Good morning. The Eagles are back on the practice field at 1 p.m. Doug Pederson has a 10:30 a.m. news conference, when he is expected to name the starting quarterback for Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
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— Zach Berman
Fletcher Cox played 93 percent of the defensive snaps in Week 1, which was his highest percentage of snaps in a game since Jim Schwartz became the defensive coordinator in 2016.
There were three reasons for this: the lack of depth at defensive tackle, it was not as hot as the Eagles expected last Thursday night, and the Eagles defense could catch their breath on the sideline in the second half.
"We're down a little bit in numbers at defensive tackle, and it would have [Bruce] Hector's first-ever play," Schwartz said. "We wanted to sort of limit him a little bit, let him get his feet wet, so to speak, before we give him a bigger role. I think it helped us a little bit that that rain came and cooled it off a little bit. Early on we played a lot of the snaps, and then we started getting some stops. I think that helped also, because Fletch was able to get some rest on the sideline."
Cox had a dominant performance — he was the best defensive player on the field — and it was a good opening outing in his bid for defensive player of the year. The Eagles will continue to be undermanned at defensive tackle until Tim Jernigan returns (there's no indication when that will happen), although Hector will continue to develop as the fourth defensive tackle and the Eagles will be in more pass-rush situations with a defensive end on the interior when they're playing with a lead.
Plus, it's going to be 91 degrees on Sunday in Tampa. So even though the Eagles are better with Cox taking more snaps, it might be a stretch to think he'll play 93 percent of the defensive snaps.
"It's probably not ideal," Schwartz said. "But it's what we had to do to win the game, and that's what we did."
Speaking of playing time for defensive linemen, Brandon Graham played 66 percent of the defensive snaps in his first game back from offseason ankle surgery. Graham didn't play in the preseason and missed most of training camp. The Eagles didn't plan on playing him that many snaps in the opener, but Graham said he was fresh and he looked good. And Schwartz said "there is more left to be seen" from Graham.
"We violated his pitch count just a little bit," Schwartz said. "He was fresh. We kept having communication with him [and his response was], 'hey, I'm good, I'm good.' Again, maybe it helped that it wasn't 96 degrees, 100 heat index and everything else the way that thing was potentially playing out. But he was one of the those guys that at the end of that game was fresh. I mean, we rotated a lot of defensive ends. If you look at their snap numbers, we had about four guys in there that all were real similar as far as snap numbers, and it showed at the end of that game. We kept rolling fresh guys out there."
Michael Bennett took 64 percent of the snaps, Derek Barnett took 57 percent of the snaps, and Chris Long played 56 percent of the snaps. That near-even split shows the Eagles' depth. Graham played only seven more snaps than Long.
"It takes unselfish players," Schwartz said. "I like where we are that way. Our front judges themselves on the entire group, not individual accomplishment. You see that on the field. Fletch makes a sack and they're all excited about it, because they all played a part in it."
When looking at Tampa Bay's defense, most of the attention will go to a defensive line that includes defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, and former Eagles Vinny Curry and Beau Allen. McCoy is the star of the group, and Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh said the Eagles must "pay special attention" to McCoy because he can "wreck the game."
Beyond the defensive line, Groh was impressed with Tampa Bay's team speed.
"Their linebackers obviously really set the tone there with Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David, guys that have played a lot of good football over the last several years," Groh said. "I recruited Kwon Alexander out of high school, so I have followed him for a long time. In their secondary they have added some pieces there. I know they are hoping to get Brent Grimes back and of course Vernon Hargreaves III out there on the perimeter at corner. Both of those guys are really good corner cover guys."
Of course, the Bucs defense surrendered 40 points last week.