Philadelphia Eagles shine in a year of great defenses
The Eagles, Jaguars and Vikings have all rode top-5 defenses into Championship Sunday. Is this year an anomaly or a blueprint for the future?
Heading into Championship Weekend, four teams are left, including the Philadelphia Eagles. That’s 12.5% of the 32-team league. On January 5th, the Associated Press selected 24 defensive players for the NFL All-Pro team.
Here’s what’s interesting. Out of those 24 plays, eight are playing on Sunday in the AFC and NFC Championship Game. And since Calais Campbell and Xavier Rhodes were both selected “twice” by the AP, 42% of the All-Pro defensive players are still left in the playoffs. That includes Fletcher Cox, a Pro Bowl selection and AP Second Team All-Pro, and Malcolm Jenkins, another NFL Pro Bowler.
Let’s talk about the other guys.
Cox and Jenkins, as good as they are, aren’t the only standouts on this Eagles defense. Defensive end Brandon Graham has had another great year. Linebackers Mychal Kendricks and Nigel Bradham have had underrated seasons, especially considering the losses of Jordan Hicks and Joe Walker.
Having nearly half of the All-Pro Defensive Team left in Championship Weekend isn’t exactly normal, but considering the year that it’s been, it isn’t a huge surprise. Blake Bortles, Case Keenum and Nick Foles are all playing on Championship Sunday, and that’s been a surprise.
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Two years ago, Joe Flacco became the highest paid player in the NFL. Quarterback is still the most important position on the field, and that won’t change. The question, however, is whether teams will choose to invest in the growing bubble of average to above average quarterbacks or if they’ll try an approach similar to Jacksonville’s and invest in the other side of the ball.
We’ll have to wait and see what that means for Foles.
Was 2017 the year of the defense?
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2017 may not go down as the year of the defense. It might, however, serve as a model for the next few years on how to build a Super Bowl contender. The Eagles have managed to remain contenders after losing their starting quarterback. The NFL is a copycat league, and it’s hard to imagine GM’s not looking at some of what Philadelphia has done in the last two off-seasons and thinking that what they’ve done might be a better way to build a contender.
Sunday will feature some great matchups, Xavier Rhodes vs. Alshon Jeffrey for instance. Still, what’s obviously going to decide this game is the play of both defenses. “We know going into this game that whoever’s defense plays better is gonna win the game,” Fletcher Cox told the media at Thursday’s presser.
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Malcolm Jenkins said, “We’re #1 in rushing [defense] for a reason… I don’t know anybody out there that can block Fletcher Cox.”
Jenkins went on to say that when teams focus on Cox, that just lets Tim Jernigan and the rest of the defensive line get going. Case Keenum will be facing the best defense he’s faced all year. The Eagles get to the quarterback better than any other team and Keenum has been a much different passer under pressure this year. The Eagles defense has been one of the best units in football all year. Sunday’s game will be the the biggest test thus far.