The Eagles defense has two of the best players in the league on their roster. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox can’t be blocked by one man and cornerback Darius Slay can cover any wide receiver in the league one-on-one. This should give defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and his staff a strategical advantage over their opponents, but they must seize the opportunity with aggressive play calling.
This is an outstanding defensive line versus the run. Despite a mediocre linebacker group, offenses should not be able to run the football against this defense. I don’t think there’s an offensive line in the league that can effectively run block the Eagles defensive line.
The Eagles are strongest up the middle and they’re led by perennial All-Pro Cox, who makes a habit of pushing offensive guards into the lap of the quarterback. He’s a dominating player, who usually forces the opposing coaching staff to double team him, which leaves the rest of the defensive line in one-on-one situations.
Playing next to Cox will be newly acquired former Steelers defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, who was asked to take on double teams in Pittsburgh. He will only have to beat one block here in Philly. This young man is big and powerful with the potential to be great, especially in one-on-one situations. He’s already very good versus the run but he needs to develop his game as a pass rusher. Like Cox, Hargrave can collapse the pocket with his power pass rush, but his development of additional pass rush moves will be one of the keys to the season.
Hargrave will be sharing time with Malik Jackson, who is already an accomplished pass rusher. On third downs, the Eagles will be depending on Cox and Jackson to bring the heat up the middle in order to force a turnover or a punt. If Jackson stays healthy and Hargrave learns from the veterans and blossoms, the Birds will have one of the top defensive lines in the league. A great defensive line will mean playoffs and maybe more. Quarterbacks hate quick pressure in their face and that’s something the Eagles could produce on nearly every play.
Veteran Brandon Graham is entering year number 11, but he’s still a good all around defensive end. He doesn’t fly upfield at the snap of the ball because he plays the run as well as the pass. Graham, who consistently puts pressure on the quarterback, may get his first 10 or more sack season because of dominant play by the defensive tackles.
Former Eagles first round pick Derek Barnett needs to have big year in 2020 for the Birds defense to play at the level needed to go deep in the playoffs. He’s a lot like Graham in that he’s undersized for the position and he plays the run as well the pass. Bottomline, the Birds need him to stay healthy and step his game up to the next level. If he can stay healthy, a double-digit sack season could be there with those dominating defensive tackles.
I think Josh Sweat has the potential be a starter in this league. I want to see him push Graham and Barnett at the defensive end position by making plays when he gets on the field. He could wind up playing a key role in this season.
Before getting into the linebacker situation, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Eagles deemphasize the linebacker position by playing more nickel and dime coverages. This group must prove that they can be effective tacklers. Linebackers that can’t tackle are like a beautiful car that doesn’t run.
With Nigel Bradham gone, there’s no guarantee about who will be starting at the linebacker position for Schwartz. Veteran backers Nathan Gerry and T.J. Edwards are considered favorites to start, but this entire linebacker group has to prove themselves..
Gerry is a converted safety and unfortunately he plays like one. He possesses good speed and instincts as a pass defender and he does a great job of reading the eyes of quarterbacks, but Gerry has to become a better tackler. He must focus on wrapping ball carriers up and taking them to the ground.
T.J. Edwards did a good job last year with limited playing time, but he seems to have football instincts which help him to overcome limited physical skills. Edwards gets to the football and he makes plays when given the chance. There are some aspects of the game of football that you can’t measure and Edwards may have those qualities.
Jatavis Brown was signed this off season, after a few years with the Chargers. He can run a 4.4 forty yard dash, but he’s got to stay healthy and do a better job of tackling. After putting together a couple of good years with the Chargers, Brown couldn’t stay healthy last year and like Gerry, he was having trouble getting ball carriers on the ground.
Colorado’s Davion Taylor was drafted this year in the 3rd round. Like Brown he runs a 4.4 forty yard dash and he was a consistent standout playmaker in college. He’s got to prove himself on this level through his intelligence and instincts. I could see the Eagles finding a role for him on 3rd downs and letting him get his feet wet. If he has some success early, they’ll work him in more and more as the season goes along. Keep an eye on this kid.
Here you have Darius Slay blanketing an Eagles receivers and picking off a pass thrown by Carson Wentz in an Eagles versus Lions battle.
The Eagles took their secondary to another level when they acquired Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay from the Detroit Lions. He’s good enough to match up with the opposing team’s number one receiver and lock him down. “There’s A New Sheriff In Town In The NFC East”. It’s been quite a while since the Eagles have had a cornerback with his ability. Like Cox on the defensive line, Slay makes the rest of the defense better.
Rodney McLeod is the leader now in the secondary after the departure of Malcolm Jenkins. Former starting cornerback Jalen Mills is expected to be the start at other safety spot. McLeod and Mills must get on the same page and develop their communication system. They’ve already played together for years and Mills has all the tools to be a good safety. He’s smart. He’s got leadership skills. He’s willing to come up and tackle, but he’ll have to prove he can get the job done.
Avonte Maddox is the favorite to win the starting cornerback position opposite Slay, but he’s going to need to outplay former second round pick Sidney Jones and former third round selection Rasul Douglas.
Maddox has shown speed, quickness and promise as a nickel back and a safety, but we will have to wait and see if he can lock down that starting cornerback spot. I like his football smarts, but I want to see him play with confidence by going after the big play, when the opportunity arrives. He’s going to get opportunities by playing opposite Slay. He must take advantage of them. Douglas has been a corner that will go after the football when it’s in the air.
This is a huge year for Jones, who will also be given a shot at the starting cornerback position as well. I hope he has gotten in the weight room and added muscle to his upper body. In all likelihood both Maddox and Jones will be on the field most of the time in nickel regardless of who wins the starting corner position, but don’t count Douglas out because he finds a way to make plays.
As you can see, there are a bevy of question marks on the defensive side of the ball for the Eagles. They could have used some preseason games to get on the same page, but they may have to hit the ground running. Bottomline, the Eagles need their defensive line to dominate and that means Cox, Hargrave and Jackson must lead the way.