There have been so many factors in the success of this year’s Philadelphia Eagles team. A franchise quarterback who is now surrounded with offensive weaponry, a stern offensive line, and a secondary that has surpassed anyone’s wildest expectations despite suffering some huge injuries. There may be none bigger however, than the Eagles defensive front.
The defensive line has been a force to be reckoned with since the moment that the season began. Whether it’s smothering opposing rushing attacks or forcing even the most comfortable pocket passers to get the ball out quickly, the four-man pass rush has been an integral cog in keeping opposing points off the boards and dominating week in and week out. But when Jim Schwartz was asked about how impressive his powerful unit has been, his response wasn’t one of praise or admiration…but it showcased an intent to ensure that level of dominance doesn’t dip.
“I guess so far, so good, but we still have a long way to go.” The Eagles defensive coordinator was quick to say when meeting reporters on Tuesday. “We need to stay on that track. There’s always things we can do better. No matter how that game went, we all weren’t happy with that first drive of the second half. We didn’t give up a 1st down in the first half, and then we let them go down and score and we aided them with a bunch of penalties and things like that. We’ll reserve the pats on the back until after the season is over.”
It’s that mentality that has pushed the team to this point. After allowing Kareem Hunt to run assertively in week two, the Eagles would not allow a single running back to rush for 50 yards or more until the Eagles demoralized the Dallas Cowboys and Alfred Morris. When the Eagles encountered a top five rushing attack in Chicago, who averaged over 120 yards per game on the ground, the Eagles held them to six.
The Eagles are allowing an average of just 65 rushing yards per game this season. 48.3 on the road and 85.2 on the road. That average of 65 sounds impressive…and that’s because it is. Last season, the Eagles gave up an average of over 100 yards per game on the ground.
“The run game is important.” Schwartz would go on to say. “I think all our defensive ends have done a good job playing the run, and I think that’s been one of the keys to our success right there.”
One of the huge contributors in defending the run this year has been Vinny Curry. With a stuffed tackle in each of his last five games, the Neptune, NJ native has been an absolute force in containing elusive quarterbacks such as Cam Newton and stopping bell-cow backs like Carlos Hyde.
“He’s had a tremendous year for us.”
A juxtaposed quote to what Schwartz said prior to the start of the year. A player who struggled to finish and put the icing on the Cake, the development of Vinny Curry and his ability to stuff the run has been incredibly valuable to this team. “He’s played with power.” Schwartz said as he praised his defensive end.
“He’s played the run extremely well. He’s done his job, and I think that’s the greatest compliment I can give a player. He does his job. He’s there when we need him. I mean, if that game had been closer, that play he made on the reverse would have got probably a lot more attention. But he’s just been steady and consistent the whole year. [He] plays with toughness. He brings a physical edge to us, and he’s done his job when he’s called upon, and like I said, I think that’s the greatest compliment you can give a player.”
Then there’s the emergence of Derek Barnett. The continued success of Brandon Graham and the inspirational leadership from veteran addition Chris Long. While offensive coordinators focus all of their attention on a tandem of defensive tackles who are primed to wreak havoc for the next four years, the rotation of defensive ends reaps the rewards of wider holes and mismatches. But what speaks volumes is how Schwartz described one of the groups greatest strengths.
“I like the personality of our guys that way.” The defensive coordinator explained. “They live in the present. They don’t live in the past. And they’re ready for a new challenge every single week. And that’s, I think, been one of the driving factors of our guys. They don’t get complacent. They don’t rest too much, and if they do have a lapse, they work hard to correct it. And if we keep that going, then we’ll be happy at the end of the season, whenever that is.”
They’re not worried about whether it’s Barnett or Curry seeing more snaps in a game, nor do they care who wraps up the quarterback. Contract extensions are rendered irrelevant on gameday and the unified belief in the team takes priority…just as it does throughout the locker room.
The Eagles have spent valuable resources on their defensive front and more specifically on the outside. Brandon Graham’s recently incentivized deal gives him extra drive to push for an extension, while the breakout of Vinny Curry and stunning development of Derek Barnett show just how bight the future of the unit is. The Eagles may have the best run defense in the league…and it’s only going to get better.
Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports