NFL: Will the Philadelphia Eagles’ New-Look Defense Make the Team Miss the Playoffs?

The Philadelphia Eagles are coming off of back-to-back playoff appearances, including a victory in Super Bowl LII, but will the streak continue this season? The Eagles made some personnel moves that gave them a new-look defense. But the new look doesn’t necessarily mean an improved defense. So can the new players on the defensive side of the ball prevent the Eagles from making a third straight playoff appearance?

Who’s gone in Philadelphia?

Chris Long retired from the NFL during the 2019 offseason, meaning the Philadelphia Eagles had to replace him.
Chris Long retired from the NFL during the 2019 offseason. | Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Eagles lost three key pieces from last season’s defense. One of those players, DE Chris Long, decided to call it a career and retired.

The team traded DE Michael Bennett to the Patriots for a fifth-round pick in next year’s draft, and LB Jordan Hicks signed with the Cardinals in free agency. That is a combined 18.5 sacks leaving the team, which represents about 42% of the team’s sacks from last season. Bennett and Long alone accounted for 50 quarterback hits, or more than a third of the team’s total.

Who’s new to the Eagles’ defense?

Among the additions, the Eagles made on the defense are DT Malik Jackson, LB Zach Brown, and DE Vinny Curry, who spent 2018 with the Buccaneers after spending the first six seasons of his career with Philadelphia.

Those three players combined for seven sacks last season, which was fewer than Bennett had by himself, and they had 21 total quarterback hits — compared to 30 for Bennett and 20 for Long.

Is it a good swap?

Philadelphia Eagles defense coordinator Jim Schwartz has several new players at his disposal in 2019.
Philadelphia Eagles defense coordinator Jim Schwartz . | Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The new players represent a net loss for the Philadelphia Eagles in terms of the numbers, but that’s par for the course according to defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who called the changes “business as usual” for the Eagles.

“[We’ll] miss those guys. They were an important part of what we did. But that’s just life in the NFL. Change is nothing new. You’re going to have some roster turnover and you have to deal with it.”

The moves did help the Eagles get younger on defense. Bennett and Long were both 33 last season, but Hicks was 26. Jackson is 29, Curry will be 31 at the end of June, and Brown will turn 30 in October.

An important change on offense

The defense wasn’t the only area of the team where the team may have regressed. The Eagles no longer have a proven backup quarterback after QB Nick Foles signed with the Jaguars in free agency. Foles performed well as a starter when QB Carson Wentz was out with injuries the last couple of seasons. Foles won the MVP award at Super Bowl LII.

With Foles gone, the Eagles have Nate Sudfeld and Cody Kessler as their backup quarterbacks, and they are both significant drop-offs compared to having Foles as the No. 2. So the Eagles will be in a worse position if Wentz misses time than they have been over the past couple of seasons.

The division isn’t much of a challenge

Being in the NFC East should help give the Eagles a chance to return to the postseason because the Cowboys are really their only competition in the division.

The Giants are expected to stick with past-his-prime Eli Manning as their starting quarterback, at least for most of the season before potentially going to rookie Daniel Jones late in the year. They also traded star WR Odell Beckham, leaving RB Saquon Barkley as their only superstar on offense.
The Redskins, meanwhile, are expected to be without veteran quarterback Alex Smith all season, leaving them with a quarterback depth chart that includes journeymen Colt McCoy and Case Keenum, in addition to potential rookie of the year candidate Dwayne Haskins. It’s a two-team race in the East, which increases the chances that the Eagles may get back into the playoffs.