How the Eagles are focused on winning the turnover battle

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Jonathan Gannon has spent much of the offseason studying turnovers.

When the Eagles defensive coordinator gets a stat sheet following a game, the first two places he looks are the turnover differential and the number of explosive plays. More often than not, he argues, those numbers will be the difference between winning and losing.

After a 2021 season in which the Eagles’ 16-takeout ranked 26th, Gannon and his defensive assistants searched for answers.

“We studied it extensively,” Gannon said. “Whenever you want to improve something, like we talked about, ‘Hey, those are the two things we really want to improve.’ You have to dive deep and study it.

How much time did the group of coaches devote to the subject?

“There’s a lot of time on the task,” Gannon said. “It’s not like you watch for a day, eight hours, and say, ‘OK, here’s what it is.’ It took a month with everyone in this room. We went through it. You start studying different people. You start talking to different people, how you drill into certain things. … I’m a big guy on the You need to define things clearly for players to understand, and then the why behind it.

So far, it looks like the Eagles defense speaks the language. The group is tied with the Baltimore Ravens with 10 takeouts, the league’s best in four games.

The Eagles forced five turnovers — four fumbles and one interception — against the Jacksonville Jaguars last Sunday as the remnants of Hurricane Ian brought steady rain and windy conditions. Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence struggled to hold onto the ball in the conditions, and the Eagles defensive front capitalized.

Edge rusher Haason Reddick led the unit, recording two sacks of tape and two fumble recoveries.

“It affects the game,” Gannon said. “He makes high-profile plays. He has a unique skill set. We use it in different ways. Even though he doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, we deploy him in a way that creates good matchups for others, so he still helps us win the game.

READ MORE: A closer look at the use of new Eagles rusher Haason Reddick in Jonathan Gannon’s scheme

Reddick, who leads the league with three forced fumbles this season, earned Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance. While the former Temple star’s tendency to knock the ball off opposing quarterbacks is something the Eagles practice, part of it comes down to natural ability, according to Gannon.

“There’s a skill set, a mentality, a feel to guys who pick up the ball more than other guys,” Gannon said when asked about Reddick’s instincts. “What you want to do is have as many guys as possible who have a knack for taking the ball and then breaking it and teaching it better and hopefully that comes to fruition, which he did. .”

Some regression to the mean is to be expected when looking at the current Eagles takeout total. Two of Lawrence’s fumbles were unforced errors which may be related to wet conditions making the ball slick. They also faced Carson Wentz and Kirk Cousins, two of the most turnover-prone quarterbacks in the league, so far.

The hot start gives the defense a strong chance of overtaking last year’s total regardless, but the group will need more plays like James Bradberry’s interception against Jacksonville to maintain the status quo.

Bradberry recognized the route concept the Jaguars receiving corps were using and jumped a wheel route just as Lawrence let go of the pass. The veteran cornerback said after the game that his game recognition was not from studying the film, but from experience covering the concept during his seven-year playing career.

“He’s extremely smart,” Gannon said. “He can play different styles, which you see appearing. He’s a team guy. This is another that produces at a high level. It is difficult to complete balls to him. It has length. It has reach. He is sticky. He has ball skills that you have seen. It’s a corner with a very unique skill set that can kind of do it all. I’m really happy with where he is, and he will also continue to improve. »

READ MORE: James Bradberry’s great play in Eagles corner impresses Darius Slay: ‘How did you let that man out of the building?’

Additions like Bradberry and Reddick have been major factors in the defense revenue turnaround. Gannon’s scheme often challenges teams to maintain long runs without making mistakes and therefore relies on explosive plays like sacks, breakups or penalties to draw back a defense. The scheme only works if he has the defensive playmakers to force those plays, though.

“The guys who came in did a really good job of figuring out what they were supposed to do in the program,” Eagles linebacker TJ Edwards said. “Haas rushes, how good he is at getting to quarterback and also in space, with James and his ability to play, you saw that in the first four weeks. … All of this just makes you want to play games more, too. Everything goes hand in hand. »

Inquirer Eagles beat reporters EJ Smith and Josh Tolentino in a preview of the team’s Week 5 game against the Arizona Cardinals and Zach Ertz. Look on Inquirer.com/EaglesGameday

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