Defensive Likely To Be An Off-Season Focus

There are likely to be some changes during the off-season and a lot of them could come on the defensive line. The Eagles simply have to get better up front when they don't have the ball and there are a couple of young players to build around.

Andy Reid has said publicly that he's not happy with the performance of his defensive line. The number of sacks are down and they haven't been nearly as dominant against the run as they were just a year ago. It appears that something needs to be done. You have to consider though where things went wrong, because the personnel is basically the same from the team that went to the Super Bowl and coming into the season, there didn't appear to be major concerns about the line.

Corey Simon and Derrick Burgess both found new homes during the last off-season, but has their loss contributed to the demise? Rookie Mike Patterson has been every bit as effective as Simon was in his stint with the Eagles, so you can't figure that his loss was too huge for the Eagles to swallow. As for Burgess, the theory was that there were enough others around to step up and fill his shoes. That could be where the theory fell apart at least a little. While Burgess had a lot of injury problems and the Eagles didn't expect much, he's been a solid addition to the Raiders defense and you'd have to say that the Eagles could have definitely used him to improve their defense. Sam Rayburn, Hollis Thomas and Darwin Walker were especially figured on to fill the hole created by Burgess' exit, but none of them have exactly set the world on fire. Rayburn ranked fourth in the NFC among defensive tackles with six sacks last season; That's six more than he's got this season. Thomas simply hasn't stepped up as much as needed and Walker has also not given the Eagles what they had hoped to get from him this season. Then, there's Jerome McDougle, who has missed the entire season because of a gunshot wound last July.

Thankfully, besides the emergence of Patterson, another rookie, Trent Cole has also stepped up. Cole is second on the team with five sacks and tied for seventh on the team with 42 tackles. Cole didn't start the season in the starting lineup, but since he's been inserted, he has been getting better and better almost on every play. Perhaps his best performance came against Arizona when he made 10 tackles and was constantly just missing getting to Josh McCown to provide pressure. He's still not at the top of his game and that's the scary part about Cole's potential. There is no doubt that Patterson and Cole should have locks on spots with a lot of responsibility going into next season.

N.D. Kalu could well exit. He's the only member of the defensive line to be an unrestricted free agent after the season and hasn't looked quite as strong after his knee surgery last year. Kalu could see more time in the season finale with the injury to Jevon Kearse. Speaking of Kearse, he hasn't been able to provide the dominance that the Eagles expected. He is sitting on 7.5 sacks, the same number that he had last season, his first in Philadelphia. Over the last five games, Kearse has just one sack and went through a streak of four games without recording a sack. Too many times, he hasn't even been able to provide much pressure or much of a pass rush to speak of. With the emergence of Cole on the other side of the line, you would figure that some pressure would be off Kearse, but he hasn't been able to take advantage of Cole's emergence.

The interior part of the line has been okay with Patterson and Walker, but while Patterson has progressed, Walker hasn't given as much support as hoped. It might be interesting to see if Walker and Kearse - the two real veterans - are challenged during the off-season. The Eagles might look to upgrade in those two spots, especially where Walker is concerned. There is no doubt that while Patterson and Cole are secure, the rest will be under a microscope. 

The good news is that there are young studs to continue to build on. Cole and Patterson will only get better. McDougle can't be counted on, because of his injuries throughout his career and there's no way of telling how he'll return from his latest setback. The Eagles have to decide if they're happy with the production that they've gotten out of the high profile signing of Kearse or whether they can do better. Odds are that Kearse will get at least one more season in Philadlephia and the Eagles will figure on Cole, Patterson and Kearse as the mainstays of their defensive line. Kalu is likely a goner as he'll look for more playing time elsewhere. Look for the Eagles to find a veteran either through free agency or a trade that could help anchor the middle part of the line and then add a draft pick to challenge some of the veteran reserves on the club.


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