The defensive line is the lifeblood of Jim Schwartz’s defensive approach. His defense is at its best when it can get consistent pressure with just four down lineman, and for the most part they’ve been able to do that over the past few seasons.
Last year, while the team did well getting consistent pressure on the QB, the sack numbers didn’t match up. They finished fourth in total pressures with 321 but they were tied for twelfth in sacks with 43. In 2018, the Eagles finished with 44 sacks, tenth most in the league, and they blitzed a league low 16 percent of the time.
In 2019, Schwartz blitzed on a little over a quarter of his defensive plays (26.8 %) and didn’t finish with as many sacks as the year prior when his blitz percentage was drastically lower.
That’s definitely a little concerning, but since 2017, the Eagles are the only team in the league who’s posted a pressure rate over 40%, and they’ve only blitzed on 22% of their defensive snaps during that time. So it’s safe to say last year was a bit of an outlier, and it’s also safe to assume that some of last year’s issues will be solved with Javon Hargrave now in the mix.
Hargrave is no Fletcher Cox, but he’s progressively gotten better with his pass rushing skills over the years, having his best pass rushing year to date last season. Hargrave finished with a career best Pro Football Focus pass rushing grade (76.8) last season. He also posted career marks in his pass rush win rate (17.1 %) and pressure rate (14.2%). His 14.2% pressure rate ranked third among all interior defensive lineman last season, behind only Aaron Donald and Chris Jones.
Being a former nose tackle, Hargrave is used to eating up blockers on the inside. His 300 pound presence next to either Cox or Malik Jackson should open up some of the interior gaps for either of these guys to take advantage of.
The interior of the Eagles defensive line is elite, there’s no questioning that, but the team’s edge rushing situation is a much bigger question mark.
since 2015, Brandon Graham ranks sixth in the NFL in total QB pressures, racking up 337 during that time span. He’s an invaluable asset to have along the defensive line, with his the combination of run stuffing ability and his ability to wreak havoc in the backfield. But he’s not getting any younger, and we still haven’t seen Derek Barnett flourish into the Pro Bowl talent we all hoped he’d be by now.
Josh Sweat had a nice season as the third edge rusher, accumulating four sacks while playing just 28% of the team’s defensive snaps. Howie traded a fourth round pick for Genard Avery last season, so you’d figure he’ll have a shot to produce next season. But he’s a converted outside linebacker and a bit undersized for the position, standing at six foot flat.
Shareef Miller may be given a chance in his second year with the team, but he’ll have to impress the coaches during camp and with how strange this entire offseason has been, who knows if he’ll even get that opportunity.
There are certainly a few question marks surrounding this group. The overall success will come down to whether Barnett can maturate into the stud pass rusher he was drafted to be.
At just 23 years old, the door is wide open for Barnett. The missing piece for this defensive line is what Barnett could potentially be — a Pro Bowl level pass rusher at the defensive end position. With the team’s recent move to pick up his fifth-year option, they clearly believe that potential is there too.
The Eagles defense has the potential to be a top-10 unit in football this season, in large part due to their front. It’s not a question of ‘will this defensive line be dominant,’ it’s more so ‘how dominant will this defensive line be?’