Connor Barwin will get the credit with his six sacks, but Cole's the one that really makes the pass rush go. While three and a half sacks on paper feels light for a man used to racking up 11 or 12 a year in his prime, Cole's still an outright menace at age 32.
Cole also brings 19 total pressures to the table (nine hits, ten hurries), proving he's still as fervent as a disruptive influence. The defensive line has been proficient at stopping the run, but Cole has taken his linebacker role well, showing he can create stops as well (ten on the season). As an overall threat, it's incredible how much Cole has adapted this far into his career.
Step it Up: Nate Allen
After drawing positive reviews for his improved play in 2013, Allen's been a bit less spectacular thus far in the current year. That's not to say Allen was a mega-producer a year ago, but he's gone from 'pretty solid' to 'a bit inconsistent' this season.
Allen was at his worst in two games the Eagles managed to win: the barn-burner against the Redskins (where he helped enable DeSean Jackson's long touchdown), and the near-meltdown versus the Rams, thanks to a lighter-pressing fourth quarter by the secondary at large. If Allen plays at his 2013 level, he and Malcolm Jenkins would make for a knock-out safety combo. It's still possible.
Biggest Surprise: Brandon Graham
Maybe we'll never hear the end of the "we could've had Earl Thomas!" gripes from Eagle doomsayers (the team's actual fans, not its opposing detractors). Graham's played extremely well in a limited capacity this season, and is picking up steam when he gets his chances.
Graham has played 74 running downs, and has 11 stops, an incredible 14.86% success rate at killing the run before it starts. Off the bench, Graham also brings two sacks and eleven hurries, meaning he's highly productive, even as an understudy. Graham could probably start for most teams in the league, which means he may be sadly victimized by a numbers game in Philly one offseason.
Biggest Disappointment: Bradley Fletcher
The quiet half of the cornerback tandem, Fletcher is in many ways like Allen: unspectacular, but can get the job done more often than not. Opponents have only completed 50 percent of their passes on him in 2014, but there are some glaring flaws in his game.
The Redskins game made it readily aparrent that Fletcher isn't any good when he gives too much cushion, which he was allowing both Jackson and Pierre Garcon. So many throws went Fletcher's way in that game because of the cushion, and he fell into that same pattern against the Rams in that fourth quarter. When he plays tight, he's good, but he's in trouble when he's cautious.
Best Game: The Blackout (October 12)
It was the shutout, duh. It was also the first time the Eagles held an opponent under 20 points since Week One, and their first time holding an opponent without a touchdown since beating the Jaguars 28-3 in 2010. Also, you know, first team shutout in 18 years.
The eight sacks were a nice touch, since Eli Manning had only been sacked seven times in five games. Keeping Manning below 57 percent passing after he was up to around 70 percent on the year was additional icing. The downfield coverage was nearly flawless, the run had nowhere to go, and the Giants were just stumped. The Birds in black earned that shutout.
Worst Game: Austin Davis' Mighty Fourth (October 5)
For about three quarters, the Eagles had stifled the Rams, building a pretty insurmountable 34-7 lead. Untested quarterback Davis didn't look as comfortable as he had in previous weeks, and the Eagles may have been looking ahead to that Giants Sunday nighter.
Davis and the Rams ended the third quarter with a touchdown to make it 34-14, and then two failed Eagles drives (one where Nick Foles fumbled carelessly), led to two more touchdowns for St. Louis. The Rams fell 47 yards short of a go-ahead touchdown, after Brandon Boykin made a timely third-down play to break up a pass to Austin Pettis. A slow sigh of relief there.
Best Play: Jenkins Saves the Day (September 15)
There would have been no shame in losing to the Colts, one of the premier teams in the AFC. The Eagles found themselves down 27-20 in a hard fought Monday night game, and Indy advanced to Philadelphia's 22-yard line with nearly five minutes left.
With the intent of creating a two-score lead, Luck flung a pass on third down in the area of T.Y. Hilton, only for Malcolm Jenkins to surge in and pick it off. There was controversy as to whether Hilton had been interfered with (in truth, he contacted Brandon Boykin first), but nothing was called. The Eagles soon tied the game, and then kicked a winning field goal as time expired.
Worst Play: Lone Wolff (September 28)
Earl Wolff has played only 16 snaps this season. That's 32 less than Marcus Smith's 48, and he's played the second-least defensive snaps. After filling in so admirably for a benign Patrick Chung a year ago, Wolff has had little to show for 2014, save for one hideous play.
Against the 49ers, the Eagles had Colin Kaepernick backed up on a second-and-17, when the quarterback threw across his body, and the field, to Frank Gore, who taxi'ed up the sideline. Wolff attempted a tackle from behind, and was summarily thrown off like a flea. Gore scored from 55 yards out to build a 10-7 lead, helping compound what would be a bad day overall for the Birds.
Best Pass Rusher: Trent Cole
Again, Barwin and Curry will get all of the credit for registering sacks, but Cole's been the overall best rusher of the group, with 19 non-sack disruptions. A big part of the team's impressive third down percentage has been Cole's relentless pressure.
Best Run Stopper: Fletcher Cox
Cox has blossomed into an interior presence hardly seen since the days of Corey Simon and Darwin Walker. Not only does Cox get plenty of timely hurries, but he also has notched 17 stops in the run, the second most by any 3-4 defensive end this season.
Best Playmaker: Malcolm Jenkins
The team has three interceptions to speak of, and the former Saint has all three. The first two were fourth-quarter snags that helped assure victory, and the third ended up a long pick-six against the 49ers. Jenkins has also proven to be an accomplished run-stopper.
Statistics from Pro Football Focus were used to write this story.
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