It’s a scary thought. While I wouldn’t consider the Eagles defense elite by any means during the 2016 season, there’s no question they were good. With big name players like Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery arriving in Philly through the free agency and the front office bringing in plenty of offensive line power to protect Wentz, it seems that Eagles might be able to make a name for themselves as a serious team in the NFL. But is it possible that the Eagles, while trying to make sure Wentz reaches his potential, ignored to defensive side of the ball too much?
To understand where I’m coming from, you first need to have a basic understanding of the defensive scheme the Eagles use, the wide-9. The wide-9 takes a standard 4-3 defensive scheme and pushes the defensive ends out farther to the edge a bit. This does a few things; first off, it allows edge rushers to get a better jump off the line. This should lead to better leverage, better build-up, and the defender having more speed when they meet the offensive tackles. All this allows these EDGE guys to get to the QB easier. Of course there are some negatives, such as creating bigger gaps along the defensive line and making it harder to stop the run, but we’ll stick with the EDGE thing for now. For most EDGE rushers, the wide-9 is a dream scenario. Teams who employ the wide-9 usually blitz less, relying on their four primary pass rushers to get to the QB. And this is where the Eagles might have made a costly mistake.
You see, to effectively use the wide-9 a team needs two big things. Competent pass rushers who get to the QB consistently and two solid press man coverage corners. The Eagles are lacking in both departments and while the can easily find two good press coverage corners in this year’s draft, finding pass rushers may force them to commit more picks to the defense then they’d like too.
Because while the Eagles defensive line may seem like a team strength behind stars like Brandon Graham and Fletchex Cox, two players alone may not be enough to elevate it to the level the Eagles need. Other than Graham and Logan, the Eagles other two D-line starters project to be Vinny Curry and Beau Allen, with little depth behind them. Vinny Curry should excel in a wide-9 system, but a lack of playing time and stats leaves plenty of question marks, and Beau Allen has one career sack and has never had more than 0.5 sacks in a season. Which does not bode well for a defense that relies first and foremost on getting to the QB.
With little cap money to spend, the Eagles will be forced to turn to the draft to find players who can make a difference by getting to the quarterback. And while that may not sound like the worst problem in the world considering how stacked this draft class is, especially at positions like EDGE, the need to draft defensively could compromise what should really be a perfect draft for the Eagles. The way it looks now, the Eagles need two new starting cornerbacks, and while this class is loaded with talent, once you reach the mid-third round I wouldn’t rely on finding guys who can start immediately. Which means the Eagles will probably have to take two corners’ in the first three round. Then the Eagles need to find defensive line depth early on, which means grabbing a guy with whatever pick they aren’t using on corners in the first three rounds.
So there’s a really good chance the Eagles use their first three picks on defensive players. And while that may not seem like the worst thing in the world, there are still plenty of holes to be filled on offense, primarily at running back. If the Eagles release Ryan Mathews, Wendell Smallwood and Darren Sproles will be the primary running backs still on the team. And while both are talented in their own right, neither are true three down backs. The team also needs to find some young WR’s, because as awful as it is to think about, there’s a possibility that neither Smith or Jeffery are in Philly long, and the Eagles need to be ready for that. So can the Eagles find a new three down back, wide receiver depth, defensive line depth, and two new starting cornerbacks in one draft? Probably not. As improved as the Eagles may be, they are still in a rebuilding phase, and it will take more than one free agency and draft to totally fix this team. But Howie Roseman, Joe Douglas, and the Eagles front office/scouting department really need to nail this draft. It may be the most important one they’ve ever had.