The Eagles’ defense has been looking for a spark, and it looks like they found it in the form of linebacker Genard Avery, who starred in limited playing time on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.
The third-year player who was acquired by the Eagles from the Cleveland Browns last year for a fourth-round draft pick had one of his best games as a pro in Philadelphia’s first and all-important win of the season, posting one sack and five quarterback hits in just 16 snaps.
“That was sort of the breakout game we’ve been waiting for from him,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “He’s always been a skilled pass rusher. It’s just fitting him in with all the other stuff. I think he’s really done a good job of refining his technique and limiting his — sticking with what works best for him.”
Avery was utilized largely as a stand-up defensive end rather than a traditional outside linebacker on Sunday while also shedding his original utilization as a pass-rushing, third-down option. He saw plenty of action during the early-down process, honing in on a plethora of moves to maximize his ability to get to the quarterback.
The 25-year-old picked up the first full sack of his career early in the second quarter when he showed a lightning-like first step to get inside the offensive guard, see through the play-action fake, and get a clean run and 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens.
“He certainly made a difference in this game,” Schwartz said. “He was fresh when he came off the bench, which is a big thing for our guys that are coming off the bench, and he gave us that changeup and made some big plays for us in the game.”
Even bigger than the takedown of Mullens was the pressure he put on Mullens later in the second quarter to help coax an interception inside the red zone during a San Francisco possession that would have given it the lead just before halftime.
Avery’s ability to get around the lunging Mike McGlinchey with ease immediately forced the Niners’ quarterback to backpedal under pressure, throwing up an easy pick for Rodney McLeod at the Eagles’ six-yard line.
“His pressure led to the first interception, which I think was a huge play in that game,” Schwartz said. “He sort of maybe flies below the radar when the game is all said and done. They were driving. They were in the red zone. We got that pressure, got that interception, and I think that that was a key turning point in that game.”
That kind of performance will only earn Avery more playing time and his hybrid capabilities will allow Schwartz to keep getting him out there under different looks to keep the opposing offense on its toes.
His next task will be trying to unnerve Steelers’ veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh.