Throughout the off-season, the Offensive Line for the Philadelphia Eagles was praised as one of the strongest positional groups on the team, if not one of the strongest positional groups in the league.
The depth of the Defensive Line was something to envy, while among the starters the Eagles have three first-round picks; Brandon Graham was the 13th pick in the 2010 draft, Fletcher Cox the 12th overall pick in 2012 and Derek Barnett went 14th overall two years ago. The Eagles General Manager, Howie Roseman, has always said that a good football team is built in the trenches, meaning both Lines have to be strong, and as you can see the Eagles value this position greatly.
In the off-season Roseman also made big moves to increase the depth by signing some key free agents. Malik Jackson was the biggest-name arrival, signing a one-year prove-it deal after failing to play up to his potential for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Vinny Curry has also returned after one season with Tampa Bay Buccaneers and in my eyes, the biggest signing Howie made was convincing Timmy Jernigan to come and play on a one-year deal next to Cox at Defensive Tackle.
With all of these additions the Eagles were primed to get big results from a destructive D-Line, but where has the rushing pressure gone that was so prominent in the Super Bowl-winning run? Where are the sacks that the Defense would rack up every week?
I have seen a lot of stats about the how the line is still generating Quarterback pressures, and a lot of people do say that this is possibly a more telling statistic than actual sack numbers, but at the end of the day the Eagles defense needs to capitalize on the pressure they can cause and really take advantage of their opportunities because at the moment the team is underperforming.
Here is a close look at some of the stats for the Defensive Line:
Week 1 versus Washington Redskins
- Tackles for loss: 3
- Quarterback Hurries/Hits: 8
- Sacks: 1
Week 2 @ Atlanta Falcons
Ryan was not sacked once in week 2. Credit: Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports
- Tackles for loss: 2
- Quarterback Hurries/Hits: 5
- Sacks: 0
Week 3 versus Detroit Lions
- Tackles for Loss: 0
- Quarterback Hurries/Hits: 2
- Sacks: 0
For a much-revered group, these are incredibly disappointing stats. Just one sack has been tallied by the Defensive Line over the first three weeks. During the Week 1 game, they hurried Case Keenum 8 times, this looked like a statistic that they could build on as they were getting to the quarterback but just a fraction too late. The most worrying thing about these statistics is that each one has declined over the weeks. Graham is not showing his usual burst and possibly the Eagles’ most talented player in Cox has been a none factor in all three fixtures.
What has been done to help the D-Line?
The Defensive Coordinator for the Eagles is Jim Schwartz. He is a well-known defensive genius and has been praised for his tactics in the Eagles Super Bowl-winning year and during his tenure as Detroit Lions Head Coach. His strategy is to play a lot of zone coverage trusting that his front four Defensive Lineman will create enough pressure. This, unfortunately, has not been the case in 2019. This has led to Schwartz using different blitz packages to try and create pressure in alternative ways. This, however, is clearly not the Eagles strong point, as shown against the Lions: when they blitzed Matthew Stafford they allowed a 62 per cent completion rate, 1 Touchdown and a passer rating of 135.9. When they used their base defence they limited the Lions to 5 yards per attempt less on average and a passer rating of 68.1.
What needs to be done to help the D-Line?
To be honest I think that Howie Roseman needs to work a bit of his trade magic. With injuries to major contributors like Jernigan and Jackson, the Eagles are depending on players such as Hassan Ridgeway and Akeem Spence to put pressure on opposition Quarterbacks. I think Roseman needs to target players like Geno Atkins from the Cincinnati Bengals or Solomon Thomas from the San Francisco 49ers. I think it would cost mid-round picks to acquire either of them and during the offseason, the Eagles freed up a lot of cap space so they can make these moves happen. This would give the team a much-needed boost in the depth and would represent a pretty low risk for high reward scenario.
Whatever happens this season for the Eagles really depends on the play of their Defensive Line. If the play improves I think you will see the Eagles record similarly improve if they do not get any more production out of their front four I really fear for the rest of their season.