Yesterday, I went on a tour through the Eagles offensive line and why it is important for a team to possess a good offensive line. Today, we examine the opposite side of the trenches and why it is equally important to the Eagles successes.
Just like protecting McNabb is important, getting to the other teams quarterback is also important. Last year, the Eagles totaled 48 sacks and most of those were shared amongst the defensive line. In this decade, when the Eagles failed to make the playoffs, they only totaled an average of 33 sacks per year. During the same time span, they averaged 45.7 sacks per game in seasons that they made the playoffs. This does not tell the whole tale because what is not recorded is the number of times a quarterback could not make the play because of pressure.
Just as important is being stout against the run. D-lineman need to be able to make plays behind the line of scrimmage as well as eating up blockers to allow the linebackers to make plays for them. A large part of the reason the Eagles were able to make the playoffs last year is because they were in the top 5 of the league in terms of stopping the run. So who do the Eagles have pressuring QBs and stuffing running backs this year?
Right Defensive End Trent Cole: Drafted in the 5th round out of Cincinnati, Cole has proven to be a consistent threat coming off the edge. He is able to consistently put pressure on the opposing QB. When he first came into the league, he was viewed as too small to be an every down defensive end. However, after several years and putting some weight onto his frame, he is also very good at being stout at the line of scrimmage on running plays. Expect more improvement this year from this already good defensive end.
Defensive Tackle Mike Patterson: Even though he is on the short side for a DT, Patterson is the model of consistency. He is not a nationwide household name because he does not make that many big plays. However, he very rarely is out of position. He is a key reason the Eagles have been successful at defending the run because he allows for the linebackers behind him to make plays at the line of scrimmage. Patterson will never be a sack artist but it will be hard to find a steadier player at defensive tackle.
Defensive Tackle Broderick Bunkley: Unlike Patterson, Bunkley looks like a prototypical defensive tackle in the NFL. Bunkley is incredibly strong and is able to jar offensive lineman at the snap of the ball. After a very disappointing rookie season, Bunkley has rebounded and had productive 2007 and 2008 campaigns. He will make plays behind the line of scrimmage and get very good penetration due to his quickness and strength. This allows him to make bigger plays but also bring bigger risks. This makes him a great compliment to the steady and consistent Patterson.
Left Defensive End Victor Abiamiri: Okay. I know this is a position that has yet to be decided between Abiamiri and Jaqua Parker but as of right now Abiamiri has the lead. Abiamiri is a player who has not yet seen extensive playing time throughout an entire season but the team has very high hopes for him. He will not get double digit sacks consistently. However, he is able to generate some pressure and will be a moderate threat to record some sacks. Abiamiri's true value lies in his ability to play the run. He is above average size for a DE and will not be pushed off of the line of scrimmage by many opposing right tackles. In all likelihood, we will see Abiamiri's full arsenal this year when he is given the chance to start. But will he be able to play all 16 games at a consistent level unlike his predecessor Jaqua Parker?
So where does that leave the Eagles D-line? Overall it is a unit that does not have many big names. Sure, Trent Cole is a borderline Pro-Bowl player but beyond that, not many people outside of Philly have heard of the other players on the D-Line. But that does not mean the group is not effective. Along with good depth that is critical to Jim Johnson, these guys work as a unit and therefore make a very formidable bunch. They are the cornerstone of this defense and will be a critical factor in an Eagles playoff run this season.