While the Eagles' 3-4 record does not portray where they hoped to be at the bye, they are still very much within reach of the division title and there is a lot of football left to be played. The NFC East is wide open, and every team has an opportunity, including Philadelphia.
Although there have been a number of ups and downs for this Eagles team through the first seven games, the team's defense has been a constant point of strength. It's made the big plays, taken the ball from opponents time and time again and remained a top unit despite injuries.
Here are some of the biggest observations of the defense from the first seven weeks:
1. No. 1 In Takeaways
Coming into the season, the Eagles' defense set a goal of three takeaways each game. The team fulfilled that quota in four of its seven matchups and has recorded at least one takeaway against every team it has played. Heading into Week 8, the Eagles lead the NFL with 19 total takeaways - 11 interceptions and eight fumble recoveries. They are also tied for second place in interceptions, with only one fewer than Arizona's league leading 12.
These forced turnovers have come from across the field, the definition of a team effort. Eight different players have recorded a pick, with safety Walter Thurmond's three leading the way for the Eagles. The safety is only one interception off the NFL lead. Additionally, five Eagles have garnered a fumble recovery. Rookie Jordan Hicks leads not only the team, but is also tied for first in the NFL with three. It's clear that forcing turnovers has become part of the identity of this Eagles defense, and it's a trait that will serve it well if it continues throughout the remainder of the season.
2. Hicks Steps Up In A Big Way
At the start of the year, three names consistently came up when discussing the inside linebacker position. None of those names was Jordan Hicks. However, his name may be the one discussed most often. A third-round draft pick, it initially looked as though the linebacker would play a majority of his snaps on special teams, but injuries quickly altered that plan.
When Mychal Kendricks and Kiko Alonso both went down during Week 2's contest, Hicks was thrown into the starting rotation with veteran DeMeco Ryans and didn't miss a beat. That very game, he recorded a forced fumble, a sack for a loss of 6 yards and a team-high seven tackles. From then on, he became a consistent force for the Eagles' defense. The linebacker leads the team this season with 48 tackles and will look to continue his dominant play following the bye week.
Philadelphia could potentially have five healthy inside linebackers as Alonso and Ryans will aim to rejoin Kendricks, Hicks and Najee Goode on the field when the team takes on the Cowboys. With the talent and now health at this position, these linebackers will prove to be a major challenge for opponents in the second half of the season, and Hicks will undoubtedly continue to have a major role.
As we approach the Eagles BYE week, we look back at the best plays from the season up until this point. View the full gallery here...
3. Jenkins, Thurmond A Top Safety Tandem
According to Pro Football Focus, the Eagles have the league's No. 2 safety in Malcolm Jenkins and No. 6 safety in Thurmond, making the pair the highest-rated safety tandem in NFL. Between the two, they have accounted for five of the team's 19 takeaways and four of the 11 interceptions.
Originally signing as a cornerback this past offseason, the Eagles' coaching staff had Thurmond transition into the position, a decision that has paid off. He credits his field vision for his interception stats, and has solidified the starting safety pair for the Eagles, who already knew what they had in Jenkins.
Jenkins has been the best NFL safety in coverage this year per Pro Football Focus and continues to dominate on the field for Philadelphia. He ranks first on the team in passes defensed (8) and tackles for loss (8) and is tied with teammate Fletcher Cox with forced fumbles (3), who are tied for second in the league in that category.
4. Cox Gets His Recognition
Coming off a career season, Cox clearly is not focused on the past. He wants the present to be even better and has played at an even more dominant level. Through seven games, he's only a half-sack away from his career best of 5.5, one fumble away from his career high of three and has already surpassed his personal best in forced fumbles.
The defensive end garnered his first Player of the Week honor following his performance against the Saints. In that game, he became the first Eagle to record three sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in a single game.
Cox is further proving his dominance and has been a major asset to the Eagles' defense once again this season.