Eagles Pass Defense Steadily Climbing NFL's Rankings

Ed Kracz

Eagles fans wanted a cornerback in the worst way at last month’s trade deadline.

There was a general gnashing of teeth when Jalen Ramsey went from Jacksonville to Los Angeles instead of Philly. There was plenty of hand-wringing when the deadline passed and neither Arizona’s Patrick Peterson, Denver’s Chris Harris nor Detroit’s Darius Slay were in Eagles green.

There’s no way to tell what the thinking of general manager Howie Roseman was or is since he hasn’t met with reporters since, well, a very long time ago.

The GM, though, may have known what was coming and didn’t feel the desperate need to address the cornerback spot.

What the Eagles did get was the return of cornerbacks Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby, and Avonte Maddox. This week, Cre’Von LeBlanc was cleared to return to practice for 21 days, during which time the Eagles can either add him to their 53-man roster or shut him down for the rest of the season.

With a healthy secondary once again, the Eagles have begun to ascend in the NFL pass defense rankings.

Mills, Darby, and Maddox all missed extended time, with Mills missing nearly a full year with a foot injury before returning five games ago. Darby (hamstring) and Maddox (concussion/neck) were out a month each. All three were out at the same time, too.

The Eagles were ranked dead last in that category heading into their Oct. 6 game against the New York Jets. Nearly two months later, they will head to Miami to play the Dolphins on Sunday ranked 12.

“I wasn’t aware of that, but now that I know we’ll try to get number one,” said Maddox.

The Eagles are allowing just 231 passing yards per game, no easy feat considering they played Tom Brady and Russell Wilson the past two weeks.

“I think the biggest thing is the health part,” said Mills. “We’re getting our key guys back whether it’s me or Darb (Darby), Avonte, now we get Strap (LeBlanc) back. We’re getting guys who played together who know the system in and out and guys are going to go out and play with confidence.”

Mills and Darby have played together since 2017. They have played together with safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod for that same amount of time.

That familiarity certainly provides a comfort level and has allowed defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to play more press coverage and blitz in unpredictable ways because he feels secure in knowing that Mills and Darby and Maddox can hold up more often than not in one-on-one coverage.

The second part of this success story is the defensive line.

“You don’t want a quarterback to sit right in the middle of pocket and throw the ball; flushing the quarterback left and right, and, as a secondary guy, we work hand in hand with the D-line. Great coverage equals sacks and great pressure equals turnovers.”

Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox needed a few weeks to round back into form, and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan has returned after missing ix game.

Cox, though, is the lynchpin. He is back fully healthy and, since Week Seven, has three sacks and two forced fumbles. His three sacks are tied for sixth among defensive tackles in that span.

“When I watch film, I’m not just looking at me,” said Maddox, “I’m looking at the D-line and I see Fletch throwing people out of the way with one arm. I mean how do you stop that?”

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