THE EAGLES' DEFENSE has been thrown at more than any defense in the NFL this season, 45 times per game, yet the team is in the bottom third of the league in sacks. It remains their most significant issue on that side of the ball.
Tackling is a thousand percent improved over the last few years. The big passing plays have been minimized - opponents have completed only four passes of more than 40 yards. The run defense has been consistent and solid, again affected by the improved tackling. Some of it is the players and some of it is the coaching staff's ability to teach fundamentals. So far, so good.
The pass rush still sticks out, though. It was good last week against Oakland, and maybe one other game this season. It was terrible about four times this season - Denver, San Diego, the Giants (twice). The rest were in-between. And as they prepare for a game against the Green Bay Packers, and the unheralded Seneca Wallace, it is one of those in-between games that makes you wonder.
Which? Tampa Bay. The Eagles won the game, yes. But the truth is that they allowed somebody named Mike Glennon to hang around in the pocket, and in that game, for a lot longer that they should have. The winless Bucs led that game at halftime, led by 21-20 in the fourth quarter, and just about doubled their average weekly scoring output against the Eagles. Glennon completed 61 percent of his throws and hit on two touchdowns when he was being blitzed. He should not have been that comfortable and the game, for the Eagles, should not have been that uncomfortable.
With that: Hello, Seneca.
"He's a quarterback - that's all it is," said Trent Cole, who finally got his first sack of the season against the Raiders. But there is a little more to it than that. Specifically, Wallace's height: The roster lists him at 5-11.
As Cole acknowledged, "He needs to get out of the pocket. He's short. He's going to have to get outside to be able to see downfield."
On Monday night, a Bears teams that had been having terrible trouble rushing the passer this season got five sacks (four of them on Wallace). None of those four came on blitzes. Truth was, the Bears blitzed only a handful of times all game. Instead, they got to Wallace because the quarterback had not had a training camp in Green Bay and he took very few first-team snaps in practice along the way, and he just couldn't find anywhere to throw the ball.
Wallace was not ready, clearly. But when Aaron Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone in the first quarter, there was no choice. And while you would expect Wallace to be better this time, after a week of practice and with a game plan tailored to his abilities, everything about this game for the Eagles suggests two things:
1) That they will see a ton of Green Bay running backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks.
2) If they don't pester Wallace sufficiently when he does drop back, they will be leaving the door to defeat more than ajar.
The truth is that Cole is not having a good year as a pass rusher. Overall, their most effect rusher is Fletcher Cox, who is credited with three sacks and 16 hurries this season even though - as a 3-4 defensive end - he really isn't playing a stat position or a sack position. His job mostly is to wrestle offensive linemen and keep them from reaching the linebackers.
"I'm making the most of my opportunities," Cox said. "I know I have a lot of pressures, not a lot of sacks, but hey, it just comes with the defense. The sacks will come - I'm not frustrated about that. The most important stat at the end of the day is a W."
Like the rest of them, Cox denied that Wallace presented them with any special opportunities.
"Not at all," he said. "Not at all. We know Seneca and he can run. He's been in the league for a long time. We're pretty sure he can win games. He knows how to manage a game. We're looking forward to it . . .
"Right now, we're not worrying about pass rush. It's the same focus every week and that's to stop the run. They'll run the ball. They'll run the ball with or without Seneca. They still hand the ball off to Eddie Lacy."
But watch what happens when they don't. It likely will determine who wins the game.