Why the Powerful Defensive Line for the Philadelphia Eagles Guarantees a Non-Losing Season in 2012

By Bryn Swartz

The Philadelphia Eagles are considered to be one of the premiere teams in the National Football League heading into the 2012 season, despite an extremely disappointing 8-8 season in 2011 in which the Eagles failed to live up to preseason expectations.

That’s because the offense is still stacked, and the defense is improved significantly, especially the defensive line.

I would go as far as to call the defensive line the best in the NFL.

In fact, I would argue that the defensive line for the Philadelphia Eagles is so good that it’s not even going to be possible for the Eagles to have a losing season in 2012. That is, assuming that Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, and half of the starters don’t suffer season-ending injuries in week one.

But even factoring in the expected injuries for the Eagles this season, the defensive line is powerful enough to keep the Eagles in almost all games they’ll play this season. It’s so powerful that it’s going to singlehandedly win a couple of games.

Last season, the Eagles tied the Minnesota Vikings for the NFL-lead in sacks with 50. In fact, it was the most any NFL team had recorded since the Dallas Cowboys registered 59 sacks in 2008.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Eagles equaled Dallas’s 59 sacks this season. They’ll definitely have more sacks than last season. In fact, defensive line coach Jim Washburn said that the Eagles should fire him if the line isn’t improved in the 2012 season.

He has nothing to worry about. The Eagles’ line is so deep that a starter could go down (a la Mike Patterson) and it won’t even really affect the production.

Defensive ends Trent Cole and Jason Babin are among the best pass-rushing defensive linemen in the league. Cole is the better player but Babin is the better pass rusher. Last year, Cole collected 11 sacks and Babin racked up 18.

I expect both to reach double-digits again this season. In fact, I wouldn’t be fully stunned if Babin challenged the single-season record of 22 set by Mark Gastineau in 1984. (The official record book recognizes the single-season record as 22.5 by Michael Strahan in 2001, but we’re going by my book here. It’s not a sack if the quarterback runs at you and falls to the ground so you can touch him. Babin and Cole sack quarterbacks. They don’t two-hand touch them.)

The Eagles also have former first round pick Brandon Graham, who is out with a vengeance to prove that he isn’t a bust. He showed promise as a rookie but injuries killed his sophomore season, and I have confidence that he’ll develop into a solid player. Throw in former CFL sack champion Phillip Hunt, one of the more underrated pass rushers in the league, and it’s going to be difficult for veteran Darryl Tapp and rookie Vinny Curry to even see the field this season.

Those are just the defensive ends, and I truly believe that all six could start for the majority of the teams in the league.

At defensive tackle, the Eagles have three players who could start for any team in the league, and that’s not including veteran Mike Patterson, who will begin the season on the PUP list.

Cullen Jenkins and Fletcher Cox are two of the top pass-rushing defensive tackles in the league, and Derek Landri was the breakout star for the Eagles’ defense in 2011.

You’ve also got run-stuffing defensive tackle Antonio Dixon, and, if he makes the team, Cedric Thornton, who hasn’t played in the NFL yet but has turned in an impressive enough camp that the Eagles will likely keep 11 defensive linemen on their team.

You get the point. The defensive line for the Eagles is incredible. I think everybody would agree with that.

So why should the defensive line guarantee at least eight wins next season?

Because I believe that defensive line is the most important part of a team besides the quarterback position.

I think pass defense is just a little overrated. The New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers were two of the worst defenses in league history, in terms of yards allowed, last season, and they were probably the two most impressive teams in the regular season. That alone should be enough to tell you that a secondary isn’t as essential to winning games as you may think.

I don’t even think run defense is as important as pass defense. The 2006 Indianapolis Colts won a Super Bowl despite having the worst run defense in the entire NFL. I think the NFL is becoming such a passing league that stopping the run is almost an afterthought compared to the most important thing a defense can do.

And that’s putting pressure on the quarterback.

There is nothing that wins games for a defense like a defensive line putting pressure on the quarterback.

You want examples?

Look at the New York Giants and their Super Bowl victories over the New England Patriots in both 2007 and 2011. Their dominant defensive ends (Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, and Jason Pierre-Paul, Umenyiora, Tuck) completely disrupted the rhythm of All-Pro quarterback Tom Brady and changed the outcome of the game.

You can’t lose if you get to the quarterback, especially if you can knock the quarterback out of the game, like the Eagles did against Sam Bradford when they played the St. Louis Rams in week one of last season, or like they did when they played Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys in week 16 of last season.

There are just so many ways the Eagles’ defensive line can beat you, whether it be stopping the run, sacking the quarterback, sacking the quarterback and forcing a fumble (the Jason Babin specialty) or pressuring the quarterback into throwing an interception.

Heading into the 2011 season, the Eagles’ coaching staff thought that a trio of Pro Bowl cornerbacks–Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie–would equal a trip to the Super Bowl, just like it did for the Green Bay Packers in 2010, with Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, and Charles Woodson.

It didn’t work. Not even close.

But heading into the 2012 season, barring injuries, I think the defensive line could propel the Eagles into the Super Bowl.

Cole. Babin. Hunt. Jenkins. Cox. Graham. Landri. Curry. Tapp. Dixon. Thornton.

Stop these guys from getting to the quarterback and you’ll beat the Eagles. But don’t expect that to happen very many times.

Quite frankly, they’re unstoppable.

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