The Eagles’ defense was good when it had to be.
It had some letdowns during the season, especially in the Super Bowl, but defensive end Brandon Graham’s late strip-sack against New England’s Tom Brady provided a fitting end to a seasonlong pattern.
They were at their best in the clutch. The Eagles did not allow a single point in the final two minutes of a game this season.
They owned the NFL’s best run defense during the regular season, allowing 79.2 yards per game, and ranked fourth in scoring defense at 18.4 points per game. Including the postseason, they allowed one touchdown or less in eight games.
Graham was among a host of players who had good seasons. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and safety Malcolm Jenkins made the Pro Bowl. Linebacker Nigel Bradham, Graham and cornerback Jalen Mills all played well for most of the year.
They were able to overcome some injuries. Middle linebacker Jordan Hicks was lost for the rest of the season with a ruptured Achilles’ tendon Oct. 29. Cornerback Ronald Darby missed eight games with a dislocated ankle.
The future looks promising. Re-signing Bradham, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, should be a priority. They may want to consider re-signing cornerback Patrick Robinson, who led the team with five interceptions, but there is a lot of young depth at that position.
This group played very well. Cox and Graham were both terrific. Graham led the team with nine and a half sacks during the regular season, then added his game-clinching hit against Brady. Ends Vinny Curry, Chris Long and rookie Derek Barnett were all productive.
Long had five sacks and a team-high four forced fumbles and also led the team with 12 quarterback pressures in the postseason. Barnett, the first-round draft pick, had six sacks and a big fumble recovery in the Super Bowl. On the inside, tackle Tim Jernigan seemed to wear down at the end of the season. Beau Allen had his best season.
Bradham was arguably the defense’s best player this season. He was third on the team with 85 tackles during the regular season and added a sack against Atlanta in the playoffs. After Hicks was hurt, he also assumed the play-calling responsibilities for the front seven.
Outside linebacker Mychal Kendricks stepped up his game this season with 72 tackles and two sacks in the regular season. Middle linebacker Dannell Ellerbe was a non-factor for most of the season after replacing Hicks. Najee Goode was better on special teams.
This was the most-improved part of the defense from last season. Once Darby returned from his injury, he had a solid season. Mills blossomed into a lock-down cornerback. Jenkins and Rodney McLeod formed a terrific safety tandem.
Jenkins led the team with 119 tackles in the regular season with two interceptions. Robinson was a huge upgrade as a slot cornerback. His 50-yard pick-six against Minnesota was the turning point of the NFC championship game.
Safety Corey Graham was a reliable backup. Rookie cornerback Rasul Douglas helped keep the secondary together in Darby’s absence. Rookie Sidney Jones, the second-round draft pick, played in only one game while recovering from a ruptured Achilles.
Like the defense, they bounced back from injuries to live up to their reputation as a top special teams unit.
When place-kicker Caleb Sturgis suffered a torn hip flexor in the season-opening game, the Eagles plucked rookie Jake Elliott off Cincinnati’s practice squad. Including the postseason, Elliott made 32 of 37 field goals, including two in the Super Bowl. He also provided one of the big plays of the season with his franchise-record, 61-yard field goal against the New York Giants on Sept. 25. That made up for five missed extra points.
Punter Donnie Jones had another solid season as a punter and holder. Rick Lovato, who replaced longtime long snapper Jon Dorenbos, played well. Linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill and Bryan Braman helped make up for a knee injury to Chris Maragos during the season.
Kenjon Barner did a respectable job after punt returner Darren Sproles suffered a season-ending knee injury but was ineffective on kickoff returns.
Doug Pederson should have been NFL Coach of the Year. He did a masterful job of coaching both on and off the field. Pederson will need a new offensive coordinator. Frank Reich is leaving to becoming Indianapolis head coach. They also lost quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, who is Minnesota’s new offensive coordinator. Special teams coordinator Dave Fipp again had a top-rated unit.
Defense and special teams awards
MVP (defense): Defensive end Brandon Graham
Biggest surprise (defense): Cornerback Patrick Robinson
Unsung hero (defense): Linebacker Nigel Bradham
Rookie of the Year (defense): Defensive end Derek Barnett
Biggest disappointment (defense): None
MVP (special teams): Place-kicker Jake Elliott
Biggest surprise (special teams): Place-kicker Jake Elliott
Unsung hero (special teams): Linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill
Rookie of the year (special teams): Running back Corey Clement
Biggest disappointment (special teams): None