Like learning a foreign language, there’s only so much you can learn about in class – you have to get out there to really master it.
The same holds true with football, and as Josh Sweat is seeing increased snaps on defense, his production, talents, and results are improving at an absurd rate…which is great news for a team who came into this season leaning on the FSU product.
The Eagles lost both Chris Long and Michael Bennett this offseason and the need for efficient DE play spiked.
Bennett ended last season with the third-most QB pressures of any edge rusher since 2014. He had 37 last year, to go with 20 hits according to Pro Football Focus.
As for Long, he played in 58% of defensive snaps last year and 48% in 2017. It’s not just the number of snaps played, either. Last year, Long ranked 27th among all defensive players in the NFL when it comes to QB pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. He also hit the quarterback on 3.3% of his snaps, the 9th highest number in the NFL, per IDP.
Replacing that kind of production isn’t going to happen overnight and while Vinny Curry would theoretically replenish what the Eagles lost in Chris Long, there was a gaping hole for Bennett’s production and snap count, which stood at 68% last season.
Enter Josh Sweat.
Earning his work
After only seeing double-digit snaps in 2 of 8 games in his rookie year, Sweat has had over 14 snaps in each game so far this season, and has been on defense for 22-33 % of the total snaps each week.
Although still under half the snaps of starters Derek Barnett and Brandon Graham, Sweat has caught the eye of Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz, who had impressive words about the 2nd year DE:
“I thought Josh (Sweat) did a good job in this game (vs Jets) too. His reps haven’t been extensive but when he’s been in there he has been pressuring the quarterback at a pretty good percentage… He’s becoming a good young player”Jim Schwartz on Josh Sweat after Jets game
With improvement comes production
The stat line for Sweat against the Jets was impressive to say the least. In just 18 snaps, Sweat recorded:
- 3 defensive stops vs run, and 1 tackle for loss
- 1 sack, 3 QB hits
- 9th in pass-rush productivity for all defensive ends
He also earned the highest defensive grade from PFF in his career, coming in at a very good 76.3, good for 17th among all DEs (min. 10 snaps).
Further, Sweat is ranked at the 21st best defensive end on the season with an impressive grade of 77.4 (minimum 20 % of 345 snaps).
The reason for all of this? Sweat has improved techniques tremendously, especially his get-off at the snap, which was a liability in high school, college, and 2018 for the Eagles. The reason for this is mostly that Sweat was used to reading OL movement in college, and had to transition to reading the ball instead.
Moreover, he is finally starting to combine his extreme strength and athleticism with improved pass-rushing technique, earning him much more pressure, both on QB hits and hurried throws.
Can a career-game spark momentum?
In a game where Sweat looked, well, dominant, the big question is whether he can keep the pace against better competition.
The fact Schwartz is noticing him this much, as well as his production going up, should provide more snaps, hence more opportunity to stand out, and really master the language of NFL football.