Eagles better on defense, but can't sack the QB
Playing quarterback seems like a safe job for Philadelphia's opponents.
Those ferocious pass rushers aren't producing sacks the way they're used to, but the Eagles (3-2) are getting results on the scoreboard anyway.
"The bottom line for our defense is that it's not about stats, sacks, or trying to give up less than 17 points or any of those things," defensive coordinator Juan Castillo said Thursday. "The bottom line for us is to get the win no matter what."
The Eagles have just seven sacks in five games, fewer than all but three teams. That's a drastic drop for a defense that tied for first in the NFL with 50 sacks last year.
Manning wasn't even hit in Philadelphia's 19-17 victory over the New York Giants on Sept. 30. Roethlisberger had plenty of time to throw, especially on the final drive, and wasn't sacked in a 16-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday.
The Eagles haven't registered a sack in the last nine quarters and are on pace for a franchise-low 22.
Despite their inability to put quarterbacks on the ground, the Eagles are getting it done on defense. They're eighth in total yards (307.2) and 10th in points allowed (19.8). At this point last year, they had 16 sacks, but were 15th in yards (352.0) and 28th in points allowed (26.4). They also were last in the division with a 1-4 record.
"It's all about not letting guys get into the end zone," middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "That's the biggest thing for us, not giving up touchdowns, holding guys. If they're down there, holding them to three points if possible. The focus of this game is winning. That's the only thing we care about. Sacks, blitzing, all that stuff, it doesn't matter to me. As long as we outscore our opponents, that's all I care about."
Jason Babin had 18 sacks last year on his way to his second straight Pro Bowl, and two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Trent Cole added 11. The two speed rushers thrived in defensive line coach Jim Washburn's wide-nine system. This year, however, Cole and Babin have four combined sacks. They totaled 11 through Week 5 in 2011.
A main reason why they haven't been getting as many sacks is blocking. Offenses are using maximum protection against Philadelphia's front four. Even when the Eagles don't blitz, teams are using seven or eight blockers and they're chipping the ends.
"It's tough, but it's not going to stop us from trying to move towards our goal," Cole said. "We're going to fight. I don't care if I have to take two guys the whole game. We're out there to try to win games and we're going to fight as much as we can.
"This year has probably been the worst I've ever been chipped, but I'm not really worried about the chipping. I don't care. I'm not paying attention to the chipper. If he hits me, he hits me, but I know I've got to go where I want to go. I want to pass rush the tackle. That's my goal, so I'm not really worried about the chipping."
Using max protect is helping opponents keep their QBs safe from Philadelphia's grasp, but it means fewer receivers go out for pass routes and that decreases production. The Eagles are ninth against the pass, allowing 206.8 yards per game.
"They're honoring your defensive line by giving you, what I consider, blitz protections," coach Andy Reid said. "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."
With Babin and Cole getting chipped and double-teamed, the Eagles need their interior linemen to generate pressure up the middle. Rookie Fletcher Cox has played well, but has the only sack by a tackle.
While the sack totals don't reflect improvement, Babin insists this year's defensive line is better than last year's unit.
"Watching the way we work together, the way we rush, the way it looks, the way our footwork is, and our second string is, there is no question in my mind," he said. "Do the stats reflect it? Absolutely not."
NOTES: LB Akeem Jordan practiced for the second straight day Thursday and is expected to return to the starting lineup after missing the last two games with a hamstring injury. Jamar Chaney started at weakside linebacker in his place. ... The Eagles host the Detroit Lions (1-3) on Sunday in Philadelphia.
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Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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