New Eagles defensive line coach Jim Washburn met the media yesterday and told reporters that he won't be dropping defensive end Trent Cole into coverage next season.
That comes as music to the ears of Birds fans, who complained time and again last season when Sean McDermott would take away opportunities for Cole to get after the quarterback.
But how often did Cole really drop back, and was that the reason his production fell off down the stretch?
Let's start with the first part of that question. Below is a chart of how many times each Eagles defensive lineman dropped back into coverage last season. Note that the Week 17 game against the Cowboys, when most of the starters either didn't play at all or saw limited action, is not included. But the playoff game against the Packers is.
of times in coverage
As you can see, Cole dropped into coverage more than any other lineman last season. But keep in mind that he was on the field a lot more than any of the other linemen also. On average, though, Cole dropped back about 2.69 times per game.
Earlier this offseason, I did a breakdown of how Cole's production as a pass rusher dwindled down the stretch - specifically in the final four games. In those games, he had just one sack and five hurries.
So the obvious question is: Did Cole drop back more during that stretch? Not really. In the final four games, Cole was in coverage 11 times (or 2.75 per game). In the first 12 games, he did it 32 times, or 2.67 per game.
In the playoff loss to Green Bay, Cole didn't drop back at all, but he failed to pick up a sack or even a hurry.
What's the point here? I don't think Cole should have been used in coverage nearly as much as he was. But don't fall into the trap of saying his production fell off down the stretch because McDermott was dramatically limiting him. The truth is he dropped back less than three times per game.
Having said that, it sure seems like Washburn is a breath of fresh air for the defensive line, and he sounds excited to work with Cole. I've written before that there's more talent on the line than at linebacker or in the secondary. It'll be up to Washburn to get the most out of that group.
And one final note. In case you feel like you've heard this whole "keep things simple on defense" thing, it's because you probably have. I remember several players at training camp before last season telling us that McDermott had really simplified the defense.
But somewhere along the line, it seems things changed. At some point, McDermott probably decided that he was going to have to try and outsmart and confuse offenses because he didn't have the necessary talent to keep things simple. There were times where he succeeded (against the Colts and the Falcons). And times where he failed (against the Titans and Bears).
The bottom line is the Eagles need to upgrade talent in multiple areas on defense - primarily linebacker and cornerback. If they fail to addresss those things and go into next season with personnel that looks similar to the team that took the field against Green Bay, Juan Castillo probably isn't going to have much of a chance to be successful.
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