The Eagles finished 2021 with an embarrassing 29 sacks, 31st in the league. League-leading Pittsburgh had 55 sacks.
This season, the Eagles led the league with 70 sacks. They prioritized getting to the passer and it paid off.
The Eagles and their sack-happy defense will be put to the test Saturday night against the Giants in the NFC divisional playoffs.
The Eagles defeated the Giants twice this season — 48-22 on Dec. 11, and 22-16 on Jan. 8, when the playoff-locked Giants rested most of their starters.
In the Dec. 11 game, in which the Eagles clinched a playoff spot, they rendered Giants quarterback Daniel Jones ineffective, swarming him for four sacks. Jones completed 18-of-27 passes for 169 yards. Saquon Barkley rushed nine times for 28 yards.
The Eagles’ pass rush will need to pressure Jones, who was an effective runner and passer in the Giants’ 31-24 wild card victory over Minnesota on Sunday.
Jones passed for 301 yards and ran for 78 against the Vikings. Overlook the Giants at your own risk: The Eagles face a serious challenge.
HAD TO IMPROVE
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman knew he had to make a major upgrade in the pass rush in the offseason after last year’s ineffective performance.
At the scouting combine in March, before free agency opened, Roseman already was on the case.
- “The bottom line is we didn’t get enough pressure on the QB,” Roseman said. “It’s a priority to us. We’ll have opportunities this offseason to do it, and I would be very surprised if we didn’t do something there.”
Roseman’s reinforcement arrived days later via free agency. The Eagles signed linebacker Haason Reddick, who had 23.5 sacks the previous two seasons. Reddick’s pass-rushing skills were desperately needed on an Eagles team that was trending toward a sustained playoff run.
Looking back, signing Reddick was the defense’s equivalent of the offense trading for wide receiver A.J. Brown. Without Reddick and Brown, it’s fair to wonder if the Eagles would have gone 14-3 and secured the NFC’s only bye and home-field for the playoffs.
The Eagles finished second in total defense, first in pass defense and tied for 16th in rushing defense. They ranked eighth in points allowed with 20.2.
Reddick and his teammates led the league in sacks with 70. Kansas City was second with 55.
SECOND IN LEAGUE
Reddick was second in the league with 16.0 sacks (behind the Niners’ Nick Bosa with 18.5). Reddick had zero sacks going into Week Three.
Reddick also was tied for the league lead with five forced fumbles.
The 27-year-old’s deal was for $45 million over three years. Reddick, who earned his first Pro Bowl berth this season, should be under consideration for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Reddick isn’t exclusively a pass-rusher. On many plays, he drops into pass coverage.
- “He is one of the best players in the NFL,” defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon said. “You know, if I didn’t drop him [into pass coverage] so much, he would probably have 25 [sacks].
- “He will do whatever we ask him to do to win the game … That’s what you want out of your elite defenders is to be team-first and put themselves second behind the team, and that’s what he does.”
The Eagles set a franchise all-time sack record— albeit in 17 games — with 70, two behind the NFL record set by the Bears in 16 games in 1987.
- “You want to see your guys do well and produce at a high level, and we have really good players,” Gannon said.
- “Then on top of that, they have great detail and great talent. You’re going to see those guys produce.
- “But, ultimately, I’m concerned about winning in the game however we need to do that, so that’s always at the forefront of my mind.”
Three other Eagles reached double-digits in sacks — each with 11 — Josh Sweat, Javon Hargrave and Brandon Graham. The Eagles are the first team to have four players with double-digit sacks.
Causing quarterback havoc helps the entire defense. If the quarterback has to throw before it’s ideal, or if he forces throws, the secondary has more opportunity to defend the pass and maybe turn over the ball.
The Eagles tied for fourth with 17 interceptions and third in turnover differential (plus-8).
- “That’s an area that we wanted to affect the quarterback more,” Gannon said. “If it comes with sacks, great. If it comes with better coverage and making the quarterback hold it and reset, great.
- “You know all those things, the weapons that you have at your disposal as a defense to try to affect the quarterback, we wanted to improve all of that.
- “Then I think it’s just really a testament to the players of winning a lot of one-on-ones and staying connected and doing the right things and helping each other out.”
The Eagles’ defense is most successful when it contains the run and when opponents are forced to pass, the Birds’ pass-rushers take over.
Jones will present a unique problem because of his running ability. The Vikings never really figured out how to contain him Sunday.