TEMPE, Ariz. -- What makes the Eagles’ pass rush one of the best in NFL history isn’t just the talented players they have.
It’s the way they work together.
You might stop one of them. You might even stop two of them. But you’re just not going to stop all of them.
“I think that’s the secret sauce with them, their selflessness,” said Jeremiah Washburn, the Eagles’ pass rush coach (defensive ends, outside linebackers).
“They really commit to group rush and that’s the whole rush group, as far as knowing who’s got the 1-on-1’s, who needs to balance the rushes up and as far as complimenting each others’ strengths, they’ve been really special.
“Our guys want the sack protection but they really care more about wins and team defense and the sacks just kind of come.”
The Eagles’ best weapon Sunday in Super Bowl LVII against Patrick Mahomes and that explosive Andy Reid offense is their pass rush.
If they can get a good rush on Mahomes, get him moving his feet, make him uncomfortable, get some hits on him, pick up a few sacks and get the Chiefs in third-and-long, they’ll have a chance against the two-time MVP.
The key is group rush.
How often this year did you see one Eagles pass rusher closing on an opposing quarterback, who tries to escape in the other direction, only to find another pass rusher waiting?
“We talk about that a lot, Rock and I do,” Washburn said, referring to defensive line coach Tracey Rocker, who works mainly with the interior linemen. “It’s like a fast-break in basketball, it’s like an odd-man rush in hockey.
“One guy’s got to fit off the other and you just have to have a feel for the guy next to you, so it’s constant conversation among ourselves, and fortunately we don’t have a tremendous amount of egos so the guys are pretty good as far as just being honest and transparent with what they want to do, and Rock and I present it in a certain way with a vision of how we want to see the rush shaping up.”
The numbers are nuts.
The Eagles’ 70 regular-season sacks were third-most in NFL history behind the 1984 Bears and 1989 Vikings and 41 more than they had last year. Including postseason wins over the Giants and 49ers, the Eagles’ 78 sacks are only four fewer than the combined record of 82, set by those 1984 Bears.
Their 32 sacks from Week 13 through Week 17 are the most ever in a five-game span (in a non-strike season). Their 61 sacks since the Steelers game are the most in a 13-game span in 36 years.
They’re the first team with four guys with 10 or more sacks, the fourth team all-time with five guys with seven sacks and the first team in 27 years with three edge rushers with 11 or more sacks.
“It’s been really exciting to see for each guy,” Washburn said. “They each deserve the success they’ve gotten. There’s a way we want to play and they’ve committed to it, and it speaks well to each guy, because all three have come in with a tremendous amount of success beforehand, but we all committed in May to playing a certain style and those guys have really attacked that and embraced that.
“You’d love to say particularly B.G. because of what he’s come through, but Sweatie and Hoss, they’ve all overcome a lot, and they all complement each other. It’s like Baskin-Robbins with that group. It's like choose your flavor of rushers.”
Before this year, Sweat’s career sack high was 7.5. He had 11. B.G.’s career high was 9.5. He had 11. Reddick’s was 12.5. He had 16, plus 3.5 more in the postseason.
“With coach Wash, the big thing is how he lets us just go and do what we do, just how we compete with each other,” Sweat said. “We all talk trash to each other, it’s all friendly competition in the room. He encourages good competition. We’re all racing to get back there and get to the quarterback.”
Just like James Bradberry and Darius Slay will always credit the pass rush for their success, the pass rushers know they wouldn’t be producing at a historic pace without studs at corner.
“Our coverage has been really good and the time to throw is huge,” Washburn said. “Our time to throw has improved dramatically from last year to this year so we’re getting more time in the pocket so that really is the difference between pressure and sacks.
“If he holds it a click, our guys are finishing, and that’s because our coverage down the field has been outstanding.”
It’s really pretty simple. If you don’t pressure Mahomes, he’ll pick you apart. If you do, you have a shot.
And for the Eagles, that means getting waves of guys to the quarterback. Call it fast-break, odd-man rush or just group rush or something else.
Whatever you want to call it, the Eagles need a healthy dose of it Sunday.
“We work together well,” Sweat said. “He steps up, he’s got one of them. He runs out? He’s got one of us.”
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