The saying goes “defense wins championships.” Yet most would agree it is the age of the quarterback. Turnovers, rushing yards and penalties play their roles—especially for the Philadelphia Eagles. But when the game is on the line, do you want Tom Brady or Ed Reed? Nine out of 10 times I bet you’ll choose the offensive side because that’s where we can make our own history, right? In fact, I’d choose the Eagles’ offense over their defense in the final minutes in almost every game.
Now Philadelphia did tie for the lead in the NFL with 50 sacks last season. But the number felt hollow without a playoff performance, winning record or an answer to most running games, and they were hollow, along with the eighth best defense in the league and the most blown fourth quarter leads in our lifetime.
Trent Cole, Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins accounted for 34.5 of those 50. Jenkins recorded five of his 5.5 sacks in the first five games of the season, and the Eagles went 1-4. Babin didn’t record a sack in four of our eight losses, securing eight of his 16 sacks against Seattle, Miami and the Jets—two fairly easy wins and one “should have been” win. Cole missed two games and didn’t notch a sack in three of the seven losses he played in. When Cole was hurt, Babin didn’t get to the quarterback once.
The next highest sack count is split between Mike Patterson and Darryl Tapp. They each have 2.5. Also, remember how the Eagles used to blitz like it was going out of style? Well, our linebacking core scored four sacks, and Rogers-Cromartie recorded one. I’m not a defensive analyst, but I would say these stats are pretty top-heavy.
Sacks aren’t everything, and stats are not normally kept on pocket disruption and rushed throws. The New York Giants triple threat of Tuck, Umenyoria and Pierre-Paul affected Brady—arguably the coolest quarterback under pressure in the NFL—and many others on their path to the Super Bowl.
What they had was consistency. Three premier, wolf-like defensive ends hounding on a quarterback throughout the game, they rotated players and stayed fresher than their competition. Sacking the quarterback is great, but what’s greater is Tuck’s sack to force New England to 4th and 16 in the final minutes of the Super Bowl because he’s played half the amount of downs as that offensive tackle he’s lined up against.
My point is anyone can go in the game and open the first quarter with two sacks, but it’s too easy to lose steam and not attack the quarterback relentlessly near the end, which lets him reach an open receiver and steal the momentum in the fourth quarter. I don’t think the Giants have that problem, and I think Philly is trying to get on that same path.
The Eagles have two defensive ends without much of a substitution. In fact, 3.5 sacks on the season were what offenses had to face if Babin and Cole weren’t in. How threatening is that? For real, though; that’s .22 sacks a game from the defensive end position, and that’s not even possible; it’s basically like drinking herbal water instead of Red Bull—no rush at all.
However, Philadelphia is making moves. Pass rushers are hard to come by especially ones that are worthy of a starting position. No one wants to let go of their Jarred Allen, and neither do the Eagles. Cole resigned to a nice contract, and Babin will be here a while longer.
The solution is tricky. The draft might be the answer, Brandon Graham might be the answer, the polished wide-9 might be the answer. The answer is someone—someone within the team that becomes a threat to opponents, or someone brought in who negates the issue of the Eagles stepping down from 18 sacks on the year to 2 sacks on the year when Babin or Cole is tired.
Because when Babin and Cole are exhausted, it doesn’t matter how many sacks they got in the first half. Eli Manning will have that extra second to see the field and pick through the secondary in the final waning seconds of the game.