John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles Must Improve Defensive Line Rotation


The Philadelphia Eagles simply did not rotate players on their defensive line enough last season. However, I cannot criticize the Eagles too much as the depth at defensive end and defensive tackle was weak with the exception of defensive end Vinny Curry. Due to the lack of depth and lack of the rotation, the Eagles defensive line did not rush the quarterback particularly well. I have to credit the defensive line, especially Eagles defensive end Cedric Thornton, for being very good against the run. I have no fears about the Eagles run defense next season; outside linebackers Connor Barwin and Trent Cole both excel at setting the edge and the secondary is solid against the run as a group.  The Eagles must however improve their pass rush and it all starts in the trenches. A fit and raring to go defensive lineman will always perform better than a fatigued defensive lineman towards the end of a game. This of course means the Eagles must rotate players a lot more next season to keep their defensive line energized.

The Seattle Seahawks rotate their defensive lineman to perfection and generate an extremely impressive pass rush because of it. For the use of this article, I will use Pro Football Focus to compare playing time between the Seahawks and the Eagles. The Eagles defense were on the field for about 100 snaps more than the Seahawks; which is something to keep in mind when looking at the stats. The teams obviously do not play identical schemes either but comparing playing time is still useful.

Eagles defensive end Fletcher Cox was on the field for 908 snaps last season and Cedric Thornton was on the field for 739 despite Thornton struggling to rush the quarterback. No other Eagle defensive lineman came close to these numbers, defensive tackle Bennie Logan only played 488 snaps because he didn’t start the season. In comparison with the Seahawks, Michael Bennett was on the field for the highest amount of snaps out of any Seahawks defensive lineman. Bennett still only played 617 snaps despite being extremely impressive at both rushing the quarterback and stopping the run. This means that Fletcher Cox played an unbelievable 291 more snaps than Bennett, even Thornton played 122 more snaps despite having limited value as a pass rusher. These numbers are already pretty amazing, however, Bennett managed to get 9 sacks on the season and 39 quarterback hurries. Fletcher Cox only managed to get 3 sacks and 39 quarterback hurries despite playing 291 more snaps.

The Seahawks had 7 defensive lineman play at least 488 snaps, the Eagles only had their 3 starters play at least 488 snaps. The difference in production between the two defensive lines is also extremely high. The Seahawks defensive line managed to produce 36 sacks on the season and 179 quarterback hurries. The Eagles defensive line in comparison managed to produce 13 sacks and 102 quarterback hurries. I understand that talent also plays a big factor here; the Seahawks had a much more talented defensive line than the Eagles last year. However, Vinny Curry is a perfect example of a talented player who should have played more than he did. Curry only played 322 snaps and still managed to lead the defensive line in sacks (5) and had more hurries than Thornton despite playing 417 less snaps. Simply remembering the fact that Curry was inactive for the first 2 weeks of the season still blows my mind. Curry is not actually bad against the run either, he is not as dominant as Thornton but he is certainly not bad. Curry has also gained weight in the offseason so he should be even more stout against the run next year, there is no excuses anymore for not getting Curry on the field more often.

The Eagles will also have a much more talented defensive line next year season than they did last season. Eagles defensive tackle Damion Square struggled when on the field last year and will likely be replaced. Defensive end Clifton Geathers also struggled to rush the quarterback when he was on the field. This year, the Eagles will still have Vinny Curry to rotate in but they also added two talented defensive lineman in the draft. Eagles 5th round pick, defensive end Taylor Hart is a great athlete for the Eagles defensive end position and he should see his playing time increased as the season progresses as he improves his technique. Eagles 7th round pick, Beau Allen also has a chance to replace Damion Square on the depth chart and could see some playing time next year. Last years 7th round draft pick Joe Kruger was on the injury reserve all of last season but he is a great athlete with long arms and he plays with impressive power; he has the chance to rotate in next season and rush the quarterback effectively.

The Eagles have some great athletes on their defensive lineman now and they should improve as a unit. However, they cannot make the same mistake as they did last season and they have to rotate their defensive lineman a lot better than they did last season. If players such as Vinny Curry and Taylor Hart don’t see the field much next year and the Eagles continue to struggle to rush the opposing quarterback, I will be extremely disappointed in the Eagles coaching staff.

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Tags: Defensive Line Fletcher Cox Philadelphia Eagles

  • xmbk

    Did you really just compare a base 4-3 line rush stats to a base 3-4? The point about lack of depth and rotation is sound, but judging the coaches based on hypotheticals is ridiculous.

  • Jonathan Page

    As I said despite comparing different schemes, the playing time speaks for it self. There is no excuses for the coaching staff not getting someone like Vinny Curry on the field more, that is not a hypothetical issue, that is a fact. Vinny deserved more playing time!

  • xmbk

    No, the playing time in different schemes most certainly does not speak for itself. As for facts, I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

  • Jonathan Page

    I understand what you’re saying, but the purpose of the article was to state that the Eagles have to rotate their defensive line better. I am not saying they have to rotate like the Seahawks, I mentioned the Seahawks because they are the best are rotating their defensive front in the NFL IMO. If you completely ignore the Seahawks and simply look at Cox/Thornton/Curry playing time I believe that the Eagles did not rotate their defensive front enough. If you are happy with Cox/Thornton taking the majority of the snaps that is fine, I just believe someone like Curry who has proved that he can generate more pressure than Thornton should be on the field a lot more.

  • xmbk

    Agreed. I think they didn’t have the talent/development level to rotate like they wanted to last year. Hart, Kruger, and Allen along with Curry’s continued development will almost certainly let them do it more this year.

  • Jonathan Page

    Yeah with the exception of Curry last year the talent level was really weak. Expecting good things from Curry and Hart this year.