They were supposed to be the strength of the team. Instead, they’ve been one of the biggest disappointments.
The Eagles are spending $30.6 million this year on their defensive line, the 8th-highest figure in the league. Not surprisingly, that’s the most money they’re spending on any position, according to Spotrac. Offensive line is second at $28.3 million, secondary is third at $17.9 million and no other position is over $10 million.
They're paying the defensive line to be dominating.
Instead, this is a defense that’s tied for 22nd in the league with just 11 sacks (only 9 1/2 by the d-line) and has allowed the 5th-most rushing yards in the league.
This is the first time since sacks became an official stat in 1982 the Eagles have allowed 800 or more rushing yards and recorded 11 or fewer sacks in their first six games. Unofficially, it last happened in 1976.
The 11 sacks are their fewest after six games since 2012 and their 4th-fewest since 1982.
The Eagles are one of only four NFL teams that’s allowed 800 rushing yards and has 11 or fewer sacks. The others are the Texans, Seahawks and Giants.
Combined record of those teams is 6-18.
Because having a dominating defensive line these days is a must. Offenses are so advanced (most of them) and quarterbacks are so skilled that if you can't stop the run and pressure the quarterback you’re going to be in trouble.
Now, stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback aren’t solely the responsibility of the defensive line. Linebackers can help with those things, too.
But Howie Roseman’s formula on defense is to devote virtually all the team’s financial resources to the secondary and the line. The Eagles’ linebackers are mainly undrafted former special teamers, and the expectations on them is not the same as the expectations on the linemen, who are mainly high-priced players, premium draft picks and former Pro Bowlers.
And while it's true that the Eagles’ linebackers are not playing well, if the defensive line was doing its job, you could get away with sub-par linebacker play.
When you look at the highest-paid position groups on the roster, the position groups the franchise is depending on, it’s hard to complain about the offensive line – they’ve hung in there despite constant injuries and substitutions. The secondary has been very good for the most part. The veteran skill players have done what they can.
It leaves the defensive line.
Javon Hargrave has been a beast. He’s 6th in the NFL with 6.0 sacks, most among interior linemen. He’s consistently created havoc and will make his first Pro Bowl team if he continues at anywhere near his current production level.
A series of disappointments.
Derek Barnett, once the 14th player in the draft, has zero sacks and has now gone nine games since his last sack. Fletcher Cox is clearly not the player he used to be and turns 31 before the season is over. Josh Sweat got a huge contract and more playing time – 43 percent of the snaps last year to 64 percent this year – but so far the production has not increased. Four-time Pro Bowler Ryan Kerrigan has played 153 snaps and has one tackle. Hassan Ridgeway had a sack and three QB hits on opening day and hasn’t been seen since.
The Eagles have a few rookies – Milton Williams, Tarron Jackson and Marlon Tuipulotu. Williams, a 3rd-round pick, saw his snap count drop to a season-low 13 against the Bucs. Jackson has gotten 47 snaps the last three games but has little to show for it. And Tuipulotu isn't ready.
No question the Eagles miss Brandon Graham, who’s out for the year with an Achilles injury. But this was supposed to be a deep, talented group that would anchor the defense and really the entire team.
It just hasn’t happened.
And the Eagles aren’t good enough to overcome mediocre play from the one group they were counting on being among the best in the league.
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