Inside the Eagles: With an improved defense, Eagles not overly concerned with lack of sacks

The Eagles aren't concerned about stats, just their pass rush's impact. Mychal Kendricks pressures Ben Roethlisberger.
The Eagles aren't concerned about stats, just their pass rush's impact. Mychal Kendricks pressures Ben Roethlisberger. (RON CORTES / Staff)
Posted: October 10, 2012

Deacon Jones is often credited with coining the term "sack."

Ironically, the Hall of Fame defensive end was never officially credited with a sack during his 14-year career.

Quarterback sacks had not yet become an NFL statistic by the time he retired in 1974, but it's estimated he had about 195. Anyone who saw Jones play for the Rams in the 1960s and 70s - and Andy Reid did on occasion growing up in Los Angeles - knew he was one of the best ever at his job.

When the league started tabulating sacks in 1982, they started to become the primary measuring stick for evaluating defensive linemen and a team's pass rush.

Reid has seen the overestimation of sacks, but never more so than with his current Eagles team. Some of the fault rests with defensive line coach Jim Washburn and his linemen, who made rather bold predictions about the number of sacks they would accumulate this season.

And some of it had to do with the bar set last year when defensive linemen accounted for 46 of the Eagles' league-high 50 sacks. But the team's sacks are down this season - only seven thus far. And despite defensive improvement across the board, some observers feel that something is lacking up front.

"What we saw last year was maximum sacks and a lot of scoring," Reid said Monday after the Eagles' 16-14 loss in Pittsburgh. "What you're seeing this year is not a lot of sacks and we're keeping the scoring down."

The Eagles were held without a sack for the second straight week. It was the first time they've gone consecutive games without a sack since 2008.

But they still beat the Giants last week, even though they never sacked Eli Manning. They won, in part, because the Eagles' back seven is vastly improved. They won because Juan Castillo's defense has learned how to protect a fourth-quarter lead, Sunday's loss notwithstanding.

The Eagles are holding opposing offenses to 19.8 points a game, which was 10th in the league through Sunday's games. Last season, they allowed 26.4 points through the first five games.

Holding the Steelers to 16 points in Pittsburgh should have been enough. Ultimately, the loss falls on the Eagles offense and Michael Vick's fumbles, especially a devastating one at the goal line.

But when Vick engineered a go-ahead fourth-quarter drive and the defense was unable to hold that lead, some pointed to the lack of sacks as the reason Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was able to move his offense.

Reid and many of his defensive players said the pressure was there.

"I know we are measured here on sacks," Reid said. "What you're seeing teams do right now is utilize their three-step drop with a five-man protection."

Roethlisberger completed 21 of 37 passes for 207 yards. But the Eagles could not drop him behind the line and there were times they could have used a sack.

They also could have benefited from a turnover or two, another area in which the Eagles came up empty Sunday. Reid was asked if the back seven needs to come up with interceptions if opposing offenses are keeping more players in to block.

"If they're keeping people in to protect and they're running three-man routes, you've got to take care of it on the back end," Reid said. "But again, the scoring is down."

Last season, the Eagles' linemen recorded 15 sacks through the first five games. They also generated 48 quarterback hurries and 14 hits, according to Pro Football Focus.

This year, the Eagles' linemen have only six sacks after five games. But their hurries (38) and hits (18) are about the same as 2011. Defensive ends Jason Babin (21/2 sacks) and Trent Cole (11/2) may be on pace to have fewer sacks this year, but they both have close to as many hurries and hits as they did last season.

Ultimately, the Eagles linemen may be victims of their own success and of high expectations they set for themselves. Cole said 60 sacks were within reach. Washburn said at the start of training camp that he should be fired if his group did not record at least 50.

The defense is better this season, though. That is what matters most.


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