The city of Philadelphia is one that is largely considered a blue-collared city that fights to earn respect.
That same mantra has bled over into what Eagles fans want on the defensive side of the football.

Since Jim Schwartz took the mantle of defensive coordinator in 2016, Schwartz has constructed a defense that has become one of the best-known units in football.

Under Schwartz, the Eagles have focused heavily on the play of the defensive line. Whether creating pressure on the quarterbacks or stuffing the run, Schwartz’s line has been at the core of the defense’s success.

Over the past three seasons, the defense has on average, allowed opposing offenses to less than 100 rushing yards per game and recorded 40 plus sacks in 2018 and 2019.

The foundation of the Eagles front four comes from the play of Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham. Graham and Cox have set career highs in sacks under Schwartz and combined for 350 tackles since 2016. The addition of Javon Hargrave and return of Malik Jackson allows Schwartz to pair either Hargrave or Jackson alongside Cox and give them the opportunities for one-on-one matchups as Cox takes on double-team blocks.The interior pressure by the three will also allow for ideal matchups for Graham as well as fellow defensive ends Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat, who are looking to finally have breakout years for the team after showing improvement in 2019.In terms of linebackers, Schwartz’s schemes have never truly valued the linebacker position, as he normally ops to play with fewer linebackers and more defensive backs. Regardless, the release of Nigel Bradham allows Nate Gerry to step into a lead role on the defense.Gerry has seen his role expand since being drafted as a safety. His speed and coverage ability is something the Eagles have valued and the team has tried to replicate in the draft. Davion Taylor and Shaun Bradley ran a 4.49 and 4.51 at the combine and can serve as coverage linebackers similar to Gerry.Second-year linebacker T.J. Edwards looks to fill the role left by Bradham as well. Edwards is similar to Bradham in his style of play and is more likely to make tackles than drop into coverage. Edwards tallied 30 total tackles on only 110 snaps last seasonThe largest change comes in the secondary. The addition of All-Pro cornerback Darius Slay and veteran slot cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman brings two players that Schwartz can rely on to keep opposing wide receivers contained. Slay’s ability to follow the best receiver enables Schwartz to give additional support to other members of the secondary.Schwartz does not need to rely on multiple young cornerbacks such as Sidney Jones, Cre’von LeBlanc, and Avonte Maddox in starting roles and can let the young corners learn from the veterans.

The one gaping hole the Eagles must fill in the secondary is the hole left by Malcolm Jenkins. It is not easy to replace the production that Jenkins brought both in the pass and run support. However, the Eagles have taken the necessary steps in order to ensure his departure is not what hinders the defense. The Eagles re-signed Rodney McLeod to still provide an experienced veteran in Schwartz’s system. On top of McLeod, cornerback Jalen Mills plans to make the switch to safety. Mills played both safety and cornerback during his time in college at LSU. With the Eagles, Mills has struggled at times in coverage with wide receivers who have the ability to run by him. He also has struggled to stay disciplined in coverage, biting on double moves by opposing wideouts. Mills’ tackling has been one of his biggest upsides and has recorded 208 total tackles in four seasons with the team.Allowing Mills to play more towards the line of scrimmage and have him cover tight ends, rather than wide receivers, plays more to Mills’ strengths in terms of coverage and physicality. The Eagles also drafted K’Von Wallace in the fourth-round and can play a similar role to both Mills and Jenkins at safety. Wallace tallied 156 tackles in his four years at Clemson.

The moves the Eagles made in the offseason show the teams intent on trying to improve a defense that has had past success.
With divisional and conference foes built around scoring points, expect Schwartz and his 2020 unit to create problems for opposing offensive coordinators and head coaches.

Featured Image: David Maialetti/The Philadelphia Inquirer


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