The Philadelphia Eagles defense did a great job in their season opener against Matt Ryan and his Atlanta Falcons. They held Atlanta to just 260 total yards, six points, and a third down efficiency of 21.4 percent on 14 attempts.
By most standards, Jonathan Gannon’s group was dominant in Week 1. They’ll face another tough test this week in the team’s home opener against the San Francisco 49ers. And while the Eagles defense as a whole impressed, there are still a few question marks following the 1-0 start.
Here are three defensive players that need to bring their A-game on Sunday.
Second-year safety K’Von Wallace didn’t get the start in Week 1, but after Marcus Epps went down with a concussion just minutes into the game, Wallace was pulled off the bench and played 64 defensive snaps, the most of his NFL career.
He held his own against a formidable Falcons offense, totaling two tackles and only allowing one reception in coverage. He’ll have a similarly tough task this week against San Fran. Tight end George Kittle is one of the best in the business and Wallace will likely get matched up against him on several defensive snaps.
With another solid performance, Wallace could cement his status in Gannon’s defense. He won’t be a starter once Rodney McLeod is fully healthy, but he’ll likely be the first safety off the bench in three-safety packages.
Don’t be shocked if Kyle Shanahan looks to target the young safety early in this one.
Linebacker Eric Wilson wasn’t necessarily expected to fix the Eagles linebacker issues from last year, but he was certainly expected to be a nice one-year starter at the very least. In Week 1, he was outshined by fellow linebacker Alex Singleton and he was arguably the worst defender on the field for the Eagles.
Tackling has always been an issue for Wilson and it reared it’s ugly head once again last week. Wilson missed one tackle and posted a Pro Football Focus run-defense grade of 43.8. His strong suit was supposed to be his coverage ability, but that didn’t look great in Week 1 either. Wilson allowed three receptions on three targets and gave up a 88.9 passer rating when targeted.
Facing Kittle and this vaunted 49ers rushing attack, Wilson needs to step up. Right now, he looks like a complete liability heading into this matchup. He’ll need to have a big bounce back performance in Week 2.
We were told Genard Avery’s SAM linebacker position would be pivotal to this defense’s success in 2021. But after just 22 snaps, Gannon switched gears and Avery didn’t see much action after that.
Avery was a big reason why Atlanta was able to move the ball so effectively on their first two drives. He whiffed on a number of tackles and failed to play disciplined football. Who knows how much playing time Avery will even see in this one. Whenever he does see the field, he can’t afford to continue playing recklessly, especially against this offense.
If Gannon does want to use a SAM backer, I’d go with Patrick Johnson instead; at least he did his job. Nevertheless, it still seems like Avery is the starter there. If he fails to have a positive impact in this one, Gannon’s hand may be forced and he’ll either have to scrap this whole SAM backer concept or go with the rookie in Johnson.
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