By David F. Cohen
The Eagles won 10 games and a division title last season despite a pass rush that recorded just 37 sacks and finished 31st in the league in sacks per pass play.
Improving that rush was one of their top offseason priorities. But with the start of the season 17 days away, it remains a major concern.
The Eagles have just three sacks in the first two regular-season games, none against a starting quarterback. The lack of a pass rush is a big reason the Bears and Pats converted 20 of 32 third-down opportunities.
They spent their first-round pick on a pass-rusher, Louisville linebacker Marcus Smith, but he is a project who doesn’t look like he’s going to help the Eagles much, at least not right away.
He played 73 snaps in Friday’s loss to the Patriots, but got close to the quarterback just once.
“He got a real extended look,” coach Chip Kelly said. “He’s got a burst. He’s got some speed coming off the edge. But if you’re going to play that many plays, we’re going to need more production out of you. He’s still working at it. He still has a lot of things to improve at.”
Linebacker Trent Cole led the team in sacks last season with eight. But he will be 32 in October. Their other starting outside linebacker, Connor Barwin may be their best hope to give the pass rush a boost.
Barwin had 11.5 sacks for the Houston Texans three years ago. He had five for the Eagles last season despite the fact that he spent a lot more time in coverage than Cole. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis has hinted that he will give Barwin more pass-rushing opportunities this season.
“That’s what I hope happens,” Barwin said. “I hope we can be really good and get teams into second-and-long, third-and-long. Get the event (four-man) front going. But if not, I’ll drop into coverage and help where I can and pick my spots rushing. But that’s all going to be week to week. Let’s see how we play. Right now, it’s too early to tell.”