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June 17, 2023

What they're saying: A.J. Brown was a 'nightmare' on slant routes in 2022

No receiver was better on slant routes in 2022 than A.J. Brown, per PFF's findings, and the Eagles used that to their full advantage.

The wait for training camp brings the slowest point of the NFL offseason along with it.

Slow doesn't mean stop, however, and even though nothing major is expected to go on for a bit – well, involving the Eagles at least – there are still a few odds and ends surrounding the Birds to touch on, ranging anywhere from analysis of what really worked last season to what might with this coming one. 

So let's jump right in. 

Here's what they're saying about the Eagles, starting with their top receiver and his best route...

Find a new slant

Lauren Gray | Pro Football Focus

With a unique combination of size and speed at wide receiver, A.J. Brown was brutal on secondaries all of last season, and on the way to a career-best 1,496 yards and 11 touchdowns, there was one route in particular that he was near unstoppable on. 

Over at Pro Football Focus earlier this week, they graded out receivers by route type and found that Brown was the league's best in 2022 when it came to running slants, scoring a 97.0 way ahead of Cleveland's Amari Copper (93.7) and Buffalo's Stefon Diggs (93.2).

Wrote Lauren Gray of their findings

A.J. Brown has the combination of size (6-foot-1 and 226 pounds) and speed that allows him to slip through tackles with apparent ease. The Eagles used this to their advantage by featuring Brown on slant routes last year, and he was a nightmare to cover.

The fourth-year wideout saw 34 targets on slants last year — 10 more than any other player at the position — and he caught 26 of them for a position-leading 386 yards.

In all, 19 of his slant catches went for a first down, and he turned 10 into explosive gains of 15 or more yards. He finished the year averaging 7.72 yards per route run on slants, a full yard more than the next-closest wide receiver. [PFF]

Seattle's wrong call?

Tyler Alsin | Field Gulls (SB Nation)

Rashaad Penny suffered another injury while rookie Kenneth Walker took off toward a 1,000-yard season. 

So for the Seahawks, the logic was sound: Let Penny go to free agency and stick with Walker as the lead running back going forward. 

But now Penny has joined a talented (and crowded) running back room in Philadelphia that also happens to be protected by the best offensive line in football, putting the pieces in place for him to bounce back and make Seattle regret that decision. 

Will they?

Tyler Alsin's thoughts:

But barring injury, the chances are high that on some random week, Kenneth Walker will have a bad game on the same day Rashaad Penny has a good one, and the fans - both fantasy and real life - will be sure to notice and lament.

The Philadelphia Eagles are ranked No. 1 on a bunch of stupid summer offensive line rankings, something that the Seahawks are...well, not. Even though Zach Charbonnet seems like a huge get for them in the second round, and perhaps even a better stylistic counterpart to Walker, he’s a rookie behind a lower-end yet improving line with yet more new parts this year. Furthermore, quickly discovering a powerful RB1 / RB2 tandem has not been a strength of Pete Carroll offenses.

In fact, going all the way back to 2013, the best running back duo from a yardage standpoint was Chris Carson and Mike Davis in 2018. Davis had 514 yards to Carson’s 1,151. Most every other year, the second running back topped out in the low 300s.

Meanwhile, just two seasons ago, the Eagles were able to get a running back above 750 and a second above 400 yards - and that’s after team-leader Jalen Hurts rushed for 784.

I was sad when he left, and I’m fully expecting at some point this season Rashaad Penny to make me (still happy for him tho) sad again. [SB Nation]


Bucky Brooks |

The Eagles' defensive front was vicious last season and may have only gotten more so with Georgia Bulldogs Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith joining the mix. 

There are still months to go before seeing what this unit is really made of and how Sean Desai will fully utilize it, but right now, former player and current analyst Bucky Brooks sees the Eagles' defensive front as not just the best out of the 32 teams, but the best out of any position group in the NFL.

Wrote Brooks:

Featuring a collection of pass-rushing specialists with size, speed, athleticism and explosiveness, Philadelphia creates mass destruction in the trenches. Four different players on the Eagles' defensive front hit double-digit sacks last season: Haason Reddick (16), Brandon Graham (11), Javon Hargrave (11) and Josh Sweat (11). With Fletcher Cox (seven sacks) and Milton Williams (four) also providing pressure, Philly cycled through a series of game-wreckers, keeping everyone fresh and raring to wreak havoc. I haven't even mentioned last year's first-round pick, Jordan Davis. A gargantuan human being at 6-foot-6 and 336 pounds, the surprisingly athletic Georgia product flashed disruptive ability -- especially against the run -- before a midseason ankle injury. With difference-makers all across the front, the Eagles can confine quarterbacks to the pocket while generating the gut pressure to register sacks through simplistic rush schemes. And in a passing league, this dynamic unit is a big reason why Philadelphia has emerged as a perennial title contender.

Now, the Eagles did lose Hargrave to San Francisco in free agency. For a normal unit, this would be a crippling blow. But Howie Roseman has built up such enviable depth in this area of the roster that Philly's defensive front will continue to devastate opposing offenses in the coming season and beyond. Even without Hargrave, this remains the best position group in football. []

What's next for Sweat?

Dave Spadaro |

An underrated key to that fearsome pass rush, and perhaps one of the better-kept secrets in the entire league, was Josh Sweat, who recorded a career-best 11 sacks and 48 tackles bursting off the edge last season. 

Quieter compared to the defensive stalwarts in Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox up front, Sweat has steadily improved with every passing season since being taken in the fourth round of the 2018 draft.

But as a veteran now, and coming off of his best year yet, there's no reason to get complacent, especially after where the team landed. He wants to push even further. 

Said Sweat in a talk with the Eagles' Dave Spadaro:

Now he's a veteran and a key member of a defense that leads with its front seven. Sweat has always given great effort on and off the field – starting with Jim Schwartz as the defensive coordinator and then Jonathan Gannon and now Sean Desai.

"I actually feel younger now. I feel stronger," he said. "I work harder now and I know what to do when I'm on the field – I want to get out there and run around and be fast and not do a lot of thinking especially with the defenses that we've had. Every year you have to prove yourself even more and the goal is to get better every year. That gets harder because I'm improving every year. I feel threatened every year. People are coming at me.

"If I ever don't feel that way, it's going to be a problem. That won't happen because that's just not me. I can't coast. I can't take anything for granted. I'm a fourth-round draft pick. I had this injury (severe knee injury in high school that nearly cut his career short) that made me think maybe I wouldn't come back. This game means so much to me and I love it so much that I attack it every day.

"I have this chip on my shoulder. I feel like I should have made the Pro Bowl last year because I had my best season. No question. Now I'm back to be even better. I'm ready to ramp this up, get this going. I'm excited about this defense, about what we've got going here. It's going to be a lot of fun learning together and growing together." []

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