Paul Domowitch: Eagles' four-man pass rush did the job

Juqua Parker takes down Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers with one of his two sacks.
Juqua Parker takes down Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers with one of his two sacks.
Posted: September 15, 2010

FOOTBALL IS A bottom-line business. Wins and losses. Points scored and points allowed.

So the fact that the Eagles failed for the ninth time in their last 11 games to hold an opponent under 20 points in Sunday's 27-20 loss to the Packers was disappointing to defensive coordinator Sean McDermott.

But this wasn't a repeat of the two bloody beatings in Dallas last January. There was nothing good to salvage from those defeats. Not so Sunday.

Despite giving up those 27 points, McDermott's unit did a respectable job against one of the league's top offenses, holding the Packers to 299 net yards, which was 80 yards under their 2009 average. Buoyed by a strong pass rush from their front four, the Eagles held Aaron Rodgers to 188 passing yards, sacked him three times and intercepted him twice.

"Our line did a good job," McDermott said. "Rodgers is a quarterback who gets the ball out extremely fast. He's a tough quarterback to blitz. He was the top-ranked quarterback against the blitz in the league last year. We knew that going in.

"I thought we pressured him well and had him off-balance. I think he threw for just 167 [net] yards. So I was proud of some of what we did Sunday."

Last year the Eagles had trouble getting consistent pressure on the quarterback with a four-man rush. Making matters worse was the fact that their vaunted blitz wasn't nearly as effective as it had been in years past under McDermott's predecessor, Jim Johnson.

Improving their front-four pass rush was a major point of emphasis in the offseason, which was why the Eagles traded up in the first round of the draft and grabbed defensive end Brandon Graham.

Graham started Sunday, rotating between left end and left tackle. He was expected to be used a lot this year as an interior pass rusher in nickel packages, much as Darren Howard was in years past. But McDermott lined him up quite a bit there on first and second down as well.

Graham lined up inside 19 times against the Packers, including 13 times on first and second down. While he didn't have any tackles or sacks, he did get some inside push on Rodgers that prevented him from stepping up in the pocket.

"A lot is going to depend on who we're playing and how we want to attack them and how we want to defend them, and their [offensive] package," McDermott said of using Graham inside on early downs. "Sunday, we moved Brandon inside on first and second down and brought Antwan [Barnes] on the field [at left end]. It worked well for us. We got pressure on first and second down, which was a key for us."

All three of the Eagles' sacks of Rodgers - two by Juqua Parker, who lost his starting job at left end this summer to Graham, and one by right end Trent Cole - came on either first or second down, with a four-man rush. Parker beat each of the Packers' veteran tackles, Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, for his sacks. Cole beat Clifton with an outside rush for his.

"J.P. had a big-time game for us with two sacks," McDermott said. "For him to come out and play intense, emotional and aggressive football, that was a big key."

The Eagles sent more than four rushers after Rodgers just 14 times in 67 snaps. But this was a case of less being more. Rodgers completed just five of 11 passes for 31 yards against the blitz. His first touchdown pass - a 6-yard scoring throw to Donald Driver late in the second quarter - came on a blitz, but so did his interceptions.

Another blitz, off the back side by safety Quintin Mikell on a third-and-7 near midfield with 4 1/2 minutes left in the game, forced a hurried throw and incompletion that allowed the Eagles to get the ball back with a chance to tie the game.

Rodgers was just 1-for-6 against the blitz in the second half and finished with a 49.9 passer rating when the Eagles sent extra rushers after him. Last year, opposing quarterbacks had a 79.7 rating against the Eagles' blitz.

"He kills people against the blitz," McDermott said. "We wanted to be selective and pick our spots, yet get to him with four down [linemen] and have him hold the ball with coverage. There was a good mixture there. I thought it worked well.

"When we did blitz, it was effective in getting the ball out early or causing misfires. Overall, I thought we were pretty successful on our pressure packages."

McDermott did a lot of different things Sunday. A couple of times in the first half, he had middle linebacker Stewart Bradley put a hand on the ground and line up as a fifth lineman. He also occasionally sent a linebacker or safety after Rodgers as a fourth rusher and dropped Cole back into coverage.

There's a good chance the Eagles will blitz more Sunday against the Lions and their quarterback, Shaun Hill, who will be making just his 17th career start. But considering the Murderers' Row of veteran quarterbacks they'll be facing later this season - Peyton and Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Brett Favre, Matt Schaub and a fella by the name of Donovan McNabb - it was comforting for McDermott to see his front four get heat on Rodgers.

McDermott is hoping that Graham, Parker and Barnes will play well enough on the left side to force opposing offensive lines to stop sliding their protection toward Pro Bowler Cole on the other side.

"Green Bay has some different protection schemes than most teams," he said. "They max it up on some downs. They tried to do it a little bit. They tried to do it to Trent's side. But having something coming off the other side certainly balances us out, and hopefully, in turn, balances the offense out too."

Send e-mail to pdomo@aol.com.

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