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Is this the year Brandon Graham finally cracks double digits in sacks?

Edge Rushers, Brandon Graham

Photo Credit by John McMullen/JAKIB Sports

OCR Logo Color 300DPI 1Brandon Graham has had a successful NFL career that has contained few regrets.

Thirteen seasons with the same team. Third in franchise history with 67 ½ sacks. Selected to the Pro Bowl. Five, soon to be six, playoff appearances. A Super Bowl title that he helped secure with that famous fourth-quarter strip sack of Tom Brady.

One important thing that has eluded the Eagles’ defensive end, though, is a double-digit sack season. Graham has notched eight or more sacks in four of his last five full seasons (he missed 15 games last year with a torn Achilles tendon). But he keeps coming up short of 10.

On the way to the Super Bowl in 2017, Graham had 8 ½ sacks in the first 12 games, but got just one more down the stretch and finished with 9 1/2.

In 2019, he put up 7 ½ in the Eagles’ first 11 games but had just one more in the final five games.

Two years ago, he had seven in the Eagles’ first eight games. Ten sacks looked like a gimme. But Graham recorded just one more sack in the final eight games and came up short again.

With three sacks Sunday against the Giants, Graham is toying with 10 again. He has 8 ½ with four games left.

There’s a good chance, as was the case in ’17, that he and most of the rest of the team’s starters won’t be playing much, if at all, in the final regular-season game. So, that leaves him with three games to get 1 ½ more sacks.

Sunday’s game against the Bears presents a pretty good opportunity. The Bears have given up 42 sacks this season, which is the fifth most in the league. But they’ve been better lately, giving up just 11 in the last five games. Not so much because the protection has improved, but because quarterback Justin Fields has managed to run out of trouble.

The 34-year-old Graham is having an amazing season. Not just because he’s putting up impressive numbers a year after suffering a career-threatening Achilles injury. But because he’s putting up those numbers despite playing fewer snaps than he has since the early days of his career when people still were suggesting he was a first-round bust.

Graham has played just 40 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps this season, which is his lowest snap percentage since 2013. He’s sixth on the team in pass-rush opportunities per game (15.1) but is second in sacks to Haason Reddick (10), who is averaging 23.9 pass-rush chances per game. Graham is fourth in total quarterback pressures with 36.

According to Pro Football Focus, Graham is third in the league in pass-rush productivity behind the Patriots’ Josh Uche (10 sacks and 34 total pressures on 164 pass-rush opportunities) and the Jets’ Bryce Huff (3 ½/27 in 129 rush opportunities).

The Eagles, who had the second-fewest sacks in the league last season (29), lead the league this year through 13 games with 49. Thirty-two of those 49 have come in the last seven games when Graham and Reddick and the rest of their defensive line have really turned up the heat on quarterbacks.

The Eagles have registered 84 quarterback pressures in the last four games, including 33 Sunday against the Giants. Graham has 5 ½ sacks and 13 pressures on just 54 pass-rush opportunities in those four games.

Graham has had 92 pass-rush opportunities in the Eagles’ last seven games compared to 132 by Reddick and 131 by Javon Hargrave. He has turned those 92 PROs into 21 QB pressures.

For the first time in franchise history, the Eagles have five players with at least six sacks – Reddick, Graham, Hargrave (8), Josh Sweat (7 ½), and Fletcher Cox (6).

Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon is taking the less-is-more approach with his entire d-line and it’s been working. Keeping everybody fresh has translated into more sacks and more pressures. No defensive lineman has played more than 64% of the snaps this season.

Another thing Gannon is doing – or not doing – lately is blitzing. In the Eagles’ first eight games, Gannon sent five or more rushers after the quarterback on 24.6% of opponent pass plays.

In the last five games, that percentage has dropped to 14.4% (24 of 167 pass plays). The Eagles have 23 sacks in the last five games. Eighteen of those 23, including all seven against the Giants Sunday and five of six the week before against Tennessee, were with a four-man rush.

A league-high 26 of the Eagles’ 49 sacks have come on third down. Two more have come on fourth down. Eight of Reddick’s 10 sacks have been on third down. So have 5 of Cox’s 6 sacks (the other was a fourth-down sack) and 4 of Hargrave’s 8 sacks.

Red-zone success

–The Eagles’ offense has the second-best red-zone touchdown percentage in the league (73.9%). Only Detroit has been more effective in the red zone (75.0%). In their last seven games, the Eagles have converted 18 of 21 trips inside the 20 into touchdowns (85.7%). In 2017, when the Eagles won the Super Bowl, their red-zone success rate was 64.1%. Last year, it was 62.9%.

–The Eagles have run 133 plays in the red zone. Only the Chiefs have run more (167). Eighty-nine of their 133 plays (66.9%) have been runs.

–The Eagles have 34 red-zone touchdowns. That’s the league’s third most behind the Chiefs (37) and Lions (35). A league-high 25 of those 34 red-zone scores have been rushing TDs, including a combined 19 by Miles Sanders (10) and Jalen Hurts (9).

–Hurts is third in red-zone rushing yards (123), behind the Seahawks’ Kenneth Walker III (133 before Thursday night’s game) and the Jaguars’ Travis Etienne (129). Sanders is fourth with 107.

–Hurts is first in red-zone rushing first downs with 20. Lions running back Jamaal Williams is second with 16. Sanders has 11.

–The Eagles are 26th in red-zone passing touchdowns with nine. Hurts has thrown just one red-zone TD pass in the last four games, though a big reason for that is the preponderance of deep-ball touchdown passes he’s thrown (12, second most in the NFL). Even without a lot of red-zone TD passes, Hurts still is ninth in red-zone passing with a 99.3 rating. He hasn’t thrown any interceptions in the red zone and has been sacked just three times.

–Four of Hurts’ nine red-zone TD passes have been caught by A.J. Brown. DeVonta Smith has three, Dallas Goedert two and Zach Pascal one.

Third-down update

–The offense’s 46.4 success rate is the second-best in the league. Only the Chiefs (51.3) have a higher conversion percentage. It’s the Eagles’ best third-down success rate since the NFL began compiling third-down statistics in 1980.

–Hurts is second in rushing first downs on third down with 24. The quarterback the Eagles will be facing Sunday, the Bears’ Justin Fields, is first with 31. Fields and Hurts are 1-2 in third-down rush attempts. Fields has 40 and Hurts has 39.

–Hurts is seventh in third-down passer rating (104.3). His 64.8 third-down completion percentage is the sixth-best in the league. He has not thrown an interception on third down. Hurts and the Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa are the only quarterbacks in the league with at least 50 third-down pass attempts who haven’t thrown a pick on third down.

–The Eagles don’t have a receiver in the top 30 in third-down receptions. A.J. Brown is 35th with 14. DeVonta Smith has 12. Saints rookie Chris Olave is first with 24. The Vikings’ Justin Jefferson and the Dolphins’ Tyreek Hill are tied for second with 23.

The deep ball

–Twelve of Hurts’ 22 touchdown passes have been on deep-ball throws (20 or more yards in the air). That’s the second most in the league. The Seahawks Geno Smith has 13. Last year, Hurts had just three deep-ball TD passes.

–Eleven of Hurts’ 12 deep-ball TD passes have been in the last seven games.

–Hurts is 10th in the league with a 43.9 deep-ball completion percentage (18-for-41). Last season, he completed 35.9% of his deep balls (23-for-64).

–Hurts threw 13 deep-ball passes in the last two games. He completed five, all for touchdowns.

–A.J. Brown has been targeted on 17 of Hurts’ 41 deep balls. He caught nine of them for 306 yards and 7 TDs. DeVonta Smith has been targeted 13 times and has 5 catches for 186 yards and 2 TDs. Quez Watkins has been targeted 9 times and has 4 catches for 155 yards and 3 TDs.

–Hurts has a 63.5 completion percentage on throws of 11-19 yards. Last year, he completed 58.2% from that distance.

More numbers that matter

–The Eagles used 12-personnel (1RB, 2TE, 2WR) a season-high 37.9%  against the Giants last week. A season-high 174 of their 253 rushing yards came with 12P. They averaged 9.7 yards per carry with 12P. Miles Sanders had 104 yards on 10 carries with 12P. Jalen Hurts had 37 yards on three carries and Boston Scott had 33 on five. In the Eagles’ first 12 games, Sanders rushed for just 189 yards on 53 carries with 12P.

–For the second game in a row, the Eagles used 21-personnel (2RB, 1TE, 2WR) for a play. Hurts ran a quarterback draw with it on their fourth play of the game Sunday and gained nine yards. The week before against Tennessee, Hurt completed a six-yard swing pass to Sanders with it.

–The Eagles lead the league in first-half points (250) and first-half score margin (plus-111). They’ve also held opponents to just 36 points in the third quarter. That’s tied for the fourth-fewest points allowed.

–The Eagles are doing a much better job covering tight ends than they did last year. In 2021, 13 of the 28 touchdown passes they gave up were to tight ends. So far this year, they’ve given up just three, and none in the last five games.

–The Eagles have scored on their first possession in six of the last seven games. They’ve scored on their first and second possessions in four of the last seven games.

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