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September 13, 2022

Eagles mailbag: What's up with Jonathan Gannon?

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Mail time! The Eagles had an uneven win on Sunday in Detroit, looking both dominant and defenseless in their 38-35 victory against the Lions. That type of performance is going to leave fans with a ton of questions regarding the state of the team. The mailbag has never been more important! If you want to ask a question for a future mailbag, you can email me (shamus@phillyvoice.com) or tweet at me

Let's get to the questions... 

@EveryoneOnTwitter: What's up with Jonathan Gannon

I received several Jonathan Gannon questions this week. Some were fine for print. Others were not. Believe me, I understand fans' flipping back and forth on Eagles players and staff members. That's part of the chaotic beauty of fandom, especially in this city with this team. 

Given some of the responses I received about pitchforks, I don't think Eagles fans need to take it to that level just yet. Any concerns, however, about the defensive coordinator's scheme are warranted. 

Having a strong defensive line has been the hallmark of the organization's roster construction since Howie Roseman's earliest days in the team's front office. In the last couple of offseasons, they've continuously put big resources into their pass rushers. Javon Hargrave received a contract worth nearly $26 million guaranteed in 2020. The Eagles used a 2021 Day 2 pick on Milton Williams. Josh Sweat received a contract extension worth almost $27 million guaranteed last September. The Eagles signed Haason Reddick to a deal that has $30 million guaranteed this past spring and then traded up in the draft for Jordan Davis.

Where has that gotten the defense? Well, about the same place they were last year, unable to continuously pressure the quarterback, allowing opposing quarterbacks to dink and dunk against the Birds' back-7. The Birds were 31st in sacks in 2021 and the easy assumption was that number would skyrocket in Gannon's second year in Philly with this influx of defensive line talent. The Birds could obviously get on a role and still end up with 40-plus sacks (they had 28 last year), but it's rationale to wonder if this is more of a scheme than personnel issue. I lean that it's a bit of both given what we know right now.

Fletcher Cox, while holding a distinguished spot in franchise history, is no longer the All-Pro player he once was. Davis and Williams ooze potential, but are still so young in their careers. Nevertheless, seeing this much talent on a defense with the performance they put up in Week 1 raises legitimate questions about whether the players are truly being optimized. "Is it the coaching or the players?" is the ultimate "Chicken or the egg?" debate in the NFL. 

If Justin Jefferson goes for 165 receiving yards, two touchdowns and the Eagles surrender 35-plus points to the Vikings on Monday, well, things are going to get even more heated with how the city views Gannon. 

@tcareuhborni: With the stark defense in rush defense between Cox/Hargrave and Davis/Williams/Tuipulotu do you expect to see less of them on the old guys on 1st and 2nd down and just bring them on pass rush?

Building off that defensive line talk, Davis has to be on the field more. It's been the prevailing question over the last two days amongst Eagles fans and the media. I understand that Gannon likely has a rotation that he's sticking to early in the season before seeing how each player is or isn't blossoming into their assigned role, but based on how the rush defense looked in Detroit, Davis needs to be out there more. With Dalvin Cook coming to town on Monday, that run D is going to get another hell of a challenge. 

How Williams is used going forward is intriguing. Derek Barnett has been lost for the season with an ACL tear and Williams has cross-trained at defensive end at times in his two seasons with the Birds. Will Gannon use him there? Does that make the defensive tackle rotation flow more naturally?  The defensive coordinator needs to figure that out quick. 

Jay Arnold (via email): My biggest concern going into the game is the stamina of the defensive line but nobody is talking about this. Cox is older. Hargrave barely practiced. Davis isn’t known for having great stamina. Add in a low intensity pre-season and I think these guys are out of gas in the fourth quarter (maybe even earlier) if the Eagles offense has too many three and outs. Am I missing something or are Milton Williams/Marlon Tuipulotu gonna be critical to winning this game?

Jay asked this question before Week 1 and I let him know that if it still felt relevant, I'd tackle it in this week's mailbag. He was pretty spot on! Marlon Tuipulotu was critical in the win, forcing a pressure on Lions quarterback Jared Goff on James Bradberry's pick-6. As I've been getting at, the biggest question for the team right now is the Gannon-defensive line pairing. Playing Minnesota on a national stage Monday is going to determine to the football world whether the preseason hype around this team was deserved. An improved pass rush performance would go a long way to quell fans' concerns. 

@WhiteNoiseSpor1: Any chance Vic Fangio has free time? Lol

The guy does seem to be around the team a lot...

@kevin_jawn: Is AJ Brown really this good? Will Devonta have a disappointing season?

"He's real and spectacular." 

I wrote about A.J. Brown immediately following Sunday's win and on Monday for my "who won the week in Philly sports" recurring feature. Here's an excerpt from my Sunday story:

The passing game looked totally transformed before the first half was even over with Brown racking up 128 receiving yards in just two quarters of play. Hurts, of course, doesn't look like one of the game's elite QBs and had a few off throws Sunday afternoon, but Brown's presence is helping him leap from "okay passer" to "good passer." That improvement alone might be enough to take the Eagles from a nine-win team to an 11- or 12-win team. 

He's legit. 

@The_OY: Its only week 1 but I have to ask: Is AJ Brown the best Eagles WR since this man…

This tweet included a .gif of Terrell Owens doing his Eagle wing touchdown celebration back in Week 1 of the 2004 season, Owens' first game as an Eagle.

The answer is a definitive yes for me. No shade to DeSean Jackson, perhaps the greatest deep threat in league history, but Brown's versatility in how he can beat defenses is so vast and he just seems bigger, stronger and faster than whatever defensive back he's lining up across from. 

@tiny_package: Would you rather have a bad eagles win or a devastating, season crushing Dallas loss? (We can't have both every week)

Phenomenal question. The ultimate Philadelphia sports conundrum: would you rather be slightly upset at your own team's success or thrive in the misery of others? "We can't have both every week" is a fair take and I tend to agree. 

Speaking for fans in general, I think they'd lean toward just getting a win regardless of ugly it may be. A "bad" win is a double whammy for Eagles discourse: fans can get hype about the team's place in the standings while also arguing all week about what part of the team is responsible for these underwhelming wins. 

It only takes one Dallas loss to crush their season, right? That's already out of the way after Sunday and Dak Prescott's injury. 


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