It’s true that sacks aren’t everything, and that the front four can affect the game in other ways. We’ve shown that with the All-22 on several occasions. But Jim Washburn’s group just hasn’t been good enough, and the lack of production has been stunning when you consider pretty much the entire organizational philosophy was built around getting pressure from the defensive line.
It’s not as if the Eagles stood pat either. In the offseason, they actually bolstered the unit, spending a first-round pick on Fletcher Cox, who has been their best defensive tackle. They also got a healthy Brandon Graham back, and he has been one of their more productive pass-rushers.
But as a whole, there’s been a huge dropoff. Against the Falcons, I didn’t see a lot of max-protect. Tony Gonzalez stayed in to block just three times, per Pro Football Focus. Atlanta’s backs chipped on occasion, but my guess is they do that every week. Matt Ryan got rid of the ball quickly at times, but he also had all day when he needed it. Per PFF, Ryan was 5-for-7 on passes that traveled 10 yards or more from the line of scrimmage. Combine that with Atlanta’s success on screens, and it’s no wonder that Ryan picked the Eagles apart.
There were a couple minor tweaks in personnel. Graham played more, and Jason Babin played less. Cox, who has played starter’s snaps all season, was actually on the field alongside Cullen Jenkins to begin the game.
Here’s how the production looked. If you’re new to this weekly breakdown, “Hurries” are a stat tracked by Eagles coaches after they look at the tape. And “Pressure Percentage” is how often a player notches a sack or hurry, taken opportunities into account.
I’ll get to the player-by-player breakdown below, but a couple things stand out here. Cole and Babin combined for three hurries and three tackles. That’s not even close to good enough. The four Eagles defensive ends (throw in Graham and Darryl Tapp) had five hurries and no sacks. To put that into perspective, Cole had a sack and eight hurries by himself against Atlanta last year.
Other than Jenkins, the Eagles got little pass-rush production from their defensive tackles – one sack and zero hurries from the other three guys (Derek Landri, Cox and Cedric Thornton).
Here’s the player-by-player breakdown:
Jason Babin – Saw his playing time cut drastically and did not produce when he was on the field. No sacks, one hurry and zero tackles. He had not dropped back into coverage once all season (per PFF), and when Babin did so in the first, he was called for defensive holding on third down. Huge play that allowed the Falcons to continue their drive and eventually score a touchdown. He rushed upfield and got taken to the ground as Ryan scrambled for 10 yards in the second. Babin couldn’t get off Tony Gonzalez’s block as Jacquizz Rodgers found a big lane between him and Jenkins for 10 yards in the second. He fell for the fake handoff as Julio Jones took the end around for 9 yards to his side. Babin bit on the fake toss to Jones, allowing Ryan to shovel the ball to Jason Snelling for an 8-yard gain on 3rd-and-3. He doesn’t give the Eagles much against the run, so if Babin fails to produce a pass-rusher, he’ll likely see his snaps continue to shrink.
Trent Cole – He abused left tackle Sam Baker in last year’s matchup but was mostly a non-factor this time around. Cole was credited with two hurries. The most notable was when he chased Ryan out of the pocket in the red zone in the third, helping to force an incompletion. Cole had three tackles. He dropped Rodgers after a 3-yard run in the first. And he helped bring Michael Turner down after a gain of 4 in the second. Simply not playing at the level Eagles fans have come to expect over the years.
Brandon Graham – He got more snaps, but did not set the world on fire as a pass-rusher with just two hurries. Graham, however, was good against the run. He had six tackles – more than Babin or Cole have achieved in a single game all season. Graham tackled Turner after a 3-yard gain and then after a 1-yard run. He brought Rodgers down after a 1-yard pickup and had another stop for no gain. On the second touchdown (the screen to Snelling), the Falcons left him unblocked. Graham was close to Ryan, and a hand up might have at least made Ryan’s throw more difficult. As a pass-rusher, Graham chased Ryan out of the pocket and forced an incompletion in the third. He had a good bull-rush on the next play, but Ryan scrambled for 7 yards. I’d expect him to continue to get more snaps in Babin’s place.
Darryl Tapp – Not a factor on defense. Not a lot of chances, but zero hurries vs. the Falcons and just one in his last two games.
Fletcher Cox – According to the coaches’ stats, he had 11 tackles, the most of any Eagles defensive lineman all year. Some of those showed up on TV, but I’m guessing his impact will be more evident when the All-22 is released. Defensive tackles don’t get too many opportunities for interceptions, but Cox couldn’t hold on to the one that was right in his hands on the first possession. He tackled Snelling after a 5-yard dumpoff in the first. And Cox showed his athleticism, hustling to get to Jones on a WR screen, but he couldn’t bring the WR down as he picked up 37. Cox dropped Turner for a 1-yard loss in the third. He’s the Eagles’ best DT against the run, but is still inconsistent as a pass-rusher (zero hurries). On the season, Cox has 34 tackles, the most of any Eagles defensive lineman.
Cullen Jenkins – He was easily the team’s best pass-rusher in this one. Jenkins got a “gimme” sack late as Ryan just went down to keep the clock running. But he also had four hurries earlier. Jenkins was all over Turner on the screen where Cox nearly had the interception. He got good pressure on the third down where Babin was called for holding. He dropped Rodgers for a 2-yard loss in the first and pressured Ryan on third-and-goal in the red zone. Jenkins brought Ryan down after a 1-yard scramble. Later in the game, he started lining up at left defensive end in place of Babin and Graham.
Derek Landri – Not sure if he’s injured, but Landri has been a non-factor as a pass-rusher. He had zero hurries for the second straight game. He has one hurry in the last three and three hurries in the last five. He did have five tackles. Landri dropped Turner for a loss of 2 after Thornton got in the backfield. He and Kurt Coleman dropped Turner after a 1-yard gain in the second. Landri was initially double-teamed, but got no pressure at all on Ryan on the 63-yard touchdown to Jones. He nearly sacked Ryan in the second, but couldn’t bring him down behind the line of scrimmage.
Cedric Thornton – He’s showing signs of improvement. Thornton had a career-high eight tackles (six solo) and ended the Eagles’ sack drought with a takedown of Ryan. He got great penetration, but missed a tackle in the first as Landri cleaned up. Good hustle throughout from Thornton. He brought Turner down from behind after a gain of 6 on a screen in the first. He chased Rodgers down after a gain of 5 on another screen. And he was the one who finally tackled Rodgers after a 43-yard gain in the third. Thornton also stopped Turner after a 1-yard gain in the third.