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Are we seeing the real Derek Barnett? | Early Birds

The Giants game was a step in the right direction, but the Eagles defensive end has been overall inconsistent.

Eagles defensive end Derek Barnett works on his tackling during a practice.
Eagles defensive end Derek Barnett works on his tackling during a practice.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

The Eagles, and yours truly, had a mini-bye this weekend after the Thursday night comeback win over the Giants. It was a deserved rest and one the injury-marred team needed heading into another NFC East matchup. The Eagles are as banged up as any squad, but the Cowboys are likely down to their third-string quarterback after Dak Prescott’s season-ending leg injury two weeks ago and Andy Dalton’s concussion Sunday.

Ben DiNucci is the probable starter in Sunday’s game, and it could be hunting season for the Eagles' defensive line. The Birds will be without several key starters, particularly on offense. Running back Miles Sanders, tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, receivers DeSean Jackson and Jalen Reagor, and guard Isaac Seumalo are expected to sit out at least another week.

But offensive lineman Jason Peters should practice this week and could return to guard if the Eagles want to see more of Jordan Mailata at left tackle. Carson Wentz, of course, is healthy, but if his protection continues to leak, he could be following Prescott and Dalton to the injury ward.

The Eagles are favored, but an NFC East showdown in prime time should bring out the best in Dallas. But if the division leaders can finally string two wins together, they should have some momentum heading into an actual bye week. And a healthier Eagles team could be dangerous in the second half of the season.

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Has Derek Barnett finally turned the corner?

Derek Barnett is doing more with less. The Eagles defensive end has narrowed his pass-rushing moves and, according to his coaches, has gotten better at getting to the quarterback.

In the 22-21 win over the New York Giants on Thursday, Barnett generated three pressures — a sack and two quarterback hits — on 23 pass rush attempts.

“I thought Derek played a hell of a game Thursday night. I really do,” Eagles defensive line coach Matt Burke said Tuesday. “I think it was one of his better games that I’ve seen him play. Hopefully, that’s sort of the trend we’re heading in there.”

Barnett’s inside spin move, which led to the sack, has become a strong complement to his edge and speed-to-power rush moves. His great bend has always given him the edge on tackles, but developing second and third moves has been a process since the Eagles drafted him in the first round in 2017. Rather than focus on adding one or two, Barnett tried seemingly every technique.

“I think one of the things with Derek that Matt and [Jeremiah Washburn, director of player personnel/senior defensive assistant] have done a really good job with is his repertoire is sort of down a little bit, down in numbers," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “He doesn’t need a whole lot. ... He hasn’t been wasting a lot of time in his pass rush. He’s been closing ground, where in the past he was probably foot-faking a little too much and not putting the pressure on those guys.”

While the Giants game was a step in the right direction, Barnett has been overall inconsistent. He missed all of training camp and the first game with a hamstring injury. The Eagles eased him in against the Rams in Week 2, but he had strong outings against the Bengals (five pressures, 1½ sacks) and the 49ers (two pressures and one sack).

He was relatively quiet, though, against the Steelers and Ravens the following two weeks.

Barnett also has been forced to do more with less playing time, partly because of the ascension of Josh Sweat. Barnett played 77% of the snaps when active last season. This year, he’s at only 57%. His pass-rush production has been relatively the same, with the fourth-year end getting pressure on about 10% of his rushes.

“He missed most of training camp with an injury and sort of started slow, but we’re seeing the player that we expect with him, and he’s been productive for us on the field," Schwartz said. “Always plays hard. Always plays tough. That’s a given.”

Schwartz has always been one of Barnett’s most vocal supporters. But Sweat, who was selected in the fourth round of the 2018 draft, could be gaining ground. He’s playing almost as much, and has almost as many sacks (3 to Barnett’s 3½), more tackles for loss (6 to 3), more hits (7 to 5), more forced fumbles (2 to 0), and more pass defensed (2 to 0).

But the Eagles think that Barnett’s streamlining his moves could benefit him over the long haul.

“Sometimes when you’re trying too many things, you can’t master those moves," Burke said. "And sometimes that slows your brain down in terms of ‘I’m trying to do this, this, this, and I’m stuttering.’ So for him to just streamline his thought process, he’s been really good in terms of just having a definitive plan of attack every week.”

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. From EJ Smith: Travis Fulgham’s emergence as the Eagles' go-to WR doesn’t surprise his coaches or teammates.

  2. If you want to break a big run against the Eagles, give the ball to anyone who isn’t a running back, Les Bowen writes.

  3. From me: Rodney McLeod is emerging from Malcolm Jenkins' shadow as the leader of the Eagles' defensive backfield.

  4. “Birds’ Eye View” podcast: Eagles injury update ahead of Week 8 matchup vs. Dallas Cowboys.

  5. From Marcus Hayes: Cowboys QB Dak Prescott isn’t coming to Philadelphia, a reminder that running Carson Wentz isn’t worth the risk to the Eagles.

From the mailbag

Who has been the biggest “winner” and “loser” so far this season for the Eagles? — BirdsFaN4life (@N4lifeFa) via Twitter

Birds Fan, I like your question because I can answer in so many words. And we’re almost at the halfway point of the season, so now is as good a time as any to assess winners and losers. You want only one for each, of course, so maybe I will dig deeper when the Eagles hit the bye in a week.

There are so many different ways to answer this question, but my winner would be Travis Fulgham, and my loser would be Nate Gerry. The former came out of nowhere and legitimately has a future with the Eagles as a starting wide receiver. I think he’s that good.

Gerry has been a whipping boy for many fans, so maybe I’m piling on here. But he represents so much of what the team has gotten wrong this season. There’s nothing essentially wrong with undervaluing the linebacker position. But to leave it seemingly barren with Gerry as your No. 1 option was criminal. There isn’t a game that goes by without his getting victimized in the air on a crucial play.

So there. I guess I could have picked any number of players or coaches or team personnel for the loser category, but the season is long, and a lot can change.