Philadelphia Eagles News

Defensive Line Leads Way On, Off Field

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The blueprint was put together in the matter of a handful of weeks in the spring, when the Eagles signed defensive end Chris Long in free agency, traded for defensive tackle Tim Jernigan and then used the first-round draft pick on defensive end Derek Barnett. With so much depth and front-line talent, the Eagles would wear down opposing offenses.

They would impose their will.

"It's gone pretty much the way we wanted so far," defensive line coach Chris Wilson said. "All of our guys are hungry out there. They're playing fast and physical football. They're doing everything we've asked of them."

True, on all counts. But what the Eagles have also gotten from the defensive is a dose of veteran intelligence, led by Long, aided by the development of Cox, the maturity of Jernigan, the improvement of Vinny Curry and the natural relentlessness and energy of Brandon Graham.

The defensive line, which has spearheaded the dominance against the run through nine games – the Eagles are allowing an NFL-fewest 66.4 yards on the ground per game – has also brought leadership to a tastefully mixed locker room that has a strong veteran presence and a budding young core that is doing a great job of follow the leader(s).

And head coach Doug Pederson has made it clear that he wants an open-dialogue locker room, and he wants a pipeline from the locker room to the coaches' offices to make sure everyone is on the same page. Pederson has been known to reach out to veterans to get their input on the state of the team.

"He came to me a couple of weeks into the season and asked me a question about how something was going or what I thought about something," Long said. "As a new guy, I've been in the league 10 years, but certainly it's his ship to direct. Just to reach out and ask me those questions, and I know I'm not the only one he's asking, I think it's really cool. It speaks to the fact that he doesn't have an ego, which I think is really cool."

It's also really cool that the in-game talk between the three levels of the defense has been so on point. The run defense that limited Denver to 35 yards on Sunday continues to shut down offenses. The biggest test, of course, comes in two Sundays when the Eagles play at Dallas.

"Everybody is doing their job. When you know it's a run, we're calling it out. So if we see it, we just trust it and go with it," Graham said. "Sometimes it's play-action, but at least we have the mindset of 'this is a power play or this is a trap-play.' Usually that's what people run in certain situations. In the red-zone we know we're going to get a one-to-trap. I think (Eagles LB) Mychal (Kendricks) made a great play stopping them on the one trap on the goal line. That's because people were yelling 'trap, trap, trap.'

"Even though they scored, that's why we are so good against the run because everybody is reading their keys and trusting their game preparation. It's paying off because we know what is coming."

Here's what is coming next: Dallas and a superb offensive line and running back Zeke Elliott. This will be the biggest challenge of the season for the defensive, for the line and for the Eagles.

Stopping the run is the No. 1 priority.

"That's just the nature of the defense," Cox said. "We're going to step up and lead the defense, Taking away the run is always our first priority."

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