Eagles mid-season report card: A tale of two halves for the defense

While the mid-season report card for the Eagles offense might have been difficult to stomach, the second course on the menu should go down a little easier…at least in theory. The Eagles rank 9th in average yards given up per game (having played one game more than 5 of the teams ahead of them) and while they still struggle to create interceptions (3) their 7 forced fumbles rank second in the league along with their 28 sacks. It’s time to get your marker pens out once more as we take a closer look at a high-flying unit that is still struggling to get the credit it deserves.

Defensive line

Two of the three most impactful players on this Eagles team sit on the defensive line. Brandon Graham has had himself a career year and is well on the way to his first double-digit sack season, having amassed 7 in 8 games. On the interior, Malik Jackson has been one of the most pleasant surprises after his opening season in Philadelphia was cut short after just one week. In 2018, Jackson had 12 QB hits. He has 11 through 5 starts in 2020.

Elsewhere, Josh Sweat’s continued development has been crucial to the D-line’s rotational success. Now in year 3, Sweat has clearly taken significant strides this past offseason, building on a solid second-year and showing signs of being ready to become a part of the top pairing.

That may happen sooner rather than later. Derek Barnett has looked good, flashed a new inside spin-move and reached 3.5 sacks by the halfway point, but he hasn’t shown anywhere near enough consistency to be worth the cost of his fifth-year option next year.

That leads us to two more disappointments – Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave. Cox has really popped off over the last two weeks after an uncharacteristically slow start to the season, but Hargrave, whom the team made the highest-paid NT in the NFL this offseason, has had little impact on the team on the surface.

Overall, the unit has shown real potential and the crazy-high sack numbers speak for themselves, but with three of the big names on the team failing to live up to expectations, the grade has to drop.

Grade: B

Linebackers

Pros: Nate Gerry leads the Eagles in tackles with 57.
Cons: Nate Gerry leads the Eagles in tackles with 57.

The entire linebacker group has somehow been fully hinging on the success and failures of one of the most volatile players in football. Gerry either makes an eyebrow-raising play, or ends up looking like a human beyblade. There’s no in-between and it’s usually a case of the latter.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Alex Singleton has really balled out in his second year with the team and his making the most of some expanded reps on defense, picking off passes, shooting gaps well, and making some big plays in the backfield. The same can be said for T.J Edwards, who in his return from injury last week had a monstrous outing against the Cowboys.

The Eagles really don’t have a lot of linebacker depth but aside from Nate Gerry playing nearly every snap possible for no apparent reason, the remaining players have actually been about as solid as one could expect.

Grade: C-

Cornerback

Darius Slay has been everything the Eagles could’ve hoped for and then some. And more. His tackling woes from last year have cleaned up and he’s shut down every WR1 he’s faced. Amari Cooper didn’t register a catch against him, which considering the Cowboys wideout had caught 10 passes for 130 yards against the Eagles last season across two games, was a good showing. Slay has been nothing short of dreamy. The issues lie everywhere else…

Avonte Maddox has the speed to play outside, but his 5’9 frame was always going to be a concern. With only a sprinkle of experience, Maddox was named CB2 and things didn’t go swimmingly. He then picked up an injury and after the Eagles had cut both Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas, it left the secondary light on CB depth again. Jalen Mills filled in (or tried to) at one point, and then Nickell Robey-Coleman gave it a go before falling flat on his behind – a theme for his own season. Michael Jacquett came in against Dallas as a UDFA and looked strong…but even he picked up a knock. It’s poor roster management and it’s unacceptable.

In the nickel, NRC has been a drastically underwhelming signing thus far, to the point where Cre’Von LeBlanc is playing at a similar level…which isn’t ideal.

The Eagles have done half a job really well and left the other half unfinished.

Grade: C-

Safety

Replacing Malcolm Jenkins was never going to be easy and the Eagles have done their best to try, but so far it really has been a case of Rodney McLeod carrying the position on his back. Playing at a great level once again and ranking second in tackles, McLeod remains criminally underrated.

Jalen Mills has been just as Jalen Mills-Esque at Safety as he was at corner, and Will Parks had missed most of the season until a bumpy return turned into a much stronger outing vs Dallas amidst trade rumors.

Marcus Epps and Rudy Ford have evolved from their special teams role but have struggled at times on defense.

Depth here isn’t great and injuries have been costly. If Parks can continue trending in the right direction then the group should see a much higher percentage of turnovers/production in the coming weeks.

Grade: C

Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire

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