Much has been said of this Philadelphia Eagles Defense. A tenacious front four has been responsible for some of the most impressive defensive efforts in recent memory, but the improvement of the secondary in the second year under Jim Schwartz has to be noted. While the corners have been excellent, there is one player who has gone severely underrated….as he has done his whole career.
Malcolm Jenkins has been playing arguably the best Football of his career this season and that has given the Eagles some amazing optionality in terms of play-calling. He hasn’t had it easy since joining the Eagles. Last year, Jenkins was forced into the nickel role to fill in for Ron Brooks and this year he went several games without any kind of help on the back-line, with McLeod, Watkins, and Graham all sustaining injuries. This hasn’t stopped him from amassing 47 tackles, 1 sack and 5 passes defensed through 9 games however. When you look at the tape and see just how many ways Jenkins is being used, it’s clear to see how important he is to the success of the defense.
This really first came into play last season when the Eagles decided to start bringing Jenkins down on nickel blitzes, but it’s transposed over into 2017…which is surprising. Jenkins is almost playing the role of a hybrid safety this season and on one of the opening plays of the game, it was easy to see why.
The former Saint comes off the edge as Virgil Green attempts to push the pressure inside and completely blows past C.J Anderson to get huge pressure on Brock Osweiler and force the incompletion. A great play by Jenkins who has helped bring some extra panic to the edge when needed all season long.
Stopping the run:
At 29-years old, Jenkins should be in the prime of his career…and he absolutely is. A Safety who can hurt you from just about anywhere, he’s had a tendency to take the term “always around the ball” to the next level. Against the Broncos, that was exactly the case.
Lining up outside, Jenkins cuts in and pushes off his block with ease after keeping his eyes focused on the opposing running back. Jenkins remains light on his feet but widens his stance to create a brick wall that Anderson could do nothing but run into.
On a rare look where Jenkins was actually lining up with the linebackers to prevent a deep pass that would lift the Broncos out of their own end zone, Jenkins sits deep patiently and upon seeing the running back turn his back, immediately diagnosed the screen. At this point, Jenkins darts inside and wraps up the ball-carrier for a minimal gain.
A little later in the game, Jenkins is lined up on the outside and reads the play-action hand off with ease. Blocking the lane, he then closes the top as the cavalry arrives to keep Anderson at bay once again.
Of course, the cornerback traits that make Jenkins so lethal are just as valuable to the Eagles. The Birds line up with just one Safety over the top with corners dropped back in off-coverage. Jenkins is down at the line of scrimmage. A big push on A.J Derby disrupts the route, but the veteran stays with the big tight end all the way down the field before cutting under the route to seal it off.
How about Emmanuel Sanders? This time, the versatility of Jenkins comes up huge yet again. While Sanders is still charging up the seam, Jenkins reads the break before it even happens. In his first step, Jenkins opens his hips and immediately tries to break on the route and avoid being burned by the prolific wideout. The catch was made, but that’s all that happened as Jenkins cut the cord on the reception and forced Sanders out of bounds. The instincts here are just remarkable.
Jenkins lined up outside again later in the game and proved why he is among the elite defensive backs in the NFL. Jenkins stayed on his feet after being tempted into the bite, completely avoiding it and keeping his arms locked onto his wideout and trails the go route all the way to the end zone. Stride for stride with the Broncos receiver, Jenkins sees the ball to safety. His composure to avoid biting on the stutter was just as impressive as his ability to shadow his man so closely without drawing a flag…something only a veteran could provide consistently.
And then one more time for good luck. Jenkins does a great job of again picking up the right end here, showing a strong punch at the line that almost sends Green into a wobble, disrupting the route. Green was Osweiler’s primary read here, so Jenkins did enough to force the quarterback into looking elsewhere, before cutting underneath in preparation to seal the end of the route.
When Jenkins was joined by Rodney McLeod last year, the consensus of having a safety tandem made up of the duo was terrifying. But one year later, we’re rarely seeing the two lined up side by side. Instead, Jenkins is lining up all over the field. On the defensive line, in the nickel, with the linebackers, on the outside. Each and every game, Jenkins brings reliability and explosiveness to a defense that has missed starters since the moment the season began. Always around the ball, there is no questioning just how impressive Jenkins has been this season, as he embarks on his second pro bowl campaign.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports