The Eagles keep adding to a position that already has depth and strength and experience, agreeing to terms on Thursday with five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh on a one-year deal. A day earlier, the Eagles agreed to terms with defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who on Thursday signed his contract and participated in his first Eagles practice at the NovaCare Complex.
A disruptive force throughout his career, Suh reportedly had several teams reach out to him earlier in the season and his preference at the time was to wait to join a contending team in the right situation. The Eagles, at 8-1, are clearly a contending team. And with a defensive tackle rotation that includes Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, and Milton Williams, this is the right situation.
The idea, as the Eagles have said time and time again, is to "throw fastballs" at offenses and win from the inside of the line of scrimmage out to the edges. Suh, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, has been a first-team All-Pro three times and last season started all 17 games for Tampa Bay, recording 6 quarterback sacks, 13 quarterback hits, 7 tackles for loss, and 27 total tackles.
So, yeah, he can still be a force both stopping the run and disrupting protection in the passing game. Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon likes to talk about the various ways he wants his defense to "stress" an offense – adding the massive 329-pound Joseph and the ultra-quick and powerful Suh helps in every way.
So, just like that, the Eagles have added two experienced players with proven track records to a position that absorbed some hits recently with both Jordan Davis and Marlon Tuipulotu moved to Injured Reserve. Moving forward, the Eagles have a five-man defensive tackle rotation that provides great flexibility and explosiveness as the defense combats the ways offenses are apparently interested in attacking – with a run-heavy approach that plays keep-away from the potent Eagles offense.
"There are some things schematically within things that we do, and we have, that we can use those bullets, so to speak," Gannon said on Thursday when asked about the run defense and how he might change things schematically. "It's just deploying them and using them at the right times, and I can help our guys out a little bit better calling it a little bit better. That's going to always come down to within each call the strength and the stress of each call. Putting our hands on the right people, playing with good pad level, fundamentals. And that is all 11 guys.
"So, it starts with us coaches to make sure the fundamentals – and we are really good at times. It's got to be consistently throughout the game. And I know it's never going to be perfect, but we have to make sure we're consistent with what we're doing, because run game, run defense is not one or two guys, it's all 11. This team that we're about to play (Indianapolis), they make the corners tackle, and we have to do a good job of crack replace and tackling backs. That's how they're winning games right now. It's all 11 guys, and we have to execute at a high level, just like in everything, situation, pass game, but especially the run game as well. One guy gets a little bit cut out and another guy thinks he's going to be here and he's not there, it leads to a 6-yard gain instead of a 3-yard gain. That's what you're talking about the kind of the first and second down, like 3.1 (Washington's yards per carry average on Monday), whatever.
"When you're playing a game in third-and-short all day and it's not known pass on third down, it's a hard way to go for us. We don't want to play like that, and we know that, and we have to get cleaned up."
Joseph had his first taste of the defense on Thursday, wearing jersey No. 72, and prior to practice, Gannon previewed what he expects from the veteran with whom he spent some time in Minnesota when Gannon was a defensive backs coach there.
"He's a really good player against the run," Gannon said. "Then, with Marlon getting hurt, we needed to add another piece there. I was with Linval for four years. He's a really good player. His attitude is right. His character is great. He practices extremely hard. He is diligent. He kind of fits right into what we do and how he wants to play and what he wants to do, and I think it'll help us."
A short time later, in fact in a matter of about an hour, the news broke that the Eagles had agreed to terms with Suh. Now, the defensive tackle position has had a makeover in a very short time with some fresh legs and experienced bodies and minds added for the stretch run of this regular season and, hopefully, beyond.