When the Philadelphia Eagles selected the 6-foot-6, 340-pound, 4.78-40-yard-dash running Jordan Davis from the University of Georgia, the nightmares for NFC East offensive linemen began. The Bulldogs’ defensive tackle was a unicorn. While he didn’t play with the pure, unadulterated strength of Vita Vea, his explosiveness would have been shocking at a weight 40 pounds lighter.
The knock on the big fella would have been that he only played 38% of the defensive snaps for Georgia a season ago. But one look at Georgia’s defensive splits with him on the field vs. off proved how insanely valuable he was. And against the Detroit Lions, that on/off split was comically different.
Flat out, Jordan Davis needs to play more
According to Tim McManus of ESPN, the Lions averaged 2.9 yards per carry on 14 carries with Davis on the field and 10 yards on 14 carries with him off the field. Yes, those are slightly skewed because of some goal-line usage, but the tape tells a straightforward story.
So let’s let it.
To take this a step further, not only should Davis play more, the Eagles’ base defensive front should be the five-man front they deployed against Detroit with Davis on the field. Philadelphia can mix things up, particularly on obvious passing downs, but their four-man fronts were hilariously outclassed on Sunday against the run.
The above video isn’t even one of the better examples of Philadelphia’s struggles in an even front on Sunday. However, it does show how the even front makes linebacker play more complicated. Here, T.J. Edwards sits in the A-gap at the snap because Milton Williams looks to be controlling the B-gap. But as Deandre Swift presses the line, Williams push-pulls to make a play, abandoning his gap and leaving a runway on the backside the size of LaGuardia airport.
To say that Philadelphia struggled with gap integrity would be disrespectful to the word struggle. It was practically non-existent, making the linebacker’s and defensive back’s jobs at the second and third levels nearly impossible.
Opting for the odd front on early downs does a few things to help the defense. First, it makes running between the C gaps incredibly difficult, especially when the two exterior tackles in the 50 front aren’t sprinting upfield like they’re running the 40-yard dash (which happened a few times in even fronts versus Detroit).
A young man like Davis is a force multiplier. Not only is he a playmaker, but his mere presence on the defensive interior also requires two bodies off the snap to account for him. And by nature, having the down linemen covering in some manner guard to guard makes the job easier for an underwhelming linebacking corps.
Eagles must be careful with this against the Vikings
One of the dangers of the five-man front was seen when Green Bay visited Minnesota. Kevin O’Connell toyed with formations and motions to ensure Justin Jefferson occasionally was lined up against a rushing linebacker a few times.
Justin Jefferson will get his. He was already arguably the best receiver in the NFL, and now he’s in an offensive attack that looks to utilize him like Sean McVay does Cooper Kupp. They’ll toy with formations and motions until they get their preferred matchup.
But on early downs, Philadelphia must stop the run. Minnesota’s offensive line looked much better against Green Bay than it had a season ago running the ball. However, the offensive line is athletic and a bit undersized aside from left tackle Christian Darrisaw. The idea of Garrett Bradbury versus Davis should have Jonathan Gannon salivating.
But even when Davis’s conditioning doesn’t allow him to be on the field, the Eagles should still consider going with an odd front. And if his conditioning allows it, there’s no reason why Davis wouldn’t see about half of the team’s defensive snaps on Monday Night Football.
One more for good luck.