I want to cast your mind back to 2016. The Philadelphia Eagles were facing the Detroit Lions in a game where Matt Stafford and his offense jumped out to a 14 point lead and starting linebacker Nigel Bradham was nowhere to seen.
Bradham was inserted into the game during the second half and stayed there for the duration. The Defense transformed from a cause for concern to complete dominance in just minutes. In the first half, the Eagles allowed 199 yards and 17 first downs. In the second, they allowed just 45 yards and 4 first downs. What changed? Nigel Bradham was on the field.
It did seem coincidental that Bradham’s snap count took a drop just days after he was arrested in Miami for possession of a loaded firearm and Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz told reporters. “you do dumbass things, pretty soon you’re going to be labeled as a dumbass.” That was almost completely forgotten about…until the last seven days.
The Eagles cut a starting linebacker on Monday. Zach Brown made some questionable comments about Kirk Cousins before being embarrassed by his former teammate in the loss to Minnesota. The front office decided to take action. Whether this was to set a tone or just to rid themselves of a headache, the point remains that they cut a starting linebacker who has been firmly regarded as a premier run-stopper, and also ranked third in team tackles.
According to PFF, coming into this year, he had made the third-most defensive stops against the run over the last three seasons. He also had claim to the 11th best run-stop percentage and the 8th best run defense grade over that time. 2018 was more of the same for Brown, finishing the season with an 84.1 run-stopping grade.
The Eagles run defense would echo that production through the opening six weeks, silencing backs like Dalvin Cook, LeVeon Bell, and Derrius Guice. All were held to under 3 yards per carry against one of the league’s top run defenses…but then they played Dallas.
The formula remained the same. Stack the box and snuff out Zeke Elliott. But something was different this week. Elliott became the first back this season to put up over 100 yards against the Eagles in a game that looks like a statistical anomaly. Why?
It’s tough to put that kind of thing solely on linebackers, but Nigel Bradham was down. The Eagles cut Zach Brown knowing full-well that they’ll be without Bradham, leaving them with a corps of Nate Gerry, Kamu Grugier-Hill, T.J Edwards, and Alex Singleton. It’s hardly the most experienced group in the league and there were bound to be errors. Players were man-handled at the second level and were unable to instinctively shoot gaps in the way that Brown or Bradham could. But this isn’t a criticism of the performance, it’s a criticism to let it happen.
If the Eagles knew how vulnerable their linebacker corps would be, why would they not look for help before cutting Brown? They don’t value the position and haven’t for a long time. Ask L.J Fort, who is now making big-time plays for the playoff-bound Ravens. Ask Jordan Hicks who is among the league’s tackling leaders in Arizona.
The Eagles left themselves open to body blows on Sunday and Dallas were not going to let that pass them by. Neither will the Bills. Neither will the Bears. Neither will the Patriots. Neither will the Seahawks.
Whether it’s schematic or personnel, the Eagles have to make an adjustment before it’s too late. They set the tone, they cut the trash-talker. Good job. Now it’s time to set the tone on the field…before it’s too late.
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports