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Spadaro: Jonathan Gannon loves the progress, but plenty of room to grow

Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro
Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro

There are standard pillars of achievement that Jonathan Gannon wants to see in his Eagles defense on a weekly basis and when the team hits those goals, good things happen. It's not rocket science here, it's playing physical, fundamental football.

"That's what we're doing," defensive end Brandon Graham said after Sunday's 24-8 win at Washington. "Do your job and trust that the guy next to you will do his job. JG, he's gonna put us in the right position to make plays. Go out and make 'em."

And that's what the Eagles have done in this 3-0 start. They had an enviable defensive stretch in the opener at Detroit – three straight three-and-out series followed by an interception returned for a touchdown – but didn't quite attain the desired 60-minute consistency in performance. The last two weeks, a win over Minnesota and Sunday over the Commanders, the Eagles have been on point achieving what Gannon asks – affect the quarterback up front; tackle well throughout; play sound, assignment football; limit big plays; and take the football away on the back end.

"I always say to our defense, 'Don't get it twisted. The game's about hitting on defense,' so I thought we've been a pretty good, physical unit," Gannon said on Tuesday at his weekly press conference at the NovaCare Complex. "We're going to keep working at that but we don't want leaky yardage. You want to affect the quarterback, you want to hit people – and hit them legally – and have a lot of people at the ball."

All of that is well and good and there is certainly something to be said and to be pleased with as Gannon considers the progress made through three weeks. But this is the NFL and nobody in this league looks back because the past has a way of catching up if you do that. So, Gannon is looking toward Sunday and a Jacksonville team led by young standout quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who has playmakers around him, a solid offensive line, and a head coach and playcaller in Doug Pederson who is among the best in the business.

Gannon and the Eagles' defense have its collective hands full on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.

"This is a good offense," Gannon said. "I've got a very high opinion of Doug. He's a very good playcaller. He doesn't have a lot of tendencies – you can't bank on certain things coming. He's doing a good job with the quarterback who is playing extremely fast. He has weapons. They protect him. You have to be aware of their skills guys because they're skill guys have very significant skill sets. It's just like everybody. You've got to know your opponent because they do some things with those guys that he allows those guys to play free and he puts them in good spots to make a lot of plays.

"We have a big-time test in front of us."

It starts with handling Lawrence, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2021. He's blossoming with Pederson as his guide and through three games the 6-foot-6 Lawrence has been terrific with six touchdown passes and only one interception. He has a command of the offense in his second season in the league after coming into the NFL deemed a can't-miss prospect.

So far this season, he isn't missing much at all.

"We looked at some games last year and he might not have played as fast. I don't really know why but I think he's processing at a high level, he's accurate, he's got a big arm, he's athletic," Gannon said. "He's tall and he can see. When you watch the tape of him, certain quarterbacks play real fast and he's one of those guys."

At the end of the day for Gannon and this defense, the metrics that stick out are limiting big plays and takeaways, the "double-positive" stats that Gannon will reference. Do both of those and the thinking is that points allowed will be up and the win probability will increase and the defense will be where it needs to be.

These last two weeks, the defense has been right there for Gannon. The Eagles limited Minnesota to 264 yards and took the football away three times in the huge Monday night win. On Sunday at FedEx Field, the Eagles sacked quarterback Carson Wentz nine times, took the ball away once that led to seven Eagles points, didn't allow a play longer than 16 yards until the second half, and kept Washington out of the end zone until there were less than two minutes remaining in the game.

Heading into Week 4, Gannon hopes to build on the progress the defense is making.

"Any good defense does those two things," Gannon said. "You want to be able to do that in different ways depending on who you are playing.

"I think the players know that we don't put up a lot of stats. We're through and through what the head coach preaches because we know those are winning stats. How the defense fits into those things, we talk about ad nauseam.

"I think they understand that. They go out and that's on their mind. They know that they have to get that done for us to have a chance to win each game.

"Happy where that's at, but know that's a week-to-week thing and we have to continually improve on those things."

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