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How did a defense with so many new pieces mesh so fast?


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How did a defense with so many new pieces mesh so fast?


Their leading sack producer was a Panther last year. Their interception leader was a Saint last year. Their leader in pass knockdowns was a Giant. Their best tackling linebacker was a Charger. Their top-rated interior lineman was a Georgia Bulldog. 

You would think it would take until well into the season for all these new pieces to come together.

It took one game.

"We started in OTAs and training camp, really putting in extra time, studying film, communicating and just trying to get familiar with each other and be on the same page at all times,” Kyzir White said. "I feel like it’s made the transition really smooth.”

Even with six new starters – five who weren’t even here last year – the Eagles have established themselves as one of the NFL’s best defenses six weeks into the 2022 season.

Between March 16 and May 18, the Eagles signed Haason Reddick to a three-year deal, signed Kyzir White and Bradberry to one-year deals and drafted Jordan Davis. Then, in late August, when concern about their safety situation had reached the panic stage, they traded for Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. Add a promotion into the starting lineup for Marcus Epps, and a brand-new defense was born.

Out went Anthony Harris, Rodney McLeod, Steven Nelson, Derek Barnett, Genard Avery, Alex Singleton and Davion Taylor – who started a combined 84 games last year. In came a fleet of young, physical, fast playmakers. Barnett came back as a backup and is now out for the year, and Taylor is back on the practice squad.

But this is a total new-look defense, and the only 2022 starters who were regular 2021 starters are T.J. Edwards, Darius Slay, Javon Hargrave, Josh Sweat and Fletcher Cox. And the Eagles released Cox and re-signed him.

How can a defense with six new pieces play like this?

"We had had really good practices during training camp and just kept building that chemistry,” Bradberry said. "And they brought in some good players and it’s showing. We communicate well. We try to make it easy on the guys up front and they try to make it easy for us.”

Compare the Eagles’ defensive rankings through six games this year and for all of last year:

Yards allowed
2021: 329 [10th]
2022: 298 [4th]

Points allowed
2021: 22.6 [18th]
2022: 16.0 [5th]

Opposing passer rating
2021: 95.4 [10th]
2022: 66.0 [1st]

Sacks per game
2021: 1.7 [31st]
2022: 2.8 [7th]

Takeaways per game
2021: 0.9 [26th]
2022: 2.3 [1st] 

This group developed big-time chemistry and cohesion almost instantly. Other than the opener in Detroit, the defense hasn't allowed more than 17 points per game. This is the first time since 2009 - when Sean McDermott was defensive coordinator - the Eagles' defense has held five straight opponents to 17 or fewer points. 

And they did it with short training camp practices and minimal preseason reps. Reddick, Bradberry, White and Epps played a combined total of 18 snaps in the preseason, and Gardner-Johnson didn’t even get here until after the preseason was over. 

Yet here we are.

"I like where we're at, but that's always a process that you are going through,” defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon said. "I really think our best ball is ahead of us. One of the best defenses I've been on was in '17 with Minnesota. Those starters, they played with each other for four years, the group on that defense. Indy was the same way. Our third year we were in the top ten, and the group of those guys played together a good amount. They played a lot together. 

"I really like where we're at, but I am excited about our opportunity to keep ascending.”

You can credit Nick Sirianni’s belief in connecting for much of the defense’s success with so many new additions.

"Honestly, we do spend a lot of time around each other,” Reddick said. "Even when we have free time, guys are always in the players’ lounge playing Ping-Pong, playing pool, playing video games, whenever we have some down time. We just enjoy each other. It’s a brotherhood and we’re having fun and we’re clicking. We’ve got that chemistry. We’re rolling right now.”


How does Ping-Pong or pool make you a better defense?

"It’s just another opportunity to bond, and you get closer with the man that you’re getting ready to go battle with,” Reddick said. "You get to know your teammates, have fun with your teammates and it makes it that much better when you’re on the field because now we’re on the field fighting together toward a common goal and when we know each other and have that bond we’re fighting that much harder because we’re fighting for the man next to us as well.”

Howie Roseman deserves a huge amount of credit for this whole thing working because he set out this past offseason not just to find the most talented players for Gannon’s defense but guys who fit into Sirianni’s culture.

That means team-first, unselfish, committed to the process.

"I think this team works to connect a lot, and it's through different ways,” Sirianni said. "I think about when Jordan was drafted, one of the most excited guys about that was Fletcher Cox. 

"I think about when James Bradberry was signed, the guy who was most excited about that was Slay. You have these guys that know, ‘Hey, to be good you're going to have to have good players and good pieces there and then just welcome them in.’ That's why Fletch and Slay are captains. And all the guys are like that. All the captains are like that.

"We have great leaders on this team that know what it takes to get to the top. It's not the best group of individuals that wins championships. It's not the best group of individuals that wins games. It's the best team. These guys work like crazy to do so.”

It's amazing that Sirianni and Gannon got complete buy-in from these new guys.

If you noticed some new additions who aren't here anymore, there's a good chance they didn't buy in.

"It's more than football," Sirianni said. "It is. To be on the same page on the field and make plays together, things have to work in unison. For things to work in unison, there has to be this connectivity: ‘I don't want to let my teammate down, so I'm going to work a little bit harder because that guy, that Slay guy there is doing everything he can do for me to get me better and I don't want to let him down. 

"I really do believe that it is that closeness of this team. That’s what makes me excited about this team, is that they just keep coming together and keep coming together and want to succeed for each other and play for each other.”


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I'm not sure it took one game for this D to mesh together. I think they've played well for the most part but I still think they are finding their feet and I think there's more to come. They've played well in patches but there have also been some struggles in some games. 

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