Coming into the season, Jim Washburn said if the defensive line didn't get 50 sacks, he should be fired. Unless things change, he might come back to regret those words.
Through 5 games the defensive line has only 7 sacks, putting them on pace for just 22 on the season- less than half of the lofty prediction by Washburn.
The Eagles have not recorded a sack in 2 games and while they have been getting pressure on the quarterback, not finishing the job finally cost them yesterday. Against the Steelers the line produced 7 quarterback hurries, but Ben Roethlisberger was able to move around the pocket and pressure on the Steelers game winning drive.
Still, Andy Reid defended his defensive line today at the NovaCare Complex.
I know that I was asked yesterday about sacks and pressures and all those things – I think we’re doing a decent job with the pressure part of it. I know we are measured here on sacks, and what you’re seeing teams do right now is utilize their three-step drop with a five-man protection. Then, they’re quick-hit five throws off of the five-man protection go beyond that with the five hitches and the five hitch, hitch with the long throw downfield and seven step drop, you’re seeing either maximum pro which is seven-man protection or you’re seeing that six-man protection. We saw a majority of that between the six-man and seven-man yesterday. What we saw last year was maximum sacks and a lot of scoring. What you’re seeing this year is not a lot of sacks and we’re keeping the scoring down. However, that last drive you have to be able to get off the field on the third-and-12. That was actually one where we did have pressure and had an opportunity to sack [Pittsburgh QB] Ben [Roethlisberger], and he did a good job of shaking us off when our defensive end got free there
While there is no doubt that offensive lines have schemed to try to neutralize the Eagles defensive line, after 5 games, the line should have figured out a way to still produce sacks.
Against the Steelers, a big part was the Eagles were just not able to finish the play.
We had a one-on-one situation that we won. [Steelers QB] Ben [Roethlisberger] made a nice play getting out of it. [DE Jason] Babin had him right in that area that you want to get Ben in and that’s around the waist or below. You hit him high and he just kind of shakes you off. You get him down in the leg area. He did a good job with it. He made a big play at a crucial time.
With only 7 sacks, 2 players in the NFL have more sacks than the entire Eagles defensive line- Clay Matthews (8) and J.J. Watt (7.5). The 2 biggest disappointments on the line have been Jason Babin and Trent Cole. Cole and Babin combined have only 4 sacks combined, and had only 4 QB hurries yesterday.
On the season, Babin and Cole have only 14 combined QB hurries. To put that in perspective, the St Louis Ram's starting DE's- Chris Long and Robert Quinn- have a combined 39 QB pressures on the season.
Given the drop off in sacks, fans have been screaming for the Eagles to blitz more to bring down the quarterback. The Eagles blitzed only 7 times yesterday and had little success, with Roethlisberger going 5-7 for 69 yards against the extra pressure.
Reid did not completely buy into that idea today.
You’ve got to look at the protections. On one hand, they’re honoring your defensive line by giving you, what I consider, blitz protections. They’re keeping tight ends in, sometimes two tight ends, running back-tight end combination in. Now, you’ve got to bank on your coverage here a bit to do that. There are a couple things you can do up front to try to give yourselves an opportunity to get your defensive lineman home in one-on-one situations.
Can the defensive line improve by blitzing? It might be worth a try, but with the Detroit Lions coming into town this weekend, it would be a dangerous time to start. The Lions have a quick strike offense and Matthew Stafford- despite having a down year so far- is one of the best quarterbacks in the game.
Still, the Lions have allowed only 5 sacks this season- meaning the Eagles might have no choice but to send extra men.
Follow Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks