'Spider-Man' has been a revelation for Eagles' defense
Haason Reddick has come a long way since being a walk-on at Temple University.
When the linebacker signed a three-year, $45-million free-agent deal with the Philadelphia Eagles in the offseason, he came full circle. Reddick - a native of Camden, New Jersey, which is right across the river from Philly - grew up an Eagles fan.
He's been one of the NFL's most productive defensive players this season. The 12-1 Eagles have reaped the benefits, leading the league with 49 sacks - they had just 29 in 2021 - while Reddick serves in the vital "overhang" position, also known as the "Sam" backer.
"He's been way more than what we thought he would be, really in every sense," Jeremiah Washburn, the Eagles outside linebacker and defensive ends coach, told me. "He just has a tremendous feel in coverage, he's very physical in the run game and takes pride in it, and it's really been a difference for us. He's asked a lot and he does a lot. … Great energy too."
Reddick has made NFL history along the way. After registering his 10th sack of the season against the Giants, he became the first player in 40 years to record at least 10 sacks with three different teams in three consecutive seasons (12.5 with the Cardinals in 2020 and 11 with the Panthers in 2021). He's making those around him better, too. For the first time in franchise history, the Eagles have five players with six or more sacks in a single season.
Philadelphia's defense also paces the NFL in takeaways (23) while ranking second in yards allowed, seventh in points allowed, and ninth in third-down conversions against.
"Game-planning for a guy like that's tough for a few reasons," an NFL offensive coach told me. "He's always moving around, so he's not predictable. He's also instinctual, he feels plays out as they happen, and he's either going to make the play or cause enough havoc to create a chance for someone else. He's playing the run, the pass, he's fast enough to set the edge. Like, if we're trying to run an end-around or do something to get a speed guy in space, he's fast and smart enough to set that edge. It's frustrating because he's now limiting what you can scheme as an offense."
Few players in football rack up more clutch plays than "Haas," as he's known around the building. All 10 of his sacks have come on either third or fourth down or forced a fumble.
"He has a tremendous feel for those situations," Washburn said. "He has like this innate sense, a GPS, of where the quarterback is in relation to the blocker."
Washburn and the rest of the Eagles' staff previously witnessed Reddick's game-wrecking ability in both 2020 and 2021. Two years ago with the Cards, he forced two fumbles against Philly. Last season, he had six tackles and two sacks on Jalen Hurts. As good as the organization knew Reddick was, it didn't know just how dominant he'd become in the Eagles' scheme.
"He's a way more instinctive individual rusher than what we thought," said Washburn, who also coached Reddick in the Senior Bowl during his tenure with the Bears.
To that point, the 28-year-old self-described "weapon" currently holds the league's third-highest pass-rush win rate (27%) according to ESPN's metrics. He's a cheat code, if you will. Better yet, as Washburn described him: "It's like he's Spider-Man."
◾️ On the other side of the ball, I'm not sure Jalen Hurts is getting enough credit for the type of season he's having in Philadelphia. He's legitimately unguardable as a two-way threat. His deep ball is a bona fide weapon and a key reason why he's now the leader in MVP odds for the first time all year. Entering the season, his odds were outside the top 10 with those of Derek Carr and Kyler Murray.
Hurts, in just his second full season as a starter, ranks tied for second with Patrick Mahomes with 8.1 yards per attempt. He's also slightly ahead of Tua Tagovailoa for the top passer rating (108.4). No other quarterback in NFL history has scored 10 rushing touchdowns in back-to-back seasons.
Should Hurts win MVP and a Super Bowl, he'd be the first player to do so since Kurt Warner's fairytale 1999 season.
◾️ Chiefs general manager Brett Veach hit a grand slam on linebacker Nick Bolton, who's quickly emerging as one of the game's best after earning the team's Rookie of the Year award in 2021. Following an excellent first season in which he led all rookies with 112 tackles, the former Mizzou star has gotten even better.
"That kid's phenomenal," an NFL defensive coach told me. "He's so technically sound for a young player. Our scouts knew that when he was making all those plays in the SEC, but I don't think we knew how fast he'd play at this level. He's well-prepared, which only makes him play faster. You can't trick him."
Bolton, a second-round pick, is already a pillar for the Chiefs. He ranks third in the league with 84 solo tackles. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo puts a lot on Bolton's plate - he wears the green dot responsible for communicating the plays - and he never seems to disappoint.
"He's as smart and versatile as any young linebacker in the league," the defensive coach added.
◾️ Speaking of young linebackers, I couldn't be more impressed with Lions rookie Malcolm Rodriguez. He's like a missile, attacking plays downhill with fearlessness, speed, and technique. The former Oklahoma State star leads all sixth-round picks in defensive snaps. The star of HBO's "Hard Knocks," Rodriguez has cemented himself as a legitimate asset in Detroit's future plans.
◾️ Lost in the shuffle of a wild Week 14 was one of the coolest plays that nobody's talking about. Creativity is everything in this league, and we saw it on a crucial third-and-7 play with two minutes left in Detroit. With an eight-point lead and the ball just past midfield, the Lions didn't want to give the ball back to the Vikings. Starting left tackle Penei Sewell - a top-five pick in 2021 - reported as eligible and went in motion. Jared Goff hit him to convert the key first down and ice the game. (Spoiler alert: Lions coach Dan Campbell uses salty language in this video recalling the play.)
Sewell, who checks in at 6-foot-5, 335 pounds, actually looked comfortable running the route and making the twisting catch. Look, I'm not saying he's Antonio Gates 2.0, but he's certainly more Dancing Bear than Big Ugly.
◾️ As injuries continue mounting, few have been more discussed than Murray's season-ending ACL tear Monday night. It's the worst part about football, but also a reminder that - as Cardinals offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum told me recently - "Football has a 100% injury rate."
This is why I want fans to understand why it's so important for players to get their money when they can. It's not selfish; it's necessary. Fortunately for Murray, he signed a mega-extension with $160 million in guaranteed money last offseason. However, not all players - especially non-quarterbacks - have that luxury. These are modern-day gladiators, and I'd love more fans to grasp this.
◾️ Monday night's Cardinals-Patriots game presented us with something I've never seen before. Pats wide receiver DeVante Parker struggled to regain his balance after taking a vicious hit. That's normal. What isn't normal is what happened next: Teammate Nelson Agholor was the only person who thought Parker should get off the field. Somehow, the NFL's concussion spotter missed it.
◾️ For the second straight season, Boston Celtics forward Grant Williams - my fantasy football co-manager and so-called football savant - and I have missed the playoffs. It's pathetic. I mean, I'm embarrassed if I'm being honest. But hey, if you're lucky enough to be in the postseason, here's envious me wishing you the best of luck.