Eagles blitz production from LBs, DBs

Sean McDermott is heading into his second season as the Eagles' defensive coordinator. (Ron Tarver/Staff file photo)

At 9:11 p.m. Friday evening, I bought the PDF version of the 2010 Football Outsiders' Almanac.

About a half-hour later, I found myself looking up the Eagles' blitz trends over the past five years.

Do I need a life? Yes. Although my excuse here is that I had to be up at 5 a.m. to catch a flight to Denver.

But that's what happens with this thing. I definitely recommend checking it out even if you're not a huge stats guy. Pages worth of information to digest as we look ahead to the 2010 season. Do I agree with everything written in their chapter on the Eagles? No. But that's not really the point. Most of the content in there is extremely useful.

The one item that I wanted to touch on here is what they wrote about the Eagles' blitz in 2009. If you're a frequent MTC reader, you've heard me mention about 579 times that the Birds did not have enough success when they blitzed last year, and that led to defensive struggles.

Well, thanks to Football Outsiders, I now have some numbers to back this up. The Eagles sent six or more defenders after the quarterback 21.1 percent of the time - second-most in the NFL. They zone blitzed 13.7 percent of the time - also second-most in the NFL.

But just because they blitzed a lot doesn't mean they blitzed effectively, as is pointed out in the Football Outsiders research:

Once again, the Eagles were among the most likely teams to blitz and zone-blitz. However, unlike past years, the Eagles defense wasn’t actually any more efficient when it zone-blitzed or sent extra pass rushers.

4.5 (10.2 percent) of the Eagles' 44 sacks were by linebackers, the fifth-lowest percentage in the league.

1.5 (3.4 percent) of the Eagles' 44 sacks were by defensive backs, also the fifth-lowest percentage in the league.

Now, as I've mentioned several times, there's more to measuring pass pressure than just sacks. There is disrupting timing, forcing the quarterback to rush his throws, etc. But there's no doubt in my mind that the Eagles did not do a good enough job at any of these things last year when Sean McDermott sent extra defenders.

I decided to take a look at the numbers over the last five seasons. The first chart looks at linebacker sacks for the Eagles over the last five seasons.

Year LB sacks Total sacks Percentage
2009 4.5 44 10.2%
2008 5.5 48 11.4%
2007 3.0 37 8.1%
2006 3.5 40 8.75%
2005 1.0 29 3.4%

Not a lot of conclusions to be drawn here. The sacks by Eagles linebackers in 2009 pretty much fell in line with other years, and they even performed a little better than usual.

Here are the defensive backs.

Year DB sacks Total sacks Percentage
2009 1.5 44 3.4%
2008 8.0 48 16.7%
2007 2.0 37 5.4%
2006 5.5 40 13.8%
2005 6.5 29 22.4%

Quite a difference here though, huh? The Eagles' 1.5 sacks by DBs was the lowest total in the past five years; as was the 3.4%. If you take away 2007, the difference is pretty significant. The Eagles got one sack from reserve safety Sean Jones and a half-a-sack from nickel corner Joselio Hanson last season. If you remember, McDermott blitzed Hanson quite a bit from the slot.

Neither of the starting safeties had a sack all season. At cornerback, McDermott rarely (if ever) sent Sheldon Brown after he was injured. And I can't remember a single time that Asante Samuel blitzed.

Here's a chart with the total LB and DB sacks.

Year LB and DB sacks Total sacks Percentage
2009 6.0 44 13.6%
2008 13.5 48 28.1%
2007 5.0 37 13.5%
2006 9.0 40 22.5%
2005 7.5 29 25.9%

The Eagles had 7.5 fewer sacks from their linebackers and defensive backs in 2009 than in 2008. And during the five-year stretch, if you take away 2007, the percentage was significantly lower.

The team's offseason moves were interesting in that they focused on bolstering the defensive line. I have said constantly that this is still going to be a blitzing defense, but I'll admit there's a little part of me that wonders if McDermott would like to only send the four defensive linemen just a little bit more often, allowing the LBs and DBs to focus on coverage.

Maybe I can ask him about that at Lehigh, which is only 16 days away.

You can follow Moving the Chains on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook.