The depth along the Eagles defensive line was already diminished heading into 2019 compared to prior years, and now with Malik Jackson reportedly out for the season, Jim Schwartz’s unit is in desperate need of another big guy up front.
It’s easy to overlook this injury, especially since Timmy Jernigan played well in week 1, but Jackson’s placement on IR will have a larger impact on the defense than some may expect.
This offseason, the Birds lost both Chris Long and Michael Bennett, two key contributors to the defense. Howie Roseman failed to replace either of these guys, and now his only free agent signing along the d-line is out for the year.
It’s no secret that Schwartz loves to utilize multiple pass rushers, and now he’ll only have one notable sub he can use in pass rushing situations, Vinny Curry, and it’s not like Curry is a vaunted pass rusher in this league, recording just 5.5 sacks over the past two seasons.
Jackson and Fletcher Cox were the interior lineman during most of the passing situations against the Redskins, now it seems like Brandon Graham will be used at d-tackle more often with Curry and Barnett on the outside. Jernigan can also be utilized in pass situations, but his pass rushing ability has never been consistent enough to justify using him on the majority of passing downs.
Not only will the loss of Jackson have an impact on the pass rush, it’ll also effect our young secondary. An inexperienced secondary’s best friend is a solid pass rush, and while the defensive line did get good pressure against the Redskins, they only managed to tally one sack. That was with Jackson in the lineup for most of the day as well.
One of two things need to happen at this point: Either Howie makes a deal to bring in a solid interior lineman or pass rusher to help mitigate this loss, or one of our young edge rushers needs to step up. Considering how little Howie focused on bolstering the pass rush during the offseason, I doubt he’ll make a move any time soon, and he’s praised the potential of our young pass rushers every chance he gets.
So, can Josh Sweat, Daeshon Hall or Shareef Miller step up to provide Schwartz with more pass rushing options? The jury’s still out on that one. Sweat was the only one of that trio who got any playing time during week 1, playing 21% of the defensive snaps.
More importantly, can any of our interior lineman step up to fill the void left by Jackson? Aside from Jackson, Cox and Jernigan, Hassan Ridgeway was the only other d-tackle who got playing time on Sunday, playing 36% of the snaps.
Howie was able to sign Akeem Spence this week following the injury news, but again, he’s never been much of a pass rusher during his career, recording 10.5 sacks in six NFL seasons.
Whether we want to admit it or not, this lack of d-line depth falls squarely on the shoulders of Howie. He neglected to replace the pass rushers we lost during the offseason, and now one of his only notable defensive signings is lost for the year.
I hope his unwillingness to sign a pass rusher doesn’t come back to bite us in the end. But on paper, the chances of the defensive line stepping up to the challenge doesn’t look great for the Birds.