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Eagles Pass Rush Comes Alive

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The Eagles didn't have a sack in Week 2 or Week 3. That raised more than a few questions about whether the Eagles could get pressure on the passer and play good defense. Those questions have been answered over the last 3 weeks.

Rich Schultz

Colin Kaepernick is the most dynamic running quarterback in the NFL. I didn't know how Bill Davis would scheme against him. If you blitz Kaepernick, he can burn you. But there is also a lot of danger in sitting back and being conservative, not to mention players hate that strategy. They always want to attack.

Davis attacked Kaepernick. Over and over. The Eagles finished the game with four sacks. They had six, but penalties wiped out a couple. They easily could have had more if Kaepernick didn't use his athletic ability to escape other situations.

This wouldn't have been so surprising except that the Eagles had been sackless the previous two games. Davis told the media that he was comfortable with the pressure he saw his players getting on tape. Many people dismiss comments like that as just "coachspeak". No sacks meant not enough pressure.

One of the problems that the Eagles had in Weeks 2 and 3 is that the teams moved the ball well on early downs. That put them in second and medium and third and short. When the offense has favorable situations, the pass rush is going to struggle. That's true if you have Reggie White and Clyde Simmons attacking or Fletcher Cox and Trent Cole.

Against the Niners, Davis didn't worry about situations. He just had his players attack. That strategy did deliver pressure, but the Niners also burned it a few times. Against the Rams, the Eagles racked up another four sacks. They pressured Austin Davis a lot, but he used surprising athleticism to evade rushers on a few plays. Things really got going against the Giants. The Eagles had eight sacks and kept regular pressure on both Eli Manning and Ryan Nassib.

So what happened?

A combination of things led to the increased sack numbers. Davis has been more aggressive with his blitzes. He's also shown good creativity, Trent Cole is the Eagles best pure pass rusher. He has lined up as an outside linebacker, inside linebacker, defensive tackle and defensive end. Cole has played on the right and left sides. Connor Barwin has lined up all over as well.

Davis helps the pass rush when he covers more aggressively. Against the Giants, he didn't have the corners play bump and run, but he did have them come up somewhat on the receivers. There was no 10-yard cushion that let receivers get off the line comfortably. When the quarterback has to hold the ball and wait for the receiver to work his way open, that gives the rushers an extra half-second or even full second to get pressure. That seemingly minuscule amount of time can make a world of difference when it comes to rushing the passer.

Think about Barwin's first sack on Sunday night. He came upfield and right tackle Justin Pugh had him blocked. Barwin knew he couldn't get by Pugh on the outside. Barwin then used a spin move to come back to the inside. Coverage on the receivers was tight so Manning moved up in the pocket and was right there for Barwin to sack.

The other factor in all of this is good execution by the players. Brandon Graham went from being an odd situational pass rusher last year to being a good number three linebacker and situational rusher this year. Graham was terrific in the Rams game and played his best football in a long time. Barwin is off to the best start in his career. Vinny Curry has tied his career high in sacks and the Eagles aren't even at the midpoint of the season.

Cole is posting solid numbers. He has 3.5 sacks so far. He's no longer a guy you can count on for 10 to 12. If Cole can get eight sacks and be a disruptive rusher, he's doing his job. Cole has embraced the creative role Davis created for him. It allows Davis to find the best matchup by moving him around. Why put your best pass rusher against the star left tackle all game long when you can mix things up and have him go against the right tackle or the left guard? One of the best moments on Sunday night came when Cole lined up in the A-gap and blitzed at the snap. He got right into Manning's face and forced him to throw the ball away. This was supposed to be a screen pass, but Cole was so quick off the ball that the play had no chance to work.

One interesting aspect to all of this is that Mychal Kendricks has been out for several games. He is the best athlete in the front seven and the best blitzer. If you add Kendricks pass rush and blitz ability to the current attack, offenses could really be in trouble.