Philadelphia Eagles desperately need to replace Jernigan’s production

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

After fielding one of the most potent D-lines in football last season, the Philadelphia Eagles desperately need to replace Timmy Jernigan’s production.

In another close, but no cigar loss in route to a 2-3 record, the Philadelphia Eagles‘ once dominant defensive line just hasn’t been the same.

While the team should be commended for their ability to weather losing player after player last season, Jim Schwartz‘s defense has been put through the ringer over the first five weeks of the season, and have consistently given up game-changing plays thanks to a pair of defense altering injuries.

Don’t get me wrong, the team still gravely missed Rodney McLeod in Week 5, but this week the player Philly missed most was certainly Timmy Jernigan.

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As the Robin to Fletcher Cox‘s Batman (or maybe the Thing 1 to Cox’s Thing 2 if we want to be a bit more complimentary), the former Baltimore Raven almost single handily transformed the defensive line from a strength to an absolute terror, collapsing opposing pockets at will and forcing offensive coordinators to completely alter their game plans to avoid Gotti sack totals.

This unit, maybe more so than any other on the team, helped propel Philly into the postseason, and to their first-ever Super Bowl victory.

But now? Oh boy, things just aren’t the same.

While losing Beau Allen and Vinny Curry to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers certainly wasn’t ideal, the team felt ok with the decision largely because they had Jernigan and Cox locked into a pair of incredibly lucrative long-term deals to shore up the middle of the defense, a position all the more important in a wide-nine scheme. With Haloti Ngata signed as a free agent to add some much-needed girth for short yardage plays and a surprise trade to acquire Michael Bennett to replace Curry’s production on the inside, it looked like the Eagles may have actually bolstered their defensive line going into the 2018 NFL season.

And then Jernigan went on IR.

After undergoing surgery on a herniated disk back in May, Jernigan was given a four-month recovery window and with both free agency and the draft long since over, it was going to be hard for Philly to replace his production.

But boy has it been hard thus far.

With Cox now expected to remain on the field for virtually the entire game, logging over 86 percent of the team’s defensive snaps over the first four weeks of the season, as opposed to his 2017 total of less than 60 for the regular season. This increased snap total, when coupled with a lack of help from his interior partner, has taken some fire out of the Eagles’ pass rush, a loss that has been lethal to Schwartz’s rush-four philosophy.

To be fair, this isn’t sorely on Destiny Vaeao, the player Philly has been forced to rely on heavily thanks to Jernigan and Hgata’s inability to get on the field. After filling the team’s fourth defensive tackle position in a four-man rotation, Vaeao will have reached his 2017 snap total of 231 by midseason, especially if he remains their base formation starter. While he’s certainly struggled at times, failing to record a sack thus far this season, and struggling to open up holes for his outside compatriots, it’s hard to expect a rotational undrafted free agent to transform himself into a proven starter with live bullets flying.

That kind of pressure can produce diamonds, but it can also absolutely destroy a young player’s confidence.

Sure, the team can still potentially try to trade for another tackle, potentially offering up a player like Rasul Douglas for another high upside player buried on a depth chart, but at this point in the season, is that really a wise decision?

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With Jernigan available to return for Week 9 number the NFL’s current rule, a scenario that looks likely if his recent social media activity is of any indication, it looks like the Philadelphia Eagles will have to wait this one out and hope they remain competitive over their next three contests against the New York Giants, the Carolina Panthers, and the Jacksonville Jaguars until Timmy Jernigan can return to the field. A tough pill to swallow, to say the least.