Tue, 07 Apr 2020

Need for speed: Eagles add it in a big way on defense

Philadelphia Eagles
23 Mar 2020, 18:12 GMT+10

One of the common traits of the Eagles' acquisitions during this free agency period - agreements to sign defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, linebacker Jatavis Brown, and safety Will Parks and the agreement to acquire cornerback Darius Slay via trade - is that each of the players adds to the overall speed of the Eagles' defense. Clearly, being faster on defense is a priority for Jim Schwartz's group.

Of course, the Eagles didn't go into free agency looking solely for speed. They wanted players who fit certain characteristics - productivity, love of the game, physicality, among them. Clearly, the Eagles projected the players' skill sets into the schemes they run. All of that is critical.

So is the impact of adding more speed to the defense. The Eagles want to be nasty and aggressive and they want to play on the other side of the line of scrimmage in 2020, and acquiring a player like Hargrave, who did just that as a nose tackle with the Pittsburgh Steelers, is so vitally important. The Eagles see the combination of Fletcher Cox/Hargrave/Malik Jackson/Hassan Ridgeway/Anthony Rush as that kind of defensive tackle depth chart - subject to change through the course of Training Camp and the preseason - that creates tremendous havoc for offensive blocking schemes. The defense begins there.

After that, the Eagles think that added speed from players who, in theory, will have more opportunities to run to the football free from the blockers who are occupied with handling the beasts along the defensive line, will allow for a flowing-to-the-ball frenzy from the defense.

Speed matters.

Brown is one of those players after four seasons with the Chargers during which he went from a key part of that scheme to someone who had injuries, lost playing time, and eventually comes to Philadelphia in search of a fresh start. Parks is hybrid safety who potentially can fill some of what Malcolm Jenkins did in the subpackages - nickel and dime - playing closer to the line of scrimmage in a quasi-linebacker position.

As offenses in the NFL spread the field and look for favorable one-on-one matchups they can win because of, yes, more speed, the Eagles are countering with the addition of players who can play faster in space. There is every reason to believe, as the defense has upgraded with Hargrave up front, that the defense will be as good, and likely better, playing the run. Cox may be the happiest man in the NFL, knowing he has additional help next to him. Last year, you remember, Cox had a revolving door next to him and he played with a triceps injury and his production - numbers wise - sagged. His sack total from 2018 to 2019 dropped from 10.5 to 3.5. His combined quarterback hits/hurries fell from 74 to 34. We all wondered what was going on with Cox. Turned out that it was more what was around him than Cox himself.

In this personnel scenario, Cox should benefit greatly. He is a five-time Pro Bowl player - in consecutive years, mind you - and a four-time All-Pro tackle. He is generally regarded as one of the best and dominating players at his position in the league. Having Hargrave and a healthy Jackson and Ridgeway in the mix at tackle makes a difference. Improved speed on the back end gives the defense a chance to clean up in a much more efficient manner as a whole.

For much of free agency, the Eagles have addressed the defensive side of the football. They retained quarterback Nate Sudfeld, a solid move, and they have lost some depth along the offensive line with Halapoulivaati Vaitai agreeing to terms with Detroit in free agency and Jason Peters still determining his best fit as his next step and running back Jordan Howard landing in Miami. The offense, be assured, will get its help - and speed is no doubt a top-line characteristic there, too - as free agency toggles along and the NFL Draft starts on April 23.

It's been a strong first week of the true offseason and a nice diversion from the extreme struggles happening in the real world. The Eagles are building a roster to compete for a championship in 2020 and beyond. There is more to come, and when it does, you can trust that the element of speed will be an included component.

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