Oh, how the Eagles defense was bad. It was so bad at times that below average teams were literally running and passing all over them. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a 200-yard rusher and five passing touchdowns in the same game, which is just insane to consider. Their defense gave up 30+ points in five of the last seven games after never giving up more than 27 points in the first nine games. They gave up exactly 3,459,998 yards over the season (not really). Whatever, it felt like they did. This defense was a travesty in the second half of the year.
The strange part is that it looked like the defense was having a really solid year. They weren’t exactly tearing the house down, but they were playing really good football and not giving up too many points. Then, disaster struck when rookie linebacker Jordan Hicks was lost for the rest of the season in a Week 9 victory over the Cowboys. The surprisingly dominant Hicks was having an outstanding rookie year, and after he was gone, it seemed like the Eagles couldn’t stop a thing. However, let’s look at this by each position group.
Fletcher Cox was still obviously the best player on the team, wreaking havoc in ways that can’t even be quantified. It was enough to finally earn himself a Pro Bowl bid as he gained more national attention. Cox finished tied for third on the team in tackles with 71, recording 9.5 sacks and three forced fumbles as well. Bennie Logan quietly had a very good year as well, totaling 55 tackles and nine tackles for loss, nearly matching his stats from last year despite missing the last two games of the year. Cedric Thornton was just okay and Vinny Curry kind of fell back to earth after having nine sacks last year. Curry was still underused, but did only have 3.5 sacks on the year. Switching to a 4-3 should immensely help his production, as long as the Eagles decide to retain him.
Despite being listed as the fourth best inside linebacker on the team going into the season, Hicks turned out to be the team’s best overall linebacker all year. He had 50 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, two interceptions and three fumble recoveries in only half a season. Mychal Kendricks had an overall good year after receiving an extension right before it, finishing with 86 tackles and three sacks. Connor Barwin had a down year and really struggled to get to the quarterback like he did last year, but did finish with a solid seven sacks. Brandon Graham posted similar stats to Barwin in his first year in the starting lineup, recording a career-high 6.5 sacks. He also had three forced fumbles. After a sensational rookie year (159 tackles), Kiko Alonso had a pretty bad year, recording only 43 tackles. He did have 17 tackles in the final two games combined and looked a lot better, so hopefully he bounces back in a fresh season in 2016.
The cornerback position was rough once again, but not as bad as it was last year by a long-shot. As expected, Byron Maxwell was not actually a shutdown corner like he was paid to be, but was still pretty solid for most games. Nolan Carroll was doing well until he broke his ankle and missed the last five games. Eric Rowe was torched by Calvin Johnson, but then played very well for the rest of the year as one of the team’s starters. Various other injuries forced E.J. Biggers to play too much, though, and he’s…well, just not very good.
Malcolm Jenkins proved why he’s one of the best players on the team and one of the best safeties in the league. In fact, he finished as a top safety, according to Pro Football Focus. He had a team-high 109 tackles, three forced fumbles and 10 tackles for loss. Walter Thurmond had a really good start to the season and fell back to average for the second half as the team struggled more in pass defense. He still had 71 tackles and a team-high three interceptions. Ed Reynolds and Chris Maragos actually got meaningful snaps on defense due to Jenkins acting as the slot corner in nickel coverage, and Reynolds actually had the game-clinching interception against the Bills.
Overall, though, this team couldn’t stop the run or the pass. It finished 30th in total yards, 28th in passing yards and 32nd in rushing yards, as well as 28th in points against. Much of this was due to poor linebacker play, both on the ground and through the air. Many of the 36 passing touchdowns that the Eagles allowed were linebackers faults, and teams were able to run right up the middle far too often. Fixing that position group should be a big focus this offseason.
Billy Davis is out and Jim Schwartz is in as defensive coordinator, which likely means the switch back to the 4-3. Some people who have had important roles on the Eagles in the 3-4 may find themselves on their way out due to the base formation switch, but it’s too early to tell who that’ll be. Stay tuned for part four of my four-part recap of the Eagles’ season, which focuses on the special teams.
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