Before the 2021 season, there were a few things that needed to happen to ensure the Philadelphia Eagles were at least competitive this year. Among them was the play of their defensive line. On paper, it was a stacked unit filled with highly paid talent along the interior as well as the edge.
In practice, this defensive line has been nothing short of disappointing in 2021, and that’s putting it lightly.
Despite their subpar play throughout the year, the Eagles still find themselves in the postseason. If they’re going to make any noise during their playoff run, the defensive line will need to step up tremendously.
The Eagles finished the year with just 29 sacks, 31st in the NFL. They were marginally better at creating pressure, totaling 155 pressures on the year, but it still ranked towards the bottom of the league.
It hasn’t just been one player who’s dragged this entire unit down, they’ve all had their struggles throughout the season, and none of them have played consistently well. Fletcher Cox missed the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2014 this season. Although he has played better as of late, he’s clearly not the same dominant force he once was. Josh Sweat started off slow and got hot towards the end of the year. Javon Hargrave was the complete opposite of that, starting off hot and then cooling off significantly down the stretch.
Do I really need to mention Derek Barnett? Here’s a fun stat that encapsulates Barnett’s 2021 campaign — he was only one of two defensive ends in the league to start at least 15 games and record two or fewer sacks. The number of penalties he committed (seven) more than triples his sack total for the year.
There have been some bright spots along this line throughout the year. Rookie defensive tackle Milton Williams has come on strong as of late and has played relatively well throughout his first NFL season. But aside from him, the line’s been full of mediocrity.
Can they magically turn it around during the postseason? Honestly, it would be remarkable if they did. But their playoff lives may depend on it. Getting pressure with the front-four is so important when your facing some of the best signal callers in the game.
Like I stated at the beginning, this line should be dominant on paper. Maybe, that projection will come to fruition this weekend in Tampa Bay.