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Grading the Eagles’ defense through the first quarter of the 2018 NFL season

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NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Through the first quarter of the 2018 NFL season, the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles’ defense has had its share of dizzying highs and terrifying lows. Going through each position group, let’s grade how they performed and how they looking moving forward as we transition to the second quarter of the season.

DEFENSIVE LINE: A

This is easy. 3rd in Football Outsiders’ DVOA against the run, 2nd in average yards per carry (3.36), and a top unit at generating pressures on enemy quarterbacks, this unit has been playing lights out. Offenses know they have to pass to beat this defense and they have to do it quickly. There hasn’t been a game yet where the opposing quarterback held onto the ball for an average longer than 2.40 seconds. For context; that’s really fast.

What makes them so special is the hoops offenses have to jump through just to give their quarterback time to throw.

They’ve been let down by the play behind them, particularly by the secondary, but it’s hard to finding anything legitimate to gripe about from the front four. Fletcher Cox leads the charge for this unit and is having a dynamite year; he’s already collected 3 sacks while amassing 21 pressures (3rd for interior linemen). He’s doing all this despite the force of his gravitational pull.

Poll

Grade the Eagles DL through four games

This poll is closed

  • 62%
    A
    (397 votes)
  • 29%
    B
    (190 votes)
  • 5%
    C
    (36 votes)
  • 1%
    D
    (7 votes)
  • 1%
    F
    (7 votes)
637 votes total Vote Now

LINEBACKERS: C+

Putting their contributions against the run aside because the front four has made life easy for the second level players, this unit has been a mixed bag defending the pass. The Eagles rank 3rd in DVOA regarding tight end efficiency allowed and 14th against running backs, which are good numbers, but when targeted they are allowing too many yards.

The main linebacker being used in coverage is Jordan Hicks, who stays in for their oft-used “big dime” sets. Pro Football Focus has him being targeted 19 times for 15 receptions, 217 yards, 1 touchdown and a 131.8 QB Rating. Granted, 75 yards of that came on OJ Howard’s 75-yard touchdown reception that was less about Hicks (who still missed a diving break-up) and more about Ronald Darby losing his bearings as a tackler.

Nigel Bradham started the season considerably rusty before getting in a groove, Nate Gerry was picked on by the Atlanta Falcons, and Kamu Grugier-Hill has been solid but isn’t receiving many snaps. This isn’t to say they’re playing poorly as a whole, but to say their performance has been better than average is a stretch right now.

Poll

Grade the Eagles LB position through four games

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    A
    (5 votes)
  • 34%
    B
    (187 votes)
  • 53%
    C
    (292 votes)
  • 9%
    D
    (50 votes)
  • 1%
    F
    (9 votes)
543 votes total Vote Now

DEFENSIVE BACKS: D+

Remember the Falcons game? Remember that dominant red zone performance? Or the stand against the Indianapolis Colts where Sidney Jones saved two touchdowns on two back-to-back plays? Those standout performances seem like distant memories now.

I could cape for the Eagles secondary by citing their 12th best rank in passing defense DVOA, but that ignores the contributions from the defensive line. I could argue Malcolm Jenkins, Sidney Jones, and Rodney McLeod have played some fantastic ball, and they have.

None of that matters when it seems this defense is verging on another critical failure at any given time. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had their way with the secondary, beating them deep early and then paper cutting them to death with intermediate passing concepts. The Tennessee Titans had their best air performance of the year and routinely got receivers open in the deep middle.

Some the blame falls squarely on Jim Schwartz, that’s fair. For every one of his dramatic stands this year, there’s just as many failures. Some of the blame belongs to Jalen Mills even though I believe he gets incorrectly blamed for a few plays from this year. He’s played poorly in all but one game and the conversation around the volatile corner is only going to intensify if Schwartz asks him to become a deep half field safety like they did against the Titans. Schwartz asked that of Darby too and, having never done it in his career before, he also predictably failed to execute.

Corey Graham replacing the injured McLeod is a massive drop off, evidenced by Graham’s two massive breakdowns in coverage in key situations. As long as Schwartz continues to trot him out as a starter, this unit is in more trouble than the defense as a whole can withstand.

This grade is less about individual performances which include both bad and good, but more about their current state as a unit after four weeks.

Poll

Grade the Eagles secondary through four games

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    A
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    B
    (3 votes)
  • 12%
    C
    (72 votes)
  • 37%
    D
    (221 votes)
  • 50%
    F
    (298 votes)
596 votes total Vote Now

OVERALL: C-

Even with some minor health issues, the Eagles offense is on an upward trend and getting back key starters; the defense on the opposite side of a slide. The wild overuse over cover 3 robber without a player that can handle those reads at deep safety is a major concern, and unless rookie Avonte Maddox has been an undercover safety all along, I’m not sure a fix is going to happen quick enough to stave off some serious breakdowns.

For a unit that is capable of dominant line play and incredible red zone masterpieces, it’s still hard to be confident about a defense that seems to have lost it’s identity from a coverage standpoint.

Poll

Grade the Eagles defense through four games

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    A
    (1 vote)
  • 15%
    B
    (89 votes)
  • 56%
    C
    (327 votes)
  • 24%
    D
    (141 votes)
  • 2%
    F
    (17 votes)
575 votes total Vote Now