While many athletes profess not to care about statistics, Eagles outside linebacker Brandon Graham is candid when speaking on the subject, especially when it comes to quarterback sacks.
While Graham emphasized that wins are most important, he was thrilled and relieved to reach a personal sack milestone in last week's 35-28 win at New England against the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots.
With his second sack of Tom Brady, Graham boosted his season total to 61/2 sacks. His previous career high was 51/2, which he had accomplished twice, in 2012 and again last season.
"For me, five-and-a-half sacks has been like my kryptonite," Graham said earlier this week as the Eagles prepared for Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills at Lincoln Financial Field. "To finally get past that figure feels good."
Graham was often criticized earlier in his career after being the Eagles first-round draft choice out of Michigan in 2010. In his first five seasons, he started just 13 games, including just one last season.
The 6-foot-2, 265-pound Graham achieved 51/2 sacks and 131/2 tackles for loss last season while appearing in just 43 percent of the defensive snaps. Graham came into the league as a defensive end in a 4-3 alignment but has adjusted in the 3-4 defense under coordinator Bill Davis.
With the departure of Trent Cole, who was released after last season, Graham was re-signed during the offseason to a four-year deal worth $26 million, with $13 million guaranteed.
This year, besides the 61/2 sacks, he has 111/2 tackles for loss while appearing in 70 percent of the defensive snaps, according to Eagles statistics. He also has three forced fumbles, which is tied for fourth in the NFL and tied for first on the Eagles.
"Graham is a guy I always liked, and he is not a whole lot different from our [No.] 55, Jerry Hughes," Bills coach Rex Ryan said earlier this week in a conference call with reporters. "They are two guys with great motors."
The 6-2, 254-pound Hughes, like Graham, is 27. This season Hughes has four sacks after recording 10 in each of the previous two seasons.
"They are a little shorter than some of these pass rush guys, but they get after it," Ryan said of Graham and Hughes. "They are rare, relentless and just good players, power players."
Then speaking of Graham, Ryan added, "Obviously he was drafted in the first round for a reason."
Graham was drafted 13th, one pick behind current Eagles running back Ryan Mathews, but it was who was picked right behind him that has caused the critics to howl.
Selected 14th was Earl Thomas [Seattle Seahawks], who is acknowledged as one of the NFL's best safeties.
Graham has heard all about that over the years, but all he is concerned about is the Eagles are in the playoff hunt, tied for first place in the NFC East, albeit with a 5-7 record. He feels the win over New England has rejuvenated the team.
"For us, we knew that would kick-start the rest of the season," he said.
Graham says he won't play overly cautious against Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who adds a dimension with his feet, having rushed for 318 yards (5.1 avg.) and three touchdowns.
"When you think of him running out of the pocket, it takes away from your game," he said. "We have to attack and can't be scared."
Even though he has played a career high of snaps, Graham says he feels refreshed and hasn't hit the proverbial wall for an Eagles team that needs his production.
"He has been huge at a spot where losing Trent Cole, there was a huge question mark," Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "I think he has fit in well and is one of our more productive pass rushers."
Notable. No Eagles are listed as out or questionable for Sunday. Nine players are listed as probable, but all had full participation in practice for a second consecutive day. . . . Buffalo starting cornerback Stephon Gilmore will miss his first game of the season with a shoulder injury. Also out for the Bills are running back Karlos Williams (shoulder), cornerback Ron Brooks (concussion/neck) and linebacker Nigel Bradham (ankle). Bradham, who is fourth on the team with 59 tackles, will be missing his second straight game.