Eagles pass rush will need to step up in absence of Ronald Darby

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The Philadelphia Eagles defensive line handled the Washington Redskins offensive line with ease in the 30-17 Eagles victory on Sunday afternoon. After an impressive year in 2016, the Eagles added Chris Long, Tim Jernigan and first-round pick Derek Barnett to push the defensive line into the elite level for the 2017 season.

However, it wasn’t the newcomers but one of the longest-tenured Eagles who made the difference in Sunday’s game. Two days after the Eagles named five team captains, defensive end Brandon Graham wore his “C” with pride and had his first two-sack game since December of 2015. Both of Graham’s sacks came in the fourth quarter as the Eagles were fending off the Redskins’ attempt at a late rally.

In addition to bringing Kirk Cousins down twice, Graham’s second sack of the game forced a very controversial fumble that teammate Fletcher Cox recovered and returned for the game-sealing touchdown. The play in question was under review for multiple minutes and appeared to have left Cousins’ hand in a throwing motion. In a surprise to both teams, the play stood as called and the Eagles took the 13-point lead that would conclude the Eagles victory. Cox, the biggest beneficiary of the play, also added a sack and forced fumble of his own.

The Eagles defensive line was clearly superior to the Redskins offensive line, consistently getting in Cousins’ face and shutting down the run game with ease. Redskins’ running backs averaged just 2.6 yards per carry and failed to record a run of more than six yards.

Graham, Cox and Co. wreaked havoc in the Redskins backfield all of Sunday afternoon, getting to the quarterback when it mattered most.

Three of the Eagles’ four sacks came after the team lost their star cornerback, Ronald Darby. The 23-year-old suffered a gruesome dislocated ankle that will sideline him for four to six weeks, according to reports. To help ease the absence of their new number one corner, the Eagles will have to keep up the pace that they set in week one.

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz dialed up blitzes all game, some that rushed as many as eight men upon Cousins. The Eagles will need to do the same, and successfully get to the quarterback again over the length of Darby’s absence to assist Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson and the rest of the Eagles’ group of defensive backs. Getting to the quarterback quickly will greatly benefit the Eagles defensive backs as they begin their arguably their most difficult stretch of wide receivers in the season.

Over the course of Darby’s injury, the Eagles will be facing wide receivers Tyreek Hill, Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, Keenan Allen, Larry Fitzgerald (the Eagle-killer), Kelvin Benjamin and Terrelle Pryor again. That would be a tall order even with Darby in the rotation. The Eagles defensive line will have a big responsibility to get to Alex Smith, Eli Manning, etc. and help the defensive backs with these superstar receivers. The mad genius Schwartz will certainly play a large role in that.

Schwartz got creative with his blitzes and personnel along the line with seven defensive linemen seeing more than 20 plays in the game. Graham, Cox and Jernigan, the three players notching sacks on Sunday, led the way with 43, 43 and 40 snaps each, respectively. Graham and Cox, both leaders on the defense, will need to lead the charge and not fall into the trap the caught the team after the first three weeks of the 2016 season.

The game of football is won and lost in the trenches. The Eagles didn’t do a stellar job of protecting their quarterback on Sunday but luckily, Carson Wentz was crafty enough to escape some sticky situations and make plays. On the other side, Cousins wasn’t as lucky and the Eagles defensive line was the difference in making the Eagles 1-0. It only takes a few plays to determine the outcome of a game and Cox and Graham provided those plays for Philadelphia on Sunday.

 

Follow Brenden on Twitter @brendenp2011.

 

Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

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