Thoughts and analysis on the Philadelphia Eagles

870 Pounds of meat


That's what we added today in 3 players. That's the number I have been computing in my head as I sit in a hotel room in Pittsburgh at midnight after watching the Phillies lose their second in a row to maybe the worst team in baseball... Cleary, Andy Reid & Co decided that building the lines for both right now and the future was the most pressing need... and they brought in 870 pounds of meat to fill need.

First off, Broderick Bunkley. We all know how big a need DT was, and while I prefered Haloti Ngata I'm not in the least bit dissapointed with Bunkley. This was a guy projected by many to go top 10 and graded by several experts as one of the top 10 players in the draft. The Eagles stood pat at #14 and thanks to the seemingly most inexplicable pick of the draft by the Bills, they got their man. This defense had 26 sacks last year which is woefully inadequate. Bunkley is a pass rushing specialist. Add him to Kearse, Howard, & Patterson and I think it's pretty safe to say that the Eagles defensive line is going to give opposing QBs nightmares. I'm a bit afraid that they they could be vulnerable to the run, but Bunkley did lead the entire nation in tackles for a loss last year... This guys gets into the backfield and creates havoc.

One draftnik described the pick of Bunkley as the giving the Eagles "one of the better sets of young tackles in the league". I don't think there's any debating that it was a homerun of a pick.

The Eagles' 2nd round pick was probably one of the best value picks in the entire draft. Countless draftniks and scouts had Winston Justice going to the Eagles at #14 overall... So to get him in round 2 at pick #39 after trading up with Tennesee is being called "a tremendous value pick". With 10 total picks, I think we all knew it was just a matter of time before the Eagles got aggressive and moved up. I was sure when it was announced that the Browns had traded their pick, it was the Eagles jumping up 2 to grab Bunkley. Instead, they stayed pat got their man at #14 and moved up in the 2nd to get the guy who was quite possibly their second choice at #14.

How good is Winston Justice? Matt Leinart was barely ever touched in his college career with Winston guarding his backside, Reggie Bush ran wild through defenses rarely ever seeing contact until he was beyond the line of scrimmage, and Lendale White rushed for over 50 TDs. You can't tell me that the dominating right tackle had nothing to do with that... While he played RT in college because Leinart is left handed and they wanted Justice protecting his blind side, all reports say that he could play either side. Clearly, this is Tra Thomas's replacement next year... or maybe this one.

Draftnik reaction :" projected by many to be a top 20 pick and the Eagles stole him at 39."

In the 3rd round, the Eagles picked Chris Gocong a defensive end out of Cal Poly. A quick scouting report on him is that he has an uncanny ability to get to the QB and is always finding his way into the backfield thanks to his nonstop motor and incredibly ferocious work ethic. The knock on him is that he's probably too small to play DE in the pros. He projects as one of those OLB/DE tweener types. My guess is that he'll play OLB almost exclusively and be a pass rushing specialist. He doesn't really have the tools to be an every down OLB. He's racked up 36.5 sacks over the past two seasons, although he did play against inferior competition at division 1-AA. The encouraging news is that he absolutely dominated at the lower level. Lining him up as an OLB to come off the edge on a passing down with the line that the Eagles have built, is potentially devastating. I say this with some caution, because this guy is clearly very raw and has to prove that he can make the jump to the pro level. That is a legitimate question mark. He is considered a guy that should excel on special teams as well...

Draftnik reaction: "
A great pass rusher and top sleeper who was dominant in college against inferior competition" Sports Illustrated called him a "Hidden Gem"

The early consensus among the different draft experts grading the first day put the Eagles as one of the top winners so far(and the Giants and Cowboys as some of the big "losers!"). Now in reality, we all know nothing about how this draft will actually turn out in 3-5 years... but it's nice to patted on the back and have something to feel hopeful and positive about after a year of a nothing but negativity and dissapointment. Nice job big red...

WR in the draft


This town is pretty WR obsessed… to say the least. Since the pass happy west coast offense era began in Philly, which was when Ray Rhodes came here, fans have been clamoring for top flite WRs. Unfortunately, the birds haven’t really had many.

To say the least.

Then came TO, and we all got see what this offense can do with a legit top level WR. We saw a record setting season from McNabb and a trip to the superbowl. We all know what happened next. Now despite drafting Reggie Brown last year (who we know I think can play) and signing a solid slot WR in free agency (Jabar Gaffney) I think it’s quite obvious that the Eagles have a need at WR. With Reggie Brown the being the only promising young wideout on the team, WR looks to be a long term need that should be addressed early in the draft this weekend.

Unfortunately, this is not the greatest year to be in need of a receiver. This draft has been called the weakest for wideouts in years. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t some talented players that will be there on the first day. So after some time watching individual profiles and combine workouts of the WRs on the NFL network on demand, and lots of internet reading… I give you an overview of what’s there.

Chad Jackson(Florida) is a guy who’s rocketed up draft boards since his amazing display at the NFL combine. He posted the fastest 40 time(4.32) of all WRs at the combine. He’s got average size and is a good route runner, which is very important in the timing oriented west coast offense. He‘s also known as a guy who can catch balls underneath and get yards after the catch. Plus, he’s been called “fearless over the middle”. Maybe the most intriguing thing about him is that he’s only 20, which means lots of room for improvement… although it also means he’s really only had one year starting in college. Despite his willingness to take hits, he is not a physical player and could get pushed around by pro corners. It appears now that he will be the 1st WR taken.

Santonio Holmes(Ohio State) is a smaller(5‘11“ 190), home run hitter type with good hands. He racked up and impressive 25 TDs in 3 seasons at Ohio State. He has very good speed and he will force DBs to respect his downfield ability. He isn’t the strongest guy and could have trouble blocking and getting off the jam. He should be the first or second WR taken, probably in the mid 1st round. And may I add... cool name. Santonio just seems badass to me...

Sinorice Moss from “the U” is the tiny speedster type. I may have said Santonio Holmes was small, but not this small. Moss is 5’8” 1*** lbs. He’s drawn lots of comparisons to his brother, Santana Moss. He’s a guy who makes things happen when he gets the ball and can stretch the D with his speed. He ran an impressive 4.38 40 at the combine. He’s going to have to learn to get off the jam in the NFL and deal with taller, faster DBs. He’s projected as a late 1st round pick.Also may be the only man on earth named "Sinorice."

Maurice Stovall out of Notre Dame is a local Philly kid, who the Eagles have brought in to the NovaCare complex already. He’s a big(6'4" 220) physical type WR that has been likened to Plaxico Burress type. He’s made for a good deep threat due to his tall frame and long arms and he can go up and get the ball over anyone. He’s a strong guy that has shown that he can push off press coverage. He had been considered a disappointment for most of his college career, until he blossomed last year in Charlie Weiss’ pro style offense. He’s not terribly fast however, and won’t burn anyone. His ability to outrun guys and get yards after the catch has also been questioned. I like that he’s a smart guy from a tough academic school that has shown that he can grasp a pro offense, that’s important with the very complex offense Reid runs. He should be an early 2nd round pick.

Derek Hagan out of Arizona St is an average sized guy that has been called “one of the most polished WRs in the draft.” He knows how to get open and has been very consistent throughout his college career. The thing about Hagan is that he doesn’t do any one thing spectacularly. He doesn’t have the deep play ability of a Holmes or Jackson or the physicality and size of a Stovall or great hands. He is a solid all around player though, that should be a decent #2 WR in “the league”, I wouldn’t expect a lot more.

Jason Avant(Michigan) is a decent sized(6"1 210), reliable, possession WR. He’s a gritty player that has been compared to Heinz Ward in the way that he works hard and squeezes everything he has out of his talent. He has a great double move and his ability to set up defenders makes him a great red zone threat. Considered the best route runner in the draft, but isn’t known as a very fast guy. 2nd-3rd rounder.

Those guys are probably the top 5 WRs in the draft. There’s other names that will probably be called on the first day like the speedy Demetrius Williams, the big Martin Nance, and maybe even the Penn St QB Michael Robinson who will likely play wideout in the pros. The Eagles will almost certainly address WR in the first day, who will be? Hopefully one these 5... we'll see this weekend.

DT & OLB in the draft


DT, WR, & OLB (specifically strong side). Those are the top 3 needs that most any expert or fan would tell you the Eagles have. The order of the needs, well… that’s still up for debate. The Eagles are making their highest draft pick since 2000, so they are in a position to draft a player that can make an impact right away. I’ve already written on the subject of what’s out there at defensive tackle, so I’ll quickly touch on that and then move on to LB. Later this week, we’ll do the WR category.

At DT, this team needs a big 2 gap player. A 2 gap DT is one whose primary job is to run stuff. He’ll often take on 2 blockers in the middle, which frees up the LBs to attack gaps or react more. A one gap DT is one who uses quickness to rush the passer, and who is usually smaller. His main job is to rush the passer beating a guard. This is why he’s called a one gap player, he’s usually going to fill one gap as he tries to beat his man and create pressure up the middle. Patterson is a pass rushing DT that uses explosiveness and speed, so is one of the top DT prospects, Broderick Bunkley. Those guys are one gap players. We need a 2 gap player there, not a clone (albeit better prospect) of Patterson. Bunkley is nice player, but I think Haloti Ngata would fill our needs better. He'll eat up blocks, take on two guys up the middle and let Trotter & co be freed up to make plays. With Ngata, rarely will Trotter have to deal with a center or guard coming to block him. He's also not going to get pushed back and allow the QB the step up to avoid the edge rush like they all were last year. A trade up would probably be needed to draft Ngata, but it doesn’t seem like from the many recent mock drafts that they may not even need to trade up into the top 10. Gabe Watson out of Michigan would also fill this role.

OLB is another easy to see need on this team. Now, while I’m of the opinion that a solid front four will make most LBs look good… that doesn’t mean that upgrading the talent there would be a bad thing. On the weak side the Birds have Shawn Barber here on a one year deal & Matt McCoy, who was drafted in the 2nd round last year. On the strong side, there’s Dhani Jones who by all standards had a bad year last year. Most people are of the opinion that a SAM or strong side LB is needed, but honestly any upgrade in talent on either side would be useful. The top prospect is Ohio State’s AJ Hawk, but he’s probably a top 5 pick so he’s not worth discussing here. Other than that, the Eagles should be in a position to grab whatever LB they want.

The guy that’s rocketed up draft boards is Ernie Sims. He has a ton of speed for a LB and is more suited for a weak side LB, but could possibly play SAM too. He’s not the biggest guy, but he plays very aggressively. A criticism of him is that he plays too aggressive and can over pursue on plays. A lot of people have compared him to Derrick Brooks of the Tampa Bay Bucs, which is a guy I think anyone would take…

Probably the most interesting and well suited prospect that a lot of early mock drafts had the Eagles taking is Chad Greenway. His stock has appeared to fall recently, due to less than great 40 times, however he plays very fast and by all accounts has great instincts. He’s a former safety who is very good in coverage, he’s a film junkie, has great recognition skills, is a sure tackler, and looks like he could even be a good pass rusher. Almost any scouting report on him says he’s ready to step in and start right away at the SAM position. Greenway would not be a risky pick, and though he may be had lower than #14, he is not the type of player that anyone would regret taking. He has superior physical skills to Dhani Jones, and has shown himself to be the kind of smart player that won’t have the kind of trouble Matt McCoy had in picking up Jim Johnsons’ complex defensive scheme.

The other options at OLB that have first round quality would be Bobby Carpenter, who is big and fast but would be a huge stretch at #14. The other prospect would be Demeco Ryans who stock has taken a hit after some poor workouts, but the fact is that he was a great college LB. He’s a very smart, fast player but has not been great in coverage. He may very well slide into the second round and would have great value if the Eagles got him with their pick there.

In the end, my picks are Haloti Ngata and Chad Greenway. These guys are not big risk players and both should certainly be able to step in and start for the Eagles this year at need positions. We’re going to look into the WR class later this week, but it’s not likely that anyone from that class is going to be able to make the kind of immediate impact that these 2 players will at serious need positions.

Schedule Chatter


So last week the Eagles released their 2006 schedule. I figured that since I had already written 2 lengthy and stat heavy blogs, I’d let it sink in for a week so everyone would draw their own conclusions, make their win/loss picks, and generally freak out.

So unless you live under a rock, here it is…

Sun 9/10 at Houston 1:00 pm
Sun 9/17 NY Giants 1:00 pm
Sun 9/24 at San Francisco 4:15 pm
Mon 10/2 Green Bay 8:30 pm
Sun 10/8 Dallas 4:15 pm
Sun 10/15 at New Orleans 1:00 pm
Sun 10/22 at Tampa Bay 1:00 pm
Sun 10/29 Jacksonville 1:00 pm
Sun 11/12 Washington 1:00 pm
Sun 11/19 Tennessee 1:00 pm
Sun 11/26 at Indianapolis 1:00 pm
Mon 12/4 Carolina 8:30 pm
Sun 12/10 at Washington 1:00 pm
Sun 12/17 at NY Giants 1:00 pm
Mon 12/25 at Dallas 5:00 pm
Sun 12/31 Atlanta 1:00 pm

We all love to go game by game map out the team’s season throughout the playoffs. People on message boards & sports radio have been predicting everything from 4-12 to 12-4. The short answer is… no one is right. Did we all forget that this is the NFL?

The NFL is the most unpredictable sport from season to season. Last year, the only team in the NFC to make the playoffs that also made it in 04 was the Seattle Seahawks. GB, STL, ATL, PHI, & The Vikes all went from playoff teams to .500 or less records. In the AFC, the NY Jets went from a field goal away from the AFC title game to having the 4th pick in the draft this year.

Look at the so called “Superbowl losers' curse”. Since 1998 only one team (the 2000 Titans) followed up a loss in the superbowl with a playoff appearance. Every other team was sub .500 the following year, a thing that Eagles fans know all too well…

However, there are absolutes in the 06 schedule. Regardless of whether the Giants, Skins, or Dallas are the ones bitten with the injury bug or the ones cursed with a 6-10 season that 3 game road stretch in weeks 14-16 is murder. According to sports book makers(or the guys who set the betting lines) the 2nd of two back to back road games in the NFL is one of the surest bets against the road team. You can imagine the odds a team gets in it’s last of three road games… Unfortunately there really are no odds because it pretty much never happens! Only 5 times in the last 11 years has a team played 3 division road games in a row. One of those 5 teams happened to be the Eagles, in Andy Reid’s first year here(1999). The birds lost all 3 of those in a row…

On that same note, another bad spot in the schedule are week 6 & 7. Against NO and Tampa respectively. Tampa is a playoff team and playing them in game two of a back to back road games is a tall order… Of course, Tampa could be awful next year. It’s impossible to tell.

The main point here is that you shouldn’t panic. What team wasn’t scared of playing the Eagles in Philly week 12 before last year? Yet, they stunk. So why worry about playing Indy in the dome? If Peyton Manning is gone like McNabb was by that time, I guarantee no Eagles fan is checking that game off as a loss. The Eagles could have the easiest schedule in the NFL or the hardest. Who knows? This is the NFL...

Eagles sign DT Jasper, and a look at DT in the draft


This afternoon, the Eagles signed Defensive Tackle Ed Jasper to a one year deal. The Eagles love their one year deals huh? He was with the Oakland Raiders last year, but had spent the previous 6 years with the Atlanta Falcons. His career started right here however, with the Eagles who drafted him in the 6th round(35th overall) in 1997. For a guy picked so late in the draft, Ed Jasper has actually carved out a decent 9 year career for himself. He was known as a solid run stopper with the Falcons, where he played nose tackle in a 3-4, and a very good lockerroom guy.

This is a nice move for what it is, depth. Hollis Thomas is by all reports likely on his way out. He's in the final year of his deal, and is reportedly upset that he has not been given a long term deal. Like John Welbourne, Jeremiah Trotter, & Terrell Owens before him... you can imagine the Eagles will be getting rid of Thomas at some point this offseason.

So where does Jasper fit in? Patterson & Walker are the starters here, and Jasper won't change that. He even said in his press conference today that got worn down playing every snap. He'll be part of the DT rotation that Jim Johnson loves to run, but had trouble doing so with injuries to Walker & Grasmanis. He'll probably mainly get in during short yardage situations. Along with Sam Rayburn, Paul Grasmanis, & Kenyotta Marshall(in NFL Europe right now) he'll fight for a spot on the line. I would imagine that Grasmanis is the odd man out in that group... Plus don't forget that starting DE Darren Howard is likely to play DT in pass situations. So the Eagles realistically could be rotating as many as 5 guys on the interior of the defensive line.

So does this mean the Eagles think the DT hole is filled and will now ignore it? I doubt that, actually I think this move shows quite the opposite. The fact that they didn't go out and sign a guy to a long term deal tells me that they have their eyes on taking a DT high in the draft. Beyond Patterson & Walker there's very little at the position for beyond this year, only those 2 are signed long term. Good news is that it happens to a pretty good year to be looking for a tackle in the draft. There's 2 studs in the draft that are considered by most to go top 10 or top 15. Haloti Ngata the 6-foot-4 and 338 pound monster out of Oregon that regularly broke though triple teams in college & Broderick Bunkley the 6'3" 300+ lb guy out of Florida. He's rocketed up the draft boards since teams saw him at the senior bowl and witnessed his amazing show at the NFL combine. The drawback for Bunkley in my eyes is that before the workouts he was probably not a 1st round pick. The so called "workout warrior" reminds me all too much of Mike Mamula... AHH! Still, this Bunkley has bulked up considerably and seems like he may be the real deal. The problem with these guys is that most mock drafts have them going before the Eagles pick at #14. Luckily, this is a rather deep draft at the DT position.

There’s not another DT that has a lot of value at #14, but there’s lots of guys that would be worth trading down or should be there in the 2nd round. Here’s a quick overview of some names you may be hearing picked by the Eagles on the first day later this month…

Gabe Watson is a massive run stopper(6-3 and 339 pounds) out of Michigan. He’s not going to get to the QB very much, but he won’t get pushed around and swallow up most run plays that come his way. With a smaller pass rushing DT in Patterson drafted last year, I could seem them looking for a big run stopper like Watson. I doubt he’ll make it out the first round, which either means the Eagles will have to stretch for him at 14 or trade down. Orien Harris out of Miami, who was rated higher early but has slipped since the season ended. He’s considered more of a pass rusher. Claude Wroten out of LSU, who several mock drafts I’ve seen have the Eagles looking at him in the 2nd or 3rd round. He might be the best pass rushing DT outside of the top 2, but he’s considered a bit weak against the run. Rodrique Wright from Texas is another name that’s been throw around. He’s 6’5”, which is tall for a DT and sometimes lets OGs use leverage push him around. Of course there’s other guys, but these are some of the names I’ve seen connected to the Birds in mock drafts.

People who know me know I’m obsessed with building a team from the line of scrimmage. If I haven’t made it obvious so far, I will in the future. Other than a franchise QB, there’s nothing more important than dominating the line of scrimmage. All the rumors of the Eagles taking an offensive lineman like Winston Justice or a defensive tackle like Bunkley or Watson or a combination of both gets me rather excited.

How good is… LJ Smith?


After my piece on Reggie Brown, I decided that from time to time I'll blog about just "how good" some of the Eagles' players are that aren't quite national names by stacking them up against their peers and giving you the facts about their performance. This time, let's give LJ Smith his day in the sun...

The Tight End position has had a resurgence in the NFL over the past few years and a playmaking TE has become an indispensable part of a winning team. There several great TEs in football, but the division most stocked with them is the NFC East. Jeremy Shockey, Jason Witten, & Chris Cooley are all major weapons and top 10 in the NFL at their position. As the eventual replacement for the hard working, but not overly physically talented Chad Lewis, The Eagles drafted LJ Smith out of Rutgers in 2003. LJ, Shockey, Witten, & Cooley were all drafted between 02-04.

Since then LJ has clearly shown that he has talent. Eagles fans have all noticed his speed and ability to run after the catch. However, they’ve also noticed some of his shortcomings…. For one, he’s not the greatest blocker and the criticism I seem to always hear is that he fumbles. First, I would certainly stipulate to the fact that he isn’t the best blocker around. However, very few if any of the top TEs in football are. In fact, the “blocking tight end” as it’s come to be called is almost like an entire other position on it’s own. If LJ delivers the offensive production he’s capable of, the Eagles won’t be terribly interested in his blocking ability. Then, there’s the feeling that he fumbles. Honestly, I had the same feeling. I certainly seemed to remember LJ fumbling in big spots and having a lot more trouble holding onto the football than most TEs. Although a look a the numbers tells otherwise…

LJ has only fumbled twice in his 3 year career according the stats. I found it hard to believe, but I checked multiple sources and it’s true. Only one of those was lost. It's very similar to other TEs who came into the league with LJ. Antonio Gates has fumbled once and lost that fumble in his 3 year career. Jason Witten has fumbled twice and lost one exactly the same as LJ. Shockey has fumbled 5x and lost 3 in 4 years. Chris Cooley fumbled 3 times last year! The great Tony Gonzalez in KC fumbled 5x in his first 3 years, Crumpler has fumbled 4x and lost all of them in his 5 year career including 2 in his first 3 years losing 1 just like LJ. Here’s hoping that it was all in our heads and next year LJ will erase the stigma, right or wrong, from our minds…

In his first year as a starter, LJ had a breakthough year last year. Although with everything else going on, no one really seemed to notice it. He nearly doubled his totals in receptions, yards, & first downs. He tied for the team lead in receptions with 61 & finished 2nd in yards with 682. LJ was also named a pro bowl alternate last year.

He started the year on an incredible pace and seemed really locked in with Donovan McNabb. He had 42 catches until the week McNabb went down for good after 9 games. At the time he was 2nd in the NFL among TEs in catches, behind the great Antonio Gates. He actually went on to have a great game the week after McNabb went down when he caught 7 balls. From that time on however, he only caught 12 balls in the last 6 games, a sharp decline.

With a healthy McNabb next year it’s more than reasonable to expect that LJ can grab 70+ balls. Combine that with the fact that Brian Westbrook has shown that he can easily get to 70 catches when healthy… That’s a lot of completions for McNabb outside of his wide receivers. With the Eagles young WR core, a weapon in the pass game from TE spot like LJ should be one of the most vital parts in the success of this offense next year.

Finally, where does LJ stack up against the top TEs in the NFL? He finished 8th overall in yards & 9th overall in catches. He only had 3 TDs however, which is less than than the 7-10 that the leaders among TEs had. Tight Ends should be most effective in the red zone, so that’s an area he needs to improve on. On the bright side, he did grab 5 TDs in the 04/05 season. Overall, I think it may be safe to say that LJ has made himself one of the top 10 tight ends in the NFL, 4 of which are in the NFC East. I, for one, can't wait to see what else this kid has.

The Pass Rush: This offseason’s #1 priority


It was quite obvious to me that the lack of a pass rush on the Eagle’s part last year was their downfall defensively last year. In all honesty, had they had the kind of pass rush they had in 04/05 this team with all of it’s injuries still could have been in the playoff hunt. In 04/05 the Eagles had 47 sacks as a team(the same amount as this year’s champs, the Steelers, had) good for 2nd most in the NFL and they go to a superbowl, this year they have 29 and they go 6-10.

Prior to the 05/06 season the Eagles lost 3 keys to their pass rush for various reasons. The often injured Derrick Burgess left in free agency and went on to lead the entire NFL in sacks. The #15 pick in the draft, DE Jerome McDougle(who had also had injury problems) was shot in the chest in a carjacking. He had been penciled in as the team’s starting RE and was a big reason that the team saw less of a need to resign Burgess. Finally, former #6 overall pick and pro bowler DT Corey Simon was cut just before the season after he held out of training camp. Turned out that he was completely out of shape and did absolutely nothing for the Colts(0 sacks) who signed him as a free agent, still he amassed 32 sacks in his time with the Eagles and was very good at creating pressure up the middle. DE Hugh Douglas also retired.

So right off the bat, every legitimate pass rusher on the team not named Kearse(who had a disspointing 7.5 sacks himself) was gone. DT Darwin Walker has had as many as 7.5 sacks in a year but he was only able to play in 13 games and was slowed by nagging injuries all year. As a result, teams picked apart the Eagles pro bowl secondary seemingly with ease. It’s pretty much a given in football that good pass rushes = good secondaries. The Eagles are proof of that. The 04/05 team has 47 sacks and they send 3/4ths of their secondary to the pro bowl. The 05/06 team can’t pressure the passer and only Brian Dawkins makes it, mostly on reputation. Pro Bowlers Michael Lewis & Lito Sheppard were made to look especially bad as WRs had ample time to run their routes and stretch the field.. The problem is that in today’s NFL there are no shut down corners, the rules prevent that. Dbs are forced to cover guys without touching them, so every moment a WR has to run free puts him at distinct advantage. Plus, all too often we saw Jim Johnson have to sneak up Michael Lewis or Brian Dawkins to blitz in an attempt to create the pressure the front 4 wasn’t getting… That left the Cbs with no help over the top, making them susceptible to the big play. Every DB in the pro bowl, except Champ Bailey, came from a team with more sacks than the Eagles. The Eagles were 21st against the pass this past year, and all but 2 of teams ahead of them had less sacks as a team.

The lack of a pass rush hurt the run game as well. Lbs had to blitz more, which all too often meant that the RB ran right by them… An effective pass rush allows your LBs to sit back and react to the run more, something they can’t do if they are always called on to create pressure.

So what did the Eagles do about it? First and foremost they signed defensive end Darren Howard from the Saints for a reported $30 million dollars. In 6 years, he’s totaled 44.5 sacks. Including a pair of 11 sack seasons. Last year he played only 12 games(he claims he was sat the last 4 games due to a spat with management) and had just 3.5 sacks. He was considered the top DE in free agency.

They are also relying on the development of two rookies from last year that showed some decent promise in getting to the QB. Trent Cole, a 5th round pick, had 5 sacks in his rookie year(4th among all rookies) and was named NFC defensive rookie of the month in November. The problem with him was that all 5 of his sacks came in that month. His production declined as the year wore on. However, it is not uncommon for a 1st year guy to hit what is called “the rookie wall”. In college, these guys only play 12 games. So in December and January, NFL rookies are playing more games than they ever have and often wear down. Usually by year 2, this is not an issue.

The other rookie that showed promise was DT Mike Patterson. He was tied for lead among rookie DTs in sacks. He was also tied for 6th in sacks and 6th in tackles in the NFC. He also hit his own rookie wall, as all of his sacks came prior to December.

Many mock drafts also have the Eagles keying in on top DT prospects Haloti Ngata from Oregon & Broderick Bunkley form Florida State.

So, considering how important the pass rush and the moves the Eagles made… Just how good can it be this year? By taking each defensive starters’ sack totals from the last 2 years(and some key backups like Cole) and averaging them to come up with a reasonable idea of what they could do this year… I’ve come to the conclusion that 40-45 sacks is a reasonable expectation for this Eagles’ defense. If everyone stays healthy and plays to form, this should by all accounts make for a devastating pass rush… which is good news because the simple fact is, that teams who pressure the passer make the playoffs.

This year’s NFC playoff teams? Panthers 45 sacks, Bears 41, Giants 41, Bucs 36, Washington 35 and the NFC Champion Seahawks led the NFL with 50.

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