs to settle for 3 points heading into the break. Orakpo beat him to the outside with speed and Penn lost the leverage battle which allowed the rookie to step inside and take Johnson down as he stepped up in the pocket. That was a sloppy play by Penn in a critical situation, and it’s something that I believe he saw replayed more than a few times this week. He was too receptive to Orakpo’s approach and needed to establish a perimeter for his QB to comfortably make a play. Instances like this really frustrate the great ones, and I’m hoping this lapse in play got to Penn. He’s not going to get any breaks this week facing off against Trent Cole, the 5th year defensive end from Cincinnati who has 2.5 sacks in 3 contests.
In the first game of the season, Cole sacked Jake Delhomme, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Victor Abiamiri for a TD on the first play of the second quarter. The Eagles were already ahead at that point, but the defensive score kept them in front for the rest of the contest. On the play, in an odd alignment, Cole and fellow DE Juqua Parker lined up about 3 yards deep in the middle of the defense. On the snap, Parker attacked the middle of the line, drawing the attention of center Ryan Kalil, which allowed Cole to get an uncontested running start at Delhomme and take him down while dislodging the ball at the same time. The alert Cole was even ready to pick up the football and take it into the endzone had Abiamiri not been there.
In his next game Cole got a 1st quarter sack on the first play following a DeSean Jackson TD. The Saints were in a 3 wide set, and Cole lined up wide of LT Jermon Bushrod, the third year tackle taking the place of Jammal Brown. On the snap, Cole went about 14 yards into the backfield, outrunning Bushrod and sacking the hard to catch Drew Brees. That play set up a 2nd and 19, and on the next snap, Cole was once again in Brees’ face, forcing him to throw high and wide of TE Jeremy Shockey. He’s a frequent factor in plays whether or not he gets to the man with the football.
Facing the Chiefs, Cole got half a sack in the latter moments of the first half, combining with Chris Clemson to take down Matt Cassel as the Chiefs tried to get into the locker room trailing by only 17. To go with that half sack, Cole finished the game with 5 tackles and 2 assists, again showing his ability to be a significant factor against the run. Cole gets tremendous penetration, will test you on every single snap on the game, and there aren’t many in the league who can contain him for long.
Earlier I detailed a couple of Penn’s lapses this year, and he can’t afford a single one of those against Cole and still keep Johnson upright. Philly’s RE is one of the most up tempo ends in the league and has the ability to both overpower and outquick any tackle he lines up against. What’s scary is that in addition to his 2.5 sacks, despite having a bye week in the first month of the NFL season, he’s still in the top 10 in tackles for 4-3 defensive ends with 14. This guy plays sideline to sideline, snap to whistle.
The Bucs are 0-4 and head into hostile Philadelphia this week with a QB making his second NFL start. As well as Sean Mahan played last week, I expect him to struggle quite a bit against Brodrick Bunkley and Mike Patterson, two of the game’s toughest tackles. That means that the Bucs are going to have a hard time running the ball up the middle and that Penn isn’t going to get any help against Cole. If the Bucs are to have any hope at pulling out a victory, Donald Penn needs to keep #58 out of the backfield.
Even without the departed Jim Johnson, the Eagles are an aggressive, attacking defense. They still come at you from every angle and aren’t afraid to put 8 in the box with regularity. If Penn is able to contain the electrifying Cole, the Bucs might be able to attack the edges against this blitzing defense. If he’s not, this one could turn ugly early.
Keep an eye on this matchup and see who emerges victorious.