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By Paul Bowman, Sports Talk Philly Editor
Leading up to the Eagles match-up with the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, Sports Talk Philly and Eagledelphia will compare the personnel of the two teams each day until gameday is here.
In this edition of our week-long comparison, we will look at the front seven that the Eagles and Seahawks will field on Sunday.
Philadelphia DL/LB | Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Tim Jernigan, Derek Barnett, TJ Edwards, Nigel Bradham, Nate Gerry, Vinny Curry, Josh Sweat, Anthony Rush, Duke Riley, Alex Singleton, Bruce Hector, Genard Avery, Shareef Miller
Brandon Graham is in his 10th season in Philadelphia and has still been the trend setter for this defensive front. Graham has 8.5 sacks, 17 quarterback hits and 49 tackles on the season to go with a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. Additionally, he and Barnett have been particularly good at pressuring the quarterback and forcing them into other defenders on the line.
His partner on the outside is Derek Barnett, who has been dealing with injuries since week 13. Barnett has just 6.5 sacks and 30 tackles, but he has also forced two fumbles and hit the quarterback 22 times. The pressure he is not credited with by traditional stats can be seen in how little pressure the line often gets when he is not available to rotate into the game and make his impacts.
Behind those two on the depth chart are veteran Vinny Curry, who is having what may be his best season outside of 2017 and the monster 2014 he had, and Josh Sweat, who has really began to emerge as a solid option down the stretch. The pair has combined for nine sacks, 46 tackles and 22 QB hits.
The interior D-line is lead by Fletcher Cox. Cox has had, from a numbers standpoint, one of his worst seasons in recent memory but has also drawn near consistent double and triple teams, particularly early on in the season when the other three defensive tackles on the original 53-man roster went down with injuries. Despite a “down” season, Cox added three and a half sacks of his own with 40 tackles, 10 quarterback hits, three forced fumbles and a huge fumble recovery in week 17.
Tim Jernigan mans the position next to Cox on a rotational basis. His numbers are not particularly impressive (10 tackles, three quarterback hits and two sacks) but he has done a solid job in fairly limited snaps during his 10 healthy contests. His stats are the second-worst of his career (behind only last season when he played just three games), but the injury early in the season has impacted his play and lately he has been more disruptive and allowed Fletcher Cox some breathing room up the middle.
Anthony Rush and Bruce Hector round out that rotation with Rush taking on the more significant role to really solidify a rotation. The pair of undrafted free agents signed with the Eagles, Hector in 2018 and Rush in 2019, shortly after the draft and have both left the team before returning. Rush has added nine tackles (three for loss) and two passes defensed down the stretch.
Linebackers Nigel Bradham and Nate Gerry anchor the linebacker positions. Both have struggled with some tackling issues, especially early in the season, but have also made some plays. Bradham is more of an impact in the run game and registered 61 tackles, a fumble recovered for a touchdown, an interception and five PBUs. Gerry, a college safety, is perhaps the Eagles top coverage linebacker and makes his impact in the passing game with a fumble recovery and 72 tackles to go with his two interceptions, two and a half sacks and five defensed passes.
TJ Edwards has been an oddity, playing 10 or more snaps just six times and more than 20 once (21). Despite that, he has had success with 21 tackles. That’s a tackle nearly once every five plays he’s on the field.
Defensive end Genard Avery and linebackers Duke Riley and Alex Singleton have been given fairly minimal defensive snaps while defensive end Shareef Miller has been active for just one game on the season.
Seattle DL/LB | Jadeveon Clowney, Jarran Reed, Poona Ford, Ziggy Ansah, Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Mychal Kendricks, L.J. Collier, Bryan Mone, Quinton Jefferson, Rasheem Green, Shaquem Griffin, Ben Burr-Kirven, Cody Barton, Dekoda Watson
The Seahawks acquired Jadeveon Clowney to be their top defensive end, but the question for Clowney has always been injuries and how he’s played while coming back from them. He has been a force for the Seahawks, registering three sacks and 31 tackles, but also four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, an interception and three pass break-ups. He is a force, perhaps not so much in the amount of plays he makes, but more in the intensity and importance of the plays he makes. The issue for the Seahawks is that Clowney has been banged up since their bye week. Following their bye, Clowney missed three of their six games and registered just six sacks and a fumble recovery. Chances are that is the type of play they will get this Sunday should he suit up considering he missed the first two practices this week.
His partner outside is Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah. Ansah is another talent that has struggled with injuries this season. The injuries have limited him to just 11 games played and it has resulted in perhaps the worst season of his career, from a statistical standpoint. While he has just two and a half sacks and 18 tackles, he also managed two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Again, his stats aren’t huge, but he managed takeaways. Ansah figures to be healthy this week and bullies Jason Peters and, during the failed right tackle experiment, Andre Dillard in the previous match-up between these two teams. Against Philly, Ansah recorded one and a half of his two and a half sacks, four of his 18 tackles and one of his two forced fumbles.
Rasheem Green is the next DE off the bench and has been productive in his playing time while first-round rookie L.J. Collier has been an extreme disappointment. Green has been perhaps the most consistent of the bunch with four sacks, 27 tackles and three forced fumbles in a season where he has not missed a game. Collier has appeared in 11 games, but has just three tackles on the season.
Jarran Reed missed the first six games of the season with a suspension, but has recorded two sacks, 27 tackles and a forced fumble. Reed actually had his worst game of the season against the Eagles when he failed to record a single meaningful statistic, though he did leave the game early. Reeds hasn’t had a major impact type of game since week 10, but he has been stout in the run game for the Seahawks down the stretch.
Poona Ford mans the last starting spot on the line and is in just his second season in the NFL. Ford could be looked at as the most pure run stuffer among the starters as he has certainly had the least impact of the group in the passing game. He has not missed a game since week two and started 14 of the 15 games he’s played, making progress from where he was in his rookie year. While he has a fumble recovery and three QB hits, he has 32 tackles (five for loss) that show just how good he can be against the run.
Quinton Jefferson provides valuable depth at defensive tackle with 26 tackles and three and a half sacks to go along with 10 quarterback hits and a fumble recovery. Jefferson is the only known depth available at the position as Bryan Mone has just four tackles and was just brought back from the practice squad for week 16 due to yet another Seahawks defensive lineman being suspended for PED use as Al Woods was having what would appear to be one of his best season before failing the drug test.
KJ Wright is a monster of a linebacker with 11 pass break ups, three interceptions and 132 tackles. He is all over the field and could arguably be the Seahawks most well-rounded defender on the team with the ability to impact all parts of the game. His two interceptions against the Panthers lead the Seahawks to their only win in their final four games of the season. He is a dangerous player and will be a menace to Carson Wentz in the middle of the field.
Bobby Wagner is a big name and a sure-fire tackler. In fact, he lead the league in tackles again this season with 159 while adding three sacks. He has just one interception and six defensed passes, however and because of the way the Seahawks scheme to try and defend a struggling secondary is to play zone coverage that relies on the abilities of their linebackers. Less than two weeks ago, on December 23, Pro Football Focus released a since deleted tweet that said “Bobby Wagner has allowed 817 yards in coverage in ’19”. By their count that was the most by a linebacker since 2013. Again, that isn’t to say that Wagner isn’t good, but he is far more vulnerable in coverage than many might believe with the amount of things that the Swahawks are asking him to do.
Former Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks was still playing for the Seahawks and not in jail despite pleading guilty to insider trading because his sentencing was postponed for the fifth time in November to February, but he tore his ACL in the final game of the regular season and is out for the rest of the season. The Seahawks have yet to make a move to replace him.
Cody Barton will start in place of Kendricks. He is a rookie selected in the third round who has played more than 10 defensive snaps just twice this season. He has played more than 80% of the snaps in two of those games, however. In his two games of significant play time, he registered 14 tackles, a PBU and a quarterback hit. He added another three tackles on defense throughout the rest of his playing time.
Shaquem Griffin is known for having just one hand, but made just two tackles in 16 games this season, though his role on defense has been limited. Behind him, Dekoda Watson and Ben Burr-Kirven have played a combined four defensive snaps.
These two groups are rather difficult to compare because they are so different.
I have no question in my mind that if given the opportunity, any fan in Philadelphia would take the pair of KJ Wright and Bobby Wagner over any two linebackers the Eagles have had for perhaps the last decade or longer. Both are extremely well rounded players and they have among the fewest missed tackles in the league, something that the 2019 Eagles linebackers have struggled with quite a bit.
On the flip side of things, even when combining that stats of Jadeveon Clowney and Ziggy Ansah, Graham has the same number of tackles and more sacks. Cox also has more sacks himself than both Reed and Ford combined.
Where Seattle’s front four come up larger than the Eagles, however is forced fumbles and turnovers. While the Eagles front four is excellent at getting pressure and shutting down the run, they have not had the success getting the ball out that Seattle has had. It’s hard to say which is better: a line that forces the most three and outs in the league or one that gives you a chance to recover a fumble with good field position during the game.
While I would give the Eagles front four the edge, the Seahawks linebacker far exceed that of the Eagles and that difference is enough to give the Seahawks the advantage.