As a man defender, Brown fairs much better against tight ends than slot receivers and running backs. He is actually quite good at defending short curl routes, any type of stop route and quick hitting seam routes. This is due to his ability to leverage the inside of the field. He’s strong and his straight-line speed allows him to match up well with interior and mid-range routes. Against large slot receivers and tight ends, he won’t make many game-changing plays, but he’s a solid bet to make life difficult on the inside.
Where he struggles is on out-breaking routes, drags, deep digs, posts, corners, etc. Any route that can force him to play further from the line of scrimmage will make him less comfortable. That goes double when he’s tasked with defending quicker, more agile playmakers. As the inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, there’s not much he can do to avoid those matchups. Generally, at least one of the outside linebackers have to blitz to put pressure on the quarterback and Brown is left to cover the open man. These situations are where he is left most exposed in coverage.
Almost single-handedly, the fact that Malcolm Jenkins is in midnight green should put fans at ease regarding Brown’s shortcomings in man coverage. As much as humanly possible, Jim Schwartz lines to line up Jenkins against the most dangerous inside man in the passing game. This means moving him all over the formation from his roaming safety spot. Nine times out of ten this will leave Nigel Bradham — who is a very good cover linebacker — or Brown covering a larger receiver or playing spy over the middle. Brown loves to jet downfield to make a tackle on scrambling quarterbacks and will fit the role well. The Eagles don’t require man coverage from their inside linebackers all that much anyways.
A subtle way in which Brown should help the Birds is chasing down mobile quarterbacks. Almost to a fault, he loves to step up when he sniffs out a QB on the move. Philadelphia failed to adequately contain Marcus Mariota and Deshaun Watson, who both had very good games against the Eagles. Hopefully, Zach Brown’s physical, downhill play style will coax scrambling quarterbacks to reconsider — for their own benefit. He will have to pick and choose when to stay and when to attack, but if he guesses right, look out!
Availability and Affordability
There are no ill intentions meant when stating Jordan Hicks has had trouble staying on the field throughout his career. He dealt with unfortunate injury after unfortunate injury, which caused him to miss time in all but one season. In his first four seasons he played in only 43 out of a possible 64 games. That’s not exactly what you’d like from your starting middle linebacker.
Conversely, Brown has only missed games in two of his seven seasons despite being hampered by injuries throughout his career. He has shown the willingness to fight through the pain to be available come game day. Especially considering his physical style of play, that’s impressive. He won’t have to play every down in Philadelphia either, which should help him stay healthy. As the old adage goes, the best ability is availability and the Eagles upgraded in that facet.
Another major difference between Hicks and Brown is the price tag. As talented as he is, the Eagles were not willing to pay top dollar for Jordan Hicks and rightfully so. That didn’t mean another team wouldn’t put pen to paper. The Cardinals were that team and inked Hicks to a 4-year $34 million dollar contract with half of that guaranteed. Good for him — Arizona needed a solid leader for their defense had the capital to secure one of the smartest young players at the position. This only proves that he was out of the Eagles’ price range.
On the flip side, Howie Roseman was able to secure Zach Brown for a very team friendly veteran minimum. His contract is $3 million for one year which is the same cap hit the Redskins took for cutting him. In retrospect, the price was almost unbelievable. Securing a top 10 linebacker (in 2018) for $3 million is almost unheard of. If Brown plays anywhere near the level of play he did last season, it’s hard to argue that this was one of the best value pickups of the offseason for any team.
The final way in which Zach Brown augments the Philly defense can’t be explained by numbers or film. The Eagles have had one of the more difficult defenses to peg over the last few years. Pedigree and coaching have kept them afloat despite some ill-timed injuries and secondary struggles. In their Super Bowl winning season, they were among the best. In that season they were known for their formidable front that terrorized opposing quarterbacks and foreboding run defense. That may still be the case, but in 2018 the team lacked some nasty. As talented as the team is, they lack true bangers in between the hashes. Jordan Hicks was more of a smooth, finesse player and Nigel Bradham’s oomph wasn’t enough to cover for the both of them.
The Eagles now have two physical, imposing linebackers that should put fear into the hearts of opponents. Small receivers will second guess catching the ball over the middle and the great running backs of the NFC East will take their fair share of thumps if they decide to run up the middle. Even if it means a gain for the offense, a big hit can go a long way into swinging the momentum of a team. Philadelphia has lacked some game-changing highlight reel tackles in their year-in-review film. Brown should bring the nasty back to Philly the old fashioned way — and I’m here for it.