All-22: Trent Cole, Reinvented

cole_940_100413Trent Cole used to pace around his locker stall like a mad man leading up to big games. If it was Dallas week or Giants week, the look in his eyes would get a little bit crazier, his voice more animated. One time a couple seasons back he was so hyped that he did an entire interview standing on a chair while talking nonsensically.

He would get wound up and wound up some more until the band was ready to snap, then would unleash it all on Sunday.

The 31-year-old has mellowed some of late. He’ll still get wild but not as often or to the level he used to. On this particular day he did the interview seated on his chair and speaking in a measured tone, even with the New York game fast approaching. Truth be told, his new position doesn’t require the bat-out-of-hell Trent Cole. Seek and destroy has been largely replaced by read and react.

Changing from defensive end to linebacker isn’t just about learning the intricacies of a new position but also re-wiring your mindset. So much of Cole’s football existence was about getting to the quarterback. He posted 71 sacks over his first eight seasons  (9 sacks/season average) and reached double-digit sacks in four of those campaigns. This year through seven games he has zero.

“It’s hard to swallow. It’s hard to swallow at first,” Cole admitted, “but you’ve got to get over it. Why sit there and be miserable when you’re going to have to do it regardless? I just keep moving forward. I’m going to do whatever I gotta do to make this work. I’m not going to sit there and be miserable because I’m here to play ball, I’m here to play for the Philadelphia Eagles.”

Cole has played 420 snaps this season and has dropped into coverage a total of 50 times for a rate of 12 percent, per Pro Football Focus. He dropped a season-high 11 times this past week against Dallas. The veteran actually plays two positions: he’s deployed as an outside linebacker in base and often switches to defensive end in nickel situations. Sometimes he can cut loose, sometimes he’ll two-gap.

One series in the second quarter against the Cowboys helps illustrate how Cole is impacting the game outside of the realm of statistics.

On first-and-10 at the Dallas 39, Cole finds himself locked up one-on-one with standout tight end Jason Witten.

Cole witten 1

Nate Allen has crept down into the box and will come on the blitz. The Eagles are in base and the Cowboys are showing a four-receiver look. To account for all of this, DeMeco Ryans has to check the coverage. The frame above you see him communicating with Cole right before the ball is snapped. The message: you got Witten.

“You guys don’t understand that play; that was a great play,” said Connor Barwin. “For a guy that has played d-end for eight years to make that play…That was a check. We were in a defense and we had to check our defense because of the formation, and Trent got the check, changed his job right before the snap and then covered Witten down the seam. That was an unbelievable play. If he would have had a better throw he might have had an interception.”

What Cole lacks in natural cover skills he tries to make up for with aggressiveness, physicality and hustle. If he’s responsible for a receiver, he goes on the attack.

cole witten 2

“I didn’t care who it was. They can put anybody they want out there. I don’t care how fast he is. I’ll tell you dang well I’m goin’ to friggin’ put my hands on him before he gets too far away from me,” said Cole, some of the familiar fire coming out.

It wasn’t all brawn on this play. It turned into a foot race and Cole kept pace.

cole witten 3

Some pressure got to Romo and the ball was overthrown. Barwin’s assertion that Cole could have had a pick here may be a little far fetched (he never turned his head around) but the coverage was solid nonetheless.

Two plays later, Cole puts his pass-rushing hat back on. This was the play where Vinny Curry got his sack.

Cole Curry 22 1

Big o’l No. 65 Ronald Leary will engage with Curry as Cole wraps around to hit the A-gap. Below you will see that Leary is peeking at Cole as he makes his way around.

Cole curry 22 2

The Dallas guard decides to cut Curry loose to account for Cole. The result?

Cole Curry 22 3

Curry gets a free shot at Romo. That doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, but you can see that Curry should probably buy Cole lunch this week to thank him.

“He’s a disruptive force.  You turn on the tape, and you see it,” said Billy Davis.  “He’s back there causing double teams and chips and everything to come his way.  We’re very happy with where Trent is right now.”

Cole is credited with four hurries on the year to go with 29 tackles, two forced fumbles and a pass defensed. He’ll be quick to remind you that he is still “sackless” on the year and the defense could certainly use some takedowns out of No. 58. But overall, his teammates and coaches are impressed with what they have seen out of Cole, especially given the circumstances.

“I’ve been watching him for four years, and everybody in the league knows he’s just a football player, kind of a maniac out there,” said Barwin. “I had no doubt he’d be able to make the transition. But getting to know him and how open-minded he’s been when obviously he’s been playing d-end for the past eight years at a very high level, to make that switch at that point of his career has been really impressive.”

Added Cary Williams: “We’ve got guys that are in awkward positions at times. We’ve got Trent Cole dropping. He’s a prolific pass rusher and he’s a drop linebacker now so he’s trying to learn those things and it’s not going to happen overnight.

“It’s tough when you’ve been doing something for eight, nine years and then all of a sudden it’s like, ‘Ahh, I got to drop.’ It’s tough on those guys. That’s one guy I look at that I know is doing a hell of a job out there, the best he can. But I know when [the Ravens] played against those guys he was a marked man on our offense, a marquee guy that we’ve got to look out for. He’s one of many guys that are trying to transition.”

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  • T_S_O_P

    My question with our OLB/DE depending on down and distance is, do they get their hands up enough when they aren’t going to get home? Where are we on batted passes?

    Again, I watch live on game day only, and even then I miss things due to being caught up in the moment, but it seems that the defensive front miss out on this in comparison to other teams.

    • GEAGLE

      I noticed that Logan is pretty good at getting his hands up

      • T_S_O_P

        I’ve seen it too from Thornton, but not from the guys on the outside. Kerrigan and Crappo seem to do a good job of this in Washington.

    • cheapmeat

      Don’t forget that Cole and Graham are undersized guys ‘with motors’ (as Andy Ried says/excuses/justifies), not wing span.

      I love Cole as much as the next guy but I’m not sure if he’s here next year

  • Dutch

    nice illustration of the curry sack. seems to me that was cole’s sack the guard panicked, that could be the only legitimate reason to leave Curry free with direct access to Romo to pick up cole.

    • southy

      Leary did the right thing. It was Tanner who was lost on that play.

      • cheapmeat

        Yep. If Murry was playing, that play never happens

  • morgan c

    Really good piece, Tim. I think many of us fans have been somewhat frustrated by the lack of noticeable-to-the-leyman’s-eye contribution from Cole so far this year. This piece shows that he is playing well, and the fact that we may not have noticed him too much speaks more to his new responsibilities and how well he is adjusting to them, than anything else. It would still be nice, however, to see him get more opportunities to simply pass-rush, as he’s the best pure rusher we have…

  • #7

    Really nice. People (including myself) have been hard on Cole, but Tim with the all-22 opens our eyes. Kudos to the defense for showing improvement the past couple of games

    • GEAGLE

      I don’t think anyone has been hard on Cole..I think people have been fair about Cole…last week he had a fantastic game against Dallas. But for the year I think a fair judgment for him is:
      1) Very strong against the Run
      2) Not good enough rushing the passer
      3) up and down in coverage which will NEVER be a strength.

      I love and respect Trent as much as anyone, but the truth of the matter is all the run defense in the world isn’t good enough if we aren’t getting double digit sack out of the rush OLB spot…Cole HAS NOT been good enough this season as a pass rusher, and typically he wears down last in the he season and his sack numbers drop so I’m not very encouraged by Trent being able to last here past this season….we need to get double digit sacks from that position before we can really appreciate all the other intricacies and responsibilities of the position

      • #7

        Well that’s what I meant by the “being hard on him”comment…. the sub par rising the passer.

        Hard for me to say if it’s a lack of opportunities or both. We have to remember that he isn’t a natural OLB. This all-22 shows the positive. I didn’t like the idea of him in coverage at all, but he’s doing better than I thought he would

        • GEAGLE

          Lack of opportunities? Say what? He is our rush OLB, how does he lack opportunity…he has NO sacks! how is that not sub par? Sure he has gotten some decent pressure at times opening things up for team mates, but you still have to get home with your rush from time to time….and he hasn’t been close to acceptable in that regard…he should at the very least have 4 sacks by now

          • #7

            Lack of opportunities as a DE with his hands in the dirt man. I didn’t know that I had to add that. I didn’t expect double digit sacks from Cole as an OLB. Did you? If you’re judging him off of that, then your point is correct

          • #7

            As you know, he’s a DE not an OLB. You’re holding him to a super high standard if you thought he would have double digit sacks at OLB. Cmon man

      • anon

        We aren’t getting double digit sacks out of any position in this offense — not even on a projected basis.


    Trent had a fantastic overall game against Dallas. it was easily his best game since week 1…he consistently got a nice rush on Romo, played the run at a high level as always, and even forced Romo to throw it high and away 20 yards down field because he was able to run with Witten…of course there were bad moments, like Trent should never be responsible for Dez on a crossing route….but overall I was really happy for Trent on Sunday. Unfortunately he has been given way too many snaps, so we can all expect his yearly, wearing down in the second half of the season….

    Trent has been really good against the run all game, but if he isn’t providing double digit sacks out of the position, then it’s not good enough…if we were playing a 4-3, you wouldn’t be ok with a run stuffing DE who can’t rush the passer, so that can’t be acceptable out of a rush OLB..

    When you commit to switching scheme that becomes a crucial position and you can’t hae a good defense without a stud rush OLB…next year Cole and Graham are owed a lot of money, and normally the price would factor into the positions we can and can’t upgrade,,,but because we have a new coach, I Think Chip has the freedoms to turnover the roster how he seems fit and make roster changes without worrying about the cost,..that’s why we carried over 18mil in cap space, are at the top in terms of cap space, and have expiring contracts like Nates coming off the books walking in FA..

    We all love and respect Trent, but. Hate that he is keeping Graham on the bench for so long. It should be a 50-50 split between the two…Cole is making sure Graham can’t prove to be the answer at rush OLB, and until someone emerges as a double digit sack guy at the positions, I’m assuming we are going to target that position high on our offseason upgrade list…

    • cliff henny

      agree think they have to draft or FA 3-4 olb. have graham and cole be back-up and be specialty 4-down nickle ends. dont see why you cut 2 guys that can play, just need to be limited, for 10m dead, when following yr they come off for well less than half that. cole is 100% gone after ’14, his cap number in ’15 is insane.

      • GEAGLE

        I don’t mind them staying, as long as they don’t stunt a stud draft picks growth….I like Trent Cole, he still has his moments, but had I Known he would have kept Graham on the bench for so long, then it wouldn’t want him here. But if we invest in a stud OLB, and they want to become rotation guys, I Would love to keep both…if we only keep one, I would want it to be Graham

  • Token

    Not to be impolite. But if that pass is on target its most likely a TD. Not that I expect Cole to cover Witten well in the first place. His main purpose is to rush the passer. And hes been abysmal at it this year.

    Cole was a great player. Hes a great guy. A great Eagle. But we have to do better next year at that spot. Its critical. Cole has given you nothing from a very important spot.

    • JofreyRice

      Yeah, I don’t think you want that matchup. Cole did a fantastic job, but that’s really more than you should expect from him–covering Jason Wiitten on a seam route.

      • reb

        would’ve been great had he knocked Witten on his but near the line or completely jammed him up, but that’s not easy, either.

        • JofreyRice

          That’s the kind of coverage I’d prefer to see Trent in. Jamming guys off the line, covering the flat, or just short drops. Trying to run with a HOF TE down the seam is a bad plan, this excellent play notwithstanding. It’s not like the Cowboys did anything exotic to get this matchup, either. Just set Witten up off the line.

          • anon

            Yeah Cole can’t cover big time TEs — id prefer if he’s on a TE or a WR he just pushes them to the ground at the line.

    • Brandon Boykin, OLB

      Well… While I won’t argue your initial point (because, more than likely, you’re, gulp, right…) but I will argue your second point “Cole was a great player.” According to the DC, a veteran, super bowl winning corner, Barwin (couldn’t come up with a catchy title) and this All-22, Cole is still a great player.

      Stay out of the locker room, bud. Despite your greatest efforts, you’re still not in there.

      • Token

        Hmmm. What exactly do you expect his coach and fellow players to say?

        But hey, if you are fine with zero sacks out of your starting OLB than theres nothing else I can argue here.

        At some point you have to open your eyes and think for yourself. I know that is a trait thats lacking in people more and more these days.

  • TCS

    Great piece. Trent’s work ethic and professionalism are so outstanding. I know fans want to see results, but whatever happens with Trent, you have to respect him:

    “Why sit there and be miserable when you’re going to have to do it regardless? I just keep moving forward. I’m going to do whatever I gotta do to make this work. I’m not going to sit there and be miserable because I’m here to play ball, I’m here to play for the Philadelphia Eagles.”

    That’s something to emulate in our own professional lives.