A lot of Eagles fans are skeptical of how much the Eagles improved from this year to last. Although it’s absolutely fair, I think we have to give more credit to Howie Roseman and the Eagles staff for improving the Eagles defense. From the playoff lost to Seattle to now, the Eagles are a much better team.
When starting off with an evaluation like this, we have to look back at what was the original product (most recent) that took the field for the Eagles. In the playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks the Eagles had Jalen Mills as their number one cornerback in the game. The Eagles defense only allowed 17 points in the loss to Seattle. D.K. Metcalf, like many other WR’s this season, lit up the Eagles secondary with 160 receiving yards, setting the rookie record for most receiving yards by a rookie in a postseason game. Although, giving up a total of 325 receiving yards in the game, the Eagles only gave up 64 rushing yards, and 45 of that came from QB Russell Wilson. The Eagles defense was led by Malcolm Jenkins with 9 tackles, and had the only sack in the game for the Eagles.
The next part of the evaluation of the Eagles off-season specific to the defense is what the Eagles lost. The major lost for the Eagles defense was Malcolm Jenkins. Jenkins wasn’t just a productive starter for the Eagles or that he played nearly every snap, but Jenkins was also the captain of the defense. The Eagles also watched Timmy Jernigan, and Kamu Grugier-Hill sign contracts with other teams. Also, Vinny Curry and Nigel Bradham are currently free agents.
Finally, the additions to the Eagles team on the defensive side of the ball. The major acquisition for the Eagles this off-season was the trade and extension of CB Darrius Slay. In addition, the Eagles added Javon Hargrave DT from the Pittsburgh Steelers and signed Nickell Robey-Coleman CB. Smaller signings for the Eagles consisted of S Will Parks and LB Jatavis Brown. Lastly, the Eagles drafted LB/S Davion Taylor in the third round, and S K’Von Wallace in the 4th.
Now that we have it all laid out on the table, we can finally look at how the Eagles stack up. The first part you start off, the secondary. The by far biggest weakness of the Eagles defense, and would have been the number one addressed spot if the WR position did self-destruct last year. I find it hard to make an argument that the CB position, in particular, didn’t improve greatly. The Eagles got a true number one CB. The last time the Eagles had a cornerback make the pro bowl was Asante Samuel in 2010. for 10 years, the Eagles have had bad to mediocre play at that position. Adding Slay into the team will allow the Eagles to not be lit up by top WR’s and give more time to the Eagles defensive line to get the QB.
Making any point about the Eagle secondary this upcoming season, has to look at the loss of Malcolm Jenkins. The leadership part of Jenkins will be missed but let’s not pretend that the Eagles defense doesn’t have leaders. Look at Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, and even Rodney McLeod. Replacing Jenkins production is more of a question I believe for the Eagles. First things first, Malcolm Jenkins wasn’t a pro bowl player in the prime of his career, he’s clearly on his last stretch, I think most fans would agree with that. What most fans have a problem with is, who’s going to replace him? I know a lot of people are saying Jalen Mills, but I don’t think that’s going to be the case. The report that Mills was going to be coming back to the Eagles to play safety made fans assume he would take the Jenkins role. Yet, the Eagles signed Will Parks, and invested two picks Davion Taylor, and K’Von Wallace at the safety position. It wouldn’t make sense to put that much capital into one position and still start the player that could be a solid CB 2. For replacing Jenkins productivity will be hard for the Eagles but if the Eagles believe that one of the two draft picks, or an improved Will Parks can take that place, then I don’t think the drop off is dramatic.
The secondary as a whole is a better team, the Eagles invested resources in it which is the only thing they could have done. The Eagles mixed the defense with proven talent in Darius Slay and new rookies such as K’Von Wallace. When evaluating the Eagles secondary, they have improved. Then, you have to look at the position beneath it. The linebackers.
Some Eagles fans think that this is the biggest need for the Eagles team. Of course those fans would be wrong but nevertheless it is a position that is almost less clear after the off-season. The Eagles did add LB Davion Taylor but with an undersized body, he might be the replacement for Malcolm Jenkins instead. Other than that, the only signing the Eagles had at the linebacker position was Jatavis Brown, who is far off of a major name. Eagles fans shouldn’t be surprised, the LB position in a 4-3 defense, but more importantly an Eagles defense under Jim Schwartz doesn’t value the position that highly. Howie Roseman doesn’t draft LB’s high in the draft, and the team watched Jordan Hicks leave the team last year. So with the Eagles LB position looking like Nathan Gerry, TJ Edwards, and Jatavis Brown leading the front, I don’t think there is going to be a major difference if Kamu-Grugier Hill or Nigel Bradham were in their place. I would say the Eagles took a step back, but far from saying that this is going to be the difference between making the playoffs or not.
Lastly, the other main component of the defense is the defensive line. The Eagles added DT Javon Hargrave who was one of the more surprising decisions by the Eagles this season. The reason was because they committed big money to another DT only a year after signing DT Malik Jackson. Although, the Eagles value the D-Line position heavily, which is one of the reasons why they put together so many resources. I understand some of the confusion at first from the fan base, not so much criticism of the player but more of the decision to invest at a strong position. Now along the D-Line, the DT position is going to be one of the best in the game, the question still remains outside. Derrick Barnett hasn’t stepped into his potential, and Brandon Graham isn’t getting younger. The Eagles will need a contribution from Malik Jackson, or Josh Sweat to step up as well. There is no doubt the defensive line improved, and I think the Eagles made the right decision to go all in to get pressure, because we all know that pressure forces mistakes.
In conclusion, the Eagles invested all free agent resources in the defense, and got high quality players in the draft. I think this Eagles defense is going to be the best in the NFC East, and pairing that up with Carson Wentz doing his thing on offense, the Eagles are setting themselves up for a successful season.