Eagles defensive line facing the nearly impossible task of sacking Drew Brees on Sunday
Eagles defensive linemen Fletcher Cox and Chris Long both have had three-sack games against the Saints Drew Brees in their careers. Brees, who will face the Eagles Sunday, has been sacked a league-low nine times this season.
Oct. 30, 2011. Chris Long remembers the game as if it was played yesterday.
He remembers each of his three sacks of Drew Brees that afternoon in St. Louis the way a golfer is able to recall every shot of a great round.
"I had two against [Saints offensive tackle] Charles Brown and one against [Pat] McQuistan,'' said Long, who was a Ram at the time. "I should've had like five. It was a cool weekend.''
It was one of three three-sack games that Long has had in his 11-year career. That it came against the hard-to-sack Brees made it even more special.
"We got hot,'' Long said. "It was a good day. Definitely one of the better memories from that season. You don't get a lot of three-sack games in this league, especially against that guy. When you get one, you remember it.''
Long is one of two Eagles defensive linemen with a three-sack performance against Brees on their resume. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox did it in 2015 when he was playing end in Bill Davis's two-gap 3-4 scheme.
Long and Cox will get another crack at Brees Sunday in the Superdome, though another three-sack performance by them or any other member of the Eagles' defensive line probably isn't in the cards given the fact that the 39-year-old quarterback has been sacked a league-low nine times this season.
"They're not taking a lot of sacks,'' Cox said. "He's getting rid of the ball fast. But there's going to come a time or two where he's going to have to hold the ball. We have to create those situations [by stopping them] on first and second down.
"We have to get TFLs [tackles for losses] on first and second down. If we can do that, the sacks will come.''
Sounds like an excellent plan except for one thing. The Saints, who are averaging a league-high 36.7 points per game, don't take many negative plays.
They have just 18 of them on first down, which is the fourth-fewest in the league, and 15 on second down, which is the fifth-fewest. They've faced a league-low 40 third downs of 7 yards or more.
"They've only given up nine sacks and they've played nine games,'' defensive end Brandon Graham said. "Do the math. That's just a sack a game. We better hope that sack is a strip. And a turnover.''
Turnovers are among the myriad of problems facing the Eagles Sunday. They've forced only seven of them this season, which is the third fewest in the league.
The Saints, meanwhile, have turned the ball over only eight times. Brees has just one interception. He has fumbled twice, but both were recovered by the Saints.
Brees is having an MVP-worthy season. He leads the league in passing (123.8 rating), has a not-of-this-world 77.3 percent completion rate and has thrown 21 touchdown passes.
"He just continues to get better,'' Long said. "It's pretty remarkable. Everybody talks about [Tom] Brady and A-Rod [Aaron Rodgers], and rightfully so. But this guy doesn't get enough respect, if that's possible.
"He's definitely one of the greatest of all time. And at the end of the day, he might be in the running for the greatest.''
One of the reasons Brees has been sacked so little this season is that he has two outstanding receivers in Michael Thomas and running back Alvin Kamara, who get open a lot, which helps him get the ball out quickly.
Brees' average time from snap to throw, according to Pro Football Focus, is 2.41 seconds, fourth-fastest in the league among quarterbacks with at least 175 attempts.
"He's doing a good job of getting it out,'' Graham said. "He has people he can get the ball to who are doing a good job of getting open.
"We just have to stay patient, and make sure when we do have him, we get him. You know what I'm sayin'? Don't miss him. Because you can't give him another opportunity.''
Brees hasn't been sacked in the Saints' last three games. He's been sacked more than once just twice this season. The Browns sacked him three times in a 21-18 loss in Week 2, and the Redskins sacked him twice in a 43-19 loss in Week 5.
"You just have to be patient,'' Long said. "You might rush really well for 3 ½ quarters and you might hit him twice. You have to hit him at the right time and make a play when you can. You can't get impatient.''
The state of the Eagles' injury-ravaged secondary doesn't help matters. They're missing their two starting outside corners, Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills, as well as safety Rodney McLeod.
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Blitzing Brees isn't really an option. The guy can smell a blitz better than a beagle can smell a rabbit.
"He's very efficient,'' linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "He picks apart guys who sit back [in coverage] and he picks apart guys who come after him.
"It's going to be a tough challenge for us. We just have to be on point. If they beat us making a great play, chalk it up to him being a great player.
"But we have to be in position to make plays. There have been teams that have played them tough this year. I fully expect us to be able to do that.''