Eagles cut defensive end Babin's playing time

Brandon Graham , who took some of Jason Babin's snaps, pressures Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.
Brandon Graham , who took some of Jason Babin's snaps, pressures Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. (RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: October 29, 2012

THERE IS a poignant scene toward the tail end of the classic film "Rudy" in which Rudy Ruettiger is trying to make an impression on the Notre Dame coaching staff in the last practice of the season. Ruettiger the runt drilled third-team halfback Jamie O'Hara, who proceeded to throw a tantrum.

"Last practice of the season and this [expletive] thinks it's the Super Bowl," O'Hara said.

Legendary Irish coach Ara Parseghian, played by Jason Miller, freaked out.

"You just summed up your entire sorry career here in one sentence!" Parseghian responded. "If you had a tenth of the heart of Ruettiger, you'd have made All-American by now! As it is, you just went from the third team to the prep team."

Flash forward to a rain-drenched Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles were being pummeled by Atlanta, 30-17, in the fourth quarter.

Jason Babin, the man who strung together the 18th-best single season in NFL history in terms of sacks (18.0) last year for the Eagles, was parked on the sideline. His snaps were cut, a decision Babin said came from Andy Reid, in order to give unproven, third-year defensive end Brandon Graham a shot at bringing down Matt Ryan.

In fact, the Eagles even tried using Cullen Jenkins on the left end at one point in the fourth quarter.

Babin, 32, said that if cutting his playing time was an attempt at motivating him, it wouldn't work.

"To me, I have intrinsic motivation," Babin said. "External environmental activity is not going to affect my drive, my desire, my effort, how I go about my business. It's not going to make me play harder. I'm giving you everything I've got already."

Babin didn't sum up his entire career with those sentences, as Parseghian was memorably quoted, but he did summarize his entire season - and the Eagles' sorry Sunday - with them.

"You know what, that's the way it goes," Babin said about his reduced playing time. "I'm going to bring my 'A' game every day. If that's what coach wants to do, it's his decision. He's the boss. We're struggling as a whole defensive line to get sacks, he's just trying to figure out a way.

"Whether it is by design, or to motivate, you don't know what his rationale is. I can't get upset. I can't get mad. I've got to keep working and be more productive."

Babin was on the sideline late Sunday, with the game out of hand, and yet he said he "couldn't get mad." It was such a sharp contrast to the anger that fellow defensive lineman Trent Cole showed in the waning seconds, trading shoves with Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez before literally being dragged off the field.

Clearly frustrated, Cole declined comment after the game, saying it was better than "saying something stupid."

We'll know on Monday, with a review of the game tape and help from our friends at ProFootballFocus.com, exactly how much Babin's playing time was reduced. He said part of the reason was that the Eagles' defense used its "rhino package" and its "big, beefy guys" up front late in the game, knowing the Falcons were resigned to running the ball.

The other part is that Babin, like the entire defensive line, has not been nearly as productive. Babin has 2 1/2 sacks in seven games; he had 9 at this point last season. The Eagles have nine total sacks this season; last season, they finished with a league-high-tying 50.

Babin preached for weeks, starting after the last-second loss in Pittsburgh, for patience with the line. He told reporters to "do their homework" when asked about why the Eagles weren't as productive, citing low point totals for opposing offenses and the frequent use of max-protection schemes against them.

Well, the Falcons didn't often use max-protection sets, and they torched the Eagles for a season-high 30 points against. The Falcons are the first team in NFL history to start a season 7-0 and score 23 or more points in every game.

Yes, the Eagles notched two sacks for the first time since Week 3, but one included Ryan slipping before being downed by Jenkins.

The Eagles couldn't get off the field on third down. Atlanta started the game 7-for-9 on third-down conversions, and they ripped off three straight first downs to start the second half without even getting to a third down. Babin set the tone with a pass-interference call on third down in the first quarter, extending Atlanta's initial drive on an incomplete pass and leading to the Falcons' first touchdown.

"We made mistakes," Babin acknowledged. "It's definitely embarrassing, it wasn't like it was a close game. We had some penalties that were on us. We had some guys that were not in the right spots. We made some mistakes that we shouldn't have made.

"We did it to ourselves. They didn't make us make mistakes. We knew what they were going to do; we practiced it. We just didn't execute."

Babin said Reid kept his postgame pep talk short, asking players to evaluate themselves. Babin said the mistakes are "correctable" and that "no one is quitting." This time, he just didn't sound so convincing.


Contact Frank Seravalli at seravaf@phillynews.com

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