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Howie Roseman and the Eagles need to make a philosophical change

NFL: FEB 12 Super Bowl LVII - Eagles vs Chiefs Photo by Adam Bow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Howie Roseman and the Eagles need to make a philosophical change when it comes to defense. It’s been said a zillion times before in the Delaware Valley, a lament echoing from the denizens at Lincoln Financial Field, to school cafeterias, bar rooms, and center city construction sites, to corporate offices, to the studios and radio talk show airwaves.

This time, that team philosophy could smash any hopes this current incarnation of the Eagles has of making and winning the Super Bowl.

Remember T.J. Edwards?

He led the Eagles in tackles last year. The fifth-year linebacker now leads the Chicago Bears in tackles with a 131, which is sixth overall in the NFL through Week 14. You won’t find an Eagle anywhere near the top until you scroll down to No. 46, where Eagles’ safety Reed Blankenship resides. Edwards was an undrafted free agent signed by the Eagles out of Wisconsin and developed into a first-rate NFL linebacker. If Edwards was at the eye of this Eagles’ team, they would not be weighed down with their current problems in the middle of the field on a porous defense, which is currently ranked No. 22 in the NFL in overall defense, giving up 353.9 yards a game and a pass defense that is No. 28, giving up 259.9 yards a game.

Edwards signed with his hometown Bears in the offseason, despite the Eagles reportedly offering him more money to stay. But Edwards is emblematic of the dilemma that currently ails this team. There is no mystery as to what areas of the field the Eagles and general manager Howie Roseman plunge their draft capital into: Quarterback, offensive line, defensive line, cornerbacks and wide receivers.

It may be a leading reason why they are in this existing fix.

The Eagles have traditionally paid little attention to linebacker and the secondary, preferring historically to go the frugal route when it comes to filling that area of the field. The result is what has happened to the 2023 Eagles. Edwards was an undrafted free agent, as was Blankenship, out of Middle Tennessee.

They found two quality defenders in the NFL Draft outcast bin.

Roseman, to his credit, has tried to adjust and adapt on the go. In some years, he caught the bleeding in time and bandaged it up. In others, like this season, in-season additions made to compensate for previous ignorance has not. Newly acquired linebacker Shaq Leonard was on the field for 14 snaps during Sunday night’s 33-13 nightmare to the Dallas Cowboys. Did anyone notice?

The Eagles, due to their defensive philosophy, have had to rely on retreads like Leonard, and Nicholas Morrow and Zach Cunningham at linebacker—starters for the Eagles, probable special teams contributors for the San Francisco 49ers or the Cowboys. When the Eagles have drafted cornerbacks or safeties, recently, they have come up with players like Georgia’s Kelee Ringo, who did not have a good training camp and holds the dubious distinction of being flagged for two different penalties during the second quarter in a pivotal moment of the Dallas loss. Ringo was terribly exposed, in for 22 plays against Dallas. The Eagles were so depleted in the secondary, with Blankenship lost to a concussion, they had no other choice.

Prior to Sunday night, Ringo had played just one defensive snap.

Maybe it is time Roseman and the Eagles think about drafting a linebacker, and some corners and safeties to complement an offense that is carrying this team.

Presently, the weight of one side of the ball is pulling down the other.

The Eagles are a tired team at the most crucial time of the year.

That manifests itself in missed tackles, fumbles, and lack of focus (See: Dallas 33, Philadelphia 13).

Defensively, the Eagles ranked No. 26 in the NFL in team opponent plays per game metric, allowing opposing offenses to run an average of

65.3 snaps a game. Over the three previous games entering Dallas on Sunday night, that figure ballooned to an NFL-high 74.3 plays, which jumped higher to 78.3 plays over the last three games, including the Dallas game. In contrast, Cleveland, the NFL’s No. 1 team in team opponent plays per game metric, is only allowing the opposition 56.7 plays a game through 13 games.

That’s a stark difference and a long time on the field for a team top-heavy on the defensive front, both in capital and talent, and thin everywhere else, which now includes James Bradberry and Darius Slay, two veteran corners leaking oil and who played a combined 139 snaps against the Cowboys.

Third downs continue to be a problem. The Eagles entered the Dallas game ranked last in the NFL in opponent third-down conversion rate (48.07 %) and that skyrocketed to 61.22% over their previous three games prior to Dallas, with Arizona (52.78%) the nearest team to them.

The Eagles are listing right now. They will get a break over this four-week bye they face in Seattle, the woeful New York Giants twice and what may be a more interesting game than expected when they host the 3-10 Arizona Cardinals and former defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon on New Year’s Eve.

The Eagles may regain some vitality in this last month of the regular season, but they cannot undo the mess their current linebacking and secondary corps are in. Maybe it is time the Eagles begin looking at linebackers and safeties with more worth.

It’s too late to change the present.


Joseph Santoliquito is a hall of fame, award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has written feature stories for SI.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com, MLB.com, Deadspin and The Philadelphia Inquirer/Daily News. In 2006, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a special project piece for ESPN.com called “Love at First Beep.” He is most noted for his award-winning ESPN.com feature on high school wrestler A.J. Detwiler in February 2006, which appeared on SportsCenter. In 2015, he was elected president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

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