Heading into the 2014 season, the Eagles sport one of the youngest and most athletic defensive lines in the NFL. However, the Eagles struggled to get pressure on the quarterback last year (tied for 20th in sacks with a mere 37). Because of this, one large point of emphasis will be increasing the number of “impact plays” as the players move into year two under defensive coordinator Billy Davis.
In Davis’ 3-4 two-gapping scheme, the defensive line isn’t necessarily tasked with sacking the quarterback, but instead freeing up their linebackers to do the job. Nevertheless, the D-line can certainly still have game-changing impacts in other ways.
For example, Fletcher Cox finished tied for third among 3-4 defensive ends with 39 quarterback hurries in 2013. That’s an impressive statistic for the former top 15 overall pick, who has had three different positional coaches in his first three years as a pro.
It should be explained that Cox, along with the rest of the defensive line should continue to increase their production as the scheme becomes second nature to them. This group of players has a chance to be a position of strength in Philadelphia for years to come if players like Cox and the rest of the unit find their niche along the defensive front.
STARTERS: Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton, Bennie Logan
The trio of Cox, Thornton, and Logan are thoroughly entrenched as the starters in 2014 and are only 23, 26, and 24 respectively. Cox and Thornton man the “end” spots, while Logan plugs up the middle of the field at nose tackle. After the Eagles unloaded former nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga mid-season last year, these three guys stabilized the defensive line and played the final eight games together.
Thornton is quickly making a name for himself as one of the best run stopping 3-4 ends in the NFL, with Pro Football Focus grading him out as a top-three player in that category. However, Thornton struggles mightily in the passing game, and was ranked dead last (45th) amongst 3-4 ends according to PFF.
If he wants to stick around as a long-term solution at the end spot, he must increase his pass rushing productivity this season.
Cox is the potential game-changing player in this group. He was drafted as a 4-3 defensive tackle, but showed pro bowl potential at times last year as a 3-4 end. If Cox can put it altogether in 2014, he may be in the discussion as one of the best 3-4 defensive linemen in the NFL by the end of the season.
At nose tackle, the Eagles’ coaching staff is extremely high on the athletic Logan, who was very serviceable as a rookie. He’s added weight in the offseason, and now possesses a more traditional frame for a 3-4 nose at 315 pounds (he played at 309 last year).