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Washburn preaches perseverance as D-line sees drop in sacks

By Paul Domowitch

The Eagles have been held without a sack in their last two games. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
The Eagles have been held without a sack in their last two games. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)Read more

By Paul Domowitch

Daily News Staff Writer

After the Eagles were held without a sack for the second straight game Sunday, Jim Washburn's wife Sandy wrote a Bible verse on a Post-it Note and gave it to the frustrated defensive-line coach to put on his desk at the NovaCare complex.

Galatians 6:9 reads: "And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up."

A very appropriate message of persistence for a coach and a unit going through a sack drought only a year after it led the NFL in that category.

"I'm really concerned," Washburn said. "It's depressing [not to have more sacks] when you spend as much time on pass rush as we do.

"It's hard. It's hard on me and it's hard on my guys. I think we're playing a lot better than last year. It's just that they're keeping a lot of people in to block. Dang. There's seven guys blocking four a lot of times. Not all the time, but a lot of times."

Last year, the Eagles racked up a league-high 50 sacks, 46 of them by Washburn's unit. This year, with the additions of high-round rookies Fletcher Cox and Vinny Curry and the return-to-health of 2010 first-round pick Brandon Graham, the sky appeared to be the limit.

When I asked defensive end Trent Cole before the season whether the Eagles had 60-plus sacks in them, he smiled confidently and said, "We can get as many as we want."

But opposing teams are having a little something to say about that. They are regularly keeping six, and sometimes seven, people in to block, while opposing quarterbacks are getting the ball out before Cole and Co. have a chance to wrap their arms around them.

Through five games, the Eagles have only seven sacks, and, as mentioned earlier, none in their previous two games. The last time they went sackless in back-to-back games was in 2008. They are 27th in the NFL in sacks per pass play.

"It's just circumstances," Washburn said. "I had the same thing happen in Tennessee. My first 2 years there, we broke the franchise record for sacks. Then the third year, I said, 'Let's put a number on it. We're going to do this.' Boy, we got stoned."

After registering 54 and 55 sacks in 1999 and 2000, the Titans finished with only 32 in '01, as opposing offenses did the same things against them that they're doing against the Eagles this year.

"[Lions wide receiver] Calvin Johnson had eight touchdowns at this point last year," Washburn said. "This year, he's got one. Everybody goes, 'Calvin's not playing well.' Shoot, he's the best player in football. He's just getting a lot of attention.

"What happens is, sometimes your reputation precedes you. This is the most seven-man protections I've ever seen. From the standpoint of the total defensive line, we're much better than last year, without any question. We're rushing just as well. We're just not getting sacks, because they're keeping people in.

"They can take that away from you, just like they can take Calvin Johnson away. You do it with numbers. If you don't do it with numbers, you just get the ball out fast."

While it's little consolation to Washburn and his players, they are coming close a lot. They have 88 hurries in the first five games, which is 31 more than they had last season. At this point last year, the Eagles had 16 sacks.

"I've got this little stopwatch I've had for a hundred years," said Washburn, who isn't quite that old (he's 63). "I chart every throw against us. When we played Arizona, Kevin Kolb, the ball was coming out like a laser. The next week [against Miami], he holds the ball, and [Dolphins linebacker] Cameron Wake gets him four to five times. Then he holds the ball the next week and the Rams get him.

"My guys are about to have a stroke back there. They say, 'Why didn't he hold it like that against us?' It's all about what happened last year. We rushed hard last year, but we're better than we were last year. We've just got to keep going. Keep doing the right thing, and hopefully everything will work out."

One possible solution to the sack drought would be to blitz more, or at least threaten to blitz more. But it's not really who the Eagles are anymore. They've blitzed only 39 times in the first five games. Maybe that will change Sunday, maybe it won't.

"We used to watch [Bears linebackers Brian] Urlacher and [Lance] Briggs," Washburn said. "They'd stand up there in the A-gap. The other team would be scared to death to chip the ends. Urlacher and Briggs rarely came, but their presence standing up there in the A-gap affected what the offense did."

The Eagles aren't the only team struggling to get sacks. The Giants and Ravens, who both had 48 sacks last season, have eight and nine, respectively, this season. The Giants are 22nd in the league in sacks per pass play. The Ravens are 24th.

The Ravens' sack number has been affected by the absence of linebacker Terrell Suggs, who ruptured his Achilles' tendon last spring. The Giants' problems are similar to the Eagles. They're a team that mainly relies on a four-man rush and is dealing with a lot more max-protection, short drops and quick throws by the quarterback.

"That's just the way it is," Washburn said. "We're not the Lone Ranger. Other teams are getting the same thing. When we threw the long one the other day to DeSean Jackson, I think we had seven [blockers] protecting [Mike Vick].

"To get a number of sacks, you've to get a number of one-one-one rushes. And our number of one-on-one rushes is just not very high. When they're blocking seven, both of our tackles are doubled. That sucks. What we really have is two guys blocking one end, with both tackles getting doubled. That leaves one end getting a one-on-one.

"I'm not the smartest guy, but I'm not dumb, either. I know what's happening. But it still doesn't make it any better. We want to win, but we want to do our part. We're like everybody else. We want to do our part."

This and that

Lions coach Jim Schwartz and Washburn spent 10 years together on Jeff Fisher's staff with the Tennessee Titans. They're friends. Washburn's son, Jeremiah, is an assistant offensive-line coach on Schwartz' staff. They share a similar defensive philosophy, particularly an allegiance to the wide nine. "If you have personnel that fits it, it's very good," Schwartz said of the wide nine. "You can get tremendous pressure on the outside. You can limit a lot of play-action passes. It can eliminate outside runs. [But] if you don't have the personnel, it doesn't work. If you look at Philly's [defensive-line] personnel with [Jason] Babin and Trent Cole, they go nine deep on that line. It obviously fits their personnel. They haven't gotten a lot of sacks, but they've affected the passer. They've done a good job on third down. You can't always get a sack, but you can pressure the quarterback and make him throw before he's ready, before the wide receivers get to the sticks. He's able to keep a lot of guys fresh by rolling [his lineup]."

Former Cowboys quarterback and current Fox Sports game analyst Troy Aikman gave a pretty frank - and accurate - assessment of Dallas sports fans earlier in the week in an interview on KTCK-AM 1310 The Ticket. Said Aikman: "I don't think Dallas has ever really had a great homefield advantage. People have said, 'Wow, the Cowboys really lost homefield advantage when they left Texas Stadium.' But Texas Stadium really wasn't that much different than the new stadium. Having played playoff games in Texas Stadium, that stadium was rocking when it was great. But when we would play in Philadelphia or New York and walk out of the tunnel, I would have to be yelling at the top of my lungs for guys to hear me. There was no way you could go down there near the goal line and use a hard count in an opposing stadium. And yet, in Texas Stadium, teams did it all the time. I think for a large part - and the fans don't want to hear this - a lot of the people that attend sports [in Dallas], they're there, because it's kind of just a place to be seen. I've always said Dallas isn't so much a sports town as it is a winner's town."

Figuring the Eagles

It's become pretty clear that quarterbacks no longer are reluctant to throw at Nnamdi Asomugha. In Asomugha's 21 games with the Eagles, receivers that he's been responsible for covering have been targeted 69 times, catching 41 passes for 568 yards and two touchdowns, according to Pro Football Focus. In the previous three seasons (48 games), Asomugha was thrown at only 87 times and gave up 50 completions for 592 yards and one touchdown.

LeSean McCoy is on pace to rush for 1,398 yards, which would be 89 more than last season. He has 13 runs of 10 yards or more. Last year, he finished with 48.

After throwing six interceptions in his first 81 attempts, Michael Vick has gone 104 attempts without throwing another one.

Opponents are averaging 6.9 yards per carry against the Eagles in the second quarter (33-for-227).

The Eagles have held opponents to zero or negative yards on 33 of 127 rushing attempts this season. They've allowed 11 runs of 10 yards or more.

Opponents are only 3-for-13 against the Eagles on third down and 2 yards or less.

Eagles receivers have only seven drops in five games. Last season, they had 29.

Quick hits

Look for Brandon Graham to get more snaps Sunday against the Lions. The third-year defensive end played 18 snaps against Pittsburgh. Had five hurries in 11 pass-rush situations. "Right now, he's rushing at a better percentage than anybody," defensive-line coach Jim Washburn said. "He's done it 3 weeks in a row. He's a guy I want to get more reps."

Fullback Stanley Havili saw a lot more playing time in the previous two games, and slot receiver Jason Avant saw a lot less. In the last two games, the Eagles used two-back sets on 46.3 percent of their offensive plays, compared with only 19.9 percent in the first three games. At the same time, their use of three-wide-receiver sets decreased, from 48.2 percent in the first three games to 33.8 in the last two. Avant played 175 snaps in the first three games, but only 64 the last 2 weeks.

I don't understand how Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III can suffer a concussion on Sunday and be cleared to practice on Wednesday. Generally, it takes until Friday for an NFL player to go through all of the required post-concussion testing and then get the green light from an independent neurologist.

2-minute drill

From the Lip

"I don't believe we're close right now. You look at the games and how we're playing, we don't look like a good team. I wouldn't sit here and say we're close."

-Titans RB Chris Johnson on his 1-4 team

"I've read a lot of tweets, and everybody's saying that I'm desperate, I'm begging for a job. But it's not begging for a job when you know you can still play at a high level, given the opportunity."

- Unemployed WR Terrell Owens

"This whole bounty thing, for the most part, is just a big sham. The fact that our coaches are suspended for part of the year or the entire year is pretty ridiculous."

- Saints QB Drew Brees on bountygate

"I see those two guys as stand-alone linebackers. They don't need a lineman to jump in the gap and they don't need special fronts. They don't need any of that. They can stand in a bubble, on an uncovered lineman. They do it physically and with great technique. They disengage from blocks and they get to the ball. And they do it down after down. I tell you, it's the best linebacker plan in the past 30 years."

- Former NFL linebacker and current ESPN analyst Matt Millen on 49ers linebackers Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman

By the Numbers

The Lions are 6-10 in their last 16 games.

The Eagles haven't returned a kickoff return for a touchdown at home since Oct. 1, 2000, when Brian Mitchell took one back 89 yards against the Falcons. Only two teams have gone longer without a home kickoff return for a TD - the Bengals and the Dolphins. The Bengals haven't had one since 1999. For the Dolphins, it's been a lot longer - 1970.

Since the current 12-team playoff format was instituted in 1990, 13 teams have managed to qualify for the playoffs after being at least three games under .500 5 weeks or later into the season.

If Andrew Luck throws for 300 yards Sunday against the Jets, he will become the first rookie in league history to throw for 300-plus yards in three straight games.

The Bears lead the league with five interception returns for touchdowns. They're the first team in history to have that many in the first five games of the season.

That's saying thumbthing

THUMBS UP: To Chiefs offensive tackle Eric Winston for lambasting the idiots at Arrowhead Stadium who cheered when struggling quarterback Matt Cassel got knocked out of the 9-6 loss to Baltimore with a head injury. Cassel, who is 32nd in the league in passing, had four turnovers against the Ravens. As he lay on the ground in the fourth quarter after getting drilled by defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, fans cheered. "We are athletes, OK? We are athletes. We're not gladiators," Winston said. "There are long-lasting ramifications to the game we play. I've already come to the understanding that I won't live as long because I play this game. And that's OK. That's a choice I've made. A choice all of us have made. But when you cheer somebody getting knocked out, I don't care who it is, it's sickening. It's 100 percent sickening. Matt Cassel hasn't done anything to you people. Hey, if he's not the best quarterback, then he's not the best quarterback, and that's OK. But he's a person. And he got knocked out in a game and we have 70,000 people cheering that he got knocked out?"

THUMBS DOWN: To Jets owner Woody Johnson, who doesn't seem to understand that the best owners are the ones who keep their mouths shut and let the people they hired to run their team do the talking about football matters. There was Johnson, on CNBC of all places, this week, discussing his team's quarterback situation and the Jets' Monday night loss to the Texans. Even as his coach, Rex Ryan, was refusing to guarantee that Mark Sanchez would be the team's starter beyond next week, Johnson was talking about him as if he's a shoo-in for Canton. He also said the Jets will be keeping his backup, Tim Tebow, for the duration of his contract, which doesn't expire until after the 2014 season. "I think he's going to be a real valuable asset in terms of helping us win game," Johnson said.

Domo's rankings

1. Texans 5-0 (1 last week)

2. Falcons 5-0 (2)

3. 49ers 4-1 (3)

4. Ravens 4-1 (4)

5. Patriots 3-2 (6)

6. Bears 4-1 (14)

7. Giants 3-2 (9)

8. Vikings 4-1 (14)

9. Cardinals 4-2 (7)

10. Packers 2-3 (5)

11. Eagles 3-2 (8)

12. Broncos 2-3 (10)

13. Rams 3-2 (15)

14. Seahawks 3-2 (16)

15. Bengals 3-2 (11)

16. Chargers 3-2 (12)

17. Cowboys 2-2 (17)

18. Saints 1-4 (25)

19. Panthers 1-4 (19)

20. Lions 1-3 (22)

21. Bills 2-3 (20)

22. Dolphins 2-3 (26)

23. Steelers 2-3 (18)

24. Bucs 1-3 (24)

25. Jets 2-3 (20)

26. Titans 2-4 (28)

27. Redskins 2-3 (23)

28. Colts 2-2 (31)

29. Chiefs 1-4 (29)

30. Browns 0-5 (30)

31. Raiders 1-3 (32)

32. Jaguars 1-4 (27)


Contact Paul Domowitch at Follow him on Twitter @Pdomo. For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the

Daily News' blog at