Season Predictions: The Pass Rush

NFL: NFC Wildcard Playoff-New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles
As we count down to the start of the regular season, Tim and Sheil try to answer some of the big questions facing the Eagles. On Sunday, they discussed life without DeSean Jackson. On Monday, they predicted what’s next for Nick Foles. Tuesday was a look at the offensive line, which faces an early challenge as Lane Johnson serves his four-game suspension. And they checked in on the secondary yesterday. Today, they take a look at the pass rush.

BIG QUESTION: Are the Eagles in better shape in the pass rush department than they were a year ago?

McManus: Marginally.

It’s Year 2 in Billy Davis‘ system and with that comes an increased comfort level for the returning players. Trent Cole and Brandon Graham are through the most difficult part of the learning curve and have adjusted to rushing from a stand-up position. Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry and Bennie Logan are more familiar with the scheme and Jerry Azzinaro‘s techniques, which theoretically could lead to more production. The Eagles also used their first-round pick on Marcus Smith II, who was second in the NCAA last season with 14.5 sacks.

Smith, though, doesn’t seem ready to contribute in a significant way just yet. As such, it’s hard to imagine Connor Barwin’s role changing much given that he will be the only pure outside linebacker on the field for the majority of the downs. He’ll probably be asked to drop quite a bit once again. A lot of the responsibility will fall on Cole. The 10-year vet turns 32 in October. Is it realistic to think his output will increase at this point in his career?

All things considered, I think this group can be better. But I have my doubts as to whether it will be good enough.

Kapadia: I don’t see it.

Looking at it strictly from a personnel standpoint, the new guys they’ve added up front are linemen Beau Allen and Taylor Hart, along with outside linebackers Smith and Bryan Braman.

Allen showed some flashes of being able to provide a push up the middle during the preseason. Hart seems like a one-dimensional run stopper, and I don’t even think he’s going to dress on gamedays. Braman is a special-teamer. And Smith has admitted that the pass-rush will likely be the last part of his game to come around.

The Eagles’ best hope for an improved pass-rush is from guys who were here last year. Cox needs to take a step forward in that aspect, and Curry/Graham need to get on the field more.

OVER/UNDER: Number of sacks for Marcus Smith — 3 1/2

McManus: I’ll go slightly under and say that he finishes with three. The coaches seem to think that the game is slowing down for Smith. That’s a positive sign. Still, I think it’s going to take some time until he is polished enough to make a real impact on this level.

Kapadia: I’ll take the under. And keep in mind, I think I’m the only person left on the Smith bandwagon.

By the second half of the year, I think he’ll be contributing as someone who can help in the run game and drop in coverage. I just don’t see the pass-rush being a part of his arsenal in Year 1. Smith has to refine his technique and get stronger.

By all accounts, he’s putting in the time. But I don’t think we’re going to see results in the form of sacks this year.


McManus: I’ll say Graham will double his production from a year ago. He finished with three sacks and five hurries last season while playing 27 percent of the snaps. He’s one of the top pass rushers on the team and should be able to handle the other responsibilities that come with his new position a little bit better this season.

I think Cole’s snaps (and numbers) will go down some as Graham’s head north.

Kapadia: Curry will lead the team with 10 sacks. We’re supposed to be bold here, right?

I’ve sensed a bit of a change in tone from the coaching staff when it comes to Curry. It sounds like he’s really trying to play with discipline in the run game, even if he lacks prototypical size for a 3-4 defensive end.

Curry is not going to be a starter for this team. But his role should be similar to Brandon Boykin’s. In nickel, Curry should be on the field so he can pin his ears back and get after the quarterback.

Look for more snaps and more production from Curry in 2014.