Eagles need Tim Jernigan to step up in Fletcher Cox's likely absence

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Eagles defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan goes after New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning.

In a team sport like football, there usually is more than one reason why something happens.

And sometimes there’s not.

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has been fairly consistent the last several months in his explanation as to why the Eagles’ pass rush went to hell last season.

You may recall the Eagles had 20 sacks in their first six games, then managed to collect just 14 more the rest of the season. Gave up 19 touchdown passes and an average of 269 passing yards in their last 10 games.

In those first six games, the Eagles’ All-Pro defensive tackle, Fletcher Cox, was a dominant force. He had four sacks and 12 hurries. In the last 10, he had 2½ sacks and nine hurries.

“After he had that good start, teams adjusted,’’ Schwartz said last month. “They started taking him away and we didn’t win enough one-on-ones away from him because that other tackle got the one-on-ones [and didn’t win them].’’

That “other tackle’’ was Bennie Logan, and those one-on-ones he didn’t win last year are the main reason Logan no longer is an Eagle and Tim Jernigan is.

The Eagles let Logan, a solid run defender but a limited pass rusher, walk in March when he became a free agent. A month later, they acquired Jernigan in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens.

So far, Jernigan has been very effective as Cox’s interior tag-team partner. He has 1½ sacks, four pressures and three tackles for losses, which ties him with Brandon Graham for the team lead.

He played a big role in one of Eli Manning’s two interceptions Sunday when he got inside pressure in the second quarter and prevented him from stepping into a deep ball intended for Brandon Marshall.

The pass ended up being slightly underthrown, which enabled the Eagles’ rookie cornerback, Rasul Douglas, to come up with his first career interception.

But there’s a very good chance Jernigan won’t have Cox next to him to occupy multiple blockers on Sunday when the 2-1 Eagles face the 0-3 Chargers.

Cox injured his right calf late in the second half of the 27-24 win over the Giants. He didn’t practice Wednesday and, despite Doug Pederson’s optimistic claim that the two-time Pro Bowler’s recovery is “exceedingly above expectation,’’ it’s likely he’ll miss this week’s game and possibly more.

In the 28½ minutes Cox played Sunday, the Giants managed just seven first downs and 86 net yards. Manning completed 11 of 15 passes, but for only 83 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.

In the 31½ minutes the Eagles were without Cox after he injured his calf, the Giants had 14 first downs and 329 net yards.

Manning was 24-for-32 for 283 yards and three touchdowns. In the fourth quarter alone, with the Eagles unable to mount a pass rush, he was 14-for-15 for 204 yards.

“It seems like we get one guy hurt at a position and all of a sudden there’s a chain reaction,’’ Schwartz said. “I was proud of the way the guys … it was a hot day. That’s tough duty.

“We usually have a four-man rotation [at defensive tackle]. We went down to a three-man rotation [when Cox got hurt]. Beau [Allen] and Timmy both took a lot of reps.’’

Jernigan and Allen each played 50 of the 69 defensive snaps in the 90-degree heat.

Schwartz praised Jernigan for the pressure he got on Manning on the interception. But that was before Cox got hurt.

“He kept Eli from stepping up, which Eli likes to do,’’ Schwartz said. “He sort of had to throw without stepping into the pass. It was a little bit short, and I think that helped make the play.’’

Jernigan acknowledged that he “got a few more double-teams’’ after Cox went out. But he said the Eagles will be fine Sunday even if Cox can’t play.

“We have a special d-line with or without Fletch, no disrespect to Fletch,’’ Jernigan said.

“I’m definitely going to take advantage of my one-on-ones and the opportunities I get because that’s the biggest reason I was brought here: to win one-on-ones.’’

He’s right. But if Cox doesn’t play Sunday, chances are he’ll be seeing considerably fewer one-on-ones.

Until he was traded to the Eagles, Jernigan had spent his entire career playing in block-occupying, two-gap schemes, first at Florida State and then with the Ravens.

There were some growing pains this summer as he made the transition to Schwartz’s one-gap attacking scheme. But the growing pains appear to be behind him.

“There was never a moment when it ‘clicked,’ ’’ Jernigan said, repeating a word used by a reporter. “It’s just been a matter of taking coaching and continuing to take it, because I’ve always been a coachable player, and continuing to believe.

“That was the biggest thing with me; believing in what I was being told and applying it out on the field on game day.’’

Jernigan’s quickness and athleticism are good fits for Schwartz’s scheme.

“It’s fun,’’ he said. “You’re not thinking as much. That’s where a lot of guys get in trouble, especially up front. Because things happen so fast. If you take even a split second to think about what you’re doing, you’re too late.

“Playing in this defense, it definitely relaxes you before the ball is snapped. You know exactly what you’re going to do. The steps you’re going through in your head, the process, it’s way more simple. You’re just playing football.’’

On Sunday, with Cox probably out, the Eagles need Jernigan to play it very well.