We all figured the Eagles would have an improved defensive unit in 2020. They acquired All Pro corner Darius Slay along with veteran nickel corner Nickell Robey-Coleman, and they also bolstered their already stellar defensive line with the addition of Javon Hargrave.
Pro Football Focus, one of the most respected football sites out there, also thinks the Eagles defense will be improved next season. In a recent article titled “NFL’s most improved defenses after the 2020 NFL Draft and free agency,” PFF goes in depth and analyzes why the Eagles defense figures to be a much better unit in 2020.
Here’s an excerpt from the article:
” Of their 637 coverage snaps last season, the Eagles aligned in their Cover 1 scheme 33.9% of the time, which ranked as the ninth-highest percentage league-wide, but without the presence of experienced, man-coverage cornerbacks, things quickly fell apart. In an attempt to solve this problem, the Eagles went out and signed veteran cornerbacks Darius Slay and Nickell Robey-Coleman, players who will bring both stability and production to a group that had 11 different defensive backs play at least 50 snaps in 2019.
Last season, Slay earned the second-lowest PFF coverage grade (56.9) of his career. And while the man-coverage-heavy Lions defense somewhat hindered his production, he still allowed only three touchdowns despite being targeted 84 times. Since 2014, Slay has forced a league-high 85 incompletions and has the fourth-highest wins above replacement (PFF WAR) value among qualifying players at his position. He ranks second only to Stephon Gilmore in forced incompletion percentage (19.1%) and ranks fifth among cornerbacks in passer rating allowed (76.5) over that span.
Under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, the Eagles played a form of zone coverage 58% of the time. This is a perfect fit for Slay, as he’s earned a PFF coverage grade of 91.0 on his zone-defense snaps since 2016 — fourth among 154 qualifying quarterbacks over that span — while his 44.3 passer rating allowed in zone coverage ranks first among corners who saw at least 100 zone-coverage targets.”
There are a few things to unpack here, but above all else, all of these stats prove that Slay is a great fit in Jim Schwartz’s defense. There was quite a bit of skepticism surrounding the acquisition at the time, mostly because Slay is coming off a down year and approaching 30. But it’s pretty clear that the awkward fit in Matt Patricia’s scheme was the reason for Slay’s down year, it really had nothing to do with his declining ability.
The article also touches on the addition of Robey-Coleman, PFF’s 19th-ranked corner in 2019. He posted a coverage grade of 74.1 and he finished last season eighth in yards allowed per reception (9.3).
He feels like the forgotten man from this offseason, but his impact on the field could be profound in 2020.
Lastly, the article looks at the Hargrave signing. It’s easy to see why Hargrave will help this defensive line from a run stopping standpoint. He’s a former nose tackle who’s eaten up blocks since he stepped on an NFL field in 2016.
PFF argues that he’ll be an asset to the Eagles pass rush as well. Hargrave is coming off a career year as a pass rusher, posting a 76.8 pass rushing grade on PFF. And while many fans will tell you they think the pass rush could use another piece to solidify it, this defensive front is already elite at getting after the passer.
Last season, they posted a 79.2 team pass rush grade, good for fifth in the NFL. They ranked fourth in total pressures (321), third in pressure rate (37.8%), fourth in QB hurries (215) and sixth in sacks plus QB hits (106).
The hope is that Hargrave will be able to swallow up blocks and allow the edge rushers to finish more sacks in 2020, since the team finished with 47 total sacks last year, 12th most in the league.
PFF finished off their articles with this:
“The Eagles do not have far to go before reshaping themselves into one of the best defenses in the league. By improving their secondary personnel, it now means they have a good mix of both pass-rush and coverage, which improves their ability to keep the score down and take the ball away in the passing game.”