The defense of the Philadelphia Eagles is expected to be the strong point for what many see as an underwhelming roster in an underwhelming division, but that simply shouldn’t be the case. The Eagles can easily have a surprisingly successful 2016 campaign thanks the aforementioned weak division, and a strong defense.
The defensive line tends to be the heart of a defense just like the offensive line is the same on the other side of the ball, as they are the ones battling it out in the trenches providing the necessary push in an effort to either move the ball forward or backward. In the case of the Eagles, they feature one of the youngest defensive lines in the NFL.
With newly hired defensive coordinatorJim Schwartz switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme, young upstarts like Bennie Logan and Vinny Curry will be able to move to positions that are more of a natural fit. Logan spent the Chip Kellyera playing the nose tackle position, whereas Curry would, both, stand up as an edge rusher and play as a down lineman in a 3-4 scheme. With the switch, Logan will be able to play more of a traditional defensive tackle position, and Curry can move to his natural position as a 4-3 defensive end.
Expect a lot more sacks from Curry in what should be an increased role, which should see an increase in his hilarious sack dances. (Since the “shmoney” dance isn’t really “in” right now, I’m not really sure where he goes from here. As a child of the suburbs, I’m not really hip to that). But while the scheme switch will allow guys like Curry and Logan to receive more national recognition for their skill, something the people of Philadelphia have known about for a long time, there’s one player who is about to become a household name.
Fletcher Cox, who could be mentioned as the best defensive tackle in the game not named JJ Watt, led the Eagles with 9.5 sacks playing a 3-4 defensive end position and earned a trip to his first Pro Bowl. He was also voted by his peers as the 49th best player in the NFL on NFL Network’s Top 100 Players of 2016. Many of the Philadelphia faithful were quick to compare him to the late Jerome Brown, a player and man taken from us far too soon. There hasn’t been another like him in Philadelphia since. While Cox’s quickness at the snap and his strength are Brown-like, one can draw comparisons to another Philadelphia legend.
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The way Cox is able to simply hold up his would-be blockers up with his arms extended, look for the ball, and throw or club them aside looks similar to the style of one, Reggie White. That may seem like a stretch considering White is arguably the greatest pass rusher to play on the defensive line, (with apologies to Deacon Jones and Bruce Smith) but keep in mind again that Cox wasn’t playing his natural position. This year he will be. Oh yeah, and he’s very good against the run too.
Rounding out the defensive line are a couple of veterans who are still relatively young but veterans nonetheless, Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham. Believe it or not Graham is considered a veteran, being in the league one less year than Barwin. In the 3-4 scheme, both were forced to rush standing up, which they did well, but when it came to pass coverage, the results varied. With them being able to focus purely on pass rushing, which is what both do best, the Philly faithful should see a rise in production. Expect them to rotate with Curry for those two defensive end spots.
With other young players like the underrated Beau Allen,another defensive tackle, and former first round pick Marcus Smith who is expected to switch back to his natural position of defensive end as well, the Eagles have a lot of depth to work with despite Cedric Thornton now being a member of the rival Dallas Cowboys.