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September 24, 2021

Mailbag: How will the Eagles replace Brandon Graham?

Eagles NFL
Brandon_Graham_bench_Eagles_49ers_Frese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Brandon Graham, with other Eagles edge defenders

In our Eagles chat on Wednesday, there were a lot of questions that we could not get to in time or other questions we did answer but could use more color. And so, let's do a mailbag post to answer some of the overflow, as well as some commonly asked questions on Twitter and via email.

Question from Joe: Any concern that the defense isn't creating turnovers? Through 2 weeks they're one of only 2 teams in that category.

It's noteworthy, but I don't yet think it's a major cause for concern. They have gotten pressure on the quarterback, and for the most part players in the secondary seem to be in the right spots. They've also been close:

  1. Anthony Harris had a golden opportunity for an INT, but couldn't make the play. 
  2. Steve Nelson had an INT opportunity in which he couldn't finish.
  3. The Eagles also had the fumble that got called back on the tough call on K'Von Wallace. 
  4. Matt Ryan was called for an intentional grounding when I'm pretty sure he spiked the ball backwards and should have been ruled a lateral.

If they can continue to get pressure, and be in the right spots on the back end, opposing offenses will eventually make mistakes. 

Question from DMC in MB: Is the lack of blitzing a referendum on the LB skills or insight to Gannon's schematic preferences?

During the 2020 offseason, we took a look at Genard Avery's snaps from the 2019 season, and I came to the following conclusion.

Avery's appeal is that he can maybe be a hybrid linebacker / pass rusher. The Eagles only used him as the latter, in his limited snaps. His best usage was as a stand-up rusher in a "Joker" role. 

I don't think he can play DE at his size on normal down-distances, because he'll be a major liability against the run. And then even in obvious pass rush situations, I don't think you can line him up on the edge and expect him to get a high percentage of one-on-one wins, because his size will always limit his pass rush repertoire.

While his explosiveness is pretty clear, it'll be a challenge to find ways to get him into games in that Joker role, without telegraphing to the offense what's coming, unless he can also develop as a linebacker who can cover and play the run.

Under Jim Schwartz, the Eagles didn't use Avery really at all in coverage. He was just a pass rusher, and no matter where you lined him up, opposing offenses knew he was coming, which made him ineffective. Under Jonathan Gannon, he has played 60 snaps this season — 36 have been as a run defender, 20 have been in coverage, and four have been as a pass rusher, according to PFF.

So basically, his role has almost completely swung the other way, in that he's primarily dropping into coverage with pass rush opportunities being few and far between. In theory, he should be a good blitzer, as should Patrick Johnson (only two pass rush snaps this season) at that SAM spot. Additionally, Eric Wilson (one pass rush snap) is a guy who has experience as a blitzer from his time in Minnesota.

So I think they have some guys who can blitz. We just haven't seen much of it yet. Gannon got asked a similar question this week, by the way. His response:

"It depends on the game plan. So, you know, that's – whether you want to pressure or you don't want to pressure, or how you want to play, set up the game plan, that's very specific to who we're playing. And if you look, these last two weeks, some of the concepts are similar and then some of the concepts were drastically different. And the reason behind that is those offenses that we were defending were different. And just like Dallas is a completely different offense than Atlanta and San Francisco.

"And that's how it will be typically every week. So, it's, ‘Okay, well, here's what we have in our bucket and let's try to get our players in the best position possible to play winning football for our team.’ So, that won't really change. So if we decide to pressure a little bit more whatever week, that's probably because we think that this is good versus that team. If we don't – we don't pressure once, that's how we decide we want to – that's how we want to play that week.

"So, our guys – I do believe it's really cool to see our guys, when we do give them the game plan, and say, ‘Hey, if we do these three things, we'll have a chance to win the game.’ And I thought that we've done that for the first two weeks. So, hopefully we can continue to do that and continue to grow and get a little bit better as we get going."

So to answer your question, I think we have too small a sample size to make any real sweeping judgments on the identity of this defense, but Gannon is correct that the results so far are good. They've only allowed 23 points.

Question from Drewskii: With Brandon Graham done for the year what's the plan for the defensive line? I loved the Josh Sweat extension but didn't understand the low snap count for him last week. Obviously this will increase but in my opinion he should for sure be on the field over Barnett. I was a fan of Barnett but the frustrations have kind of taken over. What are your thoughts on his future with the team?

So there are like three questions there.

After Graham went down last week, Ryan Kerrigan mainly filled into his spot. The DE spot that Graham/Kerrigan are playing is different from the one that Sweat and Barnett are playing, so I can understand not moving Sweat or Barnett into that role, especially in-game, at least on early downs. 

However, there were occasions on Sunday in which Kerrigan was on the field, rushing off the edge on obvious passing downs while Sweat was standing on the sidelines. That can't happen, and I think the Eagles staff realizes that, at least based on their responses to Sweat snap count questions they faced this week. 

As for replacing Graham going forward, Milton Williams is the easy answer. He was playing the same role as Graham for a big chunk of camp, and I imagine he'll just slide right back into that spot. 

As for Barnett, he has obviously been a disappointment, partly because of production, and partly because of availability, and obviously the continued occasional idiotic cheap shots don't help. I know this point is getting tired, but he's still only 25 years old. It's not out of the ordinary at all for pass rushers to sort of figure it out and become more productive at this point in their careers. Barnett still has 15 games to show that he can take his game to the next level. I'm not super optimistic on that. My early guess is that he's playing elsewhere next year, and the Eagles are shopping for a edge rusher in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Question from Checkdown King: Has Brandon Graham played his last snap as an Eagle?

Graham isn't going anywhere. I think they love his energy and leadership, and I know Graham will work hard to rehab his Achilles. Comments made earlier this year lead me to believe that he won't retire.

Because he got injured so early in the season, he should be fine for 2022. But even if the Eagles wanted to move on (again, I don't think they will), his contract won't allow that. 

Question from The revenge of the McNabb jinx: Is Kerrigan cooked? Is he long term retribution for trading Donovan McNabb to Washington?

Kerrigan has played 66 snaps so far this season. He has 0 tackles, sacks, QB hits, and pressures.

Question from Bird Gang: With BG out do you see Tarron Jackson being the 4th DE, or do you see Milton Williams getting moved out there. Personally, I say keep the rookies where they are and let them get their feet wet at only one position. It's not like this is a Super Bowl team this year.

Jackson had some brutally bad reps in the game on Sunday. He shouldn't be playing in real games yet, at all, in my opinion. 

Question from Shamus O’Toole: Hey Jimmy, do we think Sirianni's decision making regarding the play calls is a cause for concern, or can we chalk it up to a rookie coach making mistakes in his second game that he'll learn from?

I think it's both. I give him credit for taking accountability for the play calls he made down near the goal line on Sunday. A lot of coaches that have passed through Philly haven't done that, and often take the attitude of, "What do you know, dumb fans / media guys?" (without actually saying those words, obviously).

I thought he called a great game Week 1, so we've seen some good from him too. 

Question from jlinpv: If QBs continue to get hurt, do you think a market, ok, even a one-team market could open for Flacco? If so, what round pick would you guess and at what round would it be a decent ROI since the Eagles would have essentially bought another draft pick based on the cap hit?

That remains just such a senseless signing to me. (Hang on, I need to take a second. You promised you wouldn't do this anymore, Jimmy. OK Jimmy, I'll stop.)

Anyway, could a team like their chances with Flacco more than whatever third stringer they have who might have to play? I suppose. Seventh-round pick? I think that's probably the best the Eagles could get.

Question from Anonymous: Hopefully we'll be seeing more snaps for Quez Watkins. Would his snaps come at Jalen Reagor's expense, or could they be on the field at the same time?

They can play (and have played) at the same time. But I'm with you that Watkins is simply the better player right now and should be getting more opportunities than Reagor.

Question from greenwithenvy: Is my reception in New Mexico bad, or did Landon Dickerson seem to be on the ground a lot in that game?

He had a rough debut, he knew it, and he acknowledged it. I liked this quote from him:

He was put in a tough spot in that game. He hasn't really played since last December, he probably isn't truly 100 percent yet, and he's a rookie getting his first playing time ever against a great defensive line. I don't think this is like when Andre Dillard was forced into action deep into the season in 2019 against the Vikings, and he played badly. The sentiment from him after that game certainly wasn't anything like, "Excuses breed mediocrity."

We'll get a good look at how Dickerson responds on Monday night. I'm encouraged by his mindset after a bad initial showing, though.

Question from Kimmy Jempski: Dear Lord Jimmy, I'm concerned about the OL play. Saw Jason Kelce on the turf, and Lane Johnson doesn’t look 100%. Very likely the Eagles will need a new RT, and G in the near future. Do you think Andre Dillard can switch to RT? Do you keep Dickerson at C (for next year) or move him to RG as a Brandon Brooks replacement?

I'll start by saying that Philadelphians hold their offensive linemen to a very high standard. The O-line certainly hasn't been perfect so far, but overall I think they've been good. That said, Kelce and Brooks will likely both have to be replaced as soon as next offseason, and while Johnson's eventual departure from the team isn't quite as imminent, the Eagles need to have a succession plan in place for him as well.

The Eagles have three players who can be long-term answers. Jordan Mailata is the LT (duh). No need to get cute there — Just park him at LT and hope he's a stud blindside protector for the next decade. And then there's Isaac Seumalo, a competent-but-unspectacular above average starting guard, and Dickerson, a physical beast, but with injury concerns. In my opinion, Dickerson is a much more likely successor to Kelce than Seumalo, especially if he stays healthy this year. 

I'd look at the line like this:

2022 Mailata Seumalo Dickerson Johnson 
2023 Mailata Seumalo Dickerson 

Of the reserves presently on the team, the player with the best chance of developing into a starter is Jack Driscoll, who can theoretically play RG or RT, though I don't think he's an ideal long-term answer at either spot, especially RT, because his ceiling is limited. You want to have a stud on both edges, and in my opinion, you don't stop looking until you have that. I don't think Dillard is a player who can be counted on in any way.

I believe the Eagles could be in the market for a long-term RT in the 2022 NFL Draft, with either that player or Driscoll filling in at RG in the short-term. 

Question from GoBirds: Did we just watch the best and worst defenses the Birds will face all year?

When this season and over and done with, the Falcons will probably be a bottom 5 defense. I didn't think the Niners' defense will be the best they see this year. They were starting a fifth-round rookie and Josh Norman at corner. Other teams with better passing attacks are going to expose them. 

Question from DB: Does Doug Pederson get a HC job again?

I think Doug's best hope in 2022 is to find an offensive coordinator job with a team that has a defensive-minded head coach, where he can run his own unit (as opposed to a situation that he was in with Kansas City, where it was Andy Reid's offense). But he has some branding to restore before he gets another shot at a head coaching job.

Question from Scojos: Is Daniel Jones going to somehow save his AND Gettleman’s jobs, ensuring continued mediocrity for the Giants? For all the Giants’ problems, he seems be playing well at least by conventional metrics?

Jones has some things going for him. He makes some nice throws, and he can make plays with his legs. His glaring issue is turnovers. So far, he hasn't thrown any picks, but he does have a lost fumble. If he can limit the backbreaking mistakes, he can be a decent quarterback. We'll see. I can't see how Gettleman survives if this team has another losing record, which is very likely happening this year. They have too many other major first-round misses, even if Jones shows this season that he's beginning to pan out. 

Question from Wally Cleaver: College question: Is the targeting penalty in any way effective? It seems like every week there are still a ton of targeting calls.

Don't you dare introduce that evil into an NFL discussion, and give officiating an opportunity to get even worse.

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