Rookie Milton Williams seems to be peaking as the Eagles prepare for what they hope is a long playoff run and that’s good news.
The Eagles are gonna need him.
Because the unquestioned key to stopping — or at least slowing down — Tom Brady on Sunday is going to be to get some pressure on him. And it’s really going to come down to getting pressure on him with the front four because, well, blitz him at your own risk.
Sure, getting pressure on Brady isn’t just about pass rush — it’s about coverage too — but the pass rush is the first step. And entering this game, Williams needs to play a big role.
“We get paid to affect the quarterbacks, stop the run, hit the quarterback and get him off his spot,” Williams said about facing a top QB again. “And just go out there and do us.”
No, Williams, the third-round pick from Louisiana Tech, is not a starter. But he needs to be the first guy off the bench at the defensive and and the defensive tackle position.
If the Eagles have any chance in this game, they need to get pass rush on Brady. And the key to that — to steal an old Jim Johnson term — is to keep throwing fastballs. The best fastball the Eagles have off their bench isn’t Ryan Kerrigan or Tarron Jackson or Hassan Ridgeway. It’s Williams. In a game where Josh Sweat comes in as questionable, his role is even more important.
And in the last couple weeks, the rookie has been coming on strong.
“I think experience is the best teacher,” Williams said on Saturday night. “Just going throughout the year, you learn more and more every week in practice. You’re meeting with your coaches every week and you’re trying to focus on little things on your game to improve and I feel like I’ve done that this year.
“I started off a little slow. But like I said, experience comes with it and you just learn more techniques, learn the terminology and the language that they’re speaking and things like that so you can get a tell on what’s coming. Just trying to continue to get better.”
While the Eagles’ regular season finale didn’t mean anything in terms of seeding, which is why they rested starters, it did mean something to Williams. He started that game and played 35 snaps. And it wasn’t like the Cowboys rested their regulars.
It was good work for the young defensive lineman and he played well. He had three tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 QB hit, a batted pass and 3 total pressures.
And he still wasn’t happy with his performance.
“It was alright. I set a different standard for myself,” Williams said. “What you see is just a little piece of what I feel like I can bring to the table. It wasn’t good enough. It was OK. But it wasn’t good enough to come out with a win. Just trying to get better and get ready for next week.”
Subscribe to the Eagle Eye podcast
What has made Williams’ rookie season unique is his ability to play both inside and outside on the Eagles’ defensive line. According to ProFootballFocus, Williams has played 455 defensive snaps on the line — 269 of them inside, 186 outside. That’s rare, especially for a rookie.
Earlier in the year, Williams and a few of his older defensive teammates talked about the rookie wall. It’s real. After going through a college season and the pre-draft process and the draft and training camp and the longest season in NFL history, these rookies have to be exhausted. Linebacker T.J. Edwards this week said he remembers how long his rookie season was when the Eagles went to the playoffs in 2019; it took him remembering that he was living his dream to push through it.
The rookies that continue to make an impact late in their rookie seasons are the ones who can power through that wall.
It looks like Williams is doing that.
“Making the playoffs is big,” he said. “That’s something I wanted to accomplish my rookie year.”
If Williams wants his rookie year to continue, making a play against Tom Brady on Sunday would certainly help.