There were any number of reasons to watch the Eagles and Ravens exhibit themselves Thursday night. (First among them might have been that the Phillies were off.) And during a game in which the Eagles’ first offense looked fine and no important injuries were suffered, it was most fun to focus on the Eagles’ defensive line.
On Jim Washburn, mad scientist.
It will be an ongoing story this season, the business of the Eagles’ charismatic new line coach and the havoc he seeks to hatch. We got our first hint during Thursday's game, with all manner of men asked to do the first-team marauding, and largely succeeding. How it ultimately turns out will be one of the truly decisive elements in determining success or failure for the team this year.
First impression: six sacks.
“What we learned in practice, learned to be aggressive and attack,” said defensive end Trent Cole, after completing his work in the Eagles’ 13-6 victory. “That’s our defensive like Juan (Castillo, the Eagles’ new defensive coordinator) and our new defensive line coach Wash, he wants us to get off and attack every play. No matter what, it’s all out.
“You see how we rotate in different lines -- it’s keeping everybody fresh. It’s awesome to have that now. We’ve got a great group of d-linemen that can all play. They’re all playing at the same level. We’re gong to keep this thing going.”
On offense, the ability of Michael Vick to read the blitz and the right side of his offensive line to handle the pressure are the issue. On defense -- with the secondary fortified now beyond all expectations, with Nnamdi Asomugah and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie joining Asante Samuel at cornerback -- the questions will turn on a pass rush that evaporated in the second half of 2010.
Cole faded toward the end of the season, and not for the first time in his career, mostly because he simply played too many snaps. To be fair to Sean McDermott, the previous defensive coordinator, he wanted to rotate personnel more than he did -- but injuries left him with fewer people capable of making a play.
Anyway, if this first little hunk of a preseason game was any indication, all kinds of people will be spelling the defensive line starters in 2011. Last night against the Ravens, Derek Landri got in there early, and Darryl Tapp got in there early, and so did Anthony Hargrove. It wasn’t quite the hockey line changes that the late Jim Johnson sent out there a few years ago for a game or two, but rotation seemed to be a big part of the plan.
“This is our chance to really get all the new guys acquainted and get everybody on the same page,” Cole said. “You know, just get us going and see what we’ve got. It’s looking good right now.”
The first defense, with all of its rotating, played two series against the Ravens and got a sack, by Cole, on a rush that was all about physical persistence. When he is paired with Jason Babin on the other end, and with Cullen Jenkins as one of the tackles, the Eagles’ pass rush will be at its most potent this season.
Jenkins is the pass-rushing defensive tackle that the Eagles have lacked for years. Babin, on his second tour of duty with the Eagles, is a Washburn disciple from their time together in Tennessee, a player whose quickness and agility stand out. Together with Cole and his physical explosiveness, it has a chance to be a potent group.
But Reid has forever talked about the importance of rotating along the line and “throwing fastballs” at opposing offenses. And to see Tapp get two sacks against Baltimore’s second team, and Landri get one later, and Phillip Hunt get a big pressure in the third quarter that led to an interception, and to see the sacks and pressure continue late into the fourth quarter, was to catch the first glimpse of what Washburn is trying to concoct.
The result was meaningless because of the circumstances, and that is true enough, yet the details were still instructive. Mayhem is not built in a day, but you have to start somewhere.
The Eagles started with six sacks.