Throughout this magical Eagles’ season, the offense has largely garnered most of the headlines, which makes sense.
It looks as if their quarterback could be the MVP of the entire league. They have a 1,000-yard rusher and will likely have two 1,000 yard receivers, plus the best tight end and offensive line in football. They seemingly score at will, although yesterday’s 25-20 win over the Bears was harder than it needed to be.
The offense is what has largely driven the Eagles to their 13-1 record, needing just one win in their last three games to clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoff picture.
However, Jonathan Gannon’s defensive line is playing at the highest level we’ve seen since the halcyon days of Buddy Ryan’s Gang Green defense and is every bit as responsible for this incredible 14-week run.
Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat, Javon Hargrave, Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Linval Joseph, Ndamukong Suh and Milton Williams are crushing opposing offensive lines, generating pressures, QB hits and, most importantly, lots and lots of sacks.
Against the fleet-footed Justin Fields, the defense turned in another six sacks, the third straight game in which they’ve recorded at least that many, and have 19 in their last three games. Reddick, Sweat and Hargrave each had two against the Bears, with at least four players poised to cross into double digits in sacks. Should they accomplish that task, they’ll be the first team in NFL history to do so.
In his first year after signing a three-year, $45 million free agent contract, Reddick has been worth every penny and more. He’s a half-sack short of his career high, 12.5. Hargrave, who is having a massive contract season, now has 10. The Eagles need to think long and hard about re-signing or putting the franchise tag on him this off-season. Sweat is just a half-sack short at 9.5, with Graham at 8.5. The franchise icon needs just 1.5 in his last three games to hit double digits for the first time in his career.
As a team, the Eagles now have 55 sacks, most in the NFL, quite a turnaround from last year’s anemic 29. They are just seven away from the franchise record of 62, set by those Buddy Ryan ‘89 Birds led by Clyde Simmons’ 15.5, Reggie White’s 11 and Jerome Brown’s 10.5.
It’s great when a defense can force turnovers, but as we’ve seen this year, turnovers are just as often the result of luck as skill. Sacking a quarterback is often devastating to the opposing offense, pushing them backwards while also taking a down away. A 7-yard sack on 2nd and 7 suddenly becomes a very low percentage 3rd and 14, a potential drive killer.
Sacks get a defense off the field and the offense on it in better field position. Looking at yesterday’s six sacks:
- Josh Sweat tackled Fields for -14 yards on 3rd and 10 from the Bears’ 39, forcing a 4th and 24 punt.
- On 3rd and 1 from the Eagles’ 49 with 37 seconds left in the 1st quarter, Hargrave sacked Fields for an 8-yard loss, pushing Chicago to a 4th and 9 from their own 43 and forcing another punt.
- In the 2nd quarter, with a 1st and 10 from the Birds’ 31, Fields was sacked by Reddick for a 13 yard loss. Unfortunately, on 2nd and 23, Fields ran for 39 yards, setting up their first touchdown of the game. Still, it’s a play that should have either killed the drive, or forced a long field goal attempt.
- With 3:49 left in the first half, Chicago had a 3rd and 16 from the Eagles’ 20 when Fields was sacked by Reddick for a loss of 10, setting up a 4th and 27 from the 31. Chicago strangely punted. The sack pushed them out of field goal range, saving three points.
- With 31 seconds left in the first half, Fields had a 2nd and 10 from his own 26 when he was sacked by Sweat for a loss of 7 yards. Fields took a knee on 3rd and 17, ending the half.
- Finally, on a 3rd and 5 from their own 30, Fields took a 9-yard sack from Hargrave, forcing a 4th and 14 and yet another punt.
On five of the six sacks, drives were stalled or actively stripped points away. They are devastating plays. Back in 2020, FiveThirtyEight broke down the numbers and found that...
From 2017 to 2019, drives culminating in touchdown passes occurred 10.9 percentage points less frequently when the QB was sacked, and fumbles occurred 5.4 percentage points more frequently...
...Overall, sacks are strongly positive plays for the defense, accounting for 1.47 EPA per play — over a full point better than the average pressure play.
For those who remember the Buddy Ball days, followed by Bud Carson’s 1991 wrecking crew, one can’t help but think of the devastating pass rush that routinely made life hell for opposing quarterbacks.
Jim Johnson’s blitzing defense catapulted Hugh Douglas and Brian Dawkins into fame, with a ferocious pass rush that made the early Andy Reid defenses one of the best in the NFL. And Jim Schwartz’ defenses got some heat, but during that 2017 season, Graham, Cox and the rest of that aggressive unit pressured quarterbacks all the way to a 13-win season and Super Bowl title.
This defensive line is producing sacks largely without blitzing, which separates them from the Buddy Ryan-Bud Carson-Jim Johnson units, and is etching itself into the franchise’s history books as perhaps the greatest defensive line of all time.
That may be sacrilege considering the array of Hall of Fame-caliber players that have come before them, but the 2022 D-Line is making history with each and every game.
Is this the greatest Eagles defensive line in franchise history?
This poll is closed