The Eagles’ most underrated player will only get better with Jernigan’s return

When discussing the Eagles defense in 2018, you’d be hard-pressed to find a positive. The natural topics of conversation would revolve around a depleted secondary, the dreaded ‘prevent’ play-calls and an array of mistakes and execution errors. One of the lone bright spots this season however has been the play of Michael Bennett and that’s strangely something that doesn’t get anywhere near as much recognition.

The veteran pass-rusher posted 8.5 sacks and 40 tackles last year, his ninth season in the NFL. The three-time Pro Bowler also tallied 24 quarterback hits despite battling injuries. What makes him so valuable is that he can play either inside, or outside. Given that the Eagles have been without key cogs on their defensive line, including Timmy Jernigan and Derek Barnett, that versatility has been crucial.

As we head into week 13, Bennett leads the Eagles in sacks with a total of 6.5. What’s scary is that in 5.5 of those have come in the last 6 games. Bennett has been on an absolute tear recently and topped it off by bringing down Eli Manning for an 11-yard loss on a 2nd & 7 situation in the third quarter. The Giants were forced to punt from deep inside their own territory two plays later as a result. Regardless of the situation, whether the Eagles are winning or down by 20, Bennett always plays with that same intensity, leading by example and very much acting as the motor of the defense.

Acquired in a trade earlier this year, Bennett still has another two years remaining on his contract with the Eagles, which is huge for a team who don’t really know what’s going to happen to other veterans on the unit such as Brandon Graham or Chris Long. As of right now, Bennett and Barnett could well be the starters moving into 2019 and that’s not exactly a bad thing…

With Timmy Jernigan back into the fray, we can begin to expect even more production from Bennett. In weeks prior to his return, there was naturally plenty of attention being placed to the 30-year old defensive end and the ever-dominant Fletcher Cox. But if Jernigan can lift some of that burden, what we saw last year was the former Raven swallowing up space which allowed Brandon Graham to post a career-high 9.5 sacks. There’s no reason we can’t seek that same production now that the second interior spot isn’t being filled by undrafted free agents or practice squad promotees.

Jernigan’s return alone clearly sparked something against the Giants, with the Eagles consistently finding their way into the backfield and looking like the defense that blew opposing teams away in 2017. It may have taken a half to settle in, but once the momentum was on their side, the defensive front looked as dangerous as it ever has.

In a year where the defense has been dragged through the mud and any kind of statistical notoriety has evaded the unit completely, Bennett has continued to stand out each and every week. With the line around him now the closest to full-strength that he’s experienced, offenses are naturally going to be concerned what’s going to happen once the leash is taken off one of the most rampant Dogs in the game…

 

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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