Eagles Defensive Line Regression - 2011 to 2012

USA TODAY Sports

John Breitenbach examines the regression of key contributors on the defensive line

So much was expected of this defensive line coming off a season where they tied for the league lead in sacks but the unit as a whole has really underwhelmed. The star players from 2011 like Trent Cole and Derek Landri are shells of their former selves while Brandon Graham has really emerged as a force off the edge. It's not that guys like Cole, Landri, Cullen Jenkins or Daryl Tapp are playing badly but they needed to carry this team on their back with the struggles at safety and linebacker, something they were unable to do. Let's take a look at some numbers to compare the two seasons.

Defensive Ends

Trent Cole

Cole has been one of the best 4-3 defensive ends in the NFL over the past three years. He accumulated pressure at a better rate per snap than almost every other player and really took over games at times. He was also easily the best run defender at the position, overpowering even the best left tackles. Despite all that Cole's consistency was probably his greatest trait as he almost never performed below average. His 2012 season has definitely not been poor, despite the low sack total, but it's still disappointing having seen him set the bar so high. There are still times when he looks like the player from 2008-2011 but they're far less frequent. Here's a comparison of his pass rushing production:

Year

Pass rush snaps

Sacks (no halves)

Hits

Hurries

Snaps per pressure

2012

387

4

12

28

8.8

2011

375

11

12

44

5.6

* All statistics courtesy of PFF

As you can see Cole's production is way down. He's hit the quarterback the same number of times but he has less than half as many sacks and far fewer hurries. Cole's also already rushed the quarterback more times in 2011 than he did in all of 2012.

Year

Run Snaps

Tackles (around LOS)**

Snaps per tackle

2012

270

18

15

2011

254

21

12.1

** At, close to, or behind the line of scrimmage

Cole's also made fewer plays in run defense as well as making more mistakes. He has been pretty good in the past at recognising misdirection but he's really struggled in that area this year, often failing to notice reverses and end-arounds, losing contain on some big gains.

Darryl Tapp

Tapp has received some undue criticism this year. He remains a solid veteran who excels against the run but tends to be a little quiet as a pass rusher. Tapp has seen his snaps slowly decrease but that's only happened recently, once it was obvious this team wasn't making the playoffs, and the young players started to be given an opportunity. It's pretty obvious he won't be around next year with the team entering a rebuilding phase and him entering free agency. Let's take a look at his numbers.

Year

Snaps

Sacks

Hits

Hurries

Snaps per pressure

2012

116

1

2

3

19.3

2011

172

3

6

13

7.8

Tapp's 2011 performance as a pass rusher is looking more like an aberration than the norm. He hasn't performed at close to that level in the rest of his six year career. It's his work in run defense that makes him a useful asset to any team.

Year

Snaps

Tackles (around LOS)

Snaps per tackle

2012

138

9

15.3

2011

132

9

14.6

The drop in pass rush production hasn't been reflected in run defense. Tapp is active, smart and uses his hands really well. He could thrive in a two down role on another 4-3 team that hasn't invested so many resources at the position.

Defensive Tackles

Cullen Jenkins

Jenkins' was one of the best interior rushers in the entire NFL last year. It was the main reason the Eagles brought him in as 2010 starters Brodrick Bunkley and Mike Patterson were good run stuffers who lacked an ability to collapse the pocket. Jenkins delivered in 2011, joining the defensive ends to form a formidable trio. 2012 hasn't been quite so positive, as there've been a few too many quiet games. Cujo has certainly not been bad but he's been a lot better in the past.

Year

Snaps

Sacks

Hits

Hurries

Snaps per pressure

2012

351

4

1

25

11.7

2011

400

6

8

25

10.3

Rather than the consistency of pressure, it's predominantly been the big plays that have been lacking this season. Jenkins has beaten interior lineman fairly regularly but it's taken him a few moves to do it, meaning he's generated more hurries than sacks or hits. Those 25 hurries are good for fifth in the NFL amongst interior defensive lineman but knocking the QB down just five will likely disappoint even Jenkins himself.

Year

Snaps

Tackles

Snaps per tackle

2012

214

10

21.4

2011

249

21

11.9

The big plays aren't there for Jenkins in the run game either. He's never been especially stout throughout his career but this season has seen a real lack of production. You can live with the inconsistent run defense when Jenkins is regularly pressuring the QB but it's a different story when he's only good in that department and struggling to get to running backs in so many meaningful snaps.

Derek Landri

Landri was a revelation in 2011. It seemed like there almost wasn't a snap when he was on the field that he didn't make a play, whether it was as a pass rusher or run defender. His career previously in Carolina had been so nondescript that it made his performance all the more surprising. There was no reason to think he wouldn't continue that form either, what with him returning to play in the same scheme that had seemed to suit him so well. Unfortunately Landri looks a different player. Considering how he'd performed so well against the run it's surprising to see him struggle so much. First here's a comparison of his pass rushing productivity:

Year

Snaps

Sacks

Hits

Hurries

Snaps per pressure

2012

196

0

5

9

14

2011

190

2

5

13

9.5

Landri is another player who's seen a drop in production this season compared to last. He does have a pair of batted passes, but in terms of getting to the quarterback, he's performed well in contrast to excellent in 2011. As previously mentioned though, his troubles against the run are most surprising.

Year

Snaps

Tackles

Snaps per tackle

2012

228

11

20.7

2011

165

15

11

In nearly two thirds of snaps Landri had nearly 50% more tackles around the line of scrimmage in 2011. Lineman have been able to use his aggressiveness against him on a number of occasions, opening up big holes between him and the linebackers.

Four key contributors from 2011 have all performed worse in both facets of their game this season. Looking at these numbers it's really not surprising that Jim Washburn was fired. He said himself he should be if the unit wasn't better. They were anything but and he's looking for a job because of it. I'm not sure what changed in those nine months but whatever it was it seemed to effect every lineman. Even Phillip Hunt who was so good in limited snaps in 2011 looked lost in 2012. If anyone had said before the season that Graham was going to be the most productive linemen on this team they'd have been laughed at. It just shows how much difference a year makes.

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