Eagles: How Timmy Jernigan’s Return Impacts the Defense

Yesterday it was reported that Timmy Jernigan has been cleared to practice for the first time this season. Jernigan underwent back surgery over the offseason, forcing him to miss the first half of the year. With the team fresh off their bye week, it seems like we may finally see him back on the field this Sunday night.

It doesn’t take an expert to realize that Jernigan’s return to the lineup is huge for the Eagles defense. Aside from Fletcher Cox, the Eagles have been lacking another presence in the interior of their defensive line. Jernigan brings the attitude and presence that the Eagles injury-riddled defensive line sorely needs.

Coming into this season, the Eagles defensive line was considered by many as the best in the NFL. They haven’t lived up to that at all, and I believe the absence of Jernigan has played a huge role in that.

His stats won’t jump off the page at you, but the attention he demands opens things up for everyone else along that defensive line. In particular, Fletcher Cox.

Cox is having a stellar season so far. He has 25 total tackles, along with four sacks and 17 total hits on the QB. Those numbers are almost identical to his stats from all of last season (26 total tackles, 5.5 sacks and 17 hits on the QB), and we’re only half way through this season.

Cox in on pace to have his best season as a pro, and he hasn’t had any help next to him at D-tackle. Jernigan’s insertion back into the starting rotation will significantly cut down the number of double teams that Cox faces every week.

His return should pay dividends for the edge pass rushers as well. The attention he’ll demand will allow Brandon Graham, Chris Long, Michael Bennett and Josh Sweat to have more 1-on-1 opportunities with offensive tackles. The Eagles are currently tied for 7th in sacks and I wouldn’t be surprised if Jernigans’ return catapults them into the top 5.

If the Eagles can increase their ability to get to the quarterback, that will in turn increase the number of takeaways they can generate as well. Their defense has struggled mightily to create turnovers this season. Most of that can be attributed to an injury filled secondary, but nothing helps a secondary more than a ferocious pass rush.

Everyone loves to bash Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby for consistently getting beat on double moves. Well, if the pass rush is strong enough, those double moves won’t have time to develop. We didn’t see either corner get beat on double moves last season nearly as much as they are this season, and that’s all because of the pressure the defensive line was able to generate.

Jernigan was one of the most overlooked aspects of last year’s championship run. It’s easy to see how impactful he was last season based on the first eight games of this season. I believe his return will have a trickle-down effect and bring that Philly attitude back to Jim Schwartz’s defense.

Going in to this week’s game against Dallas, his return couldn’t have come at a better time.

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