While the Eagles wide receivers will be the focus of speculation until the season starts, there’s one group that should draw just as much attention on the other side of the ball. In 2017, the Eagles had a very disruptive defensive line. They were healthy, the rotation was phenomenal and they had a leadership presence in Chris Long that has been missed ever since his retirement.
Somehow, someway, the Eagles were able to retain the heart of their D-line in Brandon Graham last offseason. They followed that with the signing of veteran DT Malik Jackson. The hype was there for Jackson as the Eagles were searching far and wide for a stud to pair with Cox on the interior after Jernigan’s nagging injuries. While the Eagles had released him in 2019, the proven DT ended up back in Philly with a less impactful deal.
The formula was there. The rotation of Cox-Jackson-Jernigan and an unproven DT was set to be lethal for the defensive line but due to injuries, it just didn’t work out that way. Last season the Eagles defensive line tallied 33 sacks while other positions chipped in for 10 more sacks which helped the team’s defense rank 14th in the league, tied with Titans, for sacks.
Now don’t get me wrong, sacks are great. Sacks can change the momentum of a game in an instant on any down. I won’t discredit that, but it’s not a stat that the Eagles coaching staff is focused on. See in 2017, the Eagles defense as a whole only came up with 38 sacks but they were top 5 in the league in yards allowed per game, top 5 in interceptions, and top 5 in turnovers differential.
Unfortunately, the same couldn’t have been said for the defense in 2019. They allowed 30 more yards per game than they did in 2017, ranking nowhere near the top 5 in turnover differential as they only mustered 20 takeaways opposed to the 31 that they had in 2017.
So what does this have to do with the defensive line? Well, the big difference is that the Eagles had only 55 QB hurries which means that QBs felt rushed to throw only 8.7% of the time when facing the Eagles. In 2017, the Eagles had an elusive way of pressuring QB’s led by the underrated play of Brandon Graham and backed up by a stacked rotation including Vinny Curry, Chris Long, and Michael Bennett. It was evident in the Super Bowl how key pressuring the QB would be for the Eagles to win. If it wasn’t for Brandon Graham’s strip-sack then who knows what the end result would’ve been.
The Eagles are entering the 2020 season with a reloaded Defensive line group. They’re getting a healthy Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, and Brandon Graham. This may be the first offseason in which Derek Barnett is also 100% healthy. They’ve also added Javon Hargrave, who is a true disruptive DT, to the mix. With offensive lines now having to choose who to double, it could end up being a feast of a year for either Cox or Hargrave.
Let’s not forget the replacement for former D-Line coach Phillip Daniels as the Eagles went with a Jim Schwartz protege in Matt Burke. The team has always focused on winning in the trenches for as long as Howie Roseman has been in charge, now more than ever the team will rely on their talent D-line to lead the way.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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