Andy Reid and the Eagles brought Jim Washburn to town for one simple reason: to improve the pass rush.
And despite the criticism surrounding the wide-nine and the defense overall, Washburn has done just that.
When a team goes through a disappointing season filled with failed expectations, there is a tendency to criticize everything and everyone that is associated with it, a refusal to acknowledge that anything worked out well.
But the truth is the pass rush has been one of the few success stories for the Eagles in 2011.
The numbers are pretty simple. The Eagles lead the NFL with 49 sacks. They also rank first in Sack Rate, which is the metric used by Football Outsiders that takes into account pass-rushing opportunities and other factors. And Pro Football Focus, which also looks at pressures, in addition to sacks, has the Birds ranked first also.
Getting to the quarterback is the one thing this defense has done consistently all season. All but four of the team's 49 sacks have come from defensive linemen. Jason Babin (18 sacks) is fighting for the sack title going into Week 17. Trent Cole has 10 sacks in 13 games and has played the run well. Mike Patterson, who had been a non-factor as a pass rusher in the previous system, has 24 hurries, third on the team. Cullen Jenkins has pitched in with 5.5 sacks.
Below is a chart of sacks/hurries; pass-rushing chances; and pressure percentage, which just measures how often each player has notched a sack/hurry. Numbers from the second column are courtesy of Pro Football Focus.
|Sacks+Hurries||Pass-Rushing Opportunities||Pressure Pct.|
Babin leads the team in sacks (18), hurries (46) and pressure percentage (16.2 percent). Cole, Hunt and Tapp have also been productive at defensive end.
And all the defensive tackles are around the same percentage.
The only defensive linemen who contributed this season that aren't under contract for 2012 are Laws and Landri. The guess here is they'll try to bring Landri back.
Of course, much of the Washburn criticism has centered around the Eagles' run defense. By most measures, the Birds' run D has been average - not a strength by any means, but also not among the worst in the league.
The Eagles are allowing opponents to pick up 4.3 YPC; 13 teams are worse and 17 are better. Football Outsiders ranks the Eagles' run defense 16th.
Rather than pinning the issues against the run on Washburn and his system, look at the bigger picture. The Eagles made errors in personnel evaluation at linebacker, and those errors have plagued the defense all season. They decided to implement a new system (the wide nine) without upgrading at linebacker. That's what cost them.
Think of all the different linebackers who have been shuffled in and out: Jamar Chaney, Casey Matthews, Akeem Jordan, Moise Fokou, Brian Rolle, Keenan Clayton. Six different players, and not one of them is being used as a three-down player.
So when the Eagles start making decisions on the future after Sunday's regular-season finale against the Redskins, Washburn should stay. Whoever's running the defense - whether it's Juan Castillo, Steve Spagnuolo or someone else - needs to work with Washburn. Andy Reid and Howie Roseman need to address the linebacker situation - either early in the draft or in free agency.
That's the way to start fixing the defense, not by removing Washburn and his system.