Washburn effect: Blaming Wide-9 for run 'D'

Eagles DE Jason Babin leads the NFL with seven sacks. (Tom Gannam/AP Photo)

Through the first three weeks, I used this feature on Jim Washburn's defensive line to examine the pass rush, and I'll get to that in a moment.

But first, a couple notes on the run defense.

Any way you want to slice it, the run 'D' has been horrible this season. Football Outsiders has the Eagles' run D ranked 29th. Opponents are averaging 5.3 yards per carry against the Birds; that ranks 31st. Overall, the Eagles are allowing 139.5 rushing yards per game (30th). And they've allowed five runs of 20+ yards (T-30th).

When I first saw Washburn implement the Wide-9 up at Lehigh, like many others, I wondered how it could be effective against the run with those giant gaps in between the defensive linemen. So I understood why people have blamed the system for the Eagles' run woes.

But then I took a look at the Titans under Washburn.

Let's take last year for instance. Opponents averaged just 3.9 YPC against the Titans; that was tied for seventh-best. Football Outsiders had them ranked as the third-best run defense in the NFL. In 2009 and 2008, opponents averaged 4.3 and 3.7 YPC, respectively. Football Outsiders had their run D ranked 26th and 6th in those two seasons.

That tells me it's not all the system. In other words, Washburn's defense can stop the run if the players know the system, and if he has the right personnel. Clearly, that has not been the case here. And it's fair to question the franchise's decision to go with such big question marks at linebacker, knowing the position would take on added importance with Washburn's system.

For example, Stephen Tulloch had 111 tackles (2nd in the NFL, per NFL.com) and assisted on 49 more last year. He made a lot of plays against the run, according to Football Outsiders' metrics. Clearly, no Eagles linebacker has been able to have anywhere near that kind of success.

Now on to the pass-rushing analysis, starting with snap counts:

Player % Snaps last week %Snaps this season
Trent Cole 73.3%  79.6%
Jason Babin 88.3%  73.2%
Cullen Jenkins 70.0%  69.8%
Mike Patterson 66.7%  66.4%
Trevor Laws 41.7%  34.5%
Antonio Dixon 25.0%  33.6%
Phillip Hunt 35.0%  15.3%
Juqua Parker 0%  23.4%
Darryl Tapp 0%  7.2%

The big deal here is obviously that Cole won't play against Buffalo. He's played more than any other Eagles defensive lineman, followed by Babin, Jenkins and Patterson.

Laws played more last week, and he likely figures to be on the field quite a bit the rest of the way with Dixon out for the season.

Hunt saw his most extensive action against San Francisco. Tapp is probable, and Parker is questionable for Sunday. But Hunt will still be a part of the rotation regardless with Cole out.


Let's start with just last week. You can find sacks and QB hits in the box score, and the Eagles' coaching staff keeps track of hurries, so those are the three categories we'll go with:

  Sacks QB Hits Hurries
Babin 3 2 6
Jenkins 0 1 2
Cole 0 0 2
Laws 0 0 3
Hunt 0 0 2

As you can see, Babin was a beast. He had six hurries in the first three games combined, but added six more against the 49ers to go along with the three sacks.

Laws was also productive with more playing time, picking up three hurries.

Here are the season totals:

   Sacks  QB Hits
Babin 7  9 12
Cole 3  5 13
Jenkins 4  6 5
Tapp 1  2 3
Laws 0  0 4
Patterson 0  0 3
Hunt 0  0 3
Dixon 0  0 1
Parker 0  1 1

Babin leads the league with seven sacks. Jenkins is tied for fifth with four. Cole leads the team in hurries.

Babin, Cole and Jenkins have combined for 14 of the team's 15 sacks.

As always, it's good to look at opportunities. Below are percentages on how often each defensive lineman has notched a sack or hurry, based on number of chances to rush the quarterback.
  Sacks+Hurries Pass-Rushing Opportunities Pressure Pct.
Cole 16  112  14.3%
Babin 19  95  20.0%
Jenkins 9  97  9.3%
Tapp 4  8  50.0%
Patterson 3  104  2.9%
Dixon 1  40  2.5%
Parker 1  30  3.3%
Laws 4  42  9.5%
Hunt 3  21  1.4%

I'll admit I have not given Laws a lot of love in the Man Up columns, but based on the numbers, he's done a pretty good job as a pass-rusher in relatively limited opportunities. He and Jenkins are the team's best pass-rushing tackles. We'll see what Derek Landri can do on Sunday.

Babin's number is impressive. He's getting to the quarterback once every five opportunities.

Tapp's number is sure to come down since his high rate is based only on the Week 1 performance against the Rams.


The Eagles blitzed on six of 36 pass plays last week, or 16.7 percent of the time. On the season, they've blitzed on 22 of 135 pass plays, or 16.3 percent.

Alex Smith wasn't too confused. He was sacked once, but completed 4 of 5 passes for 58 yards when the Eagles sent extra pressure. That includes the 30-yard touchdown to Joshua Morgan.

On the season, opposing quarterbacks are 8-for-19 for 199 yards against the Eagles when they've blitzed. They're averaging 10.5 yards per attempt and 24.9 yards per completion. In other words, quite a few big plays.

Looking ahead to Sunday, the Bills have only allowed three sacks all season. Only the Raiders have allowed fewer (two). And according to Pro Football Focus, Ryan Fitzpatrick has completed 60 percent of his passes and averaged 8.9 yards per attempt against the blitz.

The Eagles will be without Cole, but they get Tapp, and possibly Parker, back. This is probably another week where they'll rely on pressure from the front four.

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