Leading the NFL, Gardner-Johnson's INTs no fluke


As C.J. Gardner-Johnson walked through the tunnel of NRG Stadium last week and entered the visitors locker room, the young and brash Eagles safety couldn’t help himself.

“All I do is get the ball,” Gardner-Johnson shouted. “Ball, ball, ball, ball!”

Hard to argue.

Through eight games in the 2022 season, Gardner-Johnson already has five interceptions to lead the league. After he had a total of five in three seasons (43 games) with the Saints, he’s already doubled his career total in less than half a season in Philly.

As you might imagine, this does not come as a surprise to the confident 24-year-old playmaker.

“I can catch,” Gardner-Johnson said. “I just need an opportunity to catch the ball. I think that’s what coach did. He put me in position to catch the ball.”

Sometimes interceptions can be fluky. Sometimes they even get called lucky.  Although “luck” is a word head coach Nick Sirianni and defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon scoffed at recently when used in reference to the Eagles’ league-leading 18 takeaways and 12 interceptions this season.

Maybe there’s some degree of fortune that plays a role in these interceptions, but it goes well beyond that. The Eagles are capitalizing on their chances and that certainly isn’t luck. That’s preparation.

Gannon this week praised Sirianni for putting the Eagles’ defensive backs through the same catch circuit the Eagles’ receivers go through. The purpose of this is pretty simple.

“The catch circuit is just putting yourself in different positions to make catches that you aren't typically going to make,” Sirianni explained.

While Sirianni admitted there’s no real way to practice diving interceptions — like the one Gardner-Johnson had against the Cowboys — they try to make these catches as difficult as possible. Sirianni and Gannon each took a brief detour to boast about their own passing accuracy but gave credit to the Eagles’ defensive backs coaches for throwing these off-target passes during practice to get their players ready.

That practice is paying off.



Because not only do the Eagles lead the league in interceptions but they already have the same amount (12) as they did in the entire 2021 season. And they’re the first Eagles team to have three players with 3+ interceptions through eight games since 1991. Gardner-Johnson has five, while Darius Slay and James Bradberry each have three.

“Anytime you can practice catching the ball, of course practice makes perfect,” Bradberry said. “A lot of repetition helps going into the game. I think it’s helped us out quite a bit.”

Gardner-Johnson now has interceptions in four straight games, becoming the first Eagles player to do that since Bill Bradley in the 1972 season. But CJGJ claims he’s always had the hand-eye coordination to make these kinds of picks. The difference now is that as a safety he doesn’t have to do as much chasing and he can attack the football.

What has led to all these picks from Gardner-Johnson?

“You want me to be honest with you?” he said. “Hand-eye coordination and JUGS machine after practice and being in the right spot at the right time. That’s all that is pretty much.”

Last Thursday, Gardner-Johnson’s third-quarter interception extended his streak to four games and also set up the Eagles with a short field to score a quick go-ahead touchdown on the road.

Like many of his picks this season, it wasn’t easy.

“I’m just glad he caught it. We got off the field,” Bradberry said. “He’s been playing well. Of course he leads the league in picks right now and that’s a great accolade in itself. We just want to keep that going. Hopefully, one of us stays in the lead.”

Entering Week 10 in the NFL, there are just 14 players league-wide with 3+ interceptions and the Eagles have three of them. No other team has more than one.

Bradberry offered up another reason for all the Eagles’ interceptions: He gave credit to their pass rush. The secondary and pass rush are connected and that shows. When the Eagles get pressure — especially against shaky quarterbacks — it leads to errant passes or tipped balls.

It just seems like one of the biggest differences this year as opposed to other recent seasons is that the Eagles are making the most of these opportunities in 2022.

“They understand where their opportunities are going to come, and they make some plays that if me and you were out there, we probably wouldn't make them,” Gannon said. “It's been good. They're executing well, and we need to continue to do that.”

While the Eagles don’t compare their highlight-reel interceptions, they are quick to get on each other in the DB room if they see a dropped pick. Just another example of accountability in the Eagles’ locker room.

Although, there are occasionally arguments about which defensive back has the best hands. They’re not shy about that.

“Me,” Gardner-Johnson said. “For s— sure, me.”

Again, hard to argue.

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