Even if Carson Wentz had not taken that fatal dive into the end zone out in Los Angeles last month, this would still be the time of year when we’d be asking if the Eagles defense was good enough to make a Super Bowl run. Nigel Bradham, arguably the most intense man on the entire Eagles roster, believes he already knows the answer.
“If you look at what we did, everything is there,” the outside linebacker said Wednesday after the Eagles held their first practice in preparation for a postseason that begins a week from Saturday. “I don’t see how anyone could think we’re not a championship defense when everything is there.”
He makes a good point.
The Eagles check almost all of the boxes when it comes to evaluating a great defense. In fact, they check more of them than the Minnesota Vikings, who have allowed the fewest points and fewest yards in the NFL this season. As stingy as the Vikings were this season, the Eagles have been much better at taking the football away from opponents and that’s a defensive category that becomes magnified in the postseason.
“The fastest way to impact a game is to take the ball away and we put that emphasis on each other,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “We’ll be looking at film and we’ll say, ‘Right here, you made a tackle, but you could have taken the ball away.’ We know how to impact a game.”
The Eagles’ 31 takeaways this season ranked fourth in the NFL and second in the NFC. By comparison, the Vikings finished tied for 23rd in the NFL with just 19 takeaways. Only Jacksonville, with 33, had more takeaways than the Eagles among the NFL’s 12 playoff teams. The closest team to the Eagles in the NFC was the Los Angeles Rams with 28.
It has been well documented that if the Eagles are going to win their first Super Bowl next month, they are going to have to do so with backup quarterback Nick Foles, who is being viewed by the majority of fans and oddsmakers as an albatross rather than a competent replacement for Wentz
Foles is trying to become the eighth quarterback in the Super Bowl era to open the season as a backup and lead his team to the title. The seven previous winners all had the support of dominant defenses that knew how to create turnovers.
Here’s the list: The 1971 Dallas Cowboys (Roger Staubach) were a plus-nine in turnover ratio with 11 takeaways in the postseason. The 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers (Terry Bradshaw) were a plus-four with nine takeaways. The 1980 Oakland Raiders (Jim Plunkett) were a plus-10 with 14 takeaways, including a 4-0 advantage over the Eagles in the Super Bowl. The 1987 Washington Redskins (Doug Williams) were a plus-four with seven takeaways. The 1990 New York Giants (Jeff Hostetler) were a plus-two with three takeaways. The 2000 Baltimore Ravens (Trent Dilfer) were a plus-10 with 12 takeaways and the 2001 New England Patriots (Tom Brady) were a plus-six with seven takeaways.
In order for the Eagles to defy the odds and win with Foles, they are going to have to play that kind of defense and create a short field for their offense.
“We feel like, of course, we’re a championship defense,” Bradham said. “We know we’re going to have to carry it.”
The good news for the Eagles is that the defensive players truly believe they are good enough to do it. Some of that, of course, will depend on good health. Defensive end Brandon Graham could be seen walking around the locker room Wednesday without a shoe on the sprained right ankle that kept him out of Sunday’s regular-season finale with Dallas. Without Graham, the dynamic on defense changes significantly for the Eagles. He is the energizer and his ability to move inside on the pass rush creates chaos for an opposing offense. Graham is not expected to practice at least until next week.
“I think for the games we played, we showed that we’re a top defense,” safety Rodney McLeod said. “Now, it’s a new season. We have to reestablish ourselves again. I think people gave us credit, but this is an opportunity for us to go out and put our mark on the league. That’s what the playoffs are all about.”
The Eagles’ defense was outstanding during the regular season, but the players know they will only be recognized as special if they can win without Wentz in the postseason. It’s a monumental task and soon enough we will find out if they are up to the challenge.