Massive drop-off in Eagles' sack total, even without the overuse excuse

Massive drop-off in Eagles' sack total, even without the overuse excuse

The Eagles recorded two sacks against the Redskins Sunday, and relatively speaking, it seemed like the floodgates had opened up.

The reality is that the Eagles are mired in one of the worst sack slumps in franchise history with no end in sight.

The Eagles have now gone seven straight games without more than two sacks, and not coincidentally they’re 1-6 in those seven games.

Since Week 7, the Eagles have eight sacks in seven games. Only the Texans, with six, have fewer. And they’re missing J.J. Watt.

Without pass pressure to worry about, opposing quarterbacks are lighting up the Eagles’ defense to the tune of a 102.2 passer rating during that seven-week span. That’s fourth-highest in the league over the past seven weeks.

The Eagles have allowed 15 TD passes these last seven games; only the Titans (16) have allowed more.

It all begins with pass pressure. And while sacks aren’t the only way to measure pass pressure, they are a very effective way.

Sacks became an offiial NFL stat in 1982, and the Eagles’ current streak of seven games in a row without more than two sacks is their longest in 23 years and second-longest ever.

They went 10 games in a row without a sack in 1993, a year after Reggie White bolted for Green Bay.

“It's hard to feel good about your production when we're not getting any sacks,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said Tuesday.

The confounding thing here is that the Eagles ranked second in the NFL after six weeks with 20 sacks, their most through six games since 2009. And they were 4-2 with the NFL's fifth-ranked defense.

But the pressure just stopped. 

The last few years, all the extra snaps the defense was forced to play because of Chip Kelly’s hurry-up offense was a convenient excuse for the defense’s late-season drop-off.

There’s no such excuse this year.

After recording three sacks the first three weeks, Brandon Graham has two in the last 10 games. Vinny Curry has 1½ all year. Connor Barwin had three the first seven games, one the last six. Fletcher Cox had 1½ sacks Sunday against the Redskins, his first since Week 4.

These are all proven pass rushers with big contracts. And the production just hasn’t been there.

Overall, the Eagles have 28 sacks, which puts them on pace for 34 this year. They averaged 41 under Bill Davis, and 43 per year under Jim Johnson. Heck, they averaged 41 under Sean McDermott, Juan Castillo and Todd Bowles.

Schwartz spoke at length Tuesday about what he’s seen these last two months and why he thinks the sack numbers have dwindled.

“It depends on so many things,” he said. “Depends on the score, obviously. You're always going to rush better when you have an opponent that's trying to catch up in a game.

“Sometimes, third down, if you can force a quarterback to check the ball down, not be able to hold it long enough, you've done your job there also.

“I don't know. I mean, we obviously went through a long time where we were struggling to get sacks. In this game I thought our pressure was more effective. Was it good enough to win the game? No.

“There are times, like late in that game, the 3rd-and-1 play right before the fourth-down play that we gave up that kept that drive alive, we did get good pressure on that. Quarterback threw the ball away. Jordan Hicks was on a blitz. Connor was free on the outside. Forced that second time, they throw in a three-step. Didn't matter if you had a good rush or not, you weren't going to get there.

“You've got to be careful with judging it only on sacks, but sacks do affect the game. We saw on the other side of the ball. There's such a high incidence of turnover when you sack quarterbacks. That's why we put such an emphasis on it.

“Not only do you stop drives and get them for lost-yardage plays, but there is a high incidence of quarterbacks either getting tipped balls or throwing when they're getting hit and you’re getting interceptions or (he’s) fumbling.

“Those are the plays that we’ve been missing. We got to get back to those.”

Healed from knee injury, Corey Clement looks like himself again

Healed from knee injury, Corey Clement looks like himself again

Corey Clement looks like himself again. If you didn’t know the third-year running back tore up his knee last December, watching practice on Monday against the Ravens, you certainly wouldn’t have been able to tell. 

Getting first-team reps for the first time this summer, the 23-year-old running back looked strong, explosive, smooth. Clement looked way less like a guy coming off knee rehab and way more like the guy who carved out a relatively significant offensive role as a rookie in 2017. 

He’s not even wearing that bulky brace anymore. 

“I’m out here naked,” said a smiling Clement, looking down at his bare right knee. “I’m fine.”

And he’s pretty happy to be done with that brace. 

I hate it,” he said with a laugh. “It feels like I got a little guy on my leg. 

“Realizing that if my mobility is fine without it, it’s the mental part I gotta get over. I’m like, ‘I don’t need the brace, I don’t need the brace, I don’t need the brace.’ I have had good practice reps without it and that boosts my morale without it to show I can do it.

While Clement is starting to look like himself to the rest of us, he started to feel like himself during the first week of training camp. That’s when he took a rep and somebody bumped into him and his rehabilitated knee. It’s a physical game, Clement said, so it was nice to get that out of the way. In fact, he wanted it to happen to see how he’d react. It was fine. 

Now, Clement claims there’s nothing to worry about. 

On Monday, Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh was asked if Clement is where he needs to be coming off the injury: 

Well, he's cleared, but he hasn't played a whole lot. I wouldn't say he's where he needs to be because he just needs to get more time out here. We're trying to accelerate that process here with two weeks to go. Trying to catch him up, if that's fair to say. Physically, he feels really good, and we just want to work him back in as quickly as possible.

The Eagles have brought Clement back in steps, ramping up his workload as the summer has progressed. First individual drills, then 7-on-7s, then 11-on-11s. On Monday, he took 11-on-11 reps with the first team against a foreign defense. 

And he’s looked good in all of it. 

This week, Clement said, they actually prepared for the Ravens a bit; they are trying to treat this a little bit like a normal game week. And this is a Ravens team that boasted one of the best overall defenses in the league last season, so it’s a good test. Clement passed the test on Day 1. 

Clement would like to play in Thursday’s third preseason game, but he isn’t sure if he’ll be given the go-ahead. He probably won’t know until Wednesday. 

“I want to play. I want to play football,” Clement said. “Just like B.G. (Brandon Graham) likes playing in preseason, I like playing in preseason. I don’t want to shy away from football. Football’s fun.”

It’s even more fun when you’re back to being yourself.

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Malcolm Jenkins weighs in on NFL's controversial partnership with Jay-Z

Malcolm Jenkins weighs in on NFL's controversial partnership with Jay-Z

Nearly one week after a controversial partnership was struck between the NFL and hip-hop mogul Jay-Z, Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins sounded cautiously optimistic about its potential impact.

The twofold agreement somewhat benignly tasks Jay-Z’s entertainment company Roc Nation with improving the NFL’s live musical performances such as the Super Bowl Halftime Show, and perhaps more alarmingly tasks the rapper with “amplify(ing) the league’s social justice efforts.”

Critics of the deal — and there are many — view the latter function as anything from a cynical money grab on the part of Jay-Z to a perversion of the social justice ideals that free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeled over.

Jenkins, who himself has been on the forefront of the fight for social justice reform, working with officials in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., implied there isn’t yet enough information to pass judgment on the new partnership, noting Jay-Z has a history of involvement in such matters.

We’re all kind of waiting to see kind of what the details are,” said Jenkins after Monday’s practice. “As a player who’s had to negotiate with the league and sit across from billionaires and talk about issues and why they should be important and why the NFL should be highlighting them, I think having somebody like Jay-Z who can add to that conversation — he does these things on a daily basis, has a history of doing those things — helps us as players to have an ally like that, so I’m looking forward to seeing what that turns into.

Of course, Jenkins and those in Kaepernick’s camp haven’t always seen eye to eye. Panthers safety Eric Reid once referred to the Eagles star as a “sellout” during an on-field confrontation, though the two have since mended fences.

It’s perhaps worth noting then that Kaepernick did not name Jenkins in a recent Tweet that some construed as a shot toward the Jay-Z deal.

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