BALDY: THE PLAY OF BRANDON GRAHAM SHOULD GIVE EAGLES FANS HOPE
The Philadelphia Eagles are in the midst of a three game losing streak captivated by their worse defeat of the season at Cincinnati by the score of 32-14. It wasn’t as close as the score indicated. At one point they looked up at the scoreboard in Paul Brown Stadium in the 3rd quarter and the score read 29-0. Ouch!
Many question marks surround every team in the league when they are in a five-game losing streak. But for the Eagles it seems longer than 3 games.
After a fast and impressive 3-0 start that included a drubbing of their Keystone State partners., the Pittsburgh Steelers their was an unfounded optimism that they could be and would be highly competitive in Doug Pedersen’s inaugural season. The Holiday Lights on that party have been severely dimmed.
The most mystifying aspect to the 2-7 record since their 3-0 start has been the steady decline of a defense that looked like it would be the backbone of this team while the offense often sputtered and struggled to score points. This decline is not lost on defensive coordinator, Jim Schwartz.
Jim is an experienced and salty coordinator in this league and their isn’t much he hasn’t seen or had to try and stop.
At his most recent stop he took over at the DC position for the Buffalo Bills under head coach, Doug Marrone. During that 2014 season the Bills would lead the league in sacks with 49 and the pressure caused by their notable front 4 also lead to 30 takeaways.
That was a large contribution to the first winning season the Bills had had in over a decade going a respectable 9-7 with a backup quarterback named Kyle Orton.
That was then and this is now. Problems do exist that has contributed to the Eagles struggling during this 2-7 stretch. While its sometimes easy to second guess Schwartzy’s strategy for time to time he is extremely open and honest about his assessment.
Regardless of scheme, style, his calls, and who’s healthy his job and defenses ultimate job is to ” do something to help our team win games.” Most times that is to keep the score down to allow an offense with a rookie QB surrounded by a lac of talent around him to scratch out whatever points they can create.
Jim Schwartz graduated with academic honors from the prestigious Georgetown University with a degree in economics. At the core of economics is loads of data, and numbers and ultimately how to get those numbers in your favor. It is as applicable to coaching defense as it is to pulling a country out of a recession.
In the Eagles five wins they are surrendering 10 points/game while in the 7 losses they are giving up a staggering 28 points/game. All of the indicators from sacks to interceptions to tackle for losses to penalties forced by the defense are also as one-sided as the points/game are in their wins versus their losses.
Why is this? After all they shut down Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan while allowing Wilson, Rogers, and Dalton to move the ball with little ease. Where they struggle the most in these 3 straight losses is in their 3rd down defense. The conundrum for Coach Schwartz is can I help create negative plays to put the opposition in a place that the QB is going to have to hold the ball long enough to allow the routes to develop down the field to convert versus allowing his front 4 to affect the QB.
Pass rush always goes hand in hand with coverage. At his disposal is his economics degree that says if I blitz 6 defenders I only have 5 defenders left to cover so I better hope that 1 of the 6 rushers can speed the QB up. He has been hesitant to do much of this because he hasn’t been given much faith in his coverage been.
So what can the Eagles do to help them get out of this tailspin? It doesn’t help that Malcolm Jenkins is forced to abandon his safety position to become the nickel defender when teams march out their 3 and 4 wide receiver sets. When he plays the invaluable slot corner position the Jaylen Watkins goes to safety.
The secondary isn’t as strong taking Malcolm out of his safety position The injury to Terrence Brooks has hurt their defense because he could play in the slot and Malcolm could stay in hi stronger position.
But ultimately this defense is built around the front 4 defensive lineman. Their number one priority is to create havoc. And in order to do this their inclusive responsibility is to rush the passer every play. The closer they can get to the QB the more good things can happen for the defense.
Only one of the defensive lineman has played consistently well and that man goes by the nickname of BG. Brandon Graham was part of a draft that had a lot of great players. In 2010 their were 2 great safeties in the draft; Eric Berry and Earl Thomas. The Eagles were badly in need of a safety after the premature departure of Brian Dawkins.
In 2010 the Eagles traded with the 49ers to trade up from the No. 24 position in the first round to the No. 13 selection in the first round, presumably to draft Earl Thomas who was available.
Instead the Eagles selected the first defensive lineman that year, Brandon Graham.
It looked like an awful trade for the first six years as Earl Thomas, selected right after Graham by Seattle would go onto anchor a defense that has surrendered the fewest points allowed in the NFL in each of the past four seasons.
But BG has really flourished under his new DC’s scheme and is playing his best football ever. He has played 573 snaps, the most of any defensive lineman and has been the most impactful by far.
His effort is unquestioned as he has made plays all over the field. His counterpart next to him, Fletcher Cox, has not had a good 2 months.
I think he lacks pass rush moves and needs to use his hands much more effective. When Fletcher is dominant it sets the tone for the entire defense, In every sport your star players have to earn their money. When they don’t the results are usually a team that never achieves their potential.
As the Eagles approach the final month of the 2016 season it is up to Fletcher Cox and his defensive line cohorts to lift this team out of a negative spiral. With 3 division home games they have showed against good teams that they are capable of elevating their play to create much more destruction than they have over the recent 3 game skid
I know BG is up to the task. He gives me hope. Its up to the others to raise their level of play. If they do, we won’t be talking about blitzing or scheme or why they lost another game. It will be about gaining back the league wide respectability that they shared the first month of the season. And with that they can build to 2017 with a feeling that the foundation is strong and the future is bright.
It’s a simple game in Jim Schwartz’ eyes and it probably echoes with these words, “yo fellas…lets go out and hit the quarterback today and have some real fun.”
Kirk Cousin and the Redskins are the next opponent at press time and you only have so many Sundays to have that kind of fun.