The Philadelphia Eagles remain very much alive in the race for a playoff berth this NFL season and while the offense has been inconsistent at times, the defense has continued to improve into one of the best in the league at the current moment.
Since T.J. Edwards moved to the middle linebacker spot in Jonathan Gannon’s 4-3 defense, the Eagles have registered a 6-2 record, keeping them well in the hunt for a postseason berth. Sure, a mixture of things have helped the Eagles improve on a sluggish start to the regular season, but Edwards has continued to fly under the radar since Gannon moved him to a leading role alongside Alex Singleton and Genard Avery in the team’s linebacker corps.
“[It’s] Nothing really that kept him from starting initially,” Gannon said about Edwards. “We started playing a bunch of different guys in different packages thinking we’re going to put them in the right spots for their skillsets a little bit. Just with what TJ has done is, when we evaluated it, whenever we sat down, we wanted to see what improvements could we make moving forward. He was a guy that stuck out that we said, ‘We really can’t afford to take this guy off the field.’
“That’s why you saw his playing time increase and that’s why you see he’s playing really well for us right now,” Gannon added. “Very happy about how TJ is running the show for us, and he’ll continue to do that.”
Edwards, an undrafted free agent signing in 2019, has gotten better and better over the second-half of the season. The former Wisconsin product has registered 10+ combined tackles in five of his last eight appearances, while he’s played 90% or more of the defensive snaps in seven-consecutive games for the Eagles.
The Eagles overall have benefitted with Edwards as a starter, allowing the fifth-fewest yards in total this season, while also being in the top-ten in both rushing yards and passing yards allowed per game. It’s certainly helped the team get back in the playoff hunt over the last few weeks and has set the tone for two important final regular season games against NFC East rivals Washington and Dallas.
“He plays with great physicality,” Sirianni said about Edwards. “He’s constantly ripping at the football. Very smart player. And so, the couple things that really stand out for me, again, as an as offensive coach looking at the defense is, hey, you’re going to get thumped when you go across the middle, you’re going to get thumped when you come through the backfield, and you better protect that football.
“Again, I know the strip attempt – we’re not getting a ton of fumbles out, but they’re coming,” Sirianni added about Edwards’ performance against the New York Giants on Sunday. “And [LB] TJ [Edwards] is at the head of that because he’s constantly ripping at that football. So, those are the main things that stand out and I just think he’s playing really good football right now and he’s doing a great job leading the defense.”
Edwards isn’t a household name by any stretch, but he’s making the most of his opportunity, playing toughnose football and doing everything the coaches have asked him to do. Now the goal for the 25-year-old will be to stay healthy, keep delivering consistent performances, and continue playing a leadership role as one of Gannon’s key pieces in the final 120 minutes of regular season action.
“Yeah, it’s been going in the right direction.” Gannon said about the Eagles 6-2 record since Edwards was slotted in at middle linebacker. “I do think that it’s a calming effect for the defense to have one signal caller, and when you play a lot of packages, as we do, that can get challenging at times. But he’s really settled in. He’s the green dot and he makes all the front mechanic calls with the front. I mean, he’s making the back end calls with the back end guys, and he’s just a really good communicator.
“You hear me talking about being emotionally stable,” Gannon added. “He’s one of those guys that every once in a while I’ll juice him in his ear and he just gives me a thumbs up. ‘I got you, Coach.’ Or, ‘TJ, get this done.’ ‘I got you, Coach,’ and then a call comes in. He’s been a joy to be around. He’s smart, tough, physical. He’s what we look for in the MIKE position and he’s playing well.”
The Eagles (8-7) visit Washington at Fedex Field on Sunday at 1 p.m.