What Should The Eagles Do At Linebacker When Nakobe Dean Returns?
On Tuesday, the Philadelphia Eagles announced they have opened the 21-day practice window for Linebacker Nakobe Dean, opening the door for his possible return to game action this Sunday. But in his absence, the Eagles have gotten better-than-expected play from veteran Linebackers Zach Cunningham and Nicholas Morrow. So what does Dean's potential return mean for Philadelphia's defense?
Before the season, Nakobe Dean was in position to be the Eagles' Primary Linebacker and Play-caller on defense this season. The former University of Georgia Linebacker was the leader of the Bulldogs Defense that won the College Football National Championship and the expectation was that he would fill a similar role in Philadelphia. This offseason, the Eagles brought in veteran Linebackers Nicholas Morrow, Zach Cunningham, and Myles Jack this offseason to have more depth along with experience at a position that already had some young players.
After starting in Week One versus the Patriots, Nakobe Dean was placed on Injured Reserve after suffering a Foot Injury. Without Dean on the field the last four weeks, Nicholas Morrow has been given the "Green Dot" designating him as the player receiving the Defensive Playcalls in his headset and it has been his job to relay the information to his teammates. In Dean's absence, Morrow is tied for the third-most Solo Tackes on the Eagles (19 - tied with Cunningham) and has six Tackles For Loss plus Three Sacks in four games.
Morrow has played the fifth most defensive snaps for the Eagles this season (235) and the only defensive players who have seen more playing time this season on Philadelphia's Defense are James Bradberry, Reed Blankenship, Zach Cunningham, and Darius Slay. So can the Eagles afford to just replace Morrow with a player coming off an injury who has less playing experience?
I am not saying that Nakobe Dean should lose his job due to injury, but we cannot ignore the productivity and reliability of both Cunningham and Morrow in the last four games. The most logical solution for Defensive Coordinator Sean Desai to deal with this Linebacker situation is to rotate all three guys for the next four weeks in order to keep all the guys fresh ahead of the Bye Week. In recent weeks, Cunningham and Morrow are playing between 85-100 percent of the defensive snaps on game day. Instead of that high volume, bring Cunningham and Morrow down to between 55-75 percent of the Defensive Snaps and work in Nakobe Dean for the other 25-45 percent for the next couple of weeks.
If you let this rotation run its course over the next four games, then the Eagles will get to their Bye Week and at that point reassess the Linebacker situation. The team can review how all three players performed during the four weeks with Dean, Morrow, and Cunningham then decide who should get the most playing time for the rest of the season. After the Bye Week, Philadelphia will play five of the NFL's top-scoring offenses so they need to be sure about who are the best options to play on defense for the second half of the season:
*November 20 vs Kansas City Chiefs (9th Best Scoring Offense: 25.6 PPG)
*November 26 vs Buffalo Bills (3rd Best Scoring Offense: 31.8 PPG)
*December 3rd vs San Francisco 49ers (2nd best Scoring Offense: 33.4 PPG)
*December 10 vs Dallas Cowboys (8th best Scoring Offense: 26.8 PPG)
*December 17 vs Seattle Seahawks (6th best Scoring Offense: 27.8 PPG)
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Gallery Credit: Mike Gill