The Eagles defense was the reason they brought home the victory Sunday against Carolina. They held Sam Darnold and Co. to 267 total yards, 5-for-15 on third downs, and just 3.8 yards per play.
Not to mention they applied a heavy dose of pressure on the quarterback, recording three sacks. Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, Derek Barnett, and Josh Sweat all recorded at least five pressures on the day. It was the best game for this defensive line all season, and it led to a few turnover opportunities where the secondary capitalized. Darius Slay notched two interceptions and Steven Nelson essentially sealed the win with his INT in the final minutes.
While we could nitpick a few plays here and there and a few dumb penalties, it’s hard to complain about what this defense showcased against Carolina. Of course, Carolina was without their best player in Christian McCaffrey, but Jonathan Gannon still did a great job scheming up ways to shut down their other weapons like D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson, who combined for seven receptions for 72 yards.
Now that this defense has proven that they have this kind of performance in them, the question now becomes whether they can do it consistently or not.
For a handful of reasons, I think they can.
Here are three reasons why the Eagles defense may have turned a corner and will continue to play well the rest of the way.
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The secondary is stout
For one, the Eagles secondary is the best it’s been in nearly a decade. They’ve allowed 974 yards through the air this season, fourth-lowest in the league. Each of their starting corners is ranked inside the top-40, according to PFF’s grading system. Slay has the high mark of the group with an overall mark of 81.3, fourth-best among 113 qualifying corners. Nelson is right there behind him a grade of 73, 13th-best out 113. And finally Avonte Maddox has an overall grade of 66.9, 38th in the NFL.
The safety duo of Anthony Harris and Rodney McLeod is coming into their own now too, with McLeod making his second start this past week. McLeod has shored up the backend with his coverage skills, posting an overall coverage grade of 65.4 since returning. Harris, much like his final year in Minnesota, has become a very nice tackler and run stopper from the safety position. His 77.4 run defense grade ranks as the 11th-best among 81 qualifying safeties.
Barring a major injury to this position group, we should expect them to continue playing well. And now that we know Gannon’s scheme is putting them in positions to create turnovers, don’t be surprised if they continue to pile up.
Defensive line is settling in following the loss of Brandon Graham
What makes any defense elite is their ability to create pressure and control the line of scrimmage. The Eagles defensive line had their coming out party this week and there’s no reason they can’t carry that momentum moving forward.
Without Brandon Graham, the ceiling for this group isn’t as high, but it appears they’re finally settling into their new roles without Graham in the fold and they produced at an impressive rate on Sunday.
The key to this defense’s continued success will hinge on the defensive line’s ability to control ball games. Not every opponent will have a weak offensive line like Carolina, but that shouldn’t matter with this unit, truthfully. Hargrave is playing at an elite level, Cox is still getting double-teamed all the time which opens up pass rushing lanes for everyone else. Both Barnett and Sweat had great games on Sunday and look much more comfortable.
Even guys like Milton Williams had solid outings on Sunday. He recorded one quarterback hurry and one run stop against Carolina. If the depth for this line continues to improve, the potential for them to be an elite unit is still there.
Davion Taylor is emerging as a serviceable starting linebacker
At this point in Davion Taylor’s career, it’s hard to say whether he’ll be a legit three-down linebacker in this league. But it’s impossible to deny the strides he’s taken this year. On Sunday, he saw a career-high 24 snaps and he finished the day with four tackles.
His PFF overall grade of 81.4 is the best among Eagles linebacker by a landslide, along with his coverage grade of 81.2. He still needs to iron out some deficiencies, like effectively tracking the ball carrier and sifting through traffic. But his physical ability is evident on tape and he makes it look easy when he’s tracking down a guy from behind.
I don’t see why they don’t just start Taylor at this point, he’s their best option at the position. But it appears Gannon and his defensive coaching staff are going to ease him into the starting role with a few more snaps each week.
I’m excited for his future with the team and what he may be able to bring to the table.
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