Eagles film breakdown: Why Brandon Graham is the Birds' defensive engine
Brandon Graham set a career high when he registered his seventh sack of the season on Sunday. The Eagles defensive end has never been an accumulator of sacks, but rushing the quarterback is only one in many ways he impacts the game.
Brandon Graham set a career high when he registered his seventh sack of the season on Sunday. The Eagles defensive end has never been an accumulator of sacks, but rushing the quarterback is only one in many ways he impacts the game. Graham's greatest contribution to the Eagles may be his infectious energy, both on the field and off.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz: It's not just what he does on the field. He's an engine for us. He practices with a lot of energy. He's fun to be around in the meeting room. He's always talking football. He's in line there at lunch and he's not talking about what's on Instagram, he's talking about the matchup that week.
Here's a closer look at his influence on the field:
Over the last two seasons, Graham has often kick-started the defense by making an early run stop.
Graham: I try to go out there and make the first play, not only just to start it for us, but to get my nerves to calm down a little bit because I get juiced up. When you make that first play you get in a zone.
It took just two plays into this season for Graham to set the tone, not only for the Eagles' effort against the Redskins in the opener, but for the year.
Ten games later, he's still bringing the early heat. The Eagles were ahead, 7-0, when the Bears had their second possession on Sunday. A Malcolm Jenkins fumble after his interception gave Chicago the ball at the 50. On third down and two at the Eagles 42, running back Jordan Howard got the handoff.
Graham's assignment wasn't particularly difficult. He had to beat a tight end. But he toasted Adam Shaheen and teamed up with Tim Jernigan for a tackle for loss. The Bears punted.
Eagles defensive end Barnett: BG brings a lot of energy to the defensive side, but also to the offense and special teams. Every day before practice he's the one that gets going. He brings the juice.
Take this early play two months ago. Chargers running back Melvin Gordon gained 12 yards, but it could have been worse if Graham hadn't hustled and ran him down.
Stopping the run takes all 11 players.
Graham: You have to go out there and make sure you don't try to do anyone else's job because that's when they crease you.
Graham hardly ever misses an assignment. On this third quarter rush by Howard on Sunday, Graham beat right tackle Bobby Massie and split the tackle with Jenkins.
Schwartz: The run game is important and all of our defensive ends have done a good job of playing run. I think that's been one of the keys to our success right there.
Graham is particularly adept at reading run plays pre-snap. And he loves to jump across the formation and make weak-side tackles in the backfield.
Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham: He can make an impact on any play – run, pass, play-action, drop back, boots, screens. Any play he has an impact on. When you got a guy like that it's unique. You don't see too many ends like that in this league.
Pass rush skills
But sacking the passer pays the big bucks. And Graham is often relentless, as he was here against the Chiefs back in Week 2.
He has said that he's in better shape now at the age of 29 than when he was as a 22-year-old rookie. Graham has played in 91 straight games – fifth most among active NFL ends.
Graham: I take care of my body a lot more. From me getting hurt [as a rookie], I learned during that time I wasn't taking care of my body like I needed to. Rookie coming in, just thinking I can show up at any type of game because I'm young. But people kept telling me to get into a regiment and stick to it.
Barnett: He's showed me how to be a professional. He comes in super early and takes care of his body, he practices hard and he teaches me a lot in the film room as far as what to look at before the play.
Graham is a versatile rusher. He can turn the edge on tackles with speed or power, he can run them over, and he can counter off both with an inside move. Graham sacked Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer last month with an inside rush.
Barnett: He tells me that you got to keep [tackles] guessing. They got to respect you. You can't just keep going outside. Threaten them on the inside and now you got them.
With great depth at end, Schwartz has often moved Graham inside alongside defensive tackle Fletcher Cox on third down.
Schwartz: He's a mismatch against some guards in there and we like him outside. A lot of his sacks have come outside this year, but he's also been very disruptive inside.
Graham has yet to record a sack from inside, but he routinely draws double teams as he did here when Barnett's delayed rush forced Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott to throw an interception.
A sack of cash
Before the season, the Eagles reworked Graham's contract with more incentives. He hit the first when he dropped Mitch Trubisky in the third quarter on Sunday. With seven sacks, he earned an extra $250,000 this season and next.
Graham: You never know when them sacks come. I seen an opportunity when he held it one second too late and I was just able to stick my hand in there and get the strip.
Graham's salary increases another $250,000 if he records nine sacks or more. If he falls short of nine, but is voted to the Pro Bowl or is named first or second team all-pro, he'll still get that $250,000. He has similar incentives in 2018, the last year of his deal, but the Eagles may want to extend him soon or during this offseason.
There was a CBS Sports report that the Eagles and Graham were already in negotiations.
Graham: I don't know nothing about that. … I would love to be here, but that was new to me.
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