CHARLOTTE, N.C. – This is how they drew it up. This is how it was supposed to look all along.
Tremendous pressure from the d-line, mistakes by the opposing quarterback and a secondary that could turn those mistakes into big plays.
On Sunday, for the first time this year, that’s exactly how it played out.
The Eagles’ defense, reeling after allowing 34 points to the Cowboys and 42 to the Chiefs, rode a stellar defensive effort to a 21-18 win over the Panthers Sunday.
The d-line piled up seven quarterback hits, four tackles for loss and three sacks, drew two penalties and just made life miserable for Panthers QB Sam Darnold. That constant pressure translated into three Eagles interceptions.
That’s a winning formula for any defense.
This was the first time the Eagles had three sacks and three interceptions in a game since a 37-9 win over the Cowboys in Dallas in 2017 and only the third time in the last decade.
When the Eagles record three sacks and three INTs, they’re 11-0 over the last 20 years and 31-2 over the last 35.
This defensive line is supposed to be the heart of the team. Sunday in Carolina, it was.
“Rush and coverage go together,” said Steve Nelson, who sealed the win with his first INT as an Eagle. “It was huge. Those guys were getting pressure all day, making that guy (Darnold) kind of throw off his back leg and get him a little rattled. All we had to do was be tight in coverage and be there on the spot.”
Javon Hargrove continued his incredible pace with his sixth sack in five games. He’s 4th in the NFL in sacks and first among interior linemen, and those 6.0 sacks are the most ever by any Eagles defensive lineman through five games.
But for once it wasn’t just Hargave creating havoc up front.
Fletcher Cox finally showed up, with a sack, two QB hits and a tackle for loss. Josh Sweat had a sack, TFL and QB hit. Derek Barnett didn’t record a sack but had his best game of the year with steady pressure on Darnold. Even Ryan Kerrigan had a tackle for loss.
A true team effort. And with the offense stumbling around most of the day, the Eagles desperately needed it.
“It's never just me, we’ve got great guys on our d-line, and everybody can win upfront,” Hargrave said. “So it just makes everybody's job easier when everyone can win their 1-on-1’s. … Coverage, and rush working together.
“We really had to forget about last weekend and just move on. Our challenge was to beat Carolina and we needed a big bounce-back game.”
We’ve been waiting all year for a performance like this from the defensive line, but the big plays have been few and far between since the Eagles lost Brandon Graham last month.
The first four games of the season, the Eagles had one interception and eight sacks. Sunday at Carolina, they had three of each.
“It wasn’t that they blitzed us, it was just a four-man rush, sometimes a five-man rush,” Panthers coach Matt Rhule said. “At times they won, and when they didn’t win, they pushed us out of the pocket and the quarterback was running around.”
The Eagles harassed Darnold into a 44.5 passer rating. In the second half, it was 32.2.
After Dak Prescott and Pat Mahomes and with Tom Brady coming to Philly in a few days, it must have been nice to face a mere mortal for a change.
“They played a great game,” Nick Sirianni said of his defense. “They had three turnovers. How many sacks did we have? Three? Three, that’s it? It felt like a little bit more. All on third down. They just came together and played a great game. And that is what this league is about.
“You are not going to play your best game every week. It’s about starting again. And starting again and starting again and starting again.”
Subscribe to the Eagle Eye podcast: