This is a great time to be a member of the Eagles' defensive line.

After three weeks, the team leads the NFL with 14 sacks and is ranked fourth against the run, allowing just 71.7 yards per game.

Third-year defensive end Trent Cole leads the NFL with five sacks, a higher total than eight teams in the league. The Eagles' nine sacks Sunday in their 56-21 romp over the Detroit Lions were more than 23 teams have this season.

Thanks to big plays by Cole, fellow defensive end Juqua Thomas, and second-year defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley, the Eagles prevented the Lions' talented, big-play receivers from doing too much damage against a depleted secondary.

In fact, if you go back and look at the damage done by the Lions, it was almost all on short passes that required quarterback Jon Kitna to get rid of the ball quickly. When Detroit attempted to line up three or four wide receivers to throw deep, Kitna almost always encountered a heavy assault.

"Pressure makes a big difference," defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said after Sunday's game. "If you can get that pressure, it makes those guys [in the secondary] look a lot better. We knew we had to blitz sometimes, but sometimes we rushed three guys and got pretty good pressure."

The fact that the Eagles have not had to blitz that often to get pressure so far this season is a tremendous sign for Johnson as he puts together his weekly game plans. Thirteen of the 14 sacks have come from the front four. In addition to Cole's five sacks, the Eagles have received three sacks from the underrated Thomas and a combined 41/2 sacks from their defensive tackles.

"It starts up front and we want that [responsibility] of getting things done up front," Cole said. "They can't just worry about me because we've got Juqua Thomas, Jevon Kearse, Bunkley, [Darren] Howard, Mike Patterson. That would be the wrong thing to do, to key on one person."

Cole, however, is emerging as the star of this Eagles defensive line. He is getting the most attention from opposing teams, and for good reason.

"He's relentless," Johnson said. "When you watch the film of him, you see he has a high motor and great leverage as far as pass rushing. He's young, he's got fresh legs, and he keeps coming after you. Now if we can get Jevon going on the other side, it's going to be hard to double both of them."

Kearse, coming off major surgery to repair ligament damage in his left knee, has not been able to duplicate his strong start of a year ago, but Thomas has more than picked up the slack. Thomas, signed as a free agent in 2005 after being released by the Tennessee Titans and re-signed to a five-year extension after last season, is making $4.6 million less than Kearse in base salary this season.

He is producing far more, which leaves some to wonder why he has not become a starter.

"That's not how I am," said Thomas, who has 71/2 sacks in his last nine games, counting last season's playoffs, after registering just eight career sacks in his first 69 NFL games. "I came here to play my part, and that's the way I've always been. All of that doesn't matter to me as long as I get in there to play."

It is vital that the Eagles keep their defensive-line rotation intact, and it also is important that Kearse and Howard start contributing more. A year ago, after Kearse went down in Week 2 with his knee injury and Howard suffered a variety of nagging injuries, the defensive-line production and the defense suffered. The Eagles had 23 sacks after five games last year and just 17 in the final 11 games.

It didn't help that Bunkley and Sam Rayburn provided little help as the reserve defensive tackles, leaving Darwin Walker and Patterson worn down.

This season, the Eagles are getting quality snaps from veteran defensive tackle Montae Reagor and are hoping that veteran Kimo von Oelhoffen can contribute more as he gets acclimated to Johnson's system.

"That rotation is really important," Thomas said. "When a team goes on a long drive, it's really important to be able to have those fresh guys going after the quarterback. If they needed me to play more, I could do that, but I'd prefer everybody stay healthy. The snaps will equal out."

Cole also prefers a healthy rotation. He had five sacks after three games in 2006 but managed just three more in the rest of the season. He does not want a repeat performance.

"I'm going to try to keep pushing and pushing and pushing because it's going to get hard now," Cole said. "It did last year. It got harder. I got double-teamed. A lot of people got hurt. If this is my time to get a lot of sacks, I have to go do it."

Parking Problem

If you are planning to attend the Eagles game Sunday night at Giants Stadium, beware. Because of construction of the new stadium at the Meadowlands, more than 5,000 parking spaces have been eliminated.

To check on the current parking situation, go to

Go.philly.com/meadowlands

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