Eagles rookie defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham combined for four sacks of Bengals QB Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field as the defensive line has surged in the last two weeks following line coach Jim Washburn’s dismissal.
For the Eagles, there may not be a more fitting scapegoat than Jim Washburn.
Since firing the defensive line coach and proponent of the wide nine alignment up front on December 3rd, the Eagles defense has lead a two week renaissance that continued Thursday night against the Bengals., despite a disheartening 34-13 loss.
Brandon Graham, the team’s first round draft choice in 2010 wallowed in mediocrity under Washburn and has flourished since the veteran coach was let go. The Michigan product now leads the Eagles with 5.5 sacks after recording a career high 2.5 against Cincinnati.
“I thought he made some nice plays early on,” Eagles defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said afterwards. “But I have to go back and watch the rest of the tape.”
For Graham though, it comes it comes down to being comfortable and seeing an expanded role for the first time in his career.
“I feel more confident,” Graham said of his recent run of success. “I feel like I am back in my Michigan days. I knew it would take a little time to come and settle down. Now, I just go out there and do my job and try to do the best I can. Today was just one of those days which I felt comfortable.”
Graham also has been a benefactor of the team releasing Jason Babin three weeks ago has a total of 4 sacks since taking on a more prominent role in the Eagles defense in place of Babin.
“When I was the number two guy I just wanted to make sure that when I got out there,” Graham explained. “They knew I was out there. That is the same approach I am taking now. I want them to know I am out there. I just want to have fun and bring the energy.”
The much maligned former first round draft choice out of Michigan really has become one of the bright spots in an otherwise dismal season. If he finishes strong, it would be hard to argue Graham as the team’s defensive MVP.
Meanwhile, 2012 first round draft choice Fletcher Cox has grown by leaps and bounds throughout the course of the season he too has played two of his best games against the Buccaneers and Bengals. On thursday night, the rookie defensive tackle notched 1.5 sacks against Andy Dalton raising his season total to 5.5.
“He is a beast,” Graham raved afterwards. “He knows his moves and everything the coaches tell him to do in practice, it’s working. He is more comfortable and settled just like me. He feels like it’s like college all over again. We were just talking about that. We just have to go out there, have confidence and do our jobs. That’s what he is doing.”
As a unit, the Eagles had a total of 22.5 sacks on the season before week 15′s six sack outburst.
“I’m very proud of how our D-line stepped up,” linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. “We got them in third-and-long, so they had to pass the ball and our guys got after it. They did some good things. They were able to get to the quarterback and get to the ball, most importantly. It was special to see and I’m happy to see those guys be back in rare form.”
Before firing Washburn following week 13 against the Dallas Cowboys, Andy Reid relieved defensive coordinator Juan Castillo of his duties during the team’s bye week on October 23rd and replaced him with Todd Bowles. Multiple sources have since confirmed that Reid debated with himself between firing Castillo or Washburn at that time.
Given the Birds recent resurgence on defense, it’s fair to wonder what may have been had Reid retained Castillo and instead scrapped Washburn and the ridiculous wide nine scheme.