Rushing the passer is a lot like hitting a baseball – even the best in the game fail most of the time.
Just ask Jason Babin.
The Eagles’ defensive end was selected for the Pro Bowl last season after he racked up 18 sacks, which was second in the NFL. But other teams passed the ball 518 times and Babin is on the field for about 70 percent of the plays, which means he got to the quarterback just once every 19 passing plays in 2011. To look at it another way, he got to the quarterback 18 times last season, but failed to get to him about 363 times.
That’s a lot of effort without a lot of reward and that makes him a successful failure — all part of being a pass-rushing specialist in the NFL.
“The biggest thing is you can never allow yourself to get discouraged,’’ Babin said. “You have to commit yourself to going 100 percent all play, every play. And that’s not just something I learned in the NFL. It’s in my DNA.’’
And that’s why this season has been frustrating so far for Babin and the rest of the Eagles’ pass-rushers. Last season, they sacked the quarterback 50 times, which tied for the most in the NFL. So far this season, they have just seven sacks in five games and if they keep that pace they’ll finish with just 22. Only three teams in the league have fewer than seven sacks right now and Eagles are also 27th in the league in sacks per pass play.
So, how did the Eagles go from having one of the best sack attacks in the NFL to having one of the worst? They have the same players, including All-Pros Babin and Trent Cole, and they’ve added talented players to their lineup like rookie defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.
Babin sees that talent, too, and when he was asked this week if this year’s line is better than last year’s he said “Absolutely. … Do the stats reflect it? Absolutely not.”
The Eagles point to a couple of reasons for the drop-off in sacks. For one, other teams realize they have a potent pass rush and are keeping extra blockers in to help out. Also, running backs and tight ends are “chipping’’ the defensive ends when they go out on pass routes. In fact, Cole said “This year has probably been the worst I’ve ever [been chipped].’’
Plus quarterbacks are getting rid of the ball quicker so the pass-rushers don’t have time to get to them. All of those tactics have been used against the Eagles and they seem to be working.
“They’re trying everything in the book,’’ Cole said. “It’s pretty obvious when you look at the film what their strategy is. We just have to fight our way through that.”
Babin said teams did that to Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis of the Indianapolis Colts a few years ago when those two were terrorizing quarterbacks the way Babin and Cole did last year.
“Guess what teams were doing to them?’’ Babin said. “They realized how good they are. They’re not going to let them run wild. It’s just something as a team and as a defensive line that we’re going to have to deal with and work through.”
Defensive end Brandon Graham said something else could help the Eagles’ pass rush – their pass coverage. If the Eagles’ pass defenders could tighten their coverage he feels that would give the pass rushers that extra second or two they need to get to the quarterback.
“It would be nice if the backend made them hold the ball a little longer,’’ Graham said. “We’ve just got to make them hold it a little bit longer.”
Until then, the Eagles’ pass-rushers will deal with their frustration and try and take it out on the other team.
“We’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing,’’ Cole said. “We’re just going to keep fighting and [the sacks] are going to come.”
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.