Last season, in Jim Washburn's first year as the defensive line coach for the Eagles, the defense tied for the league lead in sacks and Washburn's defensive line amassed the most sacks of any defensive line in the NFL. And yet, Washburn says, "They need to fire my a** if we're not better."
We'll let coach Washburn take it from there.
"No excuses, but they didn't know my name when we met up here last year," Washburn said Tuesday. "Golly, I look at the first couple games, all the plays that we screwed up last year on the run, especially the run. Golly, I looked at Atlanta and St. Louis and it's painful to watch our technique ... No excuse, it's just life. The other teams were in the same situation ... We ought to be so much better. There's no way - we've got to be a lot better."
So how can the defensive line get better?
"It comes everywhere," said Washburn. "We had more front four sacks than anybody's had in a lot of years, but that's because we have talented players. We have real good talent. We started figuring it out at the end and it ought to be a whole lot better. I'd be crushed, hell I'd quit if we're not a whole lot better. They need to fire my a** if we're not better. We should be a lot better. Trent Cole had no idea what we were doing when we started this thing last year ... I'm excited. I got good players. I've said it before, this isn't a company line, but the Eagles get you players. I've been other places where if you lost players, you were dead in the water."
The Eagles' sack numbers did improve as the season went on last year, from 22 sacks in the first eight games to 28 in the final eight, with their 17 sacks in the last four games ranking as the highest sack total for any quarter of the season.
As for the aforementioned Cole, Washburn expects the two-time Pro Bowler to take his game to the next level now that he trusts the system. Traditionally, Cole had played about as high a percentage of his team's snaps as any defensive end in the league. But with Washburn's vaunted rotation, Cole's time on the field was limited a bit. As a result, Cole, whose production at the end of the season had dipped in years past, notched 5.0 sacks over the final four games - the most of his career.
"I knew playing two groups, as we did, that his snaps were at 59 percent or something like that," said Washburn (Cole played 69 percent of the snaps according to ProFootballFocus). "He ended up getting (five) sacks in the last four games or something like that. It works. He was worn out at the end. He played a lot of snaps because he wanted to play. He told me when I first got here, 'I'm not rotating.' Right there in that meeting. I said, 'Yes you are, or your a** ain't going to play.'"
While Cole was out-sacked by his teammate and friend Jason Babin, his real value, and one of the reasons he was extended a new contract this offseason, is his versatility. In terms of his ability to play the run and rush the passer, Washburn says Cole is the best all-around defensive end he's ever coached.
"No question," Washburn said. "I've never had one that does everything as good as he does."
Make sure to follow us on Twitter @EaglesInsider.