State of the Eagles: Pressure from the front four

If the Eagles' defense is going to have any success containing Peyton Manning and the Colts, it will have to create pressure from its front four.

And when the Eagles do blitz, they need to have a high success rate.

A couple weeks ago, when the Titans torched the Eagles' secondary, a lot of the damage was done when the Birds only rushed four. By my count, the following Titans plays were against a four-man rush: the 80-yard touchdown, the 16-yard touchdown, a 42-yard completion, a 21-yard completion and another 16-yard completion.

It wasn't all bad though. Both of the Eagles' interceptions came on plays where they didn't blitz.

When the Eagles did blitz, they still gave up a couple big plays: a 34-yard completion and a 26-yard completion. But they also came up with a couple big plays - two of the three sacks came on blitzes.

Which brings us to this week. Dimitri Patterson will make his first career start at cornerback. And Nate Allen struggled big-time in coverage a couple weeks ago. Keeping those two things in mind, and also understanding that confusing Manning for a full game is nearly impossible, blitzing is not the answer.

The pressure will have to come from the front four. Here's an updated look at playing time for the defensive linemen:

Player Pct. of snaps
Trent Cole 89.4%
Mike Patterson 54.7%
Brandon Graham 54.1%
Juqua Parker 50.5%
Trevor Laws 48.2%
Antonio Dixon 36.3%
Darryl Tapp 30.9%
Brodrick Bunkley 26.6%
Antwan Barnes 11.7%
Daniel Te'o-Nesheim 1.6%

Parker and Dixon have seen the biggest jumps in playing time from the start of the season. If Graham is healthy, it will be interesting to see if he can steal that starting job back from Parker. And according to the beat guys, Andy Reid just said Bunkley is ready to go.

As I've detailed several times, Dixon has been great, specifically against the run. In terms of getting a push up the middle on pass plays, he had a sack and batted a pass down against the Titans. He also had a sack against the 49ers in Week 5.

As for the blitz, here's an updated look at who's blitzed, and how often:

Player No. of blitzes
Ernie Sims 50
Stewart Bradley 25
Quintin Mikell 25
Joselio Hanson 21
Nate Allen 20
Moise Fokou 10
Dimitri Patterson 6
Omar Gaither 5
Akeem Jordan 4
Asante Samuel 3
Ellis Hobbs 1
Kurt Coleman 1

What's interesting here is the recent trend, not the overall numbers. Bradley has jumped up the list in the last two weeks. Sean McDermott sent him a total of 14 times against the Falcons and Titans, more than even Sims, who blitzed 11 times in those two games.

Allen's case is interesting also. He blitzed 18 times in the first five weeks. But last week, he didn't blitz at all, and the week before, Allen blitzed just twice.

And finally, a look at which linemen drop back in coverage the most:

Player No. of times dropping back
Trent Cole 23
Brandon Graham 16
Juqua Parker 13
Trevor Laws 7
Darryl Tapp 7
Antwan Barnes 3
Daniel Te'o-Nesheim 3
Antonio Dixon 2
Brodrick Bunkley 1

No surprises here. Cole, Graham and Parker are most likely to drop back.

As I mentioned, the blitzes are meant to confuse opposing quarterbacks. But if the Eagles couldn't confuse Kerry Collins, Shaun Hill or Alex Smith for four quarters, they're not going to confuse Manning. If the Eagles improve to 5-3, it will be on the back of the defensive line and the offense, which will likely need to win it in the fourth quarter of a shootout.