The Eagles' offense was fun to watch for a number of reasons last Sunday against New York, but there were a bunch of takeaways from the defensive performance as well. This is especially the case when you consider the personnel. As you probably know, the Eagles have been decimated with injuries in the secondary, so the starting defensive backfield featured Chandon Sullivan at left corner (he later left the game due to injury), De'Vante Bausby at right corner, Cre'Von Leblanc in the slot, and Corey Graham at free safety. Don't forget that with Jordan Hicks out, Kamu Grugier-Hill was elevated to a full-time role while second-year linebacker Nathan Gerry played in the team's base defense. This was a shorthanded unit going up against an offense that was starting to get hot, had won two straight games, and featured two of the most talented players at their respective positions in the NFL in Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham, Jr. How did the defense do it? It started with defending the run.
Yes, I know that Saquon Barkley took a 51-yard run to the house (on a play where the defense was very late getting lined up) and he busted another long run early in the game as well (off a Sullivan missed tackle). However, those were the only two runs that the Eagles' defense allowed of more than 4 yards on the entire day. Tim Jernigan's presence certainly helped, but I thought the defensive line as a whole did a very good job in the trenches of not only winning one-on-one battles, but also holding up double teams to keep the linebackers clean. Nigel Bradham, Grugier-Hill, and Gerry responded by flying downhill and filling up gaps when they could, helping to corral Barkley at or close to the line of scrimmage. The defensive line needed to step up in that area for this game, and I thought it did exactly that.
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Jernigan's impact may not have been felt on the stat sheet, but it's really hard to quantify what he brings to this team when he's on the field. A tone-setter who brings a level of toughness and swagger to the entire unit, Jernigan was in Barkley's face after the first two plays of the game. When Jernigan, all 295 pounds of him, shows up in your face flashing those gold teeth letting you know that he's going to be there all game long, it can be a bit intimidating. Players in the locker room last week unanimously talked about how important his presence was on the field, and that mentality showed up on film from the very first play.
I thought that the defensive line also won those one-on-one matchups in the passing game. Getting after Eli Manning was imperative in this game, and that's where Cox and Bennett really stood out. I want to give a lot of credit as well to Corey Graham on this Bennett sack, as his awareness on the play allowed Bennett to win one-on-one. How? The Giants called a "slide protection" on that play, sending the entire offensive line in one direction. That leaves the defensive end, Bennett, double-teamed by a tight end and a running back. When Graham, who is manned up on the tight end in coverage, sees that the tight end is staying in to block Bennett, he immediately triggers as a blitzer. That draws the running back his way, getting rid of the double team on Bennett. No tight end in the league can block Bennett one-on-one in pass protection, and he gets by for a sack.
Now let's get into the back seven, where Malcolm Jenkins had to literally be a coach on the field for most of the afternoon. Not only did he have to deal with a handful of new faces, but injuries on Sunday forced some of those new faces to move around and play in different roles throughout the day. Jenkins went to Jim Schwartz during the game and asked for things to be simplified to account for the new faces, and he also came up with, arguably, the biggest defensive play of the game.
Jenkins has played every snap for the Eagles' defense this year, the only player who can say that. He was the only remaining member of the Week 1 starters in the defensive backfield still in the lineup on Sunday. He plays deep, in the box, in the slot, and at linebacker. He wears so many hats for this Eagles defense on the field, and his presence is so vital for this team.
With so many new faces on defense playing on Sunday, it was interesting to see how they performed in such an important game. One guy who repeatedly stood out was LeBlanc, a former draft pick by the Chicago Bears who was the starting nickel corner for them as a rookie in 2016. LeBlanc, a surprise cut by the team this August, spent some time in Detroit before getting waived and then picked up by the Eagles a couple of weeks ago. In college at Florida Atlantic, LeBlanc was a competitive corner who repeatedly shadowed other team's top receivers. What he lacks in size and speed he makes up for in other ways, including his tenacity at the catch point. That showed up with a couple of key incompletions in the fourth quarter, one against Sterling Shepard and another against Beckham. With injuries come opportunities, and LeBlanc is making the most of his.
Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominatedEagles Game Planshow which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts,Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as the Journey to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging, and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices, and opponents.