September 27, 2023   6 MIN READ

Stone Wall

All 22 Review: Birds D-Line Causing Fits For RBs


Three weeks into the 2023 season, the Eagles’ defense looks much different than last year’s defense, which happened to be the league’s No. 2-ranked defense.

But even with a rebuilt middle, from two new starting defensive tackles to two new off-ball linebackers to two new safeties, and despite some major injuries in the secondary, this Eagles defense is proving to be superior to last year’s in one major category – run defense.

Last year’s defense, led by now-Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon, produced middle-of-the pack results in run defense. The Eagles ranked 16th in rushing yards allowed (121.6 per game), 24th in rushing yards per attempt against them (4.64).

This year, after three games, the Eagles lead the NFL in run defense, allowing just 48.3 yards per game. Running backs are averaging just 3.02 yards per carry against them, which makes the Eagles fourth-best in that category.

The biggest difference is the exchange of defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, who signed a huge deal with the 49ers in free agency was more known for his double-digit sacks than his willingness to defeat double-teams in run defense, and the development of first-round defensive tackles Jordan Davis and Jalen Carter.

Davis and Carter, who were teammates on the first Georgia’s consecutive national championship defenses, have been a real problem for the Eagles’ first three opponents – and should be just as problematic for the rest of the teams on the schedule.

These former Dawgs are massive, violent and playing with a tenacity against the run that, frankly, the Eagles just didn’t have – and didn’t need, by the way – last season.

But with their offense still finding its way this season, run defense and forcing opponents into tough down-and-distance scenarios have been a major factor in their 3-0 start and their continued takeaway haul despite the losses of several back-seven defenders, including ballhawking safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson.

The key to this year’s defense is the linemen holding their blocks and keeping lanes open for the linebackers, who’ve seen plenty of unobstructed pathways to the ball carrier.

Here’s an example from Monday night’s 25-11 win against the Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium of the Eagles forbidding the Bucs’ interior offensive line to reset the line of scrimmage as Rachaad White takes a carry from under center.

The arrows show Davis, lined up over center in a nose tackle position, and five-technique Milton Williams, lined up across left tackle Tristan Wirfs, hold their ground, allowing linebacker Zach Cunningham to maneuver around them cleanly to make a head-on tackle after a one-yard pickup.

Nick Morrow (41) did a nice job taking on the pulling tight end (41), which also allowed Cunningham the room to get into the gap and swarm on White.

In this next play, Williams does an excellent job of avoiding a double team from Wirfs and a tight end (88) by quickly cutting across Wirf’s face to collapse the inside zone, forcing White to re-route.

William’s surge across Wirfs allows Morrow to also get inside the tight end’s block, which gives Cunningham another clear route outside to White, who’s immediately swarmed.

It didn’t take long for the Bucs to start running away from the inside of the Eagles’ defensive line, although a new approach didn’t work very well, either,

Here’s an outside pitch over right tackle with a pulling lineman that catered to what Eagles linebackers do well – play laterally. Watch the arrow over Cunningham as he makes his path toward the ball.

The key here is how the Eagles set the edge first, with Darius Slay, James Bradberry and Morrow taking away the outside lane and forcing White inside, especially Morrow planting the pulling right tackle on the ground.

All Cunningham has to do is maneuver around the center (70) – not a very tough task, as you can see  – to once again get a clear pathway to the ball carrier.

In the latest “Q&A” pod with Quintin Mikell and Jason Avant on Inside The Birds, Avant said Davis looked like a “ninja” on some of his moves.

Here’s what Avant must have been talking about:

Davis, this time aligned as a three-technique in a four-man front, knifes into the opposite “A” gap with a sudden arm-over move past Hainsey and in between right guard (69) to make the initial hit on White in the backfield.

This is a 340-pound man sliding, bending and contorting his way past two offensive linemen to stop a running back dead in his tracks.

How do you game plan for that?

The Bucs ran for just 41 yards on 17 carries, an average of 2.4 per carry. But, hey, they tried.

Sometimes, even the D-line took a break and left the dirty work to someone else, like in this example:

Actually, the defense begins with the Bucs unable to generate any push on the left side against Kentavius Street and Marlon Tuipulotu – literally, the fifth and sixth tackles in the rotation.

White has to bounce outside again, and once again there’s a defender untouched – this time, Reed Blankenship – making an excellent read and getting down from deep to make a nice open-field tackle for no gain.

On this last example, we finally get a glimpse of rookie Nolan Smith – another former Georgia Bulldog and first-round pick – showing his effort in run defense.

Smith lined up as an overhand defender over left tackle in a four-man front and avoids a double team from the tackle and tight end by crashing through the “CP gap to drive back the offensive line, while Fletcher Cox (91) and Davis (90) stand their ground, giving White nowhere to go.

At the pause, you can see the Bucs O-line getting no push for White, who bounces around looking for a hole that just never opens before he’s gobbled up by the Eagles’ front.

After the game, Bucs coach Todd Bowles was asked about his running game.

“We didn’t have one,” he said.

Up next for the Eagles on Sunday is the Washington Commanders.

Good luck, Eric Bienemy.

– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for

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