Ronald Darby’s play, Fletcher Cox’s health, blitzing and more in Jim Schwartz takeaways

Ronald Darby’s play, Fletcher Cox’s health, blitzing and more in Jim Schwartz takeaways

There were plenty of interesting topics talked about with Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz at his Tuesday press conference. 

Here are some of the highlights: 

Is Darby healthy?

It seemed pretty clear the Falcons were targeting cornerback Ronald Darby on Sunday night. Darby’s 2018 season finished on IR with an ACL tear, but he returned for Week 1. In Week 2, Matt Ryan kind of picked on him Sunday night. 

Schwartz mentioned that despite the obvious struggles, Darby “made a couple big plays” for the Eagles. And Schwartz doesn’t think the injury is the problem, but perhaps the time the injury forced him to miss. 

“I think he has all of his speed back,” Schwartz said. “I don't see the ACL as being an issue at all for him. He's done a great job of rehab. He didn't practice a ton in training camp, so I think — and we have a few players that are in that boat. So I think that sometimes you can see some of that, I don't want to call it rust at this point, but there is a reason that we still do training camp and we still practice.”

The Eagles have been rotating at the outside cornerback position — previously under the guise of Darby’s return — and Darby led that group with 59 snaps (89 percent) on Sunday. Schwartz said they enter games with a plan for their rotation, but then basically change it on the fly. 

But if Darby is still working himself back into game shape and the Eagles are already rotating, it would make a lot of sense to limit his reps, especially when it’s clear the opposing teams are going right at him for a reason.  

Fletcher doesn’t look like Fletcher 

Among that group of players who missed summer practices is Fletcher Cox, who hasn’t looked like his usual dominant self through two games. I guess it would have been unfair to expect Cox to return after missing training camp and be back to his All-Pro form, but the Eagles could certainly use that right about now. 

Even Schwartz admitted that Cox doesn’t look like himself. 

“Again, I don't really even consider the injury part of it,” Schwartz said. “It's more just where he is in coming back. Didn't practice a ton in training camp, but there's nobody grading on a curve this time of year because you didn't practice in training camp. Like when they put a ball in the air, the officials don't say, ‘Well, this guy's coming back from an injury,’ or, when it comes time to rush the passer, they don't say, ‘Well, we're going to pull a guy out because of that.’ Nobody cares about that stuff. It's a production league. It's a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league. He'll get there.”

Cox will get there. I believe that, but now with injuries to Malik Jackson and Tim Jernigan, every team is going to double him. And a less-than-100 percent Cox going against constant double (and sometimes triple) teams is going to be tough.  

Did the Eagles blitz more? 

Jim Schwartz disagreed with the assessment that the Eagles blitzed more than usual against the Falcons. This seems like a semantics issue. Because maybe the Eagles didn’t blitz much more than usual, but they certainly used zero blitzes more. And that was the call on the game-winning touchdown to Julio Jones. 

“They made a good play,” Schwartz said. “I don't know how many times I can say today that it comes with the territory in the NFL, whether it's injuries, whether it's dealing with different situations during the game. But that's part of the risk/reward of blitzing. You want to blitz, you can make some plays, you can sack — but if they do get a guy blocked, there's nobody behind him.

“We took an aggressive approach. Tried to win the game right there.”

For the most part, Schwartz’s aggressive game plan worked wonders on Sunday. The Eagles forced Matt Ryan into his first three-INT game since 2017. And Ryan even noted to reporters that he hadn’t before seen a team run as many zero blitzes against him in a game. 

Pressure without sacks 

Through two games, the Eagles have just two sacks. That ties them for the second-worst total in the NFL. But Schwartz is unworried about that total. 

“I mean, the ball can come out,” he said. “I’d rather have an interception on Darby's play than a sack. Sometimes — I mean, sacks are always good, but you force the quarterback to make an errant throw and you get an interception, that's pressure from blitz, whatever.”

Schwartz has been saying this for years and he has a point. Pressure can affect a game even when it doesn’t result in a sack. Would the Eagles like more sacks? Absolutely. Which is why it’s a fair question to ask. But the answer is fair, too. 

Sidney Jones has a day

Schwartz thought Sidney Jones had a “bounce back” game against the Falcons. The former second-round pick had his first-career interception, but Schwartz was most pleased about Jones’ physical play against the run. That’s an important part of Jones’ game that he needed to improve in Year 3. 

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Brandon Graham, DeSean Jackson, more Eagles players react to Nigel Bradham move

Brandon Graham, DeSean Jackson, more Eagles players react to Nigel Bradham move

The Eagles decided Tuesday to decline the team option on Nigel Bradham's contract (see story), cutting the 30-year-old linebacker loose after four years in Philly. From the highs of winning a Super Bowl to the lows of his multiple run-ins with law enforcement, Bradham's time with the Eagles was nothing if not entertaining.

Bradham's teammates received the news Tuesday, just like fans did, and a number of his now-former teammates shared their reactions to the team's move on their Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Brandon Graham lamented the end of his time playing alongside Bradham:

DeSean Jackson and Kamu Grugier-Hill wished Bradham luck in his next NFL stop:

Nate Gerry thanked Bradham for teaching him the ins and outs of the linebacker position, and of life as pro football player:

Rodney McLeod and Nelson Agholor, two players who might not return to Philly in 2020, also shouted Bradham out on Instagram:

One particularly interesting reaction, to my eye, was that of cornerback Rasul Douglas, who opted to use the head-slap emoji in a quote tweet of a report about the move:

Whether that signifies surprise or displeasure, it seems like Douglas would've preferred Bradham return to Philly in 2020.

Instead, free agency is off and running, and the Eagles' sleepy offseason is finally about to heat up.

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Eagles rarely devote resources to linebacker and that's a problem

Eagles rarely devote resources to linebacker and that's a problem

It’s not true that the Eagles have never devoted significant resources to linebackers.

They have a few times during Howie Roseman’s two terms as general manager.

But for every big-ticket free agent or premium-round draft pick, there’ve been a bus load of Moise Fokous, Najee Goodes and Keenan Claytons.

The Eagles’ linebacker philosophy under Roseman has been the source of tremendous debate among Eagles fans, and understandably so.

Do the Eagles simply not value the position? Or do they just have trouble evaluating linebackers?

Probably a little of both. The days of lining up with three backers in base defense are over. Nickel and dime defenses have become the norm as teams use more and more three- and four-wides, and these days your third corner is on the field a lot more than your third linebacker.

Still … you need guys who can play. Who can tackle. Who can cover a back out of the backfield. Who can blitz now and then.

It’s tough to argue with the Eagles’ decision to cut ties with Nigel Bradham. He was owed $8 million, he turns 31 before opening day and his level of play has dropped significantly since his terrific 2017 season.

But how are they going to replace him? 

Right now, the Eagles have only four linebackers under contract – Nate Gerry, Alex Singleton, T.J. Edwards and Duke Riley. A former 5th-round pick, an undrafted free agent from the CFL, an undrafted free agent from Wisconsin and a special teamer acquired in a trade.

This isn’t unusual.

During Roseman’s two tenures as GM — 2010 through 2014 and 2016 through now — the Eagles have cobbled together linebacking corps while rarely making a big commitment to the position in terms of money or draft picks.

Is it time for that to change?

Let’s take a look at every linebacker Roseman has acquired in his decade as Eagles GM, how he was acquired and what resources the Eagles used to get him.

We’ll break it down into various categories. The number on the left is how many games that player started in an Eagles uniform. An asterisk means the player was acquired during Chip Kelly's year as GM in 2015.

Premium draft picks [1-3]

74 … Mychal Kendricks [2nd-round pick, 2012]
40* … Jordan Hicks [3rd-round pick, 2015]

Hicks was drafted by Chip Kelly, so he really doesn’t count on Howie’s record. Kendricks is the only linebacker the Eagles have taken in the first two rounds since Matt McCoy in 2005, and he’s arguably the best linebacker the Eagles have had over the last decade. He was essentially a six-year starter, a starter on the Super Bowl team, active against the run and solid in coverage. 

The same could be said for Hicks, although injuries derailed three of his four seasons here. And when he became a free agent? The Ealges let him leave and sign a big contract with the Cards without even trying to keep him.

Mid-round draft picks [4-5]

1 … Keenan Clayton [4th-round pick 2010]
16 … Casey Matthews [4th-round pick 2011]

The middle rounds haven’t been kind to the Eagles. Neither Clayton nor Matthews made an impact during their brief Eagles tenures.

Late-round draft picks [6-7]

13 … Brian Rolle [6th-round pick 2011]
23 … Jamar Chaney [7th-round pick 2010]
3 … Joe Walker [7th-round pick 2016]
15 … Nate Gerry [5th-round 2016]

Gerry is a functional starter and gives great effort and will be in the mix for a starting job in 2020, but all these guys are essentially special teamers who carved out a role on defense. None are or were impact players.

Undrafted rookies

4 … T.J. Edwards [2019]

Edwards averaged about 7.0 defensive snaps per game last year and showed some promise. Will he develop into anything more than a special teamer and role player on defense? Remains to be seen.

Real free agents

64 … Connor Barwin [March 14, 2013, 6 years, $36m, $8m guar.]
58 … Nigel Bradham [March 9, 2016, 2 years, $7 million]
6 … Zach Brown [May 3, 2019, 1 year, $1.4 million]
1 … Stephen Tulloch [Aug. 21, 2016, 1 year, $3 million]

OK, here’s where the Eagles had some success. The Eagles signed Barwin to a big contract, and he was a terrific fit in Bill Davis’s 3-4 front. He made his only Pro Bowl in 2014 when he had 14 ½ sacks, and he had 31 ½ sacks  in four seasons here, including 2016 as a kind of imperfect fit at defensive end under Jim Schwartz. 

Bradham was good enough in 2016 and in the 2017 Super Bowl season to earn a new contract, and it was a big-money deal but was also very team friendly.

Brown and Tulloch got small deals and made little impact.

Street free agents

2 … Dannell Ellerbe [Nov. 13, 2017]

Ellerbe was actually the Eagles’ third linebacker during the Super Bowl season. The Super Bowl was the 92nd and final game of his career.

Practice squad call-ups

2 … Emmanuel Acho [Oct. 21, 2013]

Another cheap-o guy who was mainly a special teamer but had a small but insignificant role on defense for a couple years.


53 … DeMeco Ryans [March 20, 2012, from Texans for 4th-round pick]
15 … Ernie Sims [April 19, 2010, from Lions for 5th-round pick]
1* … Kiko Alonso [March 10, 2015, from Bills for LeSean McCoy]

Roseman was able to get some big-name linebackers via trades without giving up significant draft picks for any them. 

Of course the Kiko trade was Chip’s, and Howie did an incredible job flipping Kiko and Byron Maxwell to the Dolphins as part of the Eagles’ trade frenzy that ultimately landed Carson Wentz.

Ryans was by far the best of this bunch, and he did sign an extension in 2015. But that was a Chip extension and it was really more of a restructure than a huge new contract.

Waiver claims

16 … Kamu Grugier-Hill [Sept. 4, 2016, from Patriots]
4 … Najee Goode [Sept. 2, 2013, from Buccaneers]

Kamu cost the Eagles nothing. They claimed him from the Patriots, and he played his entire career here on a bargain-basement rookie 6th-round contract he signed with the Patriots. He played well during the Super Bowl season and is now a free agent.

Guys Howie inherited

27 … Akeem Jordan
22 … Moise Fokou
12 … Stewart Bradley
11 … Chris Gocong
6 … Omar Gaither
10 … Will Witherspoon
1 … Joe Mays

When Howie was named GM in January of 2010, he cut ties with Witherspoon, Mays and Gocong. The Eagles kept Bradley and Gaither through 2010, Fokou through 2011 and Jordan through 2012, but none ever got a new contract under Roseman.


In their 10 offseasons under Roseman, the Eagles have rarely expended significant resources on linebackers.

They’ve drafted only one in the first three rounds, spent significant money on only one free agent, acquired only one Pro Bowler via trade and given a contract extension to only one guy since Kendricks.

But those four – Kendricks, Barwin, Ryans and Bradham – have been their best linebackers over the last decade. 

Two of them were starters on the Super Bowl team.

Hicks would be on that list had he been able to stay healthy, and he too was a premium draft pick.

You can find linebackers. You can find serviceable guys who can get you through a few games or even a season in the late rounds, on the waiver wire or via trades.

But the notion that the position isn’t important? That you don’t need productive linebackers to have a decent defense? That you can fake your way to a championship with a group of over-achieving late-round draft picks, CFL converts and practice squad call-ups?

It’s just not true.

Just ask Barwin, Ryans, Kendricks or Bradham.

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