An up-and-down year for the Eagles' defense may not have been what most anticipated after the unit's dominant start to the 2016 season, but such is the storyline that panned out over the four-month period.
Reflecting on the team's performance, former Eagles linebacker and current SportsRadio 94WIP host Ike Reese unraveled the good and the bad from Philadelphia's first year in defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's scheme.
"I like a lot of the aspects of the defense, starting with the personnel," Reese said on the Eagle Eye in the Sky podcast with Fran Duffy. "I think up front there is some quality talent in that defensive line. That's the strength of the team. Certainly need guys to step up and play to their capabilities.
"Love Jordan Hicks there in the middle. Even Nigel Bradham had a little bit of an unsung season. I thought he was also a playmaker at that linebacker position with Jordan Hicks. And then I love both of our safeties. I think Rodney McLeod is going to be even better next year playing next to Malcolm Jenkins."
However, one area Reese believes the team is lacking in at the cornerback position. He feels that group was exploited a few games in, which played a part in the team's midseason struggles.
The former linebacker hopes Philadelphia will focus on solidifying that spot on the field, especially due to the abundance of talented wide receivers in the NFC East. Facing players like Odell Beckham, Jr. and Dez Bryant twice a year calls for the need to invest in the position.
"Some of these teams have two of these guys, and you better have somebody that can cover these guys because of how the rules are. As much as they throw in this league, you're going to get tested," Reese explained. "You need to have guys that can cover and can get off the field. This is what we've had here for years from Eric Allen on to Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, Lito Sheppard, Sheldon Brown, Asante Samuel. We had guys that could play that position. You can't have a good defense without having good corners, at least one or two good corners."
The Eagles' defense finished middle of the pack in most statistical categories during the year. It allowed 20.7 points per game (12th), 342.8 yards per game (13th), 239.5 passing yards per game (13th), and 103.3 rushing yards per game (15th).
But, the unit did finish top 10 in interceptions with 16, tying for ninth in the league with the Raiders and Dolphins. Leading the way for the Eagles in that category was Hicks, who notched five picks on the year, including two in the final game of the season.
Impressed doesn't even begin to describe Reese's thoughts toward the second-year player.
"He just – it's amazing, man," said Reese, who also wore No. 58 like Hicks during his Eagles tenure from 1998-2004. "You got your quarterback on offense (in Carson Wentz) and your quarterback on defense. That's a good starting point when you look at this team moving forward."
While the Eagles certainly have things to work on, Reese isn't concerned about the state of the defense. The future looks very bright for this unit.