We’re halfway through the NFL season and the Philadelphia Eagles are soaring above the rest of the league with a 7-1 record. Little has been able to stagnate the progress of one of the most exciting teams in the league…especially when it comes to their revamped Defense. How do they grade out halfway into the season? Let’s take a look.
This line has been everything the Eagles hoped it would become. The addition of Timmy Jernigan has helped the front four become one of the most prolific run-stuffing units in the NFL. The Eagles have the third best run defense in the league statistically and are giving up an average of just 70 rushing yards per game…the lowest in the league.
In terms of pressuring the quarterback, that needs no explanation either. Last year, the team amassed 34 sacks. In just 8 games they have racked up 22 this season. Perhaps the most impressive part of this on the interior side of things is how injury stricken the unit has been. Cox, Allen and Vaeao have all missed time. Meaning rookie Elijah Qualls and recently waived Justin Hamilton have both been called up to the plate. The depth has been tested and has passed with flying colors.
On the outside, Brandon Graham’s consistency has been backed up with the veteran presence of Chris Long, who has led the way with an unrelenting motor, setting the example for a young and hungry group of edge-rushers. Vinny Curry has began to exude confidence while rookie Derek Barnett is heating up at an alarming rate. This is a versatile group of pass rushers the have no problem wreaking havoc in the backfield. The ceiling is incredibly high.
The duo of Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham looked just as dangerous as they did last year in the opening few games of the season, but then the injury bug stuck. Hicks was listed as out for the season and in the TNF win over Carolina, Nigel Bradham missed some brief time on the sideline. Luckily, this is where the strength of the unit has come through.
Bradham has been just as impressive this year as he was one year ago, only now he is finally receiving the praise he deserves. The former Bills linebacker is now getting his teammates lined up, shooting the gaps better than ever and becoming a force in coverage.
The bounce-back year from Mychal Kendricks has to be admired. A 17 tackle game set the tone, but Kendricks has had more tackles this year than he did in the 15 games he played in last season. His offseason breakout has been well reinforced, but it will be interesting to see how he performs in the remaining 8 games with little in the way of a security blanket.
The depth of Joe Walker, Najee Goode and company have all performed as expected and stepped up admirably when asked. This unit will be tested more than ever in the second half of the season, with the unit missing Jordan Hicks.
Nobody expected the Eagles secondary to be this good. ESPECIALLY when Ronald Darby dislocated his Ankle in week one and ESPECIALLY when the Eagles were at one point missing three of their four defensive safeties. Yet somehow, the emergence of Jalen Mills and rookie Rasul Douglas have captivated the hearts of Eagles fans everywhere.
Douglas had an inconsistent preseason but when thrown into the deep end, has done more than just survive. Helped by the off-coverage looks deployed by Jim Schwartz, Douglas has been nothing short of impressive, using his ballhawk tendencies to bat down passes and even amass a pair of picks.
Of course, the big Elephant in the room is Jalen Mills, who has come on leaps and bounds since his rookie season. This week’s NFC defensive player of the week, Mills has chewed up whatever has been thrown his way. Consistently targeted and bullied by quarterbacks, Mills has become a stern tackler and put the cherry on the cake last week with his first career pick six.
The big standout of course has been Patrick Robinson. The nickel corner who was expected by a handful of writers to be cut prior to the start of the season has shown that all he really needed was a spot where he plays his best. One of PFF’s most consistent corners, Robinson has been excellent in coverage with very few mistakes or lapses. His ball-skills could be better and we may be looking at a pro-bowl paragraph had he caught his five dropped interceptions this season, but he’s not there to catch passes…he’s there to break them up and that’s exactly what he’s done.
At Safety, Malcolm Jenkins is playing the best football of his career. Rodney McLeod’s injury setbacks have been a thorn in the side of this position, but the versatility of Watkins, Graham, Jenkins when partnered with the hard-hitting style of McLeod has seen this unit overcome just about everything.
Jake Elliott is a cultural icon and the Eagles special teams unit has made big plays throughout the year. Blocked field goals, big returns, thumping tackles and perfect punts, Fipp’s group has been excellent in all areas once again. The one thing we are yet to see however is a return touchdown…but we have another eight games for that.
Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports