How Eagles' secondary went from worst to first


One thing was obvious to everybody when the 2021 season ended.

The Eagles' secondary had to get better. A lot better.

Howie Roseman didn't just tweak things, he went into full overhaul mode, and the result is a pass defense that's gone from one of the worst in the NFL to one of the best. Quite possibly the best.

The transformation has been remarkable:

Opposing completion percentage

2021: 32nd  

2022: 4th 

Interception ratio

2021: 21st

2022: 1st 

Opposing passer rating

2021: 23rd 

2022: 1st

Passing TDs allowed

2021: 21st 

2022: 5th 

Passing Yards per play

2021: 10th 

2022: 1st 

Darius Slay is the only returning starter in this group. James Bradberry replaced Steven Nelson, Chauncey-Gardner Johnson replaced Anthony Harris and Marcus Epps replaced Rodney McLeod, who the Eagles saw in Indy this past weekend. 

The Eagles are the only NFL team that hasn't allowed an opposing quarterback to record a passer rating of at least 100 and they haven't allowed a passer rating of 90. The last time no QB had a passer rating of at least 100 vs. the Eagles over a full season was 1950.

Now, it's not like they've been facing Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen or Joe Burrow every week. And there are some QBs on the horizon -- Aaron Rodgers Sunday, Ryan Tannehill, Daniel Jones, Dak Prescott -- who are going to present challenges that Cooper Rush, Kenny Pickett and Davis Mills can't.

But compared to last year?

You have to like what we're seeing on a weekly basis.

Among starting cornerbacks, Bradberry and Slay rank 1st and 3rd in opposing passer rating, Bradberry at 40.3 and Slay at 50.6 (the Panthers' Jaycee Horn is 2nd at 45.1).

Gardner-Johnson leads the NFL with six interceptions -- most by an Eagles safety since Greg Jackson had six in 1994 -- and Epps might be the most underrated guy on the entire defense and ranks seventh among all safeties by Pro Football Focus in tackling. Nickel Avonte Maddox is currently on injured reserve, but he's one of the best slots in the business.

Factor in an improved pass rush that makes life easier for the guys in the back end, and you have the best -- or one of the two- or three-best -- secondaries in football.

What does Gannon like most about this group?

"Their attention to detail," he said Tuesday. "They're in the right spots. They play their leverage the correct way. We don't bust. You see that when a lot of explosive passes happen, guys aren't on the same page. If you look as you're watching a bunch of games, you're like, 'Oh, that's a mismatch in coverage.' We don't do that.

"I think they play confidently. They understand the strength and the stress of the call, and they play together pretty well."

That's another category the Eagles are among the best at in football. Allowing big plays. They've given up only five pass plays of 30 or more yards, the fewest in football. 

They're allowing an NFL-best 4.6 yards per pass attempt, their lowest figure since the legendary 1991 defense also allowed 4.6.

"Pass D, just like everything on defense, it's all 11, and they understand how they fit into the call and play accordingly, and I think that's where our pass defense has been pretty good," Gannon said.

"I think we're striving to become better because we leave some plays out there that we shouldn't leave out there in my opinion and in their opinion, and they know that. But execution within the game and situations and each call, I think they're doing a good job."

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