Paul Domowitch: Eagles go sack-less for third game in a row

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford eludes Eagles defensive end Trento Cole in fourth quarter.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford eludes Eagles defensive end Trento Cole in fourth quarter. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: October 15, 2012

Jim Washburn was sitting in his office at the NovaCare Complex one day last week talking about the difficulty his defensive line was having getting to quarterbacks this season.

He talked about the maxprotections his linemen were dealing with every week and he talked about how fast quarterbacks were getting the ball out. Then he pointed over to the screen on the wall, where the game tape he had been watching was stopped on a picture of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.

"It's not going to be any different this week," he said. "That guy gets the ball out as fast as anybody in the league. It's not going to be easy getting to him."

It wasn't. For the third straight week, a defense that led the league in sacks last season came up empty. The last time the Eagles went three straight games without a sack was 1983. Most of the current defensive linemen either weren't yet born or still were being potty-trained in 1983.

"We're being schemed up front," defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said after his unit blew a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead in a 26-23 overtime loss to the Lions. "They're throwing us off in what we do. A lot of quick stuff. A lot of screens. Play-action. Leaving [extra] people in [to block]. Bumping players and chipping players. I think we're trying too hard when we get opportunities. We've just got to relax."

For three quarters, the Eagles managed to get enough pressure on Stafford to force hurried throws if not take him down. Stafford, who threw for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdown passes last season, completed just seven of 21 passes in the first three periods.

But then, just like the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger the week before, he found his groove in the fourth quarter. Completed 15 of 24 passes for 220 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter and overtime as the Lions came back to win.

"I was stunned," defensive end Brandon Graham said. "With 3-some minutes to go, we were up 10. I'm like, shoot, I can't wait to get back out there. Because I know all it takes is one play and the game's over. Then they completed that long play [a 57-yard completion to tight end Tony Scheffler with less than 4 minutes to go].

"I don't know who it was on. All I know is he got away [from the defender] and got one. That kind of drained a lot of people."

The Eagles haven't had a quarterback sack since late in the third quarter of their 27-6, Week 3 loss to Arizona. Jason Babin dropped Kevin Kolb on a third-and-11 play. Since then, it has been a lot of close, but no cigar.

As Jenkins said, teams are keeping more players in to block and sending less out on routes. And quarterbacks are getting the ball out before the Eagles' linemen can get to them.

"We got a couple of one-on-ones today," defensive end Trent Cole said. "But he slung that ball. Got it out quick. We tried to get there as fast as we could. But he was slinging that ball out."

In the fourth quarter, as the Lions started to come back, defensive coordinator Juan Castillo even resorted to blitzing, which is something the Eagles had done just 39 times in the first five games. But when you don't do something very often and you don't practice it very often, you're usually not going to be very good at it. That was the case with the Eagles on Sunday.

"In the fourth quarter, there was a lot of blitzing," cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said. "They were then able to find the matchups that they wanted. So, you can say that we should blitz more, but we did that and it didn't help us in the end."

After the game, Castillo was noncommittal about whether the Eagles would blitz more going forward.

"We're going to have to evaluate and see what we have to do," he said. "They had basically six guys [blocking four defensive linemen]. Some of their guys made some plays on us. The quarterback scrambled. He got the ball out quick.

"Some of their players made some plays. We need to be making plays.

"We tried to double 81 [wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who had one catch in the first three quarters and five for 107 yards in the fourth quarter and overtime]. We did that most of the night. Some of their other guys made plays."

It didn't help that rookie defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who is part of the Eagles' four-man rotation inside with Jenkins, Derek Landri and Cedric Thornton, got tossed from the game early in the fourth quarter when he threw a punch at a Lions player on the PAT following a 1-yard touchdown run by Stafford that closed the Eagles' lead to three points.

With Cox out, the other three tackles had to play more snaps, including Landri, who has been playing with a knee injury.

"I can't afford to do that in a game like that," Cox said. "I've just got to control my anger. I got a flag on the play before [for a neutral-zone infraction]. I was on the bottom of the pile and guys were going after me. It was just a mistake. I'm a rookie and I've got to understand that."

The Eagles have just seven sacks in six games. They went into Sunday's game ranked 27th in the league in sacks per pass plays. They figure to fall a couple of more notches this week.

Defensive end Jason Babin, who had 18 of the Eagles' league-high 50 sacks last season, has just 2 1/2 so far this season. He had two of his team's four hurries against the Lions.

"It's frustrating," he admitted. "We need to get sacks, but ultimately we need to win. We did a good job at times of rushing [Stafford]. We put a couple of hits on him. There were guys coming free. I had plenty of one-on-one rushes. And I won quite a few one-on-one rushes. But hits and second place don't really count."

Cole took offense to a reporter's suggestion that the front four isn't getting pressure on the quarterback.

"I don't know what you're talking about, man," he said. "You saw the game. It was there. [The pressure] was there. You know it was there. We did what we could.

"We're going to fight as hard as we can. If the sacks come, they come.

"They're just not coming right now. But we're going to keep pushing forward. We're not going to stop. We're not going to quit."

DID YOU NOTICE

-- The Eagles had Nnamdi Asomugha shadow Calvin Johnson much of the game. On third-and-5 on the Lions' first possession, Asomugha jumped a slant route and knocked away a pass for Johnson. Through the first three quarters, Johnson had just one reception for 28 yards. In the fourth quarter and overtime he had five catches for 107 yards.

-- The dueling first-quarter end-arounds. The Eagles ran one on their first possession with DeSean Jackson. But Cliff Avril sniffed it out and dropped Jackson for a 14-yard loss. The Lions ran one with Nate Burleson on their second possession and gained 6 yards. They ran another one early in the fourth quarter with Burleson. That one gained 16 yards.

-- The line-drive punt by McBriar that helped set up Stefan Logan's 48-yard, first-quarter punt return.

-- The Eagles deactivated Damaris Johnson and had Mardy Gilyard return all but one punt. They put DeSean Jackson back there for one punt late in the second quarter with the Lions punting from their own 20. Jackson lost 3 yards on the return. Gilyard touched five punts. He fair-caught three of them and returned the other two for 11 and 4 yards.

-- The Lions' first four rushing attempts gained 38 yards.

-- The two Eagles fumbles on the same possession late in the first quarter. The first was a fumbled snap by Michael Vick. The quarterback recovered that one. The second came out of the shotgun and was the result of a miscommunication between Vick and center Dallas Reynolds. Vick still was communicating with his receivers and wasn't even looking when Reynolds snapped the ball over his left shoulder. Lions middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch recovered that one.

-- The horrible clock management by both the Eagles and Lions on their final possessions of the first half. After the Eagles scored with 1:16 left in the second quarter, the Lions threw three straight incompletions from their own 20-yard line, which ate up all of 16 seconds off the clock before they had to punt. The Eagles got the ball back at their own 27 with 49 seconds left and two timeouts still in their pocket. But they used up both timeouts on their first two plays and had to resort to a "Hail Mary" pass at the end of the half.

BY THE NUMBERS

-- Michael Vick's streak of pass attempts without an interception ended at 114 in the second quarter when his deep pass for Jason Avant was picked off by Lions safety Louis Delmas.

-- With his two interceptions, Vick has 13 turnovers in six games - eight interceptions and five lost fumbles. In his last 28 starts, he has 40 turnovers - 29 interceptions and 11 lost fumbles.

-- Tight end Brent Celek had just 33 receiving yards on four catches against the Lions. In the Eagles' first two games, he had 12 catches for 222 yards. In their last four games, he has 13 catches for 135 yards.

-- The Eagles have scored just 10 touchdowns in six games, including five in the last four games. Just two of those 10 TD drives have been less than 70 yards. Both came in Week 2 against Baltimore.

-- LeSean McCoy's 22 rushing yards were the fewest of his career in games in which he had at least seven carries.

-- The Eagles managed to lose despite the Lions converting just three of 13 third-down opportunities (23.1 percent).

-- The Eagles have yet to score on their first possession this season, and have scored just once on their second possession. In six games, the Eagles have scored seven points in the first quarter.

-- Kicker Alex Henery, who had just five touchbacks in 21 kickoffs in the Eagles' first five games, had four against the Lions.

-- The Eagles haven't registered a sack in 202 minutes and 57 seconds. That covers 13 quarters and 4 minutes of an overtime period.

-- Calvin Johnson, who finished with six catches for 135 yards, became the fourth player in six games to notch 100-plus receiving yards against the Eagles. The other three: the Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald (114) and the Giants' Domenik Hixon (114) and Victor Cruz (109).

-- In their last five games, the Eagles have converted just six of 17 (35.3 percent) red-zone opportunities, including just one of three against the Lions.

-- Lions tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler combined for six catches for 119 yards. In the Eagles' first five games, they had held opposing tight ends to 186 receiving yards.

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