A year ago, with Haasan Reddick still in Carolina and Brandon Graham out with a ruptured Achilles tendon, the Eagles’ pass rush was pretty bad.
Their 29 sacks were the second-fewest in the NFL and equaled the fewest by an Eagles defense since the disco era, when Dick Vermeil’s first team (1976) got to the quarterback a grand total of 19 times.
But that was then and this is now. Spurred by the offseason acquisition of Reddick, the return to health of Graham, the addition of rookie Jordan Davis and the emergence of Javon Hargrave as an interior pass-rushing force, the Eagles’ pass rush has been one of the keys to their 9-1 start this season.
Their 33 sacks through 10 games are the third most in the league, behind only the Cowboys (42) and the Patriots (36). They are averaging 20.5 quarterback pressures per game, which is their highest average in four years.
They’re not only sacking the quarterback more often this season, but they’re also doing it in clutch situations. They are tied with the Patriots for most sacks on 3rd/4th downs with 17. They also lead the league in fourth-quarter sacks with 16.
Reddick, who has a team-high 7 ½ sacks, is third in the league in sacks on 3rd/4th downs with 5 1/2, a half-sack behind the Patriots’ Matthew Judon and the Chiefs’ Chris Jones, who both have six.
Reddick’s four fourth-quarter sacks also are the third most in the league behind Jones and the Dolphins’ Bradley Chubb, who each have 4 ½.
Reddick and Graham both had critical third-down sacks in the fourth quarter Sunday that helped the Eagles hang on for a one-point win over the Colts. Reddick’s red-zone sack of Matt Ryan on a third-and-goal at the Eagles’ five-yard line with five minutes left in the game forced the Colts to settle for a Chase McLaughlin field goal that prevented them from making it a two-score game.
After the Eagles went up 17-16 on Jalen Hurts’ seven-yard touchdown run with 1:20 left, Graham, whose late-game strip sack of Tom Brady in Super Bowl LII assured that he’ll never have to buy a drink in Philly for the rest of his life, put the game on ice by sacking Ryan on a third-and-nine at the Indy 40 as the Colts tried to get within field-goal range for McLaughlin.
Reddick has played 69 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps this season. That’s the highest percentage by a pass-rusher. Reddick, a linebacker, has rushed the passer on 255 of 295 pass-rush opportunities, according to Pro Football Focus data, dropping into coverage the other 40 times.
Hargrave, who has played 66 percent of the snaps, and Fletcher Cox, who has played 67 percent, actually have rushed the passer slightly more than Reddick. Cox, who has three sacks, has a team-high 286 rushes. Hargrave, who has seven sacks, has 283.
Graham played a career-high 76 percent of the snaps with the Eagles in 2019 and 69 percent in 2020 before injuring his foot in the second game of the 2021 season.
His age – he’s 34 – and the severity of his foot injury have been the main reasons why Graham has played just 40 percent of the snaps in the first 10 games. But he played 45 percent of the snaps against the Colts. It was just the third time this season he has played that high a percentage of the defensive snaps.
Hargrave leads the Eagles in total quarterback pressures with 37. Reddick is second with 31. Josh Sweat has 30 and Brandon Graham has 25. Cox is fifth with 20 pressures (three sacks).
The 31-year-old Cox had one of his better games of the season Sunday, largely because of the additions of Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh. Prior to that, he had been mostly a non-factor.
Cox’s career peaked in 2018 when he had a career-high 10 ½ sacks, 95 total pressures, and was a first-team All-Pro selection. He was considered the second-best interior defensive lineman in the league at the time, behind only Aaron Donald.
Since then, Cox’s sack and total pressure numbers have dropped each year. His pressure percentage dropped from 15.9 percent in 2018 to 10.6 in 2019, to 9.7 in 2020, to 8.9 last year to 7.0 this year.
Gannon and the blitz
Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon has sent extra rushers (five or more) after quarterbacks on 87 of 385 pass plays (22.6%). But he’s toned down the blitzing considerably lately.
In their first six games, the Eagles blitzed 26.0% of the time (64 of 246 plays). In the last four games, that percentage has dropped to 16.5 (23 of 139 pass plays), which is pretty close to Gannon’s blitz percentage last season.
Gannon sent extra rushers after wily veteran Matt Ryan just five times on 36 pass plays Sunday (13.9%). The week before, he blitzed Washington’s Taylor Heinicke just four times on 32 pass plays (12.5%). The reduction in blitzing hasn’t had much effect on the Eagles’ sack total. They’ve got 16 sacks in the last four games.
–The Eagles have blitzed 35 times on first down, 28 times on second down, and 23 times on third down this season. Eight of their 33 sacks have come on blitzes, four of them on third down, three on second down, and one on first down. Five of their 13 interceptions have come when they’ve blitzed, including three on third down, one on second down, and one on first down.
The Hurts report
–The Eagles had 10 rushing first downs against the Colts. Jalen Hurts had eight of them, including four in the fourth quarter.
He’s ninth in the league in rushing first downs with 40. The only quarterbacks with more heading into Week 12 are the Bears’ Justin Fields (55) and the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson (42). Hurts had 56 rushing first downs in 15 games last year.
–Hurts has 110 rushing attempts in the Eagles’ first 10 games. That’s 11 per game. He averaged 9.3 last year.
–His eight rushing touchdowns are the fourth most in the league, behind only the Lions’ Jamaal Williams (12), the Browns’ Nick Chubb (11), and the Titans’ Derrick Henry (10). He had 10 last year. The NFL record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback is 14 by then-rookie Cam Newton in 2011.
–Hurts has a 110.4 passer rating in the Eagles’ last three games. That includes a 71.8 completion percentage, 7.8 yards per attempt, five touchdown passes, and one interception.
–Hurts is second in the league in yards per attempt (8.3), fourth in passer rating (106.5), fifth in touchdowns/interceptions differential (plus-12), and sixth in completion percentage (68.3).
–The Eagles have used 11-personnel (1RB,1TE,3WR) 70.6% of the time this season and 81.5% in the last two games. Hurts’ passing numbers with 11P are excellent, particularly lately. In the Eagles’ last five games, he has a 117.6 passer rating with 11P, including a 71.6 completion percentage, eight touchdown passes, and just one interception.
–Hurts has thrown 24 deep balls (passes that travel 20 or more yards in the air beyond the line of scrimmage) in the first 10 games and has completed 12 of them with six touchdowns and one interception. Last year, he had a 35.9 completion percentage on deep balls (23-for-64) with just three touchdowns and five interceptions.
–Hurts is averaging 12.9 yards per attempt on throws of 11-19 yards. Last year, he averaged 9.8. In the last three games, he has completed 12 of 15 passes from that distance and has averaged 15.8 yards per attempt.
More good stat stuff
–Dallas Goedert’s absence has negatively impacted the Eagles in a lot of ways, including their screen game. The Eagles attempted 46 screens in the first 10 games, completing 43 for 269 yards. Fifteen of Goedert’s 43 receptions this season have been on screens. He has averaged 10.7 yards on screens and 12.7 overall.
–The Eagles are averaging 6.2 yards per play on first down. That’s the fifth-best average in the league. They’re tied for 12th in first-down rush average (4.6), but Hurts is fourth in yards per attempt on first down (9.1). The Eagles have a 55.4 run percentage on first down (163 run plays on 294 total first-down plays).
–One of the things at the top of Jonathan Gannon’s things-to-do list going into games is limiting “explosive’’ plays. And they’ve been very successful at that this season. The Eagles have given up just 22 pass plays of 20 yards or more. That’s tied for the third-fewest in the league. The Cowboys have allowed the fewest – 17. They’ve also given up just 12 run plays of 15 yards or more. That’s tied for the league’s eighth fewest.
–Eagles opponents have scored 19 just touchdowns in 10 games. The average touchdown drive has been 76.9 yards. The average number of plays per drive has been 10.3. The Eagles have not given up a touchdown drive shorter than 57 yards. Seventeen of 19 have been 75 yards or longer. Play-wise, the quickest touchdown drive against the Eagles has been six plays. Fourteen have been nine plays or longer.
–The Eagles’ nine turnovers are tied for the second-fewest in the league. Opponents have managed to score just two touchdowns and three field goals off of those nine giveaways.
–The Eagles have scored nine touchdowns and two field goals off of their 21 takeaways.