We continue our position by position review of the 2014 Philadelphia Eagles. Today we move to the defense, and we start up front with the team's best position, defensive end.
Numbers: 4.0 sacks, 11 hurries, 48 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 3 fumble recoveries, 1 for a touchdown.
Review: Fletcher Cox continued his progression from last season to become the MVP of the 2014 season. He was dominant in all phases. He forced offensive lines to double team him, creating space for teammates to get to the quarterback or stuff the run. Against the pass he pressured the QB, getting his fair share of sacks and hurries for a 3-4 DE, and he swallowed up blockers against the run. He had a legit Pro Bowl caliber season, being the keystone for a defense that was 6th in DVOA against the run and t-4th in sack percentage.
Here he just shoves aside Justin Pugh for a tackle for loss.
And this, this is just ridiculous.
Numbers: 1.0 sack, 4 hurries, 36 tackles, 3 fumble recoveries, 1 for a touchdown.
Review: Cedric Thornton picked right up where he left off last season, being a dominant force against the run using both strength and technique. He was such a worry to opposing offenses that the Eagles were able to dictate the offense's blocking and still destroyed it. Case in point, here the Titans go heavy to Thornton's side with a second tackle. He easily shoves the tackle aside and stops the running back for minimal gain.
Numbers: 9.0 sacks, 9 hurries, 17 tackles, 4 force fumbles, 1 fumble recovery.
Review: Stats, especially defensive ones, don't always tell a good story, let alone the whole story. With Vinny Curry, they do. Curry is the best pass rusher on the team, and in only 32% of snaps he put up numbers better than most starters do. Bulked up to better handle the rigors of 3-4 DE, Curry was able to balance speed and strength to terrorize offensive linemen and quarterbacks. Curry rarely saw the field on running downs, but that's okay. With Thornton and Cox, there's little reason to put him on the field in those situations. And by only playing a third of the time, the team's best pass rusher has fresh legs in the 4th quarter. Sometimes, less is more.
Numbers: 1.5 sacks, 14 tackles, 1 blocked FG.
Review: Brandon Bair's primary contribution was as a special teams player, he played 24.5% of ST snaps, only 16.9% of defensive, primarily on running downs, utilizing his size and strength. On special teams he was a factor, blocking a FG and an extra point. On defense, Bair wasn't a liability, but he showed little to indicate his active roster spot is secure heading into next season. Which is important because waiting in the wings is Taylor Hart.
Numbers: 0 games played.
Review: This is the only real area of improvement that can be made at DE, that Taylor Hart, who bulked up during the season to 300 lbs, needs to earn playing time. Hart never dressing during the season isn't a major concern. Cox, Thornton and Curry weren’t coming off the field just so that some rookie could get playing time. Bair's spot is vulnerable, Hart will have to either show he's head and shoulders a better player on defense or match Bair on special teams. If Hart can’t get on the field by mid-season (keep in mind the coaching staff kept Curry inactive to start the 2013 season, so Week 1 shouldn't be the benchmark), then he becomes a concern. But for now, he was just a rookie stuck behind a log jam at the team’s strongest position. No shame in that.
Who could leave
Nobody. Thornton is a restricted free agent and 2015 is the last year of Cox’s contract, it’s just a matter of time before they have new deals. Curry is also entering the last year of his contract, but as a rotational player his contract status is not a high priority this off-season. Don’t be surprised if the team waits until next off-season to try to extend him.
Who could sign
Nobody. There is no need to add an established veteran. A 6’8" UDFA or someone who spent last season on a practice squad or on the street will be added as camp bodies, but nothing more.
None. Cox will be 25, Thornton and Curry 27, Hart 24. This group isn’t just good, it’s also young. Taking a DE in the draft would be waste.
Since there is very little room for criticism or concern along the defensive line, let’s just enjoy some more clips of Cox, Thornton and Curry destroying backfields.
If it seemed like the Eagles knew what the Giants were going to run in their shutout of the Giants, it's because they did. Multiple times they audibled and stuffed the play. Like this one, where Thornton even playfully signals that he knows it's going to his left, which it does. He draws the double team and Bennie Logan makes easy work of the center.
Eli has no place to go and Vinny Curry makes the Giants pay for it with hustle.
It's a party in the backfield for Cox and Thornton.
Vinny Curry beast mode.
Bennie Logan thought there was nothing special about the Cowboys offensive line. Cox agrees.
Why even bother double teaming Thornton.
Again, Thornton is double teamed, allowing Logan to make a play.