A lot has been made about the Eagles offense this offseason. From top to bottom, they appear to be a complete unit; with the obvious question of Jalen Hurts’ long-term viability still looming over it. The defensive side of the ball looks to be just as stout, but they don’t have the big Hurts question mark that could potentially hold them back.
Although Jonathan Gannon received a lot of slack throughout the 2021 campaign, it was clear to anyone paying attention that his unit overachieved. The linebacking corps was a makeshift group, the defensive line didn’t have as big of an impact as expected, and the safety position was average at best.
Still, Gannon’s unit managed to finish the season as the 10th best defense in the NFL in terms of total yardage allowed, while allowing 5.2 yards per play, tied for fourth-least in the league. Against the pass, Philly finished 11th; against the run, they finished inside the top-10 at ninth.
Given the lack of truly elite talent on the defensive side of the ball, finishing that high in the rankings is a pretty remarkable feat. And most of the success can be traced back to Gannon’s scheme and ability to put his players in favorable situations that fit their skill sets.
Fast forward to now and the Eagles defense has been rejuvenated with youthful talent at nearly every position. Here are all the additions Howie Roseman made to his defense this offseason:
- LB Haason Reddick
- LB Kyzir White
- CB James Bradberry
- S Jaquiski Tartt
- DT Jordan Davis
- LB Nakobe Dean
First and foremost, the front-seven has been completely reworked. Haason Reddick should help elevate the Eagles pass rush to elite status again and Jordan Davis has the potential to be a game wrecker from the interior of the line. Kyzir White adds a veteran presence to the linebackers room and while Nakobe Dean may not start from day one, he’s primed to be the leader of the defense for years to come.
On the backend, the Eagles are buttoned up there as well.
Both Darius Slay and Avonte Maddox had career years last season and now they’re joined by James Bradberry, a former Pro Bowl cornerback who figures to have a bounce back season in 2022. Gannon’s defense is very corner friendly as we saw last year. Bradberry should have no problem transitioning to Gannon’s system.
If you were to pinpoint one weakness within the Eagles defense, it would probably be safety. Even with the addition of Jaquiski Tartt, the safety group is still just average. But at the end of the day it could be much worse. Tartt and Anthony Harris are veteran guys who can hold their own. The depth behind them with Marcus Epps and K’Von Wallace is promising and their maturation process will be interesting to watch throughout the season.
So that brings us to the central question, can Gannon’s defense be a top-5 unit in 2022?
There’s no reason to think they can’t be.
All of the offseason additions aside, the team still has a good amount of youthful potential scattered throughout the defensive position groups. Josh Sweat is a budding star, T.J. Edwards was very good in the latter half of last season, and Milton Williams has the potential to be a very stout pass rusher from the interior. Truthfully, there’s not much to dislike with this group at all.
In order to reach that top-5 threshold, there are a few things Gannon’s defense will need to improve upon. We already mentioned the sacks; the team finished second-to-last in that regard last season. Forcing more takeaways also has to be a top priority this season. In 2021, Philly only forced 16, which ranked 26th in the NFL.
The Eagles have the pieces to drastically improve both of these areas. Based on what we saw Gannon do with the lack luster defensive talent at his disposal last season, he should be able to take this defense to the next level this time around.
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