Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Connor Barwin and Cedric Thornton.

By Lewis Gould

It wasn’t that long ago that Eagles fans held their breath when the defense took the field.

Last season the conventional wisdom was that the Birds would have to score 30 points a game just to have a chance to win.

This season, that same defense is vastly improved, and nowhere is that truer than on the line.

Not since their front four had Reggie White, Clyde Simmons, Jerome Brown and Mike Pitts has the Eagles been this good.

Going into Sunday’s game against Seattle, the Eagles are second in the league in sacks with 42, on pace for 56. That would be the most the team has had since 1989, when Simmons, White, Brown and Pitts combined for 44 of the franchise-high 62 sacks.

And like that ’89 team the Eagles are getting the pass rush from all over the field.

Outside linebacker Connor Barwin leads the NFC with 12 1/2.Vinny Curry (seven), Trent Cole (6 1/2), and Brandon Graham (5 1/2) are all in the mix as well.

”I think it’s a lot tougher,” Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis said this week. ”The one-on-one matchups and way we move them around so we can go ahead and manipulate some of one on ones. It’s a tribute to those guys and the coaching they’re getting. They’re doing a great job teaching the stunts, the games, the straight rushes.

”We’ve put a lot of emphasis on it this year. Last year it was more about dropping into coverage. This year we say, ‘OK, now we have that down, let’s refocus on getting our pass rush going.’ And I think the guys have responded. We’ve got a lot of guys who can rush the passer.”

While Barwin is second in the NFL in sacks, Curry is ninth among all defensive linemen even though he plays about one-third of the defensive snaps, coming off the sideline when Davis switches to his four-man front.

Cole is fifth among NFC linebackers and Graham, who also plays a little over one-third of the snaps, is sixth.

”You can’t pinpoint one guy and say ‘stop him’ because we have so many guys,” Graham said. ”We all want to get there and get the sack, but as long as somebody does, that’s what counts.”

Barwin is having the big year sack-wise, but he also knows the balance is what’s made the pass rush so effective.

”It’s great,” he said. ”It makes you better because of the guys you play with and I think there is a general understanding that we all kind of need each other to be our best. We all help each other.”


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