Eagles’ defensive coordinator explains how key player is acing his ‘open book test’

PHILADELPHIA –Quarterbacks have a finite amount of time to look downfield before the clock tells them to get rid. That alarm was sounding Indianapolis Colts quarterback Matt Ryan’s head in Sunday’s game against the Eagles.

Ryan ran back Deon Jackson, as the pass rush was descending on this play. But the Eagles linebacker T.J. EdwardsEdwards was already anticipating the dump-off and Jackson tried to grab it with his outstretched hands. Jackson fell to the ground, and Edwards dislodged the ball for an incompletion.

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These plays were part of a 10-tackle performance that included two stops for losses that helped the Eagles17-16 defeat of the ColtsTo improve to 9-1 and remain at the top of the NFC, Edwards. But it was nothing new: Edwards quietly has become one of the top middle linebackers in the NFL, not only for his ability to recognize plays — and stop them — but also because his job is to put the other 10 guys in positions to make plays, too, with his signal calling.

Edwards is fifth in the league with 96 tackles, two sacks, and a fumble recover.

“In our defense, that’s a thinking position, and he’s as smart as they come,” Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon said. “He’s got a really good skill set paired with a really good brain, and he plays extremely fast. You hear head coach [Nick Sirianni] talk about accelerated vision — he has it. He’s calling things out before they even come, and that’s part of the work by the coaches … but that’s a lot of film study by him. He’s football 24/7. You need to be that way if you’re going to be elite in this league.”

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The Eagles are 9-1 for the sixth time in franchise history, joining the 1949, 1960, 1980, 2004 and 2017 seasons — and each one of those teams reached a championship game. The 1949 and 1960 squads won NFL championships and the 2017 team won the franchise’s first Super Bowl. In the 1980s and 2004, the Eagles lost to the Super Bowl.

Gannon recalled a quote he had heard from Green Bay PackersJerry Gray, Eagles defensive backs coach will be facing him on Sunday night.

“He’d say, ‘The NFL is an open-book test,’” Gannon said. “There are plays to be had when you are anticipating certain things, but you can only do that by your prep. That goes six days through the week, and T.J. takes that to heart. He does that for us and helps a lot of other guys on the defense around him because of his brain and his knowledge.”

The Eagles are the second-ranked defense in NFL and allow 300.6 yards per game. They are second in pass defense with an average of just 178.1 yards. The NFL allows coaches to communicate electronically on offense and defense with one player up until the end of the play clock. Edwards is who Gannon is calling out before the snap.

“He runs the entire front,” Gannon said. “With the front mechanics, that’s T.J. We do some different things that people don’t do to try to get in advantageous positions, and hopefully, we set it up right. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s on his plate. The back seven mechanics, that’s on his plate, along with the secondary, but he’s tied into all that.

“He’s the guy in the middle, and he’s the guy that I’m yelling at during the series. He’s talking to the defense. He’s very emotionally stable, and then when that ball is snapped, he’s violent, and that’s what you’re looking for.”

Edwards will be a key player for the Eagles in order to line up against the Packers and their quarterback. Aaron Rodgers. Although the Packers offense may not be as potent now as it was before, wide receivers still have a lot to enjoy. Davante AdamsThey were traded in March but they still present challenges: Rodgers is heading for the Hall of Fame and needs to quickly get rid of the ball. Aaron JonesHe is a weapon: He rushed for more that 130 yards in two of his last four games.

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Chris Franklin can be reached at [email protected].

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