Eagles' defense getting sacks full of Cole

CLEM MURRAY / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Trent Cole encourages crowd after one of his three sacks of the Bears' Jay Cutler during Sunday's game.
CLEM MURRAY / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Trent Cole encourages crowd after one of his three sacks of the Bears' Jay Cutler during Sunday's game.
Posted: December 24, 2013

IF YOU WENT back and looked at the league's scouting evaluations of Trent Cole before the 2005 draft, you likely would see the same two words on almost every one of those reports: high motor.

He wasn't the fastest linebacker/defensive end in that draft, and at 6-2 and just 236 pounds at the time, he certainly wasn't the biggest.

But he was an effort player who knew only one speed. That was true then. It still is true nine NFL seasons later.

That jet-engine motor of his helped him go from a fifth-round nobody to an NFL starter. It helped him go from a starter to a Pro Bowler to a guy with more sacks than any Eagles player in history save for late Hall of Famer Reggie White.

And now, at 31, it has helped this old dog learn new tricks and become a pass-rushing force in a new scheme that most people thought would grease the skids for his exit from Philadelphia.

Cole spearheaded the fierce pass rush that sacked Bears quarterback Jay Cutler five times in the Eagles' 54-11 win Sunday night at the Linc. Three of those five sacks were Cole's. It's only the third time in his career that he has recorded three or more sacks in a game.

The Eagles have 17 sacks in the last five games. Cole has seven of them.

"From Day 1, Trent has just played with great effort," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. "Sometimes the numbers didn't show because he didn't have a sack total, or whatever. But the pressure he got from Game 1 to now, through Game 15, sometimes it starts to come.

"He was so close in a lot of games, but I think what you see out of Trent is that he just gives you that effort, and he just plays so hard. That one sack [Sunday] where he's diving over people [was impressive]. But that's the Trent we know. And we understand what he can do, and how he sets the tone for us. A lot of the other guys feed off of that."

Not that he had a choice, but Cole never once complained when the Eagles switched to a 3-4 and moved him to outside linebacker. He took defensive coordinator Bill Davis at his word when he told him he would utilize what he did best (rush the passer) and not have him dropping into coverage every down.

Cole has dropped into coverage only 117 times in 860 snaps this season (13.6 percent). That's considerably less than the Eagles' other outside 'backer, Connor Barwin, who has dropped 280 times in 1,089 snaps (25.7).

While Cole was doing a terrific job of setting the edge against the run and was getting pressure on quarterbacks, he wasn't getting sacks. He had only one in the Eagles' first 10 games.

But then, just like that, the sack drought ended. He had two in the Eagles' 24-16 Week 12 win over the Redskins and two more the next week in their 24-21 win over the Cardinals. Then, three more on Sunday.

"We executed, played disciplined ball and did what we were supposed to do," Cole said of the Eagles' impressive pass rush against the Bears, which included five quarterback hits and 14 hurries. Cole had two of those hits and four of those hurries in addition to his three sacks.

"As a team player, I'm going to try to do whatever I can to have a positive impact on what we're doing."

Even if Tony Romo doesn't play against the Eagles on Sunday, Cole and the defense needs to continue to get consistent pressure on the quarterback.

Cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher, Cary Williams and Brandon Boykin all had good games against the Bears. But the pass rush helped them immensely in dealing with the Bears' behemoth wideouts, Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, and would help immensely again this week against Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams and Miles Austin and Cole Beasley and Jason Witten, no matter who is behind center.

"We played a lot tighter," Fletcher said of the coverage against the Bears' wideouts. "But when the d-line gets the pressure they were getting, that helps everybody."

Cole's late-season sack surge has been a little surprising. The problem with high-motor players is that they sometimes run out of gas before the finish line.

Going into this season, 50 1/2 of Cole's 71 career sacks had come in the first 10 games of the season. But that was before Kelly's team of sports scientists started working their magic on Cole and other thirtysomething players. A couple of weeks ago, Cole said he's never felt so strong this late in the season. His play would seem to support that.

"Anybody that plays as hard as Trent Cole, you love watching them have success," Davis said. "I haven't seen a down yet where he hasn't given everything he's had."

In the last five games, the Eagles, who have 37 sacks, have jumped from 25th in the league in sacks to 17th.

Their blitzes are becoming more effective. Ten of their 17 sacks in the last five games have come with five or more rushers, including three Sunday. Inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks has three of his four sacks in the last two games, including two against the Bears. But mainly, Davis said, the Eagles' pass-rushers are just winning the one-on-one battles.

"We got some [pressure] with a four-man rush and we just changed up the pressure look to them," he said. "We hit a couple of their protections. But most of the night, the guys were just winning [their battles]. The first one, Trent beat the back [Matt Forte], which is a matchup that we like."

The Bears came into Sunday's game ranked third in the league in sacks allowed per pass play. Certainly, the fact that the Eagles jumped out to a 21-0 first-quarter lead allowed the them to focus less on the Bears' ground game and more on harassing Cutler.

"Guys defeated one-on-one blocks, and I think our d-line keeps getting better and better each week," Kelly said. "A lot of those guys are difficult [to stop] when they get in single-block situations.

"Trent is a guy, just because of how tenacious he is, and then the experience he has of being a really good pass-rusher. Very rarely do we have a guy just come clean where it's a schematic deal. It was just our guys doing a really good job of beating one-on-ones."


On Twitter: @Pdomo

Blog: eagletarian.com

Email: pdomo@aol.com

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