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Can Eagles pass rush get to Cousins better than it got to Goff?

Eagles pass rush

Photo Credit by John McMullen/JAKIB Sports

Major League Moving LogoThe Eagles had just one sack in Sunday’s 38-35 win over the Lions, and that one was gift-wrapped with a fumbled snap.

Besides the sack, they had just four hits and eight hurries on quarterback Jared Goff. But Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon insisted this week that he was not displeased with his pass rush in Week 1.

He said the pass rush was “good’’ and that he was “happy with where it was,’’ pointing out that the pass rush numbers were impacted by the fact that Goff got the ball out quickly.

Which is true. According to Pro Football Focus, Goff averaged just 2.44 seconds from snap to release against the Eagles. That was the fifth fastest time in the league in Week 1, behind only the Patriots’ Mac Jones (2.30), the Bills’ Josh Allen and the Texans’ Davis Mills ( both 2.19), and the Bucs’ Tom Brady (2.17).

That said, all four of those players were sacked more times than Goff in Week 1. Mills was dropped three times and Brady, Allen, and Jones all were sacked twice.

When backup defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu gets the highest pass-rush grade on the team, well, that’s a sign that you need to do better. A lot better.

After recording just 29 sacks last season, which was the second-fewest in the league and the fewest by an Eagles defense since sacks became an official statistic in 1982, improving the pass rush was a high offseason priority.

They went out and signed free agent edge rusher Haason Reddick, whose 23 ½ sacks over the last two seasons were the fifth most in the league, to a three-year, $45 million contract. They used their first-round pick in the draft on 6-5, 350-pound defensive tackle Jordan Davis.

But neither Reddick nor Davis, who played just 22 snaps in his pro debut, had any pressures on Goff.

“That’s something that we know we need to do to affect the quarterback, to affect him and get him off his timing and off his rhythm,’’ head coach Nick Sirianni said when asked about his level of concern over the pass rush in Week 1.

The pass rush will be critical Monday night against Kirk Cousins and the Vikings. Cousins has two of the best pass-catching weapons in the league at his disposal in wide receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. If the Eagles can’t pressure Cousins and get him off his spot, it’s going to be a long night in front of a national television audience for the Eagles.

The good news is Cousins will hang on to the ball a little longer than Goff did. His 2.76-second Week 1 snap-to-release average was the seventh highest in the league. Last year, he averaged 2.56 seconds.

Underrated

Cousins doesn’t get a lot of respect from people. But you don’t put up the passing numbers he has put up without being pretty damn good.

Since becoming a full-time starter in 2015, he has a 101.0 passer rating and a plus-135 touchdowns-to-interceptions differential. He has a 67.8 completion percentage and has averaged 7.8 yards per attempt over that period.

He threw just seven interceptions in 561 attempts last season. His 1.2 interception percentage was the second best in the league to Aaron Rodgers’ 0.8.

In the Vikings’ Week 1 win over the Packers, Cousins completed 23 of 32 passes for 277 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. Jefferson, who the Eagles let slip away in the 2020 draft, was targeted 11 times against the Packers and had nine receptions for 184 yards, and was on the receiving end of both of Cousins’ touchdown passes.

Last year, Cousins had the league’s sixth-best third-down passer rating (104.5) and was tied for third in third-down touchdown passes (13).

Jefferson, who had 108 catches for 1,616 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, was a big reason for Cousins’ third-down success in 2021. He led the league in third-down receptions (36) and third-down catches that resulted in first downs (31). Seven of his 10 TD catches were on third down. So keep an eye on third down Monday night. The defense didn’t play particularly well on third down against the Lions. Detroit converted 9 of their 14 third-down opportunities.

The Vikings only converted 4 of 13 third-down opportunities last week against the Packers. Cousins completed 5 of 9 third-down pass attempts, including three to Jefferson. But only two of his five completions produced first downs.

Matchup to watch

That would be Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson v. Vikings edge rusher Danielle Hunter. This is a heavyweight clash. One of the league’s best offensive tackles against one of the league’s best pass rushers.

Hunter had 14 ½ sacks in both 2018 and 2019 before a herniated disc in his neck caused him to miss the entire 2020 season. He returned last year and had six sacks in the first seven games. Then he suffered a torn pec and missed the rest of the season.

He’s healthy again and former Eagles defensive end Chris Long has Hunter at the top of his list of candidates for Defensive Player of the Year.

“Danielle Hunter is as gifted an edge rusher as there is in the league,’’ Long, a contributor to The33rdTeam.com, said on their website. “He can win with speed, with length. He can turn that into power. He’s got extremely long arms.

“He’s due for a really big year. With Za’Darius Smith on the other side, he hasn’t had a bookend like that really ever.’’

Hunter had a sack and two hurries against Rodgers and the Packers on Sunday. Smith had two sacks, a hit, and a hurry.

Hunter primarily rushes from the left side of the defensive line, which will pit him primarily against Johnson. Last week, 21 of Hunter’s 30 pass rushes came from the left side. Nineteen of Smith’s 29 rushes were from the right side.

The Eagles’ offensive line didn’t give up any sacks – the one sack of Hurts was the fault of running back Kenny Gainwell – or hits and only eight hurries. Johnson didn’t give up a sack, hit, or hurry in Week 1.

The Hurts report

–How you judge a Jalen Hurts performance depends on what you look at. The Eagles quarterback rushed for 90 yards and a touchdown. He didn’t have any interceptions. But he also didn’t have any touchdown passes.

If you’re counting, Hurts has just four touchdown passes in his last seven starts, including one in the January playoff loss to the Bucs. He threw just 16 touchdown passes last season, which was tied for the sixth-fewest in the league among quarterbacks with at least 250 pass attempts.

–Hurts ran the ball 17 times against the Lions. That was the third most in his career. He had 18 rushing attempts against the New Orleans Saints in his first NFL start as a rookie in 2020, and 18 again against the Saints last season. He ran the ball 139 times last season, which was the most by any quarterback in the league.

–Hurts had a team-high six rushing first downs against the Lions. That was tied for the fourth most in the league behind the Falcons’ Cordarrelle Patterson (10), the Colts’ Jonathan Taylor (9), and the Giants’ Saquon Barkley (7).

–Hurts had four of his passes batted or deflected at the line of scrimmage Sunday. Last year, he had 12 batted passes, which was tied for the fifth most in the league behind Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen (both with 17), and Joe Burrow and Matt Ryan (both with 14).

–Just four of Hurts’ 25 aimed throws (32 total attempts minus the four batted passes and three throwaways) traveled more than 10 yards in the air beyond the line of scrimmage. He was 3-for-4 for 90 yards on those attempts, including a 54-yard completion to AJ Brown on a pass that traveled 37 yards.

–Hurts was 14-for-26 for 219 yards with 11 personnel (1RB, 1TE, 3WR) and 4-for-6 for 25 yards with 12 personnel (1RB, 2TE, 2WR).

Sixty-two of his 90 rushing yards came on eight carries with 11P. He had 28 yards on seven carries with 12P and two carries for no yards with 13P.

–He was 5-for-9 for 114 yards on third down against the Lions. All five of his completions produced first downs. Two of his six rushing first downs came on third down.

More stats

–AJ Brown had 10 catches for 155 yards in his debut with the Eagles. All 10 of those catches came in 11P. Seven of his 10 receptions resulted in first downs, including three on third down.

–Miles Sanders averaged 7.4 yards per carry against the Lions (96 yards on 13 carries). That was the third highest single-game rushing average of his career in games in which he had more than three carries. He had three double-digit runs, including two 24-yarders.

–The Eagles sent extra rushers (five or more) after Goff on eight of 38 pass plays (21.0%) Sunday. Goff was 4-for-8 for 35 yards against the blitz. He was 17-for-29 for 180 yards when the Eagles rushed four.

–The Eagles converted 10 of 17 third-down opportunities against the Lions. Just three of those 17 third downs were seven yards or more. They converted one of those three. Seven of the 17 third downs were three yards or less. They converted five of those seven.