Insiders

Eagles Defense More Surprising than Carson Wentz

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To the surprise of many, the Philadelphia Eagles are off to a red hot (3-0) start. Sure, their first two wins were against the Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears, but this past Sunday, the Eagles put everyone on notice after demolishing in-state foe Pittsburgh to the tune of 34-3.

Yes, 34-3.

While everyone continues to marvel over rookie quarterback Carson Wentz and deservedly so, the more surprising headline has been the play of the Eagles defense. A season ago, Philly was near the bottom in just about every major statistical category.

Fast forward to now and Philly is near the top in almost every category.

Currently, the Eagles rank in the top five in fewest yards allowed, fewest yards allowed per game, fewest rushing yards allowed, fewest rushing yards allowed per game, fewest points allowed per game and sacks.

As eluded to earlier, Philly’s first two victories came against Cleveland and Chicago respectively, which are two offenses in complete limbo to say the least. Nonetheless, Philly’s defense proved it’s worth after holding Pittsburgh’s high powered offensive attack to only three measly points. 

Virtually every time Big Ben dropped back to pass, he was immediately under heavy pressure. The future hall of famer was sacked a season-high four times. Twice by Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan/Brandon Graham both had one a piece.

“We knew what they wanted to do,” linebacker Jordan Hicks stressed. “They want to move their quarterback up in that pocket and find Antonio down the field. So we just tried to suffocate Big Ben and not let them hit that big play.”

In all three games this year, Philly has held each opponent to 14 points or fewer. To put that into perspective, the Eagles defense accomplished this feat only once last season, while allowing 27 points or more eight times.

Why the major improvement?

Well, it all started from the top, as general manager Howie Roseman fired the much maligned Chip Kelly and replaced him with former Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson. However, even more importantly, Philly brought in the experienced Jim Schwartz as their defensive coordinator.

“When this coaching staff came in, they told us, ‘We’re going to give you the tools you guys need to own this defense. You guys need to take it over,'” cornerback Nolan Carroll said. “That’s a great feeling as players and I think you see the results.”

Pederson enjoys the luxury of having Schwartz by his side. 

“It’s a comforting thing for me knowing that he’s called a lot of games . . . as a defensive coordinator,” Pederson said Monday, a day after the Eagles stunned the Steelers, 34-3. “He’s been in my position as a head football coach. It’s just kind of turn that side over to him and let him roll.”

No matter how great the coaching staff is, you still need talent and Philly added some playmakers.

Three of the Eagles top five tacklers are newcomers (Rodney McLeod, Jalen Mills and Nigel Bradham). Also, the only two Eagle defenders to record an interception are McLeod and Bradham.

We’re only in the first quarter of the season, but if this defense continues to play at a high level along with the play of Wentz, there’s no telling how far this unit can go.


About Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels is an NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has several years of experience covering the NFL and NCAA football. He's the radio color commentator for Lincoln University football. Mark's work has been featured on Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports and Yard Barker.