It's not be the biggest question facing the Eagles, but it might be the one we have the fewest answers for: why has the team's vaunted defensive line come up so short?
Last year's group racked up the sacks, and Jim Washburn publicly boasted that the unit should only improve from there. Let me rummage up his exact words:
"I’ll be crushed, hell, I’ll quit if it ain’t a whole lot better. They can even fire my ass if we’re not a whole lot better. We should be a lot better."
Well, they're not better, at least in the results column. The Eagles have fewer sacks through the first five games than they had through the first two games last year. But again, the question is, why?
After the Steelers loss, Jason Babin blamed the lack of production on facing more max protection from offenses. I wanted to take a look and see if that was the case. As you can see at right, under "Blockers/Play", the Eagles are facing more blockers. The first table shows 2011, in which opponents averaged 5.46 blockers per play according to Pro Football Focus. Through five games in 2012, that average is up to 5.59 blockers per play.
Doesn't seem like a big increase, but it's significant. And specifically over the last two games, opponents put in more pass blockers per play than in all but two games in 2011. That coincided with the Eagles defensive line's two lowest Pass Rush Productivity scores (PRP) since Washburn took over as coach. Seems like there's probably a connection, proving Babin at least partially right.
However, with that said, when you plot the Eagles single-game PRP scores against opponent's average blockers, the results are murky at best. There's high volatility here, and it makes seeing a simple causation very difficult. See below, with the green dots indicating 2012 games.
Perhaps more max protection really is the main issue, and we just can't see it in the graph. Perhaps there is more chipping and other protection schemes that don't even trigger a full "blocker" designation. Or maybe there are other factors at work, even the advancing age of guys like Babin. Tough to say.
Photo from Getty.