Despite Cole recording just eight sacks over the course of the season, seven of which came in the latter half of the year, he made a bit of history, entirely because he converted to a different position.
Trent Cole's eight sacks are the most ever by an Eagles linebacker since the NFL began keeping track of the number in 1982. As a franchise mark, Cole surpassed the previous mark set by Seth Joyner in 1990, a whopping 7.5.
Only eight times since 1982 has an Eagles linebacker recorded six or more sacks in a season, and Cole was the first man to perform the feat this millennium. Of course, Jeremiah Trotter was probably the only linebacker before last year that even had a chance, but he peaked with 3.5 sacks in 2001.
The 3-4 conversion has been a hit, with Mychal Kendricks' middle surges, Fletcher Cox being able to move quarterbacks off point into the way of danger (particularly this season), and a revitalization of Cole at this stage of his career. It was slow building, but the unit not only handles run-stuffing at a high level, it has become a sack machine, racking up 19 in six games this season.
Speaking of this year, this brings us to Connor Barwin, the high-haired monster that threatens Cole's record in its infancy.
For the 2014 season, Barwin didn't record any form of a sack until September 28, but the former Texan's now racked up six on the year. That's 2.5 sacks away from claiming the team's linebacker record, with ten games left on the docket.
Barwin ranks sixth all time among Eagles linebackers in sacks, joined by a couple of Birds of eras past.
The current leaderboard, of those with six sacks or more at the position:
8.0 - Trent Cole (2013)
7.5 - Seth Joyner (1990)
6.5 - William Thomas (1993), Seth Joyner (1992), Seth Joyner (1991)
6.0 - Connor Barwin (2014), William Thomas (1994), Garry Cobb (1986)
In other words, Bill Davis' 3-4 is an inadvertant throwback to the days of Buddy Ryan and Bud Carson sending the house through a 4-3 scheme. The other six qualifiers came from that 1986-94 era where the defense was particularly mighty and aggressive.
Today's Eagles benefit from a tough run-crushing front led by Cox that forces more dropbacks. When the corners press tight up the sideline, those coverage sacks that Cole, Barwin, Vinny Curry, and Brandon Graham pick up really begin to accumulate.
Davis once preached 'intelligence before aggression', though the aggression is taking the wheel. When the likes of Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams leave a cushion, and Brandon Boykin is used less, opposing quarterbacks have an opening (see the fourth quarter against the Rams). The shutout win over the Giants saw no relenting: Eli Manning was under attack all night, Boykin played two-thirds of the snaps to take away the short passing routes, and the pass-rushers reaped the spoils.
It's conceivable that not only could Barwin break Cole's record with ease, but Cole (3.5 sacks so far) could top his own mark as a linebacker. Even Vinny Curry (four sacks) would top eight at his current pace
A total-defensive effort is making for some history that may not mean much as an individual achievement, though it's a sign that the defense as a whole has become a powerhouse, the likes of which hasn't been seen in years.
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