T.J. Edwards is giving the Eagles some much needed LB stability

NFL: SEP 13 Eagles at Washington Football Team
LANDOVER, MD – SEPTEMBER 13: Eagles DT Hassan Ridgeway (98) and linebacker T.J. Edwards (57) tackle Washington running back Peyton Barber (34) as he leaps into the air during the Philadelphia Eagles vs. Washington Football Team NFL game at FedEx Field on September 13, 2020 in Landover, MD. (Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire)

T.J. Edwards played his best game as a pro when the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. His interception in the first quarter established momentum for the afternoon and set the Eagles up for their first scoring drive. He also factored into the defense’s third forced turnover when he recovered a Mark Ingram fumble in the third quarter. He led the team with 10 total tackles, one for a loss. It was fitting that Howie Roseman would later reward Edwards with a new contract.

The former University of Wisconsin star has quietly risen into a role as a major contributor during Philly’s sudden surge into the NFC playoff picture. He has emerged as an every-down linebacker for a team who desperately needed playmakers at the position.

Edwards Climbs into Starting Role

Edwards signed with Philadelphia as an undrafted free agent entering the 2019 season. Despite accolades as a former first-team All-American, teams didn’t see enough potential from him in pass coverage to meet the expectations of linebackers in the modern NFL.

He took advantage of an underwhelming corps of linebackers and worked his way into a starting role by the end of his rookie season. He started all 12 games he played in during his second season in 2020. However, the Eagles anticipated a minimized role for Edwards in 2021. They signed Eric Wilson to a one-year deal worth $2.75 million, indicating expectations for him as an every-down linebacker, a decision which they would later regret.

The coaching staff made the decision to shift their focus to Edwards and Taylor as their top linebackers entering a Week 8 matchup against the Detroit Lions. Eric Wilson was cut and the thesis was simple. The drop-off in production from Wilson to Edwards was minimal, so it makes sense to play the younger talent in a new scheme and allow him to grow. Their strong performances in a 44-6 victory allowed the Eagles to feel comfortable releasing Wilson after less than half a season in midnight green.

Edwards, Taylor Solidifying Linebacker Spots

The Eagles are 3-1 in games when Edwards plays over 50% of the defensive snaps, all of which have come in the past four weeks. His defensive snaps increased from 66% in Detroit to over 90% in each of the three games since.

Ike Reese, former Eagles linebacker and current sports radio host on 94 WIP, has recently complimented Edwards’ ability to anticipate plays before the snap. He attributes this characteristic to players who benefit from extensive film study. Edwards has demonstrated this strength in the past four games by playing screen passes well and disrupting plays at the line of scrimmage. 

Taylor’s progress is similarly impressive. His snap counts increased in five consecutive games in Weeks 5-9. He played the best game of his young career in Denver in Week 10. He forced two fumbles, one of which led to a Darius Slay touchdown that was the major turning point of the game. An injury unfortunately ended his day early against the Saints, and the team will update his status moving forward.

Edwards matched Taylor’s effort in Denver with more game-changing plays from the linebacker position that set the tone for another Eagles victory. 

Given the improvement from the linebackers and the resurgence of Darius Slay as a top-tier NFL corner, the Philadelphia defense looks more formidable than it did early in the season. Although they’ve been brutally embarrassed against top NFL quarterbacks this season, they’ve proven they can feast on QBs with less successful track records, especially by forcing turnovers. Their upcoming opponents don’t feature any of the most accomplished signal-callers in the league, and forcing more momentum-changing turnovers could help the Eagles defense finally form some semblance of a winning identity. T.J Edwards figures to be a key player in keeping the momentum rolling and ensuring that this defense stays aggressive around the ball.

Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire