CLEVELAND – The depth of the Eagles' defensive line is no secret. It's long been known that the league's most prolific pass-rushing unit last season only got better this offseason, and now sports at least 11 players worthy of being rotation players in the NFL. Yet, Jim Washburn's crew is still capable of being surprising in its dominance – as they were Friday night against the Cleveland Browns.
After allowing the Browns to drive 75 yards down to the 2-yard-line on the opening drive of the game, the defensive line helped changed the complexion of that drive and the game when Derek Landri burst through the middle of the Browns' offensive line, sacked quarterback Brandon Weeden and forced a fumble that would be recovered by Trent Cole. After that, the Eagles defensive line took over the game.
"We started slow," said Landri. "They had a big play to start the game off and you never want to start a game off like that. We've got to figure a way come Week 1 against these guys to shut it down and not give up a big drive. We were fortunate enough to get in a good situation and make a play and kill all their momentum, which is what you want to do."
By halftime, with a 17-3 lead, the defensive line had accounted for 4.0 sacks and two forced fumbles, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Browns quarterbacks Weeden and Colt McCoy were under constant pressure, and, at halftime, the Browns only accounted for 46 rushing yards on 15 carries for an average of 3.1 yards per carry.
And while Landri and Trent Cole were constant pests for the Browns, much of the damage was done by the second- and third-team rotations. Brandon Graham, the 2010 first-round pick, has been a menace, accounting for 1.5 of those sacks, including a drive killer at the end of the first half in which Graham and Phillip Hunt met for a quarterback sandwich. Both players have excelled throughout the preseason.
"They've had a great preseason, just the strides they've made," said defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins. "Brandon overcoming all the stuff he's had to overcome with the injury and all the criticism he's been getting, he's still fighting and he's not giving up and he's trying to prove to people that he's the player that was drafted. Phillip is coming out of nowhere from Canada, a little bit of the route I had, and it's just impressive watching him fight. He doesn't listen to the criticism about his size or anything like that. He's had a sack in every game in the preseason. It's tough to block him."
"Shoot, I'm just happy I kept getting better each game and that's all that I can ask for," said Graham. "I just wanted to show you all that I've been working hard and I'm back to myself and all I have to do is keep pushing and keep doing what coach Wash asks me. It's going to be some trouble."
Meanwhile, Darryl Tapp, who has been impressive all preseason, had one eye-popping play in which he beat Joe Thomas, one of the best left tackles in football, for a monstrous sack of Weeden. Cedric Thornton, too, was a menace in run defense.
So while it may not come as a shock, the strength of the defense has shown up in full force for the Eagles. Unfortunately for the Browns, they'll see these guys again in two weeks.
"Getting better is what we want to do," said Jenkins. "We want go get stuff closer to where we want to be and I think we had a lot of positives to go off of today. Obviously you're never there. We can't be satisfied with this. Cleveland's going to have a lot more energy when we come back here in two weeks."
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