Eagles Finally Get Production From Second Defensive Tackle Position

By Paul Bowman, Sports Talk Philly Editor

Jim Schwartz’s defensive scheme is highly reliant on the defensive line getting consistent pressure on the quarterback. One big problem with the defense for much of the year is that that simply isn’t happening. While Fletcher Cox has been dominant and Michael Bennett has been productive in his expanded role, with Schwartz rarely blitzing, the Eagles need all four defensive linemen to make an impact.

The problem is that the birds have gotten almost no production out of the second defensive tackle position. That issue was finally addressed in the game against the Giants last Sunday, though it is not all because Tim Jernigan was active. The solution has been an option all season long.

I have long speculated in nearly every article about a defensive tackle (mostly Bruce Hector and Destiny Vaeao) being waived or injured that perhaps the Eagles would play Brandon Graham or Michael Bennett in the second defensive tackle spot to solidify the line and solve the problem. One example can be found in the final few sentences in this article as well as the original 53-man roster analysis of the defensive linemen. In fact, fellow Eagledelphia writer Matthew Kaplan and I were discussing that idea and why Jim Schwartz wasn’t utilizing it the Friday before the second Giants game.

Neither was a stretch. Brandon Graham played at the tackle position for quite a few snaps during the playoffs last year during the Eagles playoff run. Most fans will fondly remember Brandon Graham laying a nice strip sack on Tom Brady in the Super Bowl earlier this year. Graham was lined up at the tackle position on that play. Meanwhile, Bennett has moved inside to play DT for the Seahawks quite a few times throughout his career.

With Jernigan limited after just getting back to football activities with the team, he was limited in his playing time in his first game back and ended up not registering any major statistics in the game. Instead of continuing to trot out the rotation of Ngata/McGill/Hester that has yielded little result, Jim Schwartz finally decided to move Michael Bennett inside on some plays. The results speak for themselves. In addition to the Eagles allowing just three points following Bennett’s return in the second half, the line made quite a few plays and got far more pressure than they had been getting over the past few games. Just look at this clip.

The play greatly impacted the game and Bennett playing inside got Chris Long in the game. Both players were able to beat their man. Ngata has just not been productive in the 4-3 defensive scheme, but Bennett has. Last season proved that Graham, Long and Cox could be productive in the system. Instead of being limited by labels, the Eagles put out their four best options to give Jernigan some rest.

It is questionable what took Schwartz so long to at least try the move, especially at the beginning of the season when Derek Barnett was still healthy and Jernigan was on the NFI. At that point, the Eagles had Barnett, Graham, Bennett and Chris Long at DE and only Cox and Ngata as anticipated high-powered options at DT. Rotating one of Bennett or Graham in would have allowed the line to have four top options on the line at all times while also giving Cox and Ngata more rest.

The tactic may become less necessary as Jernigan sees more snaps, but it should not be left at the wayside. Ngata will still see snaps, but it may be best to look to limit those and get Bennett and Long more snaps as the pair seems to be more effective. It should also remain in the system for next season as Bennett will still be with the team and the move could help to improve rotations depending on who else ends up on the line in 2019.