December 8, 2023   3 MIN READ

Righting Their Wrongs

Birds Defense Prepping For Bounce Back


The Eagles’ linebacker tandem Sunday night at AT&T Stadium could have a vastly different look than the overmatched Nicholas Morrow-Christian Elliss pairing from Sunday’s 42-17 loss to the 49ers.

Former Colts linebacker Shaq Leonard, 28, agreed to terms Tuesday with the Eagles and has undergone a crash-course on coordinator Sean Desai’s defense.

Though two seasons – and a debilitating back injury – removed from an All-Pro 2021 campaign, the three-time All-Pro offers optimism and intrigue to a second level that lacks both.

Provided he acclimates adequately, Leonard could be poised for a sizable role against the Cowboys.

“I think he’s a great player,” said linebacker Zach Cunningham, who’s hoping to make it back from a hamstring injury. “He’s been quick learning the defense. He should be able to be acclimated to it pretty quickly.”

Eagles linebackers

GETTY IMAGES: Zach Cunningham (left) and Nick Morrow (41) are hoping to atone for a messy performance by Eagles LBs vs. San Francisco

Cunningham, the team’s most consistent linebacker through 12 games, is trending in the right direction health-wise although he was limited Thursday at practice.

The 29-year-old is second on the team in tackles (71), and his 624 snaps are fourth-most behind cornerbacks James Bradberry and Darius Slay, and safety Reed Blankenship.

“I’m feeling good,” he said. “I got out there and was able to do some reps. I felt good out there.”

A potentially reconfigured second level would bode well for an Eagles defense that struggled miserably to cover up the middle of the field against the 49ers.

For perspective, Morrow allowed six catches for 175 yards on eight targets, while Elliss was tagged with surrendering two catches for 33 yards.

Both players were exploited throughout the contest, showcasing shoddy tackling, poor eye discipline and communication gaffes.

While the linebacking deficiencies merely complemented the team’s overall abysmal defensive performance, it was a point of emphasis that acted as a lightning rod throughout the Delaware Valley.

The unit’s shortcomings also prompted head coach Nick Sirianni this week to allude to a potential shake-up in an effort to improve results.

“I would say there’s definitely been an emphasis on what we’re trying to do, as far as our scheme on defense and us being able to communicate,” Cunningham acknowledged. “We’ve done extra meetings and stuff just to make sure we hone in on the details of what we’re doing.”

Communication breakdowns have been an all-too-common culprit in the Eagles’ defensive woes.

Sure, moving parts has been a consistent theme through 12 games among the back seven, but given the defense’s veteran centerpieces, its lack of cohesion is troubling as the Eagles come down the home stretch.

A reeling unit will need to round into form against a Cowboys team that accounted for 374 passing yards in the first meeting, including a combined 282 yards between wide receiver CeeDee Lamb and tight end Jack Ferguson.

Ferguson, who snared seven catches for 91 yards in the Week 9 clash, could be the beneficiary of a wobbling second level. Iin addition to Lamb, wide receiver Brandin Cooks has come on lately, offering optionality and downfield speed.

Communication will be paramount to avoiding a two-game skid.

“Communication, I mean, that’s always gonna be key,” Cunningham said. “No matter which team you’re playing. I wasn’t part of any of the past [teams], so I don’t really know all about that. But it’s gonna be a big thing, regardless.”

– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for

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